Archive for the 'Palestinian politics' Category

Sep 28 2016

Democracy is impossible with occupation and rebellion rule

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By Daoud Kuttab

The overtly exaggerated power of electoral democracy has once again been put into question in the Middle East. Municipal elections slated for the West Bank and Gaza on October 8th will not take place due officially to a decision of the Palestinian High Court.

But the high court decision -whether you believe it was taken independently or not- reflects a clear problem in the situation that Palestinians were facing in the fall of 2016.

In most Arab countries the problem with electoral democracy is that it is often the only portion of democracy that is implemented and usually for a short period. The separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and a robust free media are often missing in most cases where elections are taking place which are usually not even free or fair.

In the Palestinian example the last time municipal elections took place was in 2012 and was limited to the West Bank. The Islamic movement didn’t allow elections to take place in the Gaza strip which has been under their control since 2007 and at the same time they instructed their supporters in the West Bank to boycott the elections. Continue Reading »

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Sep 28 2016

RACISM AT THE EAST JERUSALEM INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICE

This is a personal story of the discrimination we faced trying to get a residency ID issued for our daughter

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By Daoud Kuttab

My wife and I were born in east Jerusalem before Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city. Our youngest daughter, Dina, was also born in Jerusalem.
We have kept a home in Jerusalem, a city which continues to be the center of our lives, despite the fact that I have had to travel a lot for work.

This week we spent an entire day at the only Interior Ministry office that is allowed to provide legal residency documents to Palestinians. The entire 350,000-strong population of east Jerusalem can only use a single Interior Ministry office, located in Wadi Joz, while they are for all practical purpose denied use of three other ministry offices (including offices in Gilo and Har Homa, that are located within settlements in areas occupied in 1967.

For Palestinians in Jerusalem the mandatory visit to the ministry is as hated as a visit to the dentist. You have to wait in line for hours just to enter the building and once inside you spend a few more hours until you get your turn and then you face a very unpleasant official who is looking for ways to trap you rather than help you. Every Palestinian wishing to get a travel document or an ID must visit this unwelcoming office. Getting our daughter’s permanent- status blue ID card was no different.
This visit is a huge operation for Palestinians in Jerusalem. You need to prepare all kinds of documents to prove that Jerusalem is the center of your life, even though in the end you are at the mercy of an Israeli official who ultimately makes the final judgment call. Continue Reading »

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Sep 21 2016

How independent are Palestinian courts?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When the Palestinian High Court of Justice decided Sept. 7 to suspend the Oct. 8 municipal elections, it caught many people off guard. The Palestinian legislature has been paralyzed since 2007 because of the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and few expected any independent action of the Palestinian judiciary. Many asked the simple question: Was this a truly independent decision of the court or was it acting on behalf of the executive branch?

Ali Ghazlan, the presiding judge of the high court, argued that elections can’t take place in one place and not the other. “The election can’t take place in Jerusalem and its neighborhoods. Also, there are problems with the formation of courts in Gaza. … Therefore the court decides to stop the election,” the high court judge ruled.

Both Fatah and Hamas blamed each other for the court’s decision.

Majed Arouri, the executive director of the Civil Commission for Judicial Independence, insists that the court acted independently, but confirmed in an interview with Al-Monitor that the courts’ independence is in jeopardy and that it is fighting off serious pressures. “The Palestinian judiciary is under threat by politicians who are trying to control it in order to have their actions legitimized,” Arouri said, adding that this threat is increased with the continued absence of general elections in Palestine.

“These leaders want to control the courts to extract their legitimacy by means of the judicial branch of government,” he said.

Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian minister and veteran lawyer, echoed similar thoughts in his weekly column in the daily Al-Quds on Sept. 11, insisting that the court acted independently and that it has a long record of independent decisions. “In recent years, the high court has produced many decisions that were not pleasing to the Palestinian leadership — among them rescinding a decision against opponents of the leadership and the order to the executive branch to release journalists and others,” he said.

But despite these arguments, most believe that the court decision was made largely based on political, not legal considerations. Rasem Obeidat, a Jerusalem activist, said in a column also published Sept. 11 in Al-Quds that the decision was political. Under the headline, “Jerusalem is not the excuse to postpone the elections,” Obeidat explained why he believed that the decision was political. “What the court said in its judgment is not convincing to a Palestinian child. The court is aware that the complaint against the municipal elections has political fingerprints all over them and therefore the decision was not legal,” he wrote.

Palestinians who doubt the legal justification were generally divided as to why the court made its decision. Hamas argued that the court was postponed to help protect Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement from a sure loss at the polls.

For their part, pro-Fatah commentators said that the courts were upset with Hamas and the movement’s disqualification of Palestinian candidates in Gaza, and that is why the courts acted to put a stop to the Hamas-appointed judges trying to meddle with the municipal elections.

Noteworthy is that the delayed elections were municipal and not general elections, which means that they had more to do with local services than overarching political issues. However, because this was the first time since 2007 that both Hamas and Fatah were dealing with their differences at the polls, many were hoping that solving conflicts using the ballot box was a much more civilized mechanism. Since 2007, municipal elections took place in the West Bank in 2012, but not in the Gaza Strip, where no elections have taken place since pro-Hamas candidates won the 2007 parliamentary elections.

