Archive for November, 2014

Nov 27 2014

Israel’s nationality bill threatens agreement with PLO

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and President Mahmoud Abbas, as representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), held secret talks with members of Israel’s Labor Party in 1993, they were dealing with a secular political party that headed a coalition also including non-Zionist religious parties. When Yasser Arafat, as chairman of the PLO’s Executive Committee, signed a letter that same year recognizing the State of Israel, the secular coalition government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had not tried to define Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people.

These documents through which the PLO and Israel officially recognized each other needed to be signed before Arafat and Rabin could publicly meet and approve the Declaration of Principles (the Oslo Declaration). Once the letters were signed Sept. 9, the two leaders met publicly in Washington, on Sept. 13, and the world witnessed their famous handshake on the White House lawn. These documents — the bedrock of the current Palestinian-Israeli agreements — are now in jeopardy. Speaking to Voice of Palestine Radio, Yasser Abed Rabbo, PLO secretary-general, used the word “dangerous” to describe the possible change in the legal character of Israel currently under discussion.

Although the issue of the Jewish character of Israel has been part of domestic debates for decades, on Nov. 23 the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a legal step on the matter. In a 14-6 vote, his Cabinet approved the latest draft of a controversial 14-item bill to declare Israel “the national homeland of the Jewish people.” According to Netanyahu, the measure will give Arab citizens of Israel equal individual rights while bestowing Jews in Israel and around the world national rights, an assertion fiercely rejected by many in Israel. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 25 2014

Jailed Palestinian leader calls for armed resistance

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

For the 23rd time since his arrest in 2002, Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti was transferred to an isolated cell in the Israeli Hadarim prison. The Israeli press said that the punishment was due to a letter smuggled out of prison by the Palestinian leader and published in the largest Palestinian newspaper.

In the letter, published in Al Quds on Nov. 11, Barghouti remembered the late Yasser Arafat on the 10th anniversary of his death and called on Palestinians to honor him with a “comprehensive resistance and the gun” that would lead to independence. In the 632-word letter, Barghouti mentioned the term resistance three times and recalled other leaders such as Hamas’ Ahmed Yassin, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s Abu Ali Mustafa, Fatah leader Khalil Wazir Abu Jihad, Islamic Jihad’s Fathi Shiqaqi and Fatah’s Al Aqsa Brigade leader Raed Karmi.

Fadwa Barghouti, wife of the jailed leader, told Al-Monitor that her husband has never changed his position. “Ever since his arrest until now, he has held on to the right of comprehensive resistance that international law guarantees,” she said. Fadwa spoke to Al-Monitor before leaving for Chile and Argentina to join international events of solidarity for her husband.

When pressed about the use of the additional term of the gun, Fadwa Barghouti, who on her Facebook page had removed the word “gun,” suggested that his reference to armed resistance was a tactical statement and not a strategic one: “He is not expected to change his position while he is suffering in prison.” Fadwa Barghouti insisted that Marwan Barghouti’s policies are known to all, a reference to his general support for the peace process and the two-state solution. He has also stated on numerous occasions his opposition to attacks on civilians. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 24 2014

Obama says no plans to remove Assad

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Obama clarifies Assad policy

Speaking to reporters at G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia on November 16, US President Barack Obama dismissed reports of pending changes in Syria policy, saying “We have not had a comprehensive review of Syria. We’ve had a comprehensive review of what are we doing each and every week” in the military campaign to defeat the Islamic State.

On the role of Assad in the battle with IS and in a political transition in Syria, Obama said “there’s no expectation that we are going to in some ways enter an alliance with Assad. He is not credible in that country. Now, we are looking for a political solution eventually within Syria that is inclusive of all the groups who live there — the Alawite, the Sunni, Christians. And at some point, the people of Syria and the various players involved, as well as the regional players — Turkey, Iran, Assad’s patrons like Russia — are going to have to engage in a political conversation. And it’s the nature of diplomacy in any time, certainly in this situation, where you end up having diplomatic conversations potentially with people that you don’t like and regimes that you don’t like. But we’re not even close to being at that stage yet.”

Asked pointedly if he was actively discussing ways to remove Assad in the context of plans for a political transition in Syria, Obama responded with a simple “No.”

Obama’s clarity on Syria stood in contrast to an unusual presentation by US Secretary of State John Kerry the next day on how the Islamic State and the government of Syria are actually “co-dependent” or “symbiotic,” that is, they need each other as enemies, and the US must build and back a “moderate center” in Syria.

Kerry’s remarks come as Syrian military forces this month retook the area around the Al-Shaer gas field from the IS terrorist group after fierce fighting, as reported by Khaled Atallah. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 24 2014

Could Israel’s policies pave way for an intifada?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

In the early months of the first intifada, Palestinians waited for the underground leadership’s directions, which came out in a numbered statement that was quickly distributed by fax throughout the occupied territories. The leaflet, Bayan al-intifada, came to be regularly issued by what was known as the Unified National Command of the Intifada. This underground leadership was a well-kept secret, and for Israel, its members were like needles in a haystack.

