Nov 07 2016

A century after the Balfour Declaration

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By Daoud Kuttab

November 2 is etched in the minds of Palestinians and Arabs as a dark day. November 2, 2017, will mark the 100th anniversary of the date when a British official promised a Zionist leader a Jewish state in a country that was already inhabited by Palestinians, including Palestinian Jews.

Palestinians and their supporters are planning a year-long series of activities to mark this date with the aim of reminding the world of the injustice that befell the Palestinians nearly one century ago.

In 1917, in a letter to Lord Rothschild, the head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour made the promise of a state for Jews, but conditioned it with a request that existing communities would not be “prejudiced” by such a state.

“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country,” the text of the declaration reads. Continue Reading »

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Nov 01 2016

Why 30 Palestinians celebrated Jewish holiday with settlers

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Following the participation of a group of Palestinians in a holiday celebration at a nearby Jewish settlement, Palestinians have been asking themselves a simple question: Why would a population under occupation that bears the brunt of the settlement enterprise visit their occupiers?

The event over the Jewish Sukkot holiday on Oct. 19 was widely covered by the media. Mayor of Efrat Oded Revivi told French news agency AFP that 30 Palestinians who live near the Jewish settlement accepted the invitation. Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday during which participants build a hut and pray for rain. Palestine and Israel suffer from a water shortage.

The Washington Post reported in detail Oct. 20 what happened when Palestinians participated publicly in the holiday events at Efrat with gun-toting settlers and Israeli army officials.

Once the story was made public, the Palestinian security service on Oct. 21 arrested four of the Palestinians who had attended the settlers’ event. Bethlehem Governor Muhammad Taha told Israeli Army Radio that the four were accused of behavior that encourages “normalization with Israel,” which according to the governor is a violation of Palestinian law. It is unclear, however, why these four Palestinians were arrested, but it seems they were among the leaders of the group that attended the event. Continue Reading »

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Oct 27 2016

The rule of law in Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

His Majesty King Abdullah hit the nail on the head when he focused his Sixth Discussion Paper on the need to respect and abide by the rule of law.

The rule of law is not a new concept. It basically means that law, a written clearly stated law, should govern the country, as opposed to arbitrary decisions by government officials.

Some trace the concept of the rule of law to the 16th century Britain; others go back to the ancient philosopher Aristotle who wrote that “law should govern”.

But how do we apply this concept in today’s Jordan?

To begin with, it is important to understand, as the King stated, that loyalty and devotion “remain abstract and theoretical in the absence of respect to laws”.

This means that if you speak and sing praises to country while not respecting the law, you are much worse than a person who is critical of the country but respects its laws.

If accepted correctly, this would wipe out an entire class of individuals who constantly clap and sing the country’s praises but are often the first to ask for wasta and exceptions to the law. Continue Reading »

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Oct 26 2016

Russian-Palestinian relations better than during Soviet era

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The upcoming visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Israel and Palestine in November has produced a positive reaction from Palestinian officials.

While the visit planned for Nov. 10 has been billed as an anniversary celebration of the 25 years since Russia restored its ties with Israel, the Palestinian ambassador in Moscow welcomed the visit, calling Russia a supporter of Palestinian rights.

Abdel Hafiz Nofal, the Palestinian envoy to Russia, told Al-Monitor that Russia’s support has been consistent with Palestinian rights and aspirations. “Russia totally supports the Palestinian right for self-determination and the need for an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.

Russia, which is mired in the Syrian conflict, has also shown interest in the political quagmire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As late as mid-September, Moscow was trying hard to host a direct Israeli-Palestinian summit in October. The summit has not materialized, but according to Nofal, the Russians have not given up on the idea. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sept. 28 in an interview with the Turkish Anadolu Agency that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had foiled the Russian initiative because he refused to accept the two-state solution on the 1967 borders.

Nofal said he believes that the support of Russia is “much stronger and more dependable” than that of the Soviet Union. While the United States was the first country to recognize Israel as the de facto authority, the Soviet Union was the first country to recognize Israel as the de jure authority on May 17, 1948.

According to the Palestinian diplomat, a major reason for the steadiness of Russian support has to do with the Russian Orthodox Church and its sister church in Palestine. The Russian Church has developed into a major ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Orthodox Russian Church has properties in Palestine, and the rejuvenated Russian Orthodox faithful have been flooding the holy places in Palestine as pilgrims.

