Archive for May, 2014

May 28 2014

Pope’s Visit: A Resounding Success

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

At all levels, the visit of Pope Francis to Jordan and Palestine was a huge success.

For about 26 hours, everything was implemented as planned. And the few unplanned moments worked out quite well, leaving indelible memories and images.

The Pope’s visit was billed as pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the slogan chosen by the Vatican was unity, in reference to the historic meeting planned with the head of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

Fifty years after a similar trip was made by Pope Paul VI, the trip was aimed at rekindling the spirit of unity among Christians of different denominations, as well as an interfaith effort.

Pope Francis was accompanied by Muslim and Jewish religious leaders (one each) from his days in Argentina; the spirit of unity was evident in various meetings, speeches and homilies.

But the highlight of the entire trip was not planned, rehearsed or even expected.

The Pope had decided not to cross any checkpoints to enter the UN-declared non-member state of Palestine and so the idea of an image of the Pope interacting with the occupation or seeing the wall was thought to have been bypassed by the decision to visit Palestine, flying a Jordanian military helicopter straight to Palestine.

As he was driving around Bethlehem in his open car, the Pontiff passed by the entrance of the Aida refugee camp and noticed the separation wall. It is hard for anyone not to take notice of the 10-metre-high wall (which the media insist on calling a separation barrier) and it is even harder for the Jesuit Pope who has empathy for the weak and oppressed not to stop. Continue Reading »

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May 26 2014

Pope visit to boost Palestinian calls for statehood

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Political analyst Rami Khouri gives two main causes for the anger that has brought Arabs to the streets: humiliation and the search of legitimacy. These sources are clear as Palestinians prepare for the visit of Pope Francis to Palestine as part of his Holy Land visit that also includes Jordan and Israel.

The Palestinians are looking to Pope Francis to help legitimize their aspirations of independence and statehood, and hope the visit will shine a light on their decades of refugee existence, occupation and colonial settlement. Much effort went into ensuring that the pontiff’s visit to Palestine precedes his visit to Israel so as not to create the impression that Palestine is an internal Israeli issue.

The latest schedule issued by the church and Palestinian officials indicates that the pope will arrive in Bethlehem by a Jordanian military helicopter. A news report by AFP quoted a Palestinian church official as saying that the pope will arrive in Bethlehem without crossing the Israeli-controlled King Hussein Bridge or any Israeli checkpoint, and will “recognize Palestine” and oppose the occupation. Continue Reading »

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May 21 2014

Divide grows between Israeli, Palestinian journalists

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Journalists are supposed to cover the news, not become the subject of it. This was the case, however, with two Israeli journalists who defied a request by Palestinian demonstrators not to film their bare faces.

Most journalists in the field, especially photographers, know the feeling of angry demonstrators approaching a camera crew asking them not to record images of uncovered faces for fear of retaliation by the governing authority. Most photographers can easily gauge the seriousness of the request and judge responsibly whether to walk away and take pictures from afar or stand their ground and insist on the right to film.

Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff, by his own admission, mistakenly thought he and photographer Daniel Book could stay put and weather the storm. As a result, he was pushed around by Palestinian demonstrators until he decided to leave, along with two Palestinian security officials. Assertions by the Israeli journalist that he had escaped a near lynching, instigated simply because he is an Israeli journalist, seem a bit exaggerated by his own description of the event as well as those of fellow Israelis who were at the scene and were not attacked.

The incident took place in the Palestinian town of Beitunia, south of Ramallah, on May 16. A day earlier, two Palestinian youths, Muhammad Odeh Abu al-Daher and Nadeem Siam Nawara, had been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers using live ammunition. While Israel has promised to conduct an investigation into the fatal shootings, previous investigations have resulted in a white washing of events and absolution of the soldiers involved. Continue Reading »

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May 18 2014

Consensus grows on Palestinian ICC membership

AlMonitor

Daoud Kuttab

Since the breakdown of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and the reconciliation agreement between the West Bank and Gaza leaderships, Palestinians have been considering an important question: Will the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) apply to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), and when would be the right time to do so?

