Archive for June, 2015

Jun 28 2015

What’s behind Israel’s easing of travel restrictions?


By Daoud Kuttab

When Mohammad Badarneh made it to Jerusalem, he was in awe. He spent hours walking the streets of the Old City, praying at Islam’s third holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, while posting pictures of what he saw on hisFacebook page. Badarneh, who hails from the northern West Bank city of Jenin, now lives in Ramallah where he works as a reporter for Palestine TV. He was one of tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians who visited Jerusalem in the first week of the month of Ramadan, which began June 17.

While men over 40 and women of all ages are allowed into Jerusalem without a permit, Badarneh, 25, needed the coveted tasreeh, the physical paper permit, to pass through the Israeli checkpoint.

Thousands of travelers were issued permits on the eve of Ramadan by the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit to the surprise of many, including the Palestinian leadership. It isn’t clear what motivated Israel to carry out its far-reaching travel relaxation policy. Is it a genuine first step toward dismantling the occupation, or is it a sign that Israel intends to keep the occupation for a long time and wants to better manage this crisis?

Israel’s unprecedented travel relaxation included, for the first time in 15 years, permits to 500 well-vetted Palestinians to travel abroad via Ben Gurion International Airport, and a similar number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to travel to Jerusalem via the Erez crossing. A further 50 Palestinian journalists were given permission to enter the holy city to produce reports on Ramadan festivities and general life in Jerusalem. Continue Reading »

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Jun 25 2015

Palestinian independence should start on the economic front

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The absence of a political horizon has strengthened Palestinians’ attempts to reach a different form of independence.
Failure on the political front made them work on a more doable idea: to empower Gaza and the West Bank economically through improving trade with their natural Arab environment.

Jordan, which has the longest border with Palestine and the only way in and out of the West Bank, is perfectly situated to help it carry out an accelerated economic boost that can focus on trade, investment and joint projects.
Joint visits by economic, business, industry and tourism Palestinian and Jordanian officials, along with connecting Jericho and other Palestinian areas to the Jordanian electric grid appear to be key components of this process.
But European diplomats working quietly on this front noticed that attempts to improve trade exchanges between Jordan and Palestine are not moving quickly.
Instead of a win-win situation for each side, the trade exchange is apparently subject to political constraints.

Jordanian-Palestinian relations under President Mahmoud Abbas and His Majesty King Abdullah are unprecedented.
Yet, one can detect a certain hesitation in this relationship on the part of the Jordanian government.
Jordan’s uneasiness with the Palestinians was recently revealed in a meeting between a senior official and journalists. Continue Reading »

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Jun 23 2015

Hanan Ashrawi: US must act quickly to save two-state solution


By Daoud Kuttab

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi blasted Israeli attempts to pre-empt the UN report on the Gaza Strip, saying that they’re trying to control the narrative. “They are trying to create a misleading and fabricated narrative so people can react to it,” Ashrawi told Al-Monitor.

 The senior Palestinian official said that Israel “handpicked select individuals to guarantee the outcome at the end.”

The left-wing Israeli website Mondoweiss called the report and the accompanying coverage in The New York Times “a whitewash,” focusing on the fact that the report exonerated the Israeli army for the killing of four Palestinian boys playing soccer on the Gaza shore.

But Ashrawi sounded upbeat as to the changes in international public opinion toward Israel. “We are starting now to see a process of accountability for Israel,” she said.

Ashrawi strongly denied concerns in Jordan that the Palestinians are holding talks with Israel behind the scenes, similar to what happened in Oslo. “There are no secret talks,” she replied to Al-Monitor’s question on the subject, stressing it was the Israelis who stopped this process and they know what’s needed to get back. “They are trying to blame us for walking away, which is a total reversal of the facts. They refused cessation of settlement activities, which is what is needed to be in compliance with international law, they violated a signed agreement to release prisoners and they rejected the 1967 borders as a basis for talks.”

Ashrawi fully rejected Israel’s attempts to build on the idea of land swaps even before any comprehensive deal is agreed to. “They are distorting the borders of Jerusalem saying they will be naturally ours. Show me any agreement where we agreed to land swaps. The issue was raised in talks but not in any signed agreement. They pocket such ideas and want us to start with land swaps as a given,” she said.

The Ramallah-based former professor of English at Birzeit University did not hold much hope for US diplomacy even after the Iran agreement. “The US needs to act differently and I am not sure that they are willing to change or stop giving Israel favors. If the US wants to salvage whatever is left of its standing, it must move quickly and act to undo the damage it has caused by its bias and mistake,” she said.

Ashrawi also did not hold much hope for the talks about the expected French resolution, which she felt might include compromises rather than an actionable mechanism. “We need a resolution with teeth, one that has a follow-up mechanisms such as an international conference and binding arbitration.”

The text of the full interview: Continue Reading »

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Jun 14 2015

UN envoy Mladenov: Absence of political process ‘dangerous’


By Daoud Kuttab

The UN’s recently appointed Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov has sounded a strong warning about the absence of any political process. In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Mladenov spoke of the need for the new Israeli government to make a move for peace, calling the current status quo “ultimately untenable.” The peace envoy insisted that such a process must include a freeze of settlement activities, saying, “The absence of a political process today is dangerous for all … particularly given the turmoil in the region.”

Mladenov said that the goal of the UN and the international community is the lifting of the closure on Gaza, generally referred to as a blockade. However, “Before that becomes possible, we will work with the [Palestinian Authority] and the Israeli government to facilitate the entry of much-needed construction materials,” he said.

