In break with decades of US policy, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

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Above, Muslims pray near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city. Washington’s Middle East allies all warned against the dangerous repercussions of his decision when US President Donald Trump spoke to them on Tuesday. (AP)
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US President Donald Trump has weighted US policy toward Israel since taking office in January, considering the Jewish state a strong ally in a volatile part of the world. (Reuters)
Updated 06 December 2017
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In break with decades of US policy, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump will announce on Wednesday that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, breaking with longtime US policy and potentially stirring unrest.
Despite warnings from Western and Arab allies, Trump in a 1pm White House speech will direct the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Jerusalem as part of what is expected to be a years-long process of relocating diplomatic operations from Tel Aviv.
Trump is to sign a national security waiver delaying a move of the embassy, since the US does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build an embassy.
Still, Trump’s decision, a core promise of his campaign last year, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as their capital.
Washington’s Middle East allies all warned against the dangerous repercussions of his decision when Trump spoke to them on Tuesday.
“The president believes this is a recognition of reality,” said one official, who briefed reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. “We’re going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It’s just a fact.”
Senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s decision was not intended to tip the scale in Israel’s favor and that agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem would remain a central part of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
In defending the decision, the officials said Trump was basically reflecting a fundamental truth: That Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and should be recognized as such.
The Palestinians have said the move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution.
The political benefits for Trump are unclear. The decision will thrill Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who make up a large share of his political base.
But it will complicate Trump’s desire for a more stable Middle East and Israel-Palestinian peace and arouse tensions. Past presidents have put off such a move.
The mere hint of his decision to move the embassy in the future set off alarm bells around the Middle East, raising the prospect of violence.
“Our Palestinian people everywhere will not allow this conspiracy to pass, and their options are open in defending their land and their sacred places,” said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
Islamist militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have in the past tried to exploit Muslim sensitivities over Jerusalem to stoke anti-Israel and anti-US sentiment.
The decision comes as Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, leads a relatively quiet effort to restart long-stalled peace efforts in the region, with little in the way of tangible progress thus far.
“The president will reiterate how committed he is to peace. While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time,” one senior official said.
Trump spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Saudi King Salman to inform them of his decision.
The Jordanian king “affirmed that the decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike,” said a statement from his office.
Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.
“We have always regarded Jerusalem as a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump has weighted US policy toward Israel since taking office in January, considering the Jewish state a strong ally in a volatile part of the world.
Still, deliberations over the status of Jerusalem were tense. Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel, pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, according to other US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
An impatient Trump finally weighed in, telling aides last week he wanted to keep his campaign promise.
Abbas warned Trump of the “dangerous consequences” that moving the embassy would have for peace efforts and regional stability, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
But Trump assured Abbas that he remained committed to facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, one US official said.


Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms

Updated 15 min 8 sec ago
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Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms

  • Schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity
  • Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates

RAMALLAH: As the teacher pointed to the large touch screen, her first-grade classroom came alive. With the click of a link, an animated character popped up on the screen, singing and dancing as it taught the children how to read.
The day’s lesson was the Arabic letter “Raa,” and the screen displayed cartoon pictures of objects that contain the letter — desert, chair and pomegranate — as the teacher asked the children to come up with other words. The students smiled and sang along.
Just a few years ago, such scenes were unthinkable in most Palestinian classrooms. Like elsewhere in the Arab world, schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity.
With an eye to the future, some Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates.
“The students don’t need to memorize things. They need to understand first,” said Ruba Dibas, the principal of the Ziad Abu Ein School in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Then they need to express their understanding through writing, speaking, drawing, acting.”
Ziad Abu Ein is one of 54 “smart teaching schools” introduced last year. This year, the number tripled. By 2020, all 1,800 public schools in the West Bank are to be part of the program.
Dibas said the goal is to eliminate testing from the classroom. Instead, she said students need to enjoy the learning process to absorb information.
On a recent day, her school was buzzing with activity.
In a fifth-grade classroom, each child had a tablet and the teacher guided them through an Arabic lesson, using her own tablet to give assignments. Third-grade students went to the smart board, playing a game to learn the multiplication table.
In other classes, students drew cartoons to learn the physics of how airplanes fly. An English class did a project about evaporation.
Four third-graders recently learned about self-esteem in a lesson called “learning by drama.” They performed a short skit about a shy girl who discovers a passion for journalism and grows up to become a successful reporter.
Their teacher, Sawsan Abdat, said the children learned an important lesson that day — that they need to find what they are good at.
After initial skepticism from parents last year, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled. This year’s first grade has nearly tripled to 43 students.
“I love the school,” said Malak Samara, a 9-year-old fourth grader. “We learn and enjoy. We learn and play.”
These techniques are a radical departure from a system in which generations of students were forced to memorize information and cram for exams under the stern watch of an authoritarian teacher who in some cases would beat them with a stick if they could not complete their work.
But with the unemployment rate for new college graduates hitting 56 percent, according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, officials realized that something had to change.
Education Minister Sabri Seidam also introduced vocational training in grades seven, eight and nine last year to meet the needs of the market.
“Society needs singers, carpenters, cleaners, athletes, sergeants,” he said. “We can’t just produce engineers and doctors.”
Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a major problem across the Arab world. It was considered a driving force behind the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the region in 2011.
Arab governments used to absorb new graduates, often in civil service jobs, but they can no longer afford to do that, in part because of the region’s “youth bulge.”
The private sector offers limited opportunities, leaving large numbers of young graduates unemployed throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“There is no greater challenge facing the MENA region in its efforts to build a future based on inclusive growth than job creation,” the International Monetary Fund said in a report early this year. It noted that 60 percent of the region’s population is under 30, the world’s second-youngest after sub-Saharan Africa.
“Pressures on the region’s labor markets are rising. In the past five years, the region’s working-age population increased by 50.2 million, and 27.6 million people joined the labor force. Yet employment increased by only 25.4 million,” it said.
Others in the Mideast have tried to make similar changes. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, the Education Ministry this year is providing students with tablets, along with a new curriculum that enhances critical thinking.
The ministry said it is also trying to improve the level of instruction by increasing training and wages for teachers, building more classrooms and creating a more modern classroom through digital learning facilities. The government this year secured a $500 million loan from the World Bank to help fund the reforms.
For now, it appears too soon to say whether the reforms can make a difference.
The region’s authoritarian governments might encourage education reforms as an economic necessity but could balk in the future at efforts to nurture a new generation versed in critical thinking. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, governments in the region have increasingly stifled expression.
Schools across the Arab world face other obstacles as well. A 2015 study by the UN culture and education agency UNESCO talked about chronic underfunding, a lack of qualified teachers and increased class sizes throughout the region.
Syrian schools have been devastated by a seven-year civil war, while many schools in neighboring Lebanon have been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees. US cuts in funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees have jeopardized the school year for some 500,000 students, most of them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And Israel’s half-century occupation of the West Bank, along with a decade-long blockade over Gaza, continues to stifle the Palestinian economy.
“Education in the Arab world is in a very bad condition. The salaries of teachers are very poor, the classes are overcrowded, and schools lack the essential infrastructure,” said Saeda Affouneh, director of the E-Learning Center at Al-Najah University in the West Bank.
She praised the changes taking place in Palestinian schools.
“But this new system faces real challenges in the Palestinian schools,” she warned. “They need to train the teachers and to provide the proper resources.”