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, former chief ICC prosecutor, has said that UN recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state has changed Palestinians’ legal status vis-a-vis The Hague-based court. In a May 12 interview with Al-Monitor, Moreno-Ocampo encouraged the Palestinians to join the ICC. He said, “The presence of the ICC in the region will encourage the sides to think creatively about how to solve their problems in their bilateral relations.”

While Palestine can legally join the international court, it is not clear that it wishes to do so, especially considering the possible reactions by the Israelis who might face trial for war crimes if the process is completed. On the other hand, given the experience of previous years, Palestinians are now convinced that even if Israel and the United States scream and shout about such a move, it is unlikely to turn the tables on the Palestinians for taking this nonviolent action. Similar threats were made when the PLO asked the United Nations for recognition and when it recently approved the reconciliation with Hamas.

Pressure to join the ICC is not only coming from Palestinians, but also from major international human rights organizations, 17 of which, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to join the court. In a May 8 statement, they noted that if the state of Palestine “signed up to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the Court would have jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Palestinian territories and by its nationals elsewhere.” Continue Reading »

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May 18 2014

Marwan Barghouti joins latest hunger strike

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Mahmoud al-Ramahi is secretary-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council, an Italian-educated doctor and the father of five. Ever since taking this position after the Hamas electoral victory in 2006, he has suffered continued detention at the hands of Israeli occupation forces. He was last re-arrested in Nov. 12, 2012. He had been released five months earlier after a series of repeated administrative detentions. He is currently held in the Ketiziot prison in the Negev desert without charges.

Mazen Natshe, father of three, was re-arrested Aug. 26, 2013. He had spent just five months free before that, after 41 months of continuous administrative detention.

Salem Dirdisawi, from al-Bireh, was arrested April 28, 2014, and is held in solitary confinement in the Ayalon prison.

Ahmad Rimawi was 18 when he was arrested in November 2012 and is the youngest Palestinian administrative detainee on hunger strike. He is being held in the Negev.

The above is a small sample of Palestinians held by Israel without charges, generally referred to as administrative detainees. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 186 Palestinians are currently being held without charges.

About 140 of these prisoners declared a new hunger strike on April 24 demanding an end to a situation internationally recognized as illegal. A campaign to support the striking prisoners has spread from Palestine all over the world, with a high visibility on social media. On May 8, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners joined their fellow inmates in a one-day supportive hunger strike. Daily protests are ongoing in Palestine and many Arab countries such as Jordan. Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti has also joined the hunger strike. Continue Reading »

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May 14 2014

Israel Continues Imprisoning Palestinians Without Charge or Trial

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By Daoud Kuttab

Imagine being stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and being taken into custody. Then finding yourself in an Israeli jail for six months without charge or trial. After six months, the administrative order signed by a military commander is renewed. An Israeli military judge is presented a secret file which neither you nor your lawyer are allowed to see. Within minutes your nightmare is extended for another six months. And this same thing happens again and again. During this entire period you are held without charge or trial, based on the antiquatedBritish 1945 Emergency Regulations that the current rulers of Israel were so critical of that they compared it to Nazi laws. The above is not a fictional story and it does not take place in North Korea or a Third World dictatorship. At present, 186 Palestinian doctors, parliamentarians and teenagers are held without charge or trial by Israel, a country that calls itself the Middle East’s only democracy. Continue Reading »

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May 11 2014

Israel underestimates Palestinian leadership

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A review of statements by Israeli officials and pundits in response to the Palestinian unity agreement suggests a sense of surprise at the Palestinians’ audacity. Israel’s underestimation of the Palestinian leadership is reflected in an arrogant attitude reminiscent of a colonizer-colonized relationship.

Nearly five decades of occupation and colonization have left Israelis shocked when Palestinians take action that is independent of them and their expectations.