The UN official called for bridging the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the framework of legitimate institutions. “Palestine is one, and I will work with determination to support President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Rami] Hamdallah in their efforts toward achieving reconciliation.”

On some of the issues that are holding up reconciliation, the UN official called for the speedy “reintegration of civil service employees and the return of PA forces to the crossings [as] critical parts of such a bottom-up approach to reconciliation.”

As to the continuation of Israeli settlement activities, Mladenov reiterated the position of the UN secretary-general that the international community “will not recognize unilateral actions” on the ground. “I will not speculate on the intentions of the new Israeli government, but rest assured that the UN is looking to Israel to demonstrate its readiness to engage with the Palestinians on building peace, including by freezing settlement activities,” he added.

The full text of the interview follows: Continue Reading »

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Jun 14 2015

Radical Islamists add to Hamas’ burden


By Daoud Kuttab

The political and security situation in the Gaza Strip has become more complicated with the rise of Palestinian groups that are reportedly sympathetic to the Islamic State (IS) and operate under its banner.

 While radical jihadist Salafist elements have existed in Gaza for years, this is the first time that responsibility for a rocket fired at Israel has been claimed by an organization apparently publicly aligned with IS. The claim came by way of a statement posted on Twitter under the name of Omar Hadid Brigade, reading that the June 2 attack was an act of revenge for Hamas killing its fighter Younis Hanar on June 1. Factions in Gaza often show their dissatisfaction with Hamas by firing rockets at Israel while Hamas is under a cease-fire agreement.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for any attacks against it and on June 4, Israeli warplanes bombed two training bases of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza. No one was injured.

While it is early to say whether IS has found a foothold in Gaza, there are signs of increased pressure in the past few months on women, intellectuals and moderate figures in Gaza from radical Islamic elements.

A major step up from demanding that women dress according to their version of Islamic attire, IS entering the security domain indicates more troubles for the Hamas security apparatus, already weakened by reduced funding from Iran after disagreements over the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts. In trying to govern a community with different levels of religiosity, Hamas has had to moderate its social code, leaving it vulnerable to attacks from more radical groups. Continue Reading »

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Jun 10 2015

Palestinians need non-violent strategy

Following appeared in the Jordan times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

For the first time in 48 years, Palestinians are playing in a much more level playing field.

By strategically moving into the non-violent field, Palestinians are in a much stronger position to make an impact in their decades-long struggle.

Whenever Palestinians fought the Israelis in militarily they failed. Not only was Israel superior militarily, it was also using its fight as a country struggling to exist and survive.

Palestinians were painted as blood-thirsty terrorists with no respect for “civilised” rules.

Israel was careful to superficially “apologise” when its attacks caused civilian deaths, leaving Palestinians losers both on the military front and the political front.

By restricting their struggle to non-violence only, the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and independence is much more powerful politically, for a host of reasons.

Unlike the military action, which is restricted largely to trained young men, non-violent struggle can be fought by all Palestinians, both inside the occupied territories and outside.

The international version of this non-violent struggle has taken the form of boycotts, divestments and sanctions. The BDS campaign, which started in the academic sphere, has taken root in major international locations causing panic to the Israelis. Continue Reading »

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Jun 04 2015

Palestinians Waver Between Politics and Nonviolent Revolution


Following appeard in the Jordan Times newspaper

To many people, the entire non-violent Palestinian movement came down to a moment last Friday in Zurich.

Many would argue that head of the Palestinian Football Federation Jibril Rjoub blinked at that moment. In the very last seconds of a match that witnessed a steadfast and unyielding determination, the Palestinian team leader backed away, avoiding a possible confrontation with Israelis and their supporters.

It might not be that simple and it would be unfair to put so much on the shoulders of one man. Rjoub probably had much more than he could handle alone, but many would argue that people feel let down having believed in him and expected him to stay steadfast until the end.

Rjoub, who insisted up to the last minute that he was going to demand the ouster of the Israeli Football Federation, accepted an amendment to the resolution that avoided the call to dismiss the Israeli federation and, instead, agreed to a committee with the participation of the world football body to look into the Palestinian charges against Israel’s discrimination and racism that violate FIFA by-laws.

The decision was taken by a vote of the general assembly and the issue is no longer in the hands of the FIFA executive.

What caught many off guard is that the committee has been charged to check with the UN about whether five Israeli settlement clubs are actually in the occupied territories. Continue Reading »

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Jun 02 2015

Israel’s Christian schools demand equality with Jewish schools


By Daoud Kuttab

Students graduating from church-run schools in the Holy Land are among the best performing and successful. Some of these educational institutions recently received worldwide visibility with the canonization of two Palestinian nuns whose selfless efforts wereinstrumental in raising the level of education in what is now Palestine and Israel.

 Christian schools in Israel, however, are facing severe financial difficulties, leading to an unprecedented demonstration in Jerusalem on May 27.

While the financial crisis in schools is not new, funding inequalities have recently became more clear. Haaretz reported May 15 that as part of the recent coalition negotiations, United Torah Judaism won financial equality between Heredi (Jewish Orthodox) and state education systems.

As a multiparty parliamentary system, Israeli governments are regularly created as a result of painstaking coalitions in which Cabinet portfolios, policy issues and financial disbursements are carrots used to convince small parties to keep the government in power.

Israel guarantees education for its citizens and has a special clause that gives nonpublic schools support for taking some of the burden from the government for educating its citizens. Continue Reading »

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