Israelis, Palestinians seek peace deal in 9 months

Updated 12 August 2013
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Israelis, Palestinians seek peace deal in 9 months

WASHINGTON: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators set an ambitious goal to reach an elusive peace deal within nine months on Tuesday, despite warnings of obstacles and provocations lying in wait ahead.
Standing side-by-side with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has dragged them back to the negotiating table, officials from both sides said it was time to end their decades-old conflict.
“I can assure you that in these negotiations, it’s not our intention to argue about the past, but to create solutions and make decisions for the future,” Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni told her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat.
“I believe that history is not made by cynics. It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. And let us be these people,” she insisted.
“No one benefits more from the success of this endeavor than Palestinians,” Erakat agreed. “It’s time for the Palestinian people to have an independent sovereign state of their own.”
Both sides have agreed to meet again “within the next two weeks,” either in Israel or the Palestinian territories, to begin formal direct, bilateral negotiations, Kerry said.
“Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months,” he added at the end of two days of talks in Washington.
He again urged compromise, saying: “We cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time.”
US officials praised the leadership and courage shown by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said no one was under any illusion the path ahead was going to be easy.
“There will be provocations. Everybody knows that there will be people on both sides who will do things that will make things more difficult,” a senior White House official told reporters.
“We hope that the parties will understand that and realize what’s going on and do what they can to not be provoked.”
The Obama administration’s last foray into the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict ended in failure, when talks launched in September 2010 collapsed just weeks later over continued Israeli settlement building.
Kerry, who has staked much of his reputation as secretary of state on his single-minded pursuit of a Middle East peace deal, said all the contentious core issues would be on the table.
The so-called “final status issues” include such emotive problems as the right of return for Palestinian refugees, ejected from their lands with the 1948 creation of Israel; the exact borders of a Palestinian state, complicated by the Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank; and the fate of the holy city of Jerusalem claimed by both sides as a future capital.
Officials confirmed they have not this time sought assurances from the Israelis on freezing settlement construction, which had been one of the main Palestinian demands for returning to the talks.
And while it remains the US position that any future Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 borders, before Israel seized the West Bank, with mutual land swaps, he said “it would not be safe to say that the parties have accepted that as the basis for negotiation.”
The officials said it had not yet been decided in what sequence each of the core issues would be addressed, neither was there an exact timetable for the talks going forward. But Kerry “already feels the clocking ticking,” the State Department official said.
One of “the motivating factors” for the relaunch of the talks was to avoid a “train wreck” if the Palestinians decided to take their case for statehood to other international bodies as they did at the United Nations, the White House official added.
“So long as this process is moving forward, I think the risks of that sort of thing are reduced, if not entirely eliminated,” he said.
The United States sees its main role now in the talks as a “facilitator,” with new US envoy to the peace talks, Martin Indyk, preparing to spend time in the region to work on the negotiations on a “day-to-day” basis. It was not immediately certain if he would attend the next talks though.
Earlier, President Barack Obama lent his weight to the fresh peace initiative, meeting with both Livni and Erakat at the White House.
“He underscored that there is much to do in the days and months ahead,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Kerry had broken the ice late Monday by hosting an iftar dinner at which Livni and Erakat sat side-by-side.


Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 25 April 2018
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Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.

BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.