Archive for the 'Articles' Category

Oct 06 2015

Is the Oslo Accord at death’s door?


By Daoud Kuttab

Two weeks before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, he had warned on Sept. 16 of a “political bomb” he planned to drop in his speech.

Commentators have argued that while Abbas did threaten to end Palestinian adherence to the 1993 Oslo Accord, he didn’t actually detail when and how he plans to end the legal commitment to the US-sponsored agreement.

Abbas’ comments about the agreement were stated in diplomatic terms. “As long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements.”

Abbas’ lawyer-like language didn’t translate into a direct and unequivocal abandonment of the accord. Some commentators said that Abbas’ actions are tantamount to exposing a hand grenade but leaving it unexploded on the table without any date of when it might explode. Others said Abbas pulled the hand grenade’s pin but didn’t throw it, implying that it might blow up in his face.

The conditionality of Abbas’ threat is worth digging into. What are the commitments that the Israelis have violated, and what are the clauses of the Oslo Accord that Abbas will stop honoring?

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department published on its website an undated document pointing out nine Israeli violations of the Oslo Accord, among them failure to honor the provisions for ending the occupation, settlements, continued restrictions on movement — including the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank — and the refusal to release prisoners incarcerated before the signing of the September 1993 agreement at the White House.

Abdelrahman Barqawi, a member of the Palestine National Council and a retired Palestinian Ministry of Health senior official, told Al-Monitor that Palestinians should suspend security cooperation, division of land and economic issues. “The division of our land into areas A, B and C, which inexorably affects our sovereignty and hurts farmers, must end. We should also end the Paris economic agreement, which has damaged our economy, making it subservient to the Israeli financial system.”

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Oct 05 2015

Israel finally agrees to increase support for Christian schools, but is it enough?


By Daoud Kuttab

For the first 27 days of the 2015-16 school year in Israel, some 33,000 Palestinian students stayed at home during a strike demanding equality with Jewish schools, the first such action of its kind. On Sept. 27, the country’s 47 private Christian schools — on strike since Sept. 1, the first day of the school year — announced their unanimous support for an agreement reached by a six-person committee representing the Christian schools and the Israeli Ministry of Education. The strike had focused primarily on the state subsidies provided to schools to allow them to lower the tuition paid by students’ families.

Botrus Mansour, general director of the Nazareth Baptist School and one of the six negotiators, told Al-Monitor that September had been a difficult month, filled with pressure from the Israeli government as well as the parents of students. Everyone involved in the episode, however, is content with the results, according to Mansour.

“Our efforts began a year ago, and for six months, between March and August, the Israeli officials didn’t talk to us. Our unity and perseverance paid off. This was a huge success,” said Mansour. Christian schools — suffering from a decline in the government subsidy while having to adhere to a cap on tuition fees — had been attempting in vain to reach agreements with the Israeli Ministry of Education so they could remain open without running into financial difficulties.

The Catholic and Protestant schools that went on strike have existed for decades, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. The heart of their mission has been to educate and transmit knowledge. Palestinian students in these Christian-run schools were exposed to a huge civics lesson in the weeks they waited and watched as the adults struggled to convince the government that the right of equality should be universal, irrespective of religion or national background. Continue Reading »

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Oct 01 2015

Palestine’s UN envoy: Multilateralism is the way forward


By Daoud Kuttab

The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, welcomed what he described as “efforts to create an effective multilateral approach” to resolving the Palestinian conflict. Speaking by phone to Al-Monitor, Mansour said that France is working hard to create an effective mechanism similar to that which succeeded in reaching the Iran nuclear deal.

“The thinking is to find a way to expand the scope and the working style of the Quartet, as well as to add some countries to it that can make a valued contribution to its efforts,” said Mansour.