Putin, who visited Palestine a number of times, inaugurated on June 26, 2012, a major multipurpose cultural center in Bethlehem on land that belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. Nofal further said that Moscow plans to invest $50 million in the center. Palestinian officials have welcomed the Russian interest and investment. The mayor of Bethlehem renamed the street on which the new center is built “Putin Street.”

In another Palestinian town of Christian reference, Jericho, a Russian museum and park were built around the sycamore tree that reminds many faithful of the biblical story of Zacchaeus. The story was that Zacchaeus, a short man, had climbed a sycamore tree in Jericho to see Jesus.

Medvedev visited Jericho in July 2011, when he was president of Russia, and held a summit meeting with Abbas during which the new museum and park were inaugurated. In January 2016, the museum celebrated its fifth anniversary. A street was named after the Russian leader in Jericho in January 2012.

The Russian Orthodox presence is even felt in Hebron. In March 2016, the Palestinian government restored lands belonging to the Orthodox Church despite strong opposition by local Islamists. The latter insist that the land should be kept under the control of the Muslim Endowment, al-Waqf.

Despite the importance of the religious aspect of Russian-Palestinian relations, Palestinian officials and the public are hoping for a much higher level of relations — especially in terms of possible Russian investment in tourism. Russian pilgrims to Palestine and Israel annually amount to nearly one-quarter of all visitors. In 2014, of the 3.3 million pilgrims who visited the Holy Land, 22% (726,000) were Russian Orthodox.

Russians also have another reason for their special interest in Palestine and Israel. Some 1.5 million Israeli citizens are of Russian origin. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is a leader of the far right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, which is made up almost exclusively of Russian Jews. Asked about how Russians view Liberman, the Palestinian ambassador said, “The world considers Liberman a catastrophe.”

Russian-Palestinian relations go beyond the official level. Khaled Ghazzal, a Palestinian engineer working in the Ramallah municipality, told Al-Monitor that Russia is a strong and serious supporter of Palestinians. “The Orthodox Russian Church is with us, and we have a strategic ally in the Russian Federation.”

With the United States and its Western allies unable to move the peace process or pressure the Israelis in this regard, Palestinians feel comfortable with their Russian allies. As long as Russian Orthodox Christians continue to visit the Palestinian holy places, and the political alignment of Russia remains with the Arab world, the strategic Russian-Palestinian relationship has a strong basis for long-term sustainability and mutual benefit.

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Oct 23 2016

UNESCO head’s attempt to ease Israeli outrage backfires

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A statement issued by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has angered Palestinian officials and activists.

Bokova made the statement Oct. 14, the same day Israel decided to suspend its relations with UNESCO due to the organization’s resolution on Israeli violations in Jerusalem that Israel feels ignored Jewish connections to Al-Haram al-Sharif compound. Bokova tried to re-emphasize the importance of the three main Abrahamic religions and called for tolerance and for dialogue. After explaining that UNESCO declared Jerusalem a World Heritage Site because of its universality and its importance to the three religions, she concluded by appealing for “dialogue, not confrontation.”

But what angered Palestinians was the feeling that the UNESCO director-general tried to oppose the will of the majority of the member states. Of special concern was Bokova saying, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram al-Sharif, the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit — or Temple Mount — whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism.”

A Haaretz article from May 2015 stated there was no connection between Al-Haram al-Sharif and the Jewish temples. While they did not question the existence of the First Temple, Israeli journalists Ruth Schuster and Ran Shapira wrote in the same Israeli daily in October that year, “Archaeologists cannot conclusively point to stones they know comprised the Second Temple, let alone the first one.” Continue Reading »

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Oct 20 2016

UNESCO vote is about Israeli occupation, not Jewish history

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By Daoud Kuttab

The recent resolution that was approved by the world’s cultural body about the old city of Jerusalem, Al Haram Al Sharif and the Ibrahimi Mosque had nothing to do with Jews or Jewish history.

A close reading of the resolutions passed by UNESCO shows that they are about Israel and its practices in occupied Palestinian territories.

Yet, one would not notice this fact if one were following the Israeli media as well as much of the world media that falls within its orbit.

The spin and overreach of the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) machine would have its readers believe that this was the most anti-Jewish resolution ever.