In 1987, I was asked about it in an interview with Israel TV about the leadership. I answered half-jokingly that it could be meeting anywhere, including in West Jerusalem or even in a Tel Aviv cafe. I am told that this made Israelis go berserk, not knowing which of the Palestinians they saw at their cafes were part of the underground leadership and which were simply out for a cup of coffee.

At the time of the first intifada, there was no wall and no restriction on the movement of Palestinians from the occupied territories into Israel.

In Nov. 13 meeting of journalists who worked at the now defunct Palestinian newspaper Al Fajr, Hatem Abdel Qader, one of the paper’s editors who later became a member of the Palestinian Parliament and a minister for Jerusalem affairs, revealed that the underground leadership often met on the premises of the newspaper’s Nablus Road offices in East Jerusalem. An editor in attendance indicated that the third leaflet had been produced at the newspaper premises. A Palestinian engineer from Ramallah, Khaled Batrawi, posted on his Facebook page this week that he had been aware of a number of meetings of the underground leadership held in West Jerusalem.

At the time, membership in — or even sympathy for — the PLO was illegal, so it was necessary to direct it in secret. This need, coupled with Palestinians’ freedom of movement, created the formula for the creation of the underground leadership. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 20 2014

The ‘Battle for Jerusalem’: It Is Personal

HuffingtonPost-Logo

By Daoud Kuttab

It is not clear whether Israeli prime minister’s portrayal of the latest violence as the battle of Jerusalem was a description of what was happening or an electoral wish. Whatever the case, the results of the “battle for Jerusalem”, if it is that, will certainly be different from what Israelis predict.

One of the first indications that Jerusalem is different is the personalization of the victims.
Everyone has a name and the names are given prominence.

More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli war on Gaza, but we know very little about them. In Jerusalem, however, the names of both Palestinians and Israelis who are killed are given much more prominence in media coverage and public discussions.

Mohammad Abu Khudair who was brutally killed by Jewish settlers, and Yusuf Hasan Al Ramuni, the Palestinian driver who operated an Israeli bus and was said to have hanged himself, have become household names.

The Israelis who were killed in the attack on the synagogue also have been named: Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, Rabbi Kalman Levine and Aryeh Kupinsky.

Similarly, the press gave the names of the two Palestinian cousins, Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of At Tur.

This high visibility of the various victims of the violence in Jerusalem is certain to raise the emotional and political temperature in a city that has been near boiling point since summer.

Israel’s planned punishments for the people of Jerusalem will do little to de-escalate the tensions, but will certainly contribute to widening them.

While Israel’s prime minister and other ministers and politicians quickly accused the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and Gaza for what happened, Israel’s security chiefs, including the head of Shin Bet (internal security), publicly contradicted their political leaders and blamed the violence on the visit by members of the Knesset to Al Aqsa Mosque and the killing of Abu Khudair, rather than anything else.

The fact is that, unlike other areas in the occupied territories, Israel has full control over East Jerusalem and has created a wall separating Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian territories. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 18 2014

Tense calm continues at Al-Aqsa

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Driving from Bethlehem to Jerusalem on Nov. 13 , the 10 a.m. news report on Jordan radio was reassuring. After noting the meeting among King Abdullah, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it announced that all had agreed to soothe tensions in Jerusalem and that entry to Al-Aqsa for the faithful would be eased.

I was planning to go to Al-Aqsa, but was unsure whether to believe the news. The scene outside Damascus Gate that morning was not reassuring. I counted at least 10 large Israeli police vehicles and saw dozens of policemen preparing themselves for a battle. Israeli police on four horses went by in an additional show of force. I waited for the 10:30 news on Israel radio in Arabic, but that report focused mostly on the latest controversy between the heads of the Israeli army and police over who knew what before the Gaza war.

I walked into the Old City along with many others. Aside from a few cameras on top of the stairs leading to the gate, there was no visible sign of the tension that had rocked the city for days. Just inside the walls, a group of Israeli police officers in their navy blue uniforms stood idly as Palestinians walked past local merchants hawking toys and cell phone covers and women farmers trying to sell sage, parsley, mint and raisins.

At an intersection, another cluster of policemen, this time including two border patrol guards in khaki uniforms, stood by as people walked to the mosque area. Shortly, I approached the house that late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had taken over in an act that provoked many protests in 2000. I asked a sweet shop vendor if Sharon’s home, which still had a large Israeli flag on it, had become vacant. He replied that it is occupied by four Israeli settlers. Just around the corner from the house was yet another group of six Israeli police officers. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 17 2014

Elements for third Palestinian intifada present

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

One of the most often repeated themes littering political discussions and commentary by pundits in Israel and Palestine involves when the next intifada will take place. The repeated failure to predict it shows that no one can foresee what combination of issues and actions might produce the collective popular protests that have become associated with Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation.