Mansour admitted that world leaders are totally preoccupied with the war on the Islamic State (IS), but he signaled that this effort would be a waste if it didn’t include an attempt to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Mansour related Palestine’s intervention Sept. 29 in a US-initiated meeting on countering violent extremism on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. “We made it clear that no effort to end extremism will work without dealing with the Palestine issue because the Israeli violations and occupation are poisoning the atmosphere.”

The head of the Palestinian mission at the UN also expressed support for the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts against Israel. “We consider the BDS to be a positive movement; we feel that the time has matured for an effective, worldwide campaign against Israel, and we will be using the UN forum at the right moment to give this effort an international impetus.”

Al-Monitor spoke with Mansour a day prior to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ address before the UN General Assembly on Sept. 30. In this speech, Abbas signaled that he plans to walk away from the 20-year-old Oslo Accord. “So long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, cease settlement construction and release prisoners, Israel has left us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to these agreements,” he said to world leaders from the UN podium. Continue Reading »

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Sep 30 2015

To fight extremism

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

In his plan to counter what he called khawarej (the outlaws) of Islam, His Majesty King Abdullah gave prominence to the role of communication in the battle for the heart soul and mind.

Item four of the seven-point plan the King laid out at the UN General Assembly Monday talked about amplifying the voice of moderate individuals.

“It is one of the greatest ironies of our time that extremist voices use advanced media to propagate ignorant ideas. We must not let our screens, airwaves, broadband and social media be monopolised by those who pose the greatest danger to our world. We too must populate our media, and more important, the minds of our young people, with the purity and power of moderation,” said the King.

The battle for the minds is not and should not be limited to the media, however. 

In an excellent analysis, columnist Rami G. Khouri took to task those who have a narrow view of countering extremism without searching for its root causes.

In his article in Al Jazeera America, titled “Beware the hoax of countering violent extremism”, Khouri calls on the global community to search deeper into the role of governments in helping increase terrorism.

“Violent extremism, it turns out, is the consequence of policies of Western and Middle Eastern states, and radical changes by both are required to stem the problem,” he argues, explaining the ongoing violent extremism as “a desperate reaction to political and socioeconomic hopelessness at home and dehumanization from foreign armies”.

While his argument has merit, it can be argued that the present crisis in Iraq and Syria is not the responsibility of either the Obama administration or of King Abdullah. Both were totally opposed to the Bush/Blair war on Iraq that gave birth to the current round of extremism.

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Sep 28 2015

What Does Jordan need to do with its Syrian refugees

Published by under Articles,Jordan


By Daoud Kuttab

As the international community struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis, many are looking at Jordan’s courageous position in absorbing as many as a million and a half Syrians as guests of the Kingdom.

While this hospitality has been duly recognized and rewarded, the longevity of the Syrian conflict is forcing all players to rethink the policy towards the Syrian refugees. What was thought to be a short term crisis which would end with the happy return back to Syria is turning to be a long term conflict that requires more than immediate housing, food and medical aid.

Alexandra Francis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an important study on the issue and has suggested a number of takeaways that Jordan would do well by adhering to. She recommends integration of development and humanitarian aid, maintain protection space for refugees, formalize access to livelihoods and empower local governance actions as they integrate capacity building programs that help deliver services to the Jordanian population as well as to Syrian refugees.

The challenges facing Jordan are made even more acute as the slow but steady political reform process has resulted in a relatively progressive election law that has been welcomed by Jordanian democrats and civil society.

Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951Refugee Treaty and therefore doesn’t have the obligations of turning the temporary guests into asylum seekers. But Jordan is a signatory to the convention against torture which forbids the Kingdom from sending individuals to a country that might torture them.

Court records connected to a recent access to information case raised by Radio al Balad have shown that the issue of refugees is one of the state secrets designated by the Ministry of Interior and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many Syrians are in Jordan and how many have been sent back in contravention of the Torture Convention and in violation of the agreement Jordan has signed with the UN agency responsible for refugees UNHCR. Continue Reading »

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Sep 25 2015

How Palestinian security forces are cracking down on their own people


By Daoud Kuttab

It began as a demonstration against Israel on Sept. 18 following the recent incidents at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but it soon became an internal Palestinian problem that gripped the political and security leadership in Bethlehem.

