‘Schengen-style’ GCC visa likely by mid-2016

Updated 12 October 2015
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‘Schengen-style’ GCC visa likely by mid-2016

RIYADH: A unified visa for the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may be available from the middle of next year, said GCC officials here.
The GCC General Secretariat is working on the ambitious proposal to introduce the visa that would allow foreigners to visit all GCC states, more or less similar to Europe’s Schengen visa.
“The unified GCC visa could soon become a reality following the meeting of the GCC tourism ministers in Oman last week,” said a Gulf official. He confirmed that tourism officials discussed a range of topics including the long-awaited unified visa proposal and a unified tourism policy at the meeting.
“All GCC countries stand to gain from the new tourism policy,” said Khalid bin Salem Al-Ghassani, GCC assistant secretary general for cultural and media affairs.
He made these remarks while speaking about the GCC tourism officials’ meeting, which was attended by Prince Sultan bin Salman, chief of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH).
Al-Ghassani said that a draft project submitted by the UAE on regulating and promoting the tourism industry sector was also discussed by the officials. The tourism officials discussed at length cooperation between the public and private sectors and a memo submitted by the GCC Secretariat to protect urban heritage.
Referring to the delay in legislation on the part of the GCC that will eventually introduce a unified visa, Salahuddin Al-Osaimi, a travel and tourism industry leader, said that “there is need to finalize the issue as early as possible … we must learn from the European experience in this regard.”
He spoke about the benefits of a common Schengen visa, that “allows a Saudi or an expatriate to visit 26 countries on one visa endorsement.”
A large number of trade and tourism projects are being implemented across the GCC including the Kingdom, Al-Osaimi pointed out.


US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

Updated 19 October 2018
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US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

  • The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership
  • Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.