Still, a genuine reconciliation appears to be behind rumors that a breakthrough in the form of a national unity government was in the works. A report published Sept. 18 on the Madar news website stated that the proposed national unity government would be headed by Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Ishtayeh, and that his deputy from Gaza would be Ahmed Yousef, the former adviser to Ismail Haniyeh and a relatively moderate Islamist who can be easily accepted by Israel and the West.

In addition, the report claims that part of the reconciliation would be to change the electoral system so that it favors individuals rather than parties or lists. The report says the secretly arranged agreement involving Fatah and Hamas senior leaders on the unity government and the new electoral system will suggest that elections be held in two installments, one in the West Bank to be followed within six months by elections in Gaza.

A senior Palestinian government source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that serious and high-level discussions are ongoing between the Palestinian leadership and Hamas, and that the unity government stated in the report is one such possibility for a reconciliation breakthrough.

There is no doubt that the Palestinian high court has shaken up the stalled political process. At a time that both the executive and legislative branches have been unable to cause any serious changes, the judiciary has shown that it can make a serious contribution to the current Palestinian debate. The independence of the judicial branch doesn’t mean that it is blind to the overall political landscape; its intervention in the municipal elections is aimed at raising a red flag about the dangers of holding elections without a minimum of internal agreement. It is unclear how the Palestinian executive branch will respond to the court’s wishes, but the court has shown enough independence to speak out forcefully for the need of an improved political atmosphere prior to elections that appear to aim at avoiding national unity rather than supporting it. In this case, the court has proved relatively independent.

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Sep 09 2016

Why Palestine’s ‘Merry Christmas people’ are not so merry

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

In a long interview with Egyptian ONTV Sept. 1, Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, appeared to ridicule Palestinian Christians. Almost a week later, on Sept. 6, Rajoub insisted in an interview on Al-Quds TV that when he referred to the “Merry Christmas people,” he was merely being jovial. He claimed that he had often used the term and that no one had ever complained about it.

Many Palestinian Christians, including Atallah Hanna, a Greek Orthodox archbishop of Sebastia, weren’t laughing and demanded an apology. After initially hesitating, Rajoub apologized on Palestine TV Sept. 7 after a meeting in Ramallah with Catholic bishops who accepted the apology and asked that the incident be forgotten. Regardless, the episode has left a bad taste among a Palestinian community revealed to be fragile.

The context of Rajoub’s utterance was another reason it upset so many people. Talking about the 2012 municipal elections, Rajoub complained in the hour-long ONTV interview (later rebroadcast on Palestinian TV) that Palestinian Christians — or as he called them in that instance, the “Merry Christmas people” — had voted for Hamas candidates in the West Bank. The criticism was not taken lightly, with many noting that in elections, Palestinian Christians, like Palestinian Muslims, have the right to choose whomever they want and not have it used against them. Continue Reading »

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Sep 07 2016

Mishaal’s call for smart politics

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By Daoud Kuttab

While addressing mourners for the loss of his mother in Jordan, Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal highly praised Jordan and Jordanian officials, and then spoke of a four-step approach to change the balance of power that is currently crushing Palestinians.

Mishaal, who along with Jordanian leaders of Hamas was deported from the Kingdom in 1999, has been allowed to visit for humanitarian family circumstance, such as the death of his father seven years ago and this week the passing of his mother.

At the conclusion of the three-day wake, the Hamas leader said he was speaking as a “free Arab and an open-minded Muslim”.

He called on fellow Palestinians and supporters to make use of all the points of strength they have, spoke forcefully about the need for national unity and reconciliation, and highlighted the need for a national Palestinian strategy.

Mishaal said that such a strategy should not contradict principles, but neither should it handcuff politically those pursuing it, saying that politicians should be clever and shrewd in executing such a national strategy.

But the most interesting point of Mishaal’s speech in Amman came in his concluding point, in his fourth step approach. Continue Reading »

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Sep 07 2016

Controversial cable car project in Jerusalem pushed by Israeli mayor

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Like many Israeli officials, whenever Nir Barkat, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, wants to make a political splash among Israeli voters, he turns to the Palestinian arena, which is the gift that keeps giving. In April 2013, when Barkat was running for a second mayoral term, he turned to the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem to announce an ambitious project to create a cable car route connecting the Mount of Olives to the Western Wall. The goal of the cable car route is to physically unify East and West Jerusalem.

In October 2013, Barkat was re-elected as mayor. The project, which was supposed to begin two years later, seemed to have failed in 2015, when French company Suez Environment that was to take part in the project pulled out in March 2015 under the pretext of “wanting to avoid any political interpretation.” Another French company, Safege, which was to participate in the planning of the cable car project, also pulled out in March 2015, once the French realized that this was a highly controversial political plan and not simply a business project.