 The Palestinian police order to quell the protests against Israel suddenly became the focus of public attention because of the police violence against one of their own, the son of a police officer. A video taken Sept. 18 from a nearby restaurant captured Palestinian security members run after, capture and badly beat a Palestinian youth, Mohammad Radwan Hamamreh. His brother was also beaten, and both were arrested and abused on the way to the police station. The video posted on Facebook went viral and resulted in further demonstrations, which included stone throwing later that evening at the site of the Palestinian security headquarters in Bethlehem. Protesters were also recorded on video outside the police headquarters as calling for the ouster of the head of the Palestinian police, Hazem Atallah, and shouting verbal accusations against President Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of being a “coward” and “an agent of the Americans.”

The speed with which the video was uploaded and the ensuing anti-police and anti-Abbas protests brought quick results. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah appointed a high-level investigative committee Sept. 19 headed by Bethlehem Gov. Jibrin Bakri and instructed it to take severe punishment against anyone “who carries out violence against our own citizens.”

The Fatah movement in Bethlehem also pitched in to condemn the attack on the Palestinian youth. Mohammad Masri, the secretary of Fatah in Bethlehem, said that what had happened is contrary to the clear instructions of the Palestinian leadership and security forces. In a public event held Sept. 20, he, along with other Fatah officials, called for the removal of those involved in the police abuse.

In record time, the investigative committee produced what appeared to be impressive results. The National Security Forces Command issued a detailed statement Sept. 20 holding both the abusive policemen and their commanders responsible for the violence against Hamamreh. Nine Palestinian officers and policemen were turned over to disciplinary committees. Five policemen involved directly in the beatings were given an immediate prison sentence of three months, and four senior officers were suspended from the police force pending the end of the proceedings.

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Sep 23 2015

Israel attempts to redefine terrorism, but is its definition too broad?


By Daoud Kuttab

A troubling anti-terrorism law to replace the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations passed its first reading in the Israeli Knesset by an overwhelming 45-14 vote on Sept. 2. The 100-page piece of legislation had been opposed by the left-wing Meretz Party and the predominantly Arab Joint List, but appears to have the support of the two major Israeli parties, the Likud and the Zionist Camp

For a time, the mandate-era British regulations continued to be used by Israel as the legal basis for collective punishment, such as deportations, home demolitions and administrative detention in the occupied Palestinian territories. In 1999, however, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to “start reducing the number of laws and ordinances that depend on the state of emergency.” An attempt to rewrite the regulations as original Israeli law was made during Tzipi Livni’s tenure as justice minister (2013-14), but the Association for Civil Rights in Israel strongly opposed it. The effort remained mired in the Knesset’s legislative process.

The current draft legislation is so extensive and repressive that Yael Berda, a leading Israeli lawyer and professor of law at Hebrew University, called it “scary and undemocratic” and a “regime change” in an interview with Al-Monitor. In a Sept. 18 Times of Israel article, reporter Marisa Newman outlined eight changes in the law in regard to the Israeli government’s approach to the issue of terrorism. They include an expansion of the definition of terror, a lack of distinction between attacks on civilians versus soldiers and the designation as a terror organization of any nongovernmental organizations, including humanitarian groups, “that assist terror organizations in any way.”

Sympathy with a group deemed a terror organization is severely punishable. Newman wrote, “If done publicly — whether waving a sign at a rally, posting on social media or wearing a T-shirt — the individual will be eligible to serve three years in prison.” The legislation also enshrines administrative detention into Israeli law and gives Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency, wide-ranging powers to hack into private citizens’ computers.

