Israelis, Palestinians set for talks on home turf

Updated 18 August 2013
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Israelis, Palestinians set for talks on home turf

JERUSALEM: Israelis and Palestinians held their first formal peace talks on home turf in the Middle East in nearly five years Wednesday, hours after Israel released 26 long-held Palestinian prisoners who were given a boisterous homecoming by cheering crowds.
Both sides have low expectations as they head into the US-sponsored negotiations in Jerusalem, the third attempt since 2000 to agree on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The prisoner release, billed as the first of four over coming months, was meant to bring the Palestinians back to the table after a five-year halt of negotiations.
However, a top Palestinian official warned Wednesday that talks could quickly collapse because of Israel’s continued settlement building on war-won lands sought for a Palestinian state. Over the past week, Israel made three announcements on promoting plans for a total of more than 3,000 new settlement apartments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“The talks might collapse any time because of the Israeli practices,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, an adviser of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio Wednesday.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967. Since that war, Israel has built dozens of settlements there that are now home to more than half a million Israelis and are deemed illegal by most of the international community.
Since the first talks in 2000, the outlines of a deal have emerged — a Palestinian state in the vast majority of the war-won lands, with border adjustments and a land swap that would enable Israel to annex land where most of the settlers live.
The last formal peace talks in the region took place in 2007 and 2008 when Abbas and Olmert met dozens of times, mostly in Jerusalem. Before those talks broke down, Abbas proposed a swap of 1.9 percent, while Olmert asked for 6.5 percent.
When Olmert’s successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, took office in 2009, he adopted tougher starting positions. Netanyahu said he would not consider a partition Jerusalem and rejected Abbas’ demand that the pre-1967 lines be the starting point for border talks.
Abbas, in turn, insisted on a full settlement freeze as a condition for talks. He feared that the vast gaps between him and Netanyahu would render any deal impossible, but that in the meantime, Israel would exploit the negotiations as a cover for continued settlement building.
Netanyahu has argued that anything can be discussed in talks, including the settlements, and dismissed Abbas’ demands as pre-conditions.
In the end, the Palestinians returned to negotiations without a settlement freeze, for fear of harming ties with the US if they were seen as derailing US Secretary of State John Kerry push this year to restart talks.
Kerry has assured Abbas that the US considers the 1967 lines as the basis for border talks, even if Netanyahu does not, according to Abbas aides.
Preliminary talks were held two weeks ago in Washington, and the US envisions negotiations for up to nine months.
Later Wednesday, negotiators were to meet in Jerusalem, though both sides refused to discuss details about the time and venue. The next round is to be held in the West Bank.
Israel is represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu aide Yitzhak Molcho, while Abbas advisers Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh speak for the Palestinians.
Abed Rabbo said the two sides are to tackle borders and security arrangements first. Previous negotiations, in 2000 and in 2007-2008, broke down before the sides got to the explosive issues of dividing Jerusalem and resettling millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Meanwhile, the 26 released Palestinian prisoners were giving jubilant receptions in the West Bank and Gaza where they arrived early Wednesday. Thousands of Palestinian well-wishers greeted the prisoners, seen in their communities as heroes in the struggle for independence.
In all, 104 prisoners are to be freed during the negotiations.
A majority had already served at least 20 years for killings, including of Israelis and suspected collaborators. Their release sparked angry protests from some of the relatives of their victims who argued that the government had no right to free killers.
The Palestinians argue that the deadly attacks were carried out at a time of conflict, before the start of peace talks, and that Israel should have released them long ago.
Meanwhile, Israel carried out an air strike against rocket-launching equipment in the Gaza Strip, the army said. No one was killed in the attack.
The air strike was in response to a rocket fired into Israel the day before by militants from the area, the army said. The rocket landed in an open area in Israel’s south and caused no injuries.
The air strike came amid increased tensions in Israel’s south. On Tuesday, Israel shot down a rocket launched from Egypt toward a Red Sea resort.
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Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank.


Arab women are on the march … straight into the heart of government

The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Updated 23 min 49 sec ago
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Arab women are on the march … straight into the heart of government

  • Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
  • “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”

CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.

Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.