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed up with 15 different international organizations, Israeli officials were flustered. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz unabashedly attacked Abbas, claiming that his actions reflect ingratitude. Ynet quoted him as saying, “Truth be told, Mahmoud Abbas is spitting in our faces. … The Palestinian Authority exists thanks to us. Not only because of the Oslo Accord, but because of the funds we transfer them, and the security we give them. Otherwise, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as they control Gaza, would also take down Abbas and take over Ramallah.”

It would be interesting to register his attitude now that Hamas and the PLO have signed a reconciliation agreement that is more a capitulation by Hamas than anything else. Continue Reading »

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May 06 2014

Palestinian diaspora needs unity deal

AlMonitor

 

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By Daoud Kuttab

The PLO-Hamas reconciliation agreement signed in the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on April 23 is forcing Palestinians everywhere to revisit their own divisions and start working together for the common Palestinian good.

For years, Palestinians living outside the occupied territories have been divided over many fronts. Not only was the PLO-Hamas split reflected in almost every diaspora community, but there has also been a generational split and a more intense ideological one.

Palestinians and their supporters might agree on their opposition to the Israeli occupation, but they have been unable to agree as to what they are aiming for, and how they want to get there.

While the PLO-Hamas split is often reflected in radical versus moderate terms, and violent versus nonviolent resistance, a different and more intense ideological battle has been brewing. Within the largely secular, liberal diaspora, a huge split has evolved not on how to achieve independence, but what kind of Palestinian state it should be. Supporters of the two-state solution are dismissed as “appeasers” and as “traitors to the cause of the right of return,” while supporters of the one-state solution are accused of preaching an ideology without providing any details on how they plan to convince Israeli Jews to come around and accept it. Continue Reading »

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May 06 2014

Clerics, scholars debate action on Jerusalem

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The dangers facing Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque finally appear to have elicited serious Arab reactions. The guests and comments of the organizers of a recent conference held in the Jordanian capital of Amman reflect a newfound seriousness.

“The Road to Jerusalem” — held April 28-30 and organized by the World Islamic Sciences and Education University and Jordan’s Palestine parliamentary committee — tackled some hard issues never before confronted. The seriousness of the discussion was best conveyed when Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad, King Abdullah’s right-hand man on religious issues (including Jerusalem), convened a private meeting, without the press in attendance, with delegates from Palestine and the Arab world.

Leaks from that meeting indicate that Ghazi described the seriousness of the situation, in particular in regard to the Hashemite pledge to protect and defend the Haram al-Sharif, the site of Al-Aqsa, and Jerusalem in general. Jordan’s unique role in Jerusalem is codified in Article 9 of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty and in a special Jordanian-Palestinian agreement signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah in March 2013. Continue Reading »

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May 06 2014

Palestinian reconciliation deal a Hamas surrender

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Ever since the 2007 split that divided Palestinian rule between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Ramallah-based leadership has had three options to consider: using force, compromising or waiting for Hamas to capitulate. Israel, which was established and continues to exist through use of brutal force, has always recommended that Ramallah crush the Gaza-based Islamic insurgency. Israelis used their own history as an example. In the early days of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion’s army sank the Altalena, a ship loaded with arms belonging to the rival Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, killing 20 Irgunists.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could have also yielded politically to the many demands of Hamas, the most important of which was to abandon the Western-sponsored negotiations with Israel and join Hamas in its “resistance” program. Instead, Abbas choose a third option: supporting Gazans while waiting for Hamas to give in. The Ramallah-based government has been paying salaries and covering the electricity costs for the Gaza Strip since the split erupted in 2007, even at the cost of its own fiscal health.

Abbas’ strategy finally paid off, in an agreement that at least on paper suggests a total Hamas capitulation and a clear political victory for Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Islamic movement suddenly began speaking of Abbas as president and even applauded one of his speeches that reiterated his commitment to the peace talks. Hamas has agreed to yield its government to a unity cabinet made up of technocrats, none of whom will be known Hamas members. The Islamic movement has also crucially agreed to presidential and parliamentary elections to be conducted no later than six months after the formation of the unity government. The most important political concession, however, is that Hamas agreed to join the PLO and all its institutions. Continue Reading »

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