Reconciliation spells cheaper prices for Gaza consumers

A Palestinian woman picks pineapples during a harvest on Thursday at a farm in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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Reconciliation spells cheaper prices for Gaza consumers

GAZA: Gaza’s merchants and consumers are reaping early rewards from reconciliation moves by Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).
Israeli border restrictions, including a nearly blanket ban on exports from Gaza, and three wars since 2008 have imposed severe hardship in the territory. Israel says its rules are driven by security concerns, accusing Hamas of having used imported material to build weapons including rockets that have been fired at its cities.
Since Hamas ceded Gaza’s border crossings with Israel — the main gateway for commercial imports — to the Authority on Nov. 1 under an Egyptian-brokered unity deal, many prices in the territory have dropped.
The main reason for the decrease: the Authority has canceled surcharges, sometimes as high as 25 percent, that Hamas collected in cash from merchants in Gaza.
Businesses, in turn, have passed on some of those savings to customers: a 2017 Kia Picanto compact car, for example, now sells for $20,000 instead of $22,500, and a kilo of beef costs 40 shekels ($11), down from 50 ($15).
And this week, the PA, which takes its own tax in an arrangement agreed with Israel, allowed the import of cigarettes costing eight shekels a pack compared with the usual 21 shekels for other brands, through Israel’s Kerem Shalom commercial crossing for the first time.
Cigarettes used to come in only via smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border but the PA is seeking understandings with Hamas and Cairo to choke off that channel.
“(Hamas’s fees) led to a weakening of sales power because the people in Gaza live under bad economic conditions and because of the Israeli blockade and the loss of jobs,” said Tareq Al-Saqqa, who owns an electrical goods company in Gaza, where unemployment tops 40 percent.
Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions at their Gaza borders. Hamas, regarded by the West as a terrorist group, seized the enclave in fighting in 2007 against forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s limits on Gaza’s import of so-called “dual use” material, such as steel and cement, that it fears could be used by Hamas to make weapons or fortifications are unlikely to change soon. But hundreds of truckloads of food and a wide variety of consumer goods move into Gaza daily via Israel.
Hamas, which handed administrative control of Gaza to the Authority under the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo on Oct. 12, has spurned Israel’s demand it disarm.
“Israel said it would deal with the new administration in Gaza but in the way that would not allow Hamas and other factions to develop their military capabilities, which means it will continue to ban essential materials,” said Mohammed Abu Jayyab, a Gaza economist.
Economic revival
He and other local economic experts cautioned against any hopes of a rapid revival of Gaza’s economy unless Israel’s restrictions were fully removed.
Responsibility for security in still an open issue in Gaza, where Hamas, which is still policing the territory, has what analysts say are at least 25,000 well-equipped fighters. Further unity talks are scheduled for Nov. 21 in Cairo.
Keeping pressure on Hamas, Abbas has yet to lift economic sanctions he imposed in Gaza in June that included a cut in salaries the Authority paid to 60,000 civil servants. Abbas recently sent nearly 15,000 of them into early retirement.


Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s presidential election

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he leaves his residence in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 min 40 sec ago
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Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s presidential election

  • Erdogan has just under 53 percent in the presidential poll while Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 31 percent, state-run Anadolu news agency said, based on a 96 percent vote count
  • The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was polling 11 percent, well over the 10 percent minimum threshold needed to win 46 seats, which would make it the second largest opposition party in the new chamber

ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s landmark election Sunday, the country’s electoral commission said, ushering in a new system granting the president sweeping new powers which critics say will cement what they call a one-man rule.
The presidential and parliamentary elections, held more than a year early, complete NATO-member Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system of government to a presidential one in a process started with a referendum last year.
“The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty,” Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Speaking early Monday, Supreme Election Council head Sadi Guven said 97.7 of votes had been counted and declared Erdogan the winner.
Guven said that based on unofficial results, five parties passed the threshold of 10 percent of votes required for parties to enter parliament.
Cheering Erdogan supporters waving Turkish flags gathered outside the president’s official residence in Istanbul, chanting, “Here’s the president, here’s the commander.”
“Justice has been served!” said Cihan Yigici, an Erdogan supporter in the crowd.
Thousands of jubilant supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, also spilled into the streets of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unofficial results from Anadolu showed the party coming in third with 11.5 percent of the legislative vote — surpassing the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
The HDP’s performance was a particular success since presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, eight more of its lawmakers and thousands of party members campaigned from jails and prisons. HDP says more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.
The imprisoned Demirtas, who has been jailed pending trial on terrorism-related charges he has called trumped-up and politically motivated, was in third place in the presidential race with 8.3 percent of the vote, according to Anadolu.
Revelers waved HDP flags and blared car horns. One party supporter, Nejdet Erke, said he had been “waiting for this emotion” since morning.
Erdogan insisted the expanded powers of the Turkish presidency will bring prosperity and stability to the country, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016. A state of emergency imposed after the coup remains in place.
Some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the emergency, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan has used to stifle dissent.
The new system of government abolished the office of prime minister and empowers the president to take over an executive branch and form the government. He will appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies.
The Turkish Parliament will legislate and have the right to ratify or reject the budget. With Erdogan remaining at the helm of his party, a loyal parliamentary majority could reduce checks and balances on his power unless the opposition can wield an effective challenge.
The president’s critics have warned that Erdogan’s re-election would cement his already firm grip on power and embolden a leader they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.
Erdogan’s apparent win comes at a critical time for Turkey. He recently has led a high-stakes foreign affairs gamble, cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with pledges to install a Russian missile defense system in the NATO-member country.
Ince said the results carried on Anadolu misrepresented the official vote count by the country’s electoral board. The main opposition party that nominated him for the presidency, the CHP, said it was waiting for an official announcement from the country’s electoral board.
Erdogan also declared victory for the People’s Alliance, an electoral coalition between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had secured a “parliamentary majority” in the 600-member assembly.
The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the small nationalist party the AKP allied with garnered 49 seats.
“Even though we could not reach out goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People’s Alliance,” Erdogan said.
The president, who has never lost an election and has been in power since 2003, initially as prime minister, had faced a more robust, united opposition than ever before. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan’s “one-man rule.”
A combative president, Erdogan enjoys considerable support in the conservative and pious heartland, having empowered previously disenfranchised groups. From a modest background himself, he presided over an infrastructure boom that modernized Turkey and lifted many out of poverty while also raising Islam’s profile, for instance by lifting a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.
But critics say he has become increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favor, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television in a country where Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of the media.
Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, was backed by the center-left opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. He wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in Turkey’s three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.