Archive for February, 2016

Feb 28 2016

The E1 test

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By Daoud Kuttab

In the battle of wills between Israel and the international community there comes a time and a place where this will is tested.

The Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestine is a creeping endeavour largely built on the attempt to wear out the other side and create facts on the ground.

The Israeli game plan is based on the idea of making its presence in the entire historic land of Palestine (which it calls Eretz Yisrael) so permanent that Palestinians would simply give up on their dream and right of independence on their national soil.

The international community, which has largely given lip service to the two-state solution, understands now more than ever that it is simply not enough to make declarations and repeat its opposition to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

The time has come to draw a line in the sand and insist that enough is enough.

Israel’s lust for Palestinian land has no limits and this appetite to take over land and turn it into exclusive Jewish colonies is seen now, more than ever, by the world for what it is: unbridled, ugly, land theft. Continue Reading »

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Feb 28 2016

Is the two-state solution dead?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The possibility of a game-changing series of Israeli settlements east of Jerusalem has raised alarm bells in various departments of the Palestinian government. The area in question, commonly referred to as E1, threatens to physically cut off from the north and the south of the West Bank from one another.

 Palestinian worries were further triggered when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet Jan. 24 that Israel will give “unconditional support” to the building of West Bank settlements. Netanyahu’s statement also coincided with revelations by the Israeli group Peace Now of plans for new settlements that will be built in sensitive areas of the occupied territories.

E1 is an area of 12 square kilometers (4.6 square miles), stretching from the north and the west of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the West Bank. In a report published Dec. 28 after a two-year legal battle in response to a freedom of information request, Peace Now said that 8,372 settler homes are envisioned for the strategic area known as E1.

Israel’s independent daily Haaretz reported Feb. 21 that Israeli forces have razed over 200 EU-funded buildings in the West Bank in the past two years. This year alone, around 480 people, including 220 children, have been left homeless. Continue Reading »

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Feb 22 2016

How Damascus Gate became the symbol of the intifada

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When Washington Post Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth wanted to write a column about the recent violence in Jerusalem, he went to the most obvious location — Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. There he found exactly whom he sought to interview, but he also found jittery Israeli security officers. What transpired Feb. 16 is detailed in a statement of protest by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel.

 That day, Booth and his newspaper’s West Bank correspondent, Sufian Taha, were interviewing Palestinians and Israelis outside Damascus Gate. Israeli soldiers stationed there were not pleased about this.

“When Booth and Taha tried to interview some high school students on the steps opposite the gate, police waved them away. They then retreated to interview the teenagers under a tree. Shortly after, border police waved the two journalists over and asked them for their IDs,” the FPA statement read. “Although the journalists made it very clear that they were reporting a story for The Washington Post, police took them to a nearby police station, where they were held for about 40 minutes, then released. When they asked police why they had been held, police said they had suspected the journalists of ‘inciting’ Palestinians.”  Continue Reading »

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Feb 17 2016

Gas and the people of Jordan

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

After 90 minutes of powerful anti-Israeli speeches by 18 members of Parliament, Deputy Speaker Mustapha Amawi called the session over because of lack of quorum.

The speakers were incensed by the fact that Jordan and the American Noble Energy Company signed a letter of intent to import gas from the Israeli Leviathan field in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaker after speaker explained that Jordan today is no longer in need of this deal, after having built a liquid gas seaport in Aqaba and working on building the Basra-Aqaba pipeline to import Iraq oil and gas.

Furthermore, parliamentarians insisted that today’s oil prices, hovering at around $30 a barrel, are different from what they were a few years ago. Oil was over $100 a barrel and the Egyptian gas pipe was blown up every other week, causing Jordan to have to use much more expensive alternatives to generate electricity. Continue Reading »

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Feb 17 2016

Arab Knesset members punished for helping their constituency

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

AMMAN — Jamal Zahalka has been a member of the Israeli Knesset in good standing for 13 years. He was first elected to the 16th Israeli legislature in 2003 and has been regularly re-elected since.

 But the Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset is now barred from speaking for two months in the Knesset plenary or in any of the committees on which he serves. Two other members of his Balad Party, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, will be prevented from participating in the Knesset debates for four months.

In a phone interview with Al-Monitor, Zahalka explained that the Feb. 4 decision of the Ethics Committee against him and his colleagues “was purely political” and had nothing to do with ethics. The Ethics Committee deals with issues related to behavior and actions of Knesset members.

Zahalka, Zoabi and Ghattas are accused of showing sympathy with terrorists. Zahalka, however, said that the efforts of the parliamentarians to help families in East Jerusalem are “totally the kind of act a parliamentarian is supposed to do.”

The problems began when Palestinian families from East Jerusalem were unable to retrieve the bodies of their children more than four months after having been killed by Israeli security — often involving a violent interaction with Israelis. “The families tried, through their lawyers, to speak to the police, but were told that this is a political problem,” Zahalka said.

Zahalka, 61, and two other Knesset members went to an East Jerusalem cultural center Feb. 4 to meet with the families, and subsequently discussed these complaints with the Israeli police. Rather than engaging with them to negotiate the solution for this humanitarian problem, the meeting itself quickly became the focus of a vicious campaign led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the Arab Knesset members. “Netanyahu used our clearly parliamentary action to incite against us, saying we were paying condolences to terrorists even though our meeting was at a cultural center four months after the incident happened. Who pays condolences after four months?” Zahalka asked sarcastically. Continue Reading »

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Feb 16 2016

A bad deal on Syria

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By Daoud Kuttab

A truce reached at the Munich Security Conference last week requires halting the fight in blood-soaked Syria within a week.

