Palestinian president says no role for US in peace process

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Extraordinary Summit in Istanbul, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Abbas said the Palestinians won’t accept any role for the United States in a peace process with Israel “from now on” after the US President Donald Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Abbas said Trump’s decision was a “crime” that threatens world peace. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool Photo via AP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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Palestinian president says no role for US in peace process

ISTANBUL: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Arab and Islamic leaders on Wednesday that the United States is no longer fit to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and should be replaced as mediator by the United Nations, outlining a significant policy shift in response to President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In an impassionate speech, Abbas said his people will no longer accept the United States as a peace broker but added that they remain committed to international resolutions which have formed the basis of the process.
Abbas was speaking at the gathering of heads of state and top officials from Islamic nations at a summit in Turkey that is expected to forge a unified Muslim world’s stance against Trump’s move.
Abbas said Trump’s decision was a “crime” which came at a time when the Palestinians were engaged with Washington in a new push to reach what he said was anticipated to be the “deal of our times.”
“Instead we got the slap of our times,” Abbas said. “The United States has chosen to lose its qualification as a mediator ... We will no longer accept that it has a role in the political process from now.”
The speech marked a significant shift in Abbas’ approach toward the United States, after years of focusing on courting US goodwill because of Washington’s role as sole mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Immediately after Trump’s announcement last week, Abbas had said the US effectively disqualified itself as a broker, but Wednesday’s speech was more sharply worded and delivered to a global audience. It was also part of a speech that called on the gathering for specific steps to counter the US decision on Jerusalem.
“We call that the (peace) process in its entirety be transferred to the United Nations,” Abbas said. He also called on countries that believe in the two-state solutions to recognize Palestine as a state, and urged Arab and Muslim nations to financially support east Jerusalem.
In his over-an-hour-long speech, Abbas also urged Muslim nations and countries with relations with Israel to take necessary political and economic measures against Israel “to force it to abide by international consensus” to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem.
Last week, Abbas’ aides said the Palestinian leader would not meet with Mike Pence during the US vice president’s planned visit to Israel and the West Bank next week. Abbas had initially planned to meet with Pence in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, but two senior aides have said the meeting would not take place because of Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem.
The Istanbul gathering of heads of state and top officials from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation was also an opportunity for the Muslim world to offer its strongest response yet to Washington’s move.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan— the current president of the OIC — called on countries to urgently recognize the Palestinian state and Jerusalem as its capital.
Erdogan has been among the most vocal critics of Trump’s announcement. In remarks to the summit, he said Israel is an “occupying state” and a “terror state.”
Jerusalem’s status is at the core of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement was widely perceived as siding with Israel. It also raised fears of more bloodshed as past crises over Jerusalem had triggered violent outbreaks.
King Abdullah II of Jordan told the gathering that the Trump decision was “grave,” threatening the resumption of any peace talks.
Earlier, in opening remarks to a pre-summit meeting, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told OIC foreign ministers that the US decision aims to “legitimize Israel’s attempt to occupy Jerusalem.”
“They expect the Islamic nation to remain silent,” he said. “But we will never be silent. This bullying eliminates the possibility of peace and the grounds for shared life. The US’ decision is null for us.”
Most countries around the world have not recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of east Jerusalem. Under a long-standing international consensus, the fate of the city is to be determined in negotiations.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, and top ministers of numerous nations were also attending the gathering in Istanbul.
The secretary general of OIC called on countries that have not recognized Palestine as a state to do so. Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen told the summit the US decision on Jerusalem is “an exceptional challenge” facing Muslim nations and that it will fan violence in the region, giving extremists an excuse to sow chaos.
In an emergency meeting in Cairo last weekend, Arab League foreign ministers demanded that the US rescind Trump’s decision. In a resolution long on rhetoric but short on concrete actions, the ministers also called for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Trump’s decision, but acknowledged that Washington would most likely veto it.
Israel has considered Jerusalem its capital since the state’s establishment in 1948 and sees the city as the ancient capital of the Jewish people. In the 1967 Mideast war, Israel captured the city’s eastern sector and later annexed it in a move that is not recognized internationally.
The Palestinians equally lay claim to Jerusalem and want the eastern part of the city as capital of their future state. Some 320,000 Palestinians live in that part of the city and Palestinians claim a deep cultural, historical and religious connection to the city.
The Old City, located in east Jerusalem, is home to sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. These include the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.