Despite not being able to identify or predict when the next intifada will erupt, it is a helpful lesson to look at the elements present when the first and second uprisings began and compare them to the current situation. Identifiable elements triggering past intifadas include the absence of a political horizon, violent Israeli repression, an increase in settlement activity and tensions in Jerusalem.

In the 1980s, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon that forced the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to relocate to Tunis from Beirut, Israel under Likud leadership began a systematic settlement drive that included major land confiscations in the West Bank. Unable to stop this illegal and exclusively Jewish settlement activity, Palestinians eventually revolted.

The absence of a political horizon after 20 years of occupation was a major contributor to the first intifada, which began Dec. 9, 1987. The second intifada broke out on Sept. 28, 2000, after repeated Israeli foot dragging in post-Oslo peace talks. When the Palestinians lost hope with the possibility of a peace agreement at Camp David II, they responded violently. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 14 2014

My First Interview with Yasser Arafat

Published by under Articles

HuffingtonPost-Logo

By Daoud Kuttab

In the spring of 1994 I had the privilege of having an exclusive interview with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was still in Tunis at the time and the interview was arranged for me by three local West Bank leaders I knew, Marwan Barghouti, Jibril Rajoub and Samir Sbeihat, who had been deported by Israelduring the first Intifada.

The PLO leader had signed a few months earlier the Oslo Accords and my friends were part of Arafat’s entourage that was preparing for the triumphant return.

The three had spent time in Israeli jails and knew Hebrew fluently, and thus were key to the important transition that was taking place.

As was customary, the Palestinian leader never gave a particular interview time; one needed to wait around until he would call one in.

I knew from colleagues that he often gave interviews late at night.

While waiting for the interview, I spent a few days with the three Palestinian youth leaders (and also interviewed them) in preparation for the big interview.

The young West Bank leaders had talked to me about their belief that the movement they belonged to, Fatah, should undergo major change. As Palestinians were preparing for statehood, they argued, it made perfect sense for Fatah to become a political party.

Around midnight I was called in. Present during the interview were the three Palestinians, as well as one of Arafat’s advisers,Khaled Salam, who would later become a controversial figure in Palestine. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 11 2014

Ramallah tech expo highlights Palestinian IT industry

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The opening ceremony of Expotech 2014 at the Ramallah Cultural Palace on Nov. 9 was a sellout. Under the theme “intelligent cities,” a week of technological-related events are taking place in Ramallah and Gaza — via video conference — with the aim of discussing, planning and networking one of Palestine’s most ambitious information technology projects.

Ramallah Mayor Musa Hadid promised the attendees a city that will be totally covered by a Wi-Fi network as a direct response to the Israelis refusing to allow Palestinian mobile companies to provide 3G and 4G to its customers.

The Palestinian information and communication technology (ICT) sector is making a major contribution to the overall output of the Palestinian economy. A European Union-funded study in April 2013 by the Palestinian Information Technology Association in Palestine found that ICT’s contribution to the Palestinian economy is disproportional to the number of people it employs. “With 3% of the workforce [about 5,000 individuals] producing 8% of output, the ICT sector stakeholder ambition is to increase Palestinian ICT companies’ international market access [that is, enhance export activity] to encourage sector growth.”

A special bulletin prepared by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) for the Portland Trust concluded that the ICT sector is a strong contributor to the overall economy: “For each new worker employed in the ICT sector, three employment opportunities are created in other sectors that support the ICT sector.” Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Nov 10 2014

Jordan recalls envoy to Israel after Al-Aqsa violence

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat, received warm applause on Oct. 28 while giving a speech in Tel Aviv on relations between his country and Israel. “This 20th year of the peace treaty has witnessed the advancement of major projects that ultimately serve the advancement of bilateral and regional interests,” said the ambassador. Obeidat, speaking two decades after Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty, also referenced recent agreements on water and gas between the two countries. Yet, Jordan’s national media paid little attention to these aspects of the speech, instead stressing the Jordanian ambassador’s slamming of Israel for its settlement policies in East Jerusalem.

The Jordanian diplomat, who refused to heed the opposition of his own tribe, was lonely in the Israeli coastal city. He was the only acting Arab ambassador in Israel. Egypt recalled its envoy to Cairo in 2011 following the Israeli shooting of three Egyptian border security officers. He has not returned since.

Obeidat had survived the breakdown of Palestinian-Israeli talks, the sharp increase in Jewish settlement activities, the killing of a Jordanian judge on the King Hussein Bridge (for which a joint investigation has yet to produce results) and the 51-day brutal Israeli war on Gaza. And, despite repeated calls from parliamentarians, civil society activists and a weekly vigil held every Thursday, diplomatic relations have remained normal. Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Next »