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Sep 18 2015

Tightened security backfires at Al-Aqsa


By Daoud Kuttab

The recent violence that erupted at Al-Aqsa Mosque came as no surprise. On Sept. 9, Israel banned two groups of Palestinian Muslims who call themselves the masculine and feminine variants of “Mourabitoun” as illegal organizations. The problem is that in Islamic terminology, every Muslim in Jerusalem who attends prayers at Islam’s third-holiest mosque is a “mourabit,” a term that refers to people holding the fort.

 The condemnation was the equivalent of calling all believers worshipping at St. Peter’s Church part of a criminal organization. The head of the Waqf Department (for religious endowments) in Jerusalem, Azzam Khatib, said in a Sept. 9 press statement that every Muslim who enters Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered a mourabit.

Israel’s security apparatus followed the announcement, made three days before the Jewish New Year, with the renewal of its dilution policy. This policy was explained in detail in a June 30 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) titled “The status of the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy esplanade.” Dilution aims to keep the Palestinian worshippers to a bare minimum whenever Jewish visitors are planning on setting foot in the mosque area. During morning hours until 11 a.m., when non-Muslim visitors are allowed, Palestinian Muslim women are not allowed entry into the entire mosque area, while men are allowed to enter only between 10 and 11 a.m. The entire mosque area is gated and controlled by Israeli police along with token unarmed guards employed by the Jordanian Ministry of Endowments. Continue Reading »

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Sep 16 2015

Response to Israeli provocations should be Palestinian unity

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His Majesty King Abdullah was correct in calling what was happening in Jerusalem this week a provocation. After all, the Israelis had made clear promises to His Majesty to ensure the continuation of the status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque, which led to the return of Jordan’s ambassador to Tel Aviv.

Two of the understandings reached in this regard were clearly violated during the Jewish new year, which led to the escalation of the violence by the Palestinians.

The Israelis had promised to keep the groups of Jews “visiting” the mosque area to a small number, of around five. Jordanian-paid waqf officials tolerated a small increase of up to 15 members of a group, but not more. This week, the groups that were protected by the Israeli security reached 30 at a time.

More important was the makeup of the visiting groups. As it allows tourists to visit the mosque, Palestinians and Jordanians have no problem with Jews visiting the mosque as “tourists”. However, when the visiting group includes right-wing members of Knesset or Cabinet ministers, the visit takes a political/religious meaning.

Individuals like Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel are no curious tourists. They are religious/political ideologues on a mission to prove that the location being visited is not a Muslim religious shrine but that it has “Jewish” ownership. Continue Reading »

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Sep 15 2015

Double victory for Palestine in FIFA qualifying match


By Daoud Kuttab

A scoreless soccer game can hardly be considered a victory, but for the Palestinian national team, tying the powerful team from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Palestinian soil was a double victory. Even the leading newspaper in the UAE, The National, described the match as such. On Sept. 8, the Abu Dhabi daily called the results of the historic game, held on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem, a win for the Palestinian team. It is rare to be able to use the word “historic” to describe a soccer match, but the FIFA World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying match between Palestine and the UAE was truly momentous by local standards.

For an Arab soccer team to agree to cross borders controlled by a country with which they are officially at war takes courage, and in this case, reflected genuine support and solidarity with the Palestinian people. UAE coach Mahdi Ali echoed his support for holding the match in an interview with the Emarat Sports website on Sept. 8, saying, “As Emiratis, we consider ourselves victorious just by being in Palestine, which I wish to see as a free and independent state.” After the game, Ali, along with a small group of administrative officials, visited and prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Ensuring the visit to Palestine was not easy. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, had been exerting great effort to have official home games played in Palestine. After confronting difficulties with Israeli officials during the FIFA congress held in Zurich on May 29, he was assured that games would not be blocked. FIFA guaranteed Rajoub that the Israelis would not put restrictions on visiting teams or on the movements of Palestinian team members, in particular players from Gaza. Continue Reading »

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