With his second four-year term coming to an end, Barkat is aiming for a much higher goal: that of the Prime Ministry. Barkat has now resurrected the failed project and has succeeded in getting political approvals of the relevant Israeli ministries. Speaking to Likud activists, Barkat is seen on a video uploaded on his Facebook page Aug. 25 displaying the route of the cable car that will run from the Mount of Olives to the edge of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Haram al-Sharif with stops at the Church of Gethsemane and in the Abu Tor and Silwan neighborhoods.  Continue Reading »

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Sep 07 2016

Why Is Jordan refusing entry to Gaza Palestinians?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Sharif Muhaisen is worried about losing his job. Muhaisen works for Sanad, a construction industries company in Ramallah owned by the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF). Muhaisen is responsible for importing cement from Jordan. “We import about 500,000 tons of cement from Jordan every year,” he told Al-Monitor by phone from his home in Ramallah.

As part of his job, Muhaisen must travel to Jordan to meet with various cement companies, attend workshops and for other work-related reasons. Since summer 2015, however, Jordan has denied Muhaisen entry.

“Although I was born in Gaza, I have lived all my life in the West Bank, but I still need a special entry permit from the Jordanian authorities,” he said. “Since last summer, [the Jordanian authorities] have consistently denied me an entry permit.” Muhaisen provided Al-Monitor with a screen shot of text messages informing him that his requests had been denied.

Muhaisen, whose wife and two children have Jordanian passports because they were born on the West Bank, have no problem crossing the King Hussein Bridge into the kingdom. Up until the summer of 2015, “It took a few days to get the Jordanian authorities to issue the needed permit, but since my last application in June [2015], I and many others have been regularly rejected,” Muhaisen said. Continue Reading »

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Sep 01 2016

Palestinians say no to cultural monopoly

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The summer months are the high season for cultural activities in Palestine, when folkloric troupes, dabke dance groups and theater companies put on performances for large audiences. The Palestinian Tourism Ministry has a dedicated webpage promoting such artistic, musical and other cultural events.

Once summer passes, these artistic groups become focused on invitations to dance and perform in world capitals and at international festivals. Palestinian cultural institutions dream of performing in major festivals and in front of foreign and Arab audiences as well as Palestinian crowds in the diaspora. These institutions compete to represent Palestine, and they pride themselves in the number of festivals that invite them to appear.

This summer, scandal ensued after Palestinian artists discovered that their own Foreign Ministry had recommended one troupe above all others for performances abroad. In a June 30 memo from Foreign Minister Riyad Malki, all Palestinian embassies around the world were informed that if asked to recommend a folkloric dance troupe, they should suggest al-Funoun al-Shaabiya, affiliated with the Istiqlal (Independence) University in Jericho. The university is a military academy headed by Tawfiq Tirawi, the former head of the General Intelligence Service and member of Fatah’s Central Committee. Continue Reading »

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Aug 24 2016

Al-Aqsa Mosque back in the eye of the storm with renewed clashes, arrests

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Tensions between Palestinian worshippers and Israelis at Al-Aqsa Mosque have been growing again. Following several incidents, Jordan’s King Abdullah told the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour on Aug. 15, “We will persist in undertaking our religious and historical responsibilities toward Al-Aqsa Mosque/Haram al-Sharif, which faces repeated violations by extremist groups.”

There has been no direct response from the Israeli Prime Ministry, which is directly handling this sensitive issue, to the words “extremists” and “violations.” However, some Israeli government and nongovernment officials did respond to the king’s statement. One of the more negative responses came from a lower-level government official. Zeev Elkin, the Jerusalem Affairs Minister, described the king’s words as “lip service” aimed at appeasing Jordanians. Avi Dichter, the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Aug. 15, “Israel will not accept [that] Mecca and Medina rules apply on the Temple Mount,” a reference to only Muslims being allowed to visit Mecca.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar also strongly condemned Israeli soldiers’ recurrent storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. In an official statement issued Aug. 14, Al-Azhar called on the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to take serious measures to stop such “barbaric attacks and flagrant violations” at the complex, which is considered Islam’s third-holiest site. Continue Reading »

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Aug 21 2016

Knesset plans lobby for return of Palestinians to their villages

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The most unusual group of Knesset members met July 26 to support the rights of the residents of two Palestinian villages who have been denied to return to their villages for 68 years now. The group included members of the governing coalition Kulanu Party and the opposition Zionist Camp, as well as former Minister of Defense Moshe Arens.

Upon the invitation of Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, Eli Alaluf from the governing coalition Kulanu Party and Ofer Shelah from the Yesh Atid opposition bloc, 30 Knesset members met to publicly declare their support for the rights of the villagers from Iqrit and Kufr Birim.

Six months after the creation of the State of Israel, the residents of the villages in the north of Israel and close to the Lebanese borders were asked on Nov. 4, 1948, by the Israeli army to vacate the villages for two weeks for military operational reasons. They have not been allowed to return since, even though they are Israeli citizens and have continued to live in nearby villages and towns while constantly demanding the right to return.

Appeals by the residents of those villages to the Israeli Supreme Court led in July 1951 to a ruling that Iqrit and Kufr Birim’s residents living in Israel must be allowed to return, but the ruling was ignored. Israeli soldiers forced several of the residents to watch as all of their homes were blown up with dynamite and other explosives on Christmas Day 1953. Continue Reading »

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