We have yet to see whether the commitment to a political solution is genuine. The Russians have shown no sign of slowing down their lethal air campaign on Aleppo.

Sceptics suspect that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not halt his military support for the Syrian regime and that US President Barack Obama will not do anything to turn things around.

Since Russia started its campaign in Syria, it has been talking about the necessity of reaching a political solution and defeating Daesh. And yet, Russia has done nothing to help defeat Daesh while it has targeted only the moderate opposition groups.

The Russian calculations could not be more obvious. For it, targeting the moderate opposition will push all forces to join Daesh and in this case, Syrian President Bashar Assad can claim that the battle is between his forces and Daesh.

The international community, according to this reasoning, will have no option then but to support Assad.

Meanwhile, the American administration is losing leverage in the crisis. Continue Reading »

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Feb 11 2016

Reconciliation is measured by results

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By Daoud Kuttab

For the first time in years, Palestinian reconciliation talks have not received the usual high-calibre media coverage, not even in the Palestinian media.

The low level of coverage might be a good thing. The deeply split parties Fateh and Hamas know that their credibility has been eroded by many false promises and optimistic headlines.

The current talks appear to focus on implementation mechanisms rather than making any changes to the content of previously signed agreements.

The Palestinian public is very sceptical regarding any breakthrough, and negotiators are aware of this, so it was a clever decision to keep the talks at very low profile, without making promises that might not be carried out.

The outstanding issue is clear: Hamas should allow the presidential guards to retake their former positions at the Gaza border crossings, which will ensure the opening of the Rafah crossing point.

This has been an Egyptian demand and all parties know that the Sisi administration, which is not very friendly to any Muslim Brotherhood group, will not negotiate it. Continue Reading »

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Feb 10 2016

How Palestine plans to shift its media strategy

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

You would expect the holder of the title “director of strategic communications and English-language spokesman” to talk about how to woo The New York Times or how to convince the BBC for positive write-ups about Palestine. But while Jamal Dajani — appointed Jan. 26 as new media guru for Palestine’s prime minister — is deeply interested in how the Palestinian narrative is reflected internationally, his first priority is working with the local media. For him, the first task in representing a politician is to communicate with the local constituency.

Dajani, a 58-year-old Jerusalemite, is a graduate of Columbia University and has been living in San Francisco. He told Al-Monitor via Skype that he never applied for the job, but feels that it is part of his national duty to serve. After years in the United States and on the road, Dajani is now back in his birthplace.

The new head of Palestinian communications lays out his credentials: “I have never been disconnected from Palestine. The nature of my work as a journalist, radio and TV producer and working in media development has put me in a unique position looking both from outside and the inside.”

The Palestinian-American journalist who won a Peabody Award for producing “MOSAIC: World News from The Middle East,” a TV program that provides original news from the Middle East, is not new to creating and leading communications strategies. He said, “I served as commissioner on human rights in San Francisco. I was also chairman of the Immigrant Rights Commission. In all these positions, the first order of business is to make sure that people know that you are working on their behalf.” Continue Reading »

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Feb 08 2016

Guest workers in Jordan

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The preliminary results of the national census in Jordan show that Syrian refugees number around 1.3 million.

Along with other nationalities, non-Jordanians now compose what amounts to 31 per cent of the total population.

Of the 9.5 million people living in Jordan, 6.6 million are Jordanian citizens, according to the Census Bureau.

We are told by the census commission that among non-Jordanians, 634,000 are Palestinians. It is not clear if these Palestinians are the displaced Gazans who made it to Jordan in 1967 and who, unlike their West Bank brethren, never had Jordanian citizenship or if this number includes Palestinian passport holders who are living and working in Jordan, or both.

In addition to Syrians and Palestinians, Jordan today is also home to some 390,000 Egyptian (the real number is most likely higher because many are without work permits and probably avoided the census). There are also 130,000 Iraqis, 31,000 Yemenis and 23,000 Libyans.

These numbers are a clear indication of the depth of the economic difficulties that Jordan is facing as a result of its policy to host Arab refugees and will certainly play a role in the conference on Syrian refugees that will take place in London today. Continue Reading »

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Feb 08 2016

The man behind the future of education in Palestine

AlMonitor

For more than 52 years, Palestinians completing 12th grade have faced a stressful, life-changing experience. Their admission to university has depended on how they do on a single, national exam. The “tawjihi,” the comprehensive matriculation exam designed to test knowledge and ability, has been a source of incredible pressure for students, their families and communities at large.

Young Palestinians cram for weeks before the exam and often lose sleep trying to be as prepared as possible, learning by heart the information that might be on the test. The results determine whether a student will be admitted to medical school or qualifies to study engineering. Thus, the test has become a huge part of Palestinian life.

Sabri Saidam, Palestinian minister of education and higher education, told Al-Monitor that he wants to revise the tawjihi, which he believes covers too much material and is based on rote memorization. In doing so, Saidam seeks to reduce the pressure on students and their families while also better evaluating students’ abilities.

In a comprehensive interview with Al-Monitor, Saidam, who was appointed in August 2015, also wants to use changes to the controversial test to introduce a much more effective education system. The test results often determine people’s future and ultimately can bring great benefits to their families or keep them in poverty. Scholarships are available to students who get high grades. “This [testing] system divides society on the basis of the results of the tawjihi, which does not allow the students to express themselves and does not provide any space for analysis or interactive learning,” Saidam explained. Continue Reading »

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