The UNESCO resolution condemned Israel for its actions against Palestinians and Palestinian holy places, and reminded the world that repeated attempts by UNESCO experts to examine the situation on the ground and to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials were blocked by the Israeli occupiers.

While there was no explicit anti Jewish reference in the resolution, the word occupation appears 15 times in the text because that was the focus of the resolution. Continue Reading »

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Oct 13 2016

Assessing the aftermath of postponed Palestinian elections

Published by under Palestinian politics

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The discussions in Palestinian homes in the city of Beit Jala this week focused on the foresight of the town’s mayor, Nicola Khamis. During a very close municipal election in 2012, Khamis had accepted a rotation agreement in which he would serve as mayor in the last two years of the scheduled four-year term. The argument espoused by Khamis’ supporters was that he knew that the erratic Palestinian situation might mean that the term of an elected official might stay longer than the scheduled four-year-term — and therefore, whoever chose the last two years is likely to stay in power a lot longer than that.

The idea of a prolonged term as mayor comes from recent history. In April 1976, the first time serious municipal elections took place, a host of pro-PLO Palestinian nationalists had a decisive win, filling most mayoral and council seats. In 1986, Israel, the occupying power, ultimately deposed or deportedabout half the mayors for anti-government agitation, and Israel was unwilling to have municipal elections take place again. Government appointees routinely replaced vacancies.

In Bethlehem, the city’s longest serving mayor in recent history, the late Elias Freij, stayed in power for 25 years. The first elections organized by the Palestinian government and under the auspices of the Central Elections Commission took place in 2005. Continue Reading »

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Oct 13 2016

Abbas unfazed by criticism of participation in Peres’ funeral

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas visited a local vegetable store in Ramallah on Oct. 2. The store owner and the adviser talked about Abbas’ having attended the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sept. 30. When the owner of the vegetable store conveyed his criticism, the adviser related to him part of the discussion that had taken place at the Muqata, the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, prior to the funeral.

In a conversation with Al-Monitor, the vegetable store owner talked about the conversation with the adviser to Abbas on condition of anonymity. He said that the adviser had told him, “We told him [Abbas], ‘How does a leader benefit if he wins over the entire world but loses the love of his people.’” But the Palestinian leader was adamant about going to attend the funeral irrespective of the advice of the adviser or his aides.

“I am 82 and I am not running for office anymore. What I am doing is in the best interest of my people,” the adviser related as to what Abbas had said to those who opposed his action, according to the vegetable store owner. Continue Reading »

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Oct 13 2016

Palestinian leadership decision long overdue

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By Daoud Kuttab

The United States is not the only place that will be witnessing a leadership change. Elections for top institutions and the overall leadership will be taking place within the two leading Palestinian political movements.

Fateh is expected to hold its seventh congress this winter and Hamas is expected to choose its political bureau sometime before the end of this year.

Neither Mahmoud Abbas nor Khaled Mishaal are going to be running for the top leadership position.

If it is held as planned on November 29, the seventh congress will be held two years late. But this is a huge improvement over the sixth congress that took place in Bethlehem in August 2009, 20 years after the fifth.

The Fateh central committee met in September and took this decision. The actual date will be set in a meeting that is to take place late this October.

The plan is that the Palestine National Council, over which Fateh has decisive control, will meet afterwards to elect a new executive committee of the PLO and a new chairman. Continue Reading »

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Oct 06 2016

The gas deal

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The American Noble Energy Company signed a 15-year agreement with the National Electric Power Company to ensure its supply with natural gas at the cost of $10 billion.

The gas will be coming from the newly discovered huge gas wells in the eastern Mediterranean and will most likely be piped into Jordan through the occupied West Bank, without the permission of the Palestinians.

The Jordan Bromine Company, which operates south of the Dead Sea, had signed a similar deal.

Ever since a memorandum of understanding was signed to buy the Israeli gas from the American company, many Jordanians have protested the deal.

Parliament opposed it, as well as large numbers of Jordanians, but since this is a deal with a private company, even though the government owns controlling shares in it, it does not need parliamentary approval.

At least this is what government officials say.

This leaves the Parliament with very few options to stop the deal. It would have to vote down the government, in a vote of confidence, to be able to stop this deal. Continue Reading »

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