Hard-liners win the day at Palestinian crisis meeting on Jerusalem

Senior Palestinian official Salim Zaanoun reads a statement at the end of a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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Hard-liners win the day at Palestinian crisis meeting on Jerusalem

AMMAN: Hard-liners have emerged in the ascendant after a two-day special meeting in Ramallah of the Palestine Central Council (PCC).
The meeting was called to formulate the Palestinian response to the US decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Moderates who wanted a more measured response were outvoted by those who demanded an end to security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank, although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still has some room for maneuver, analysts told Arab News.
“At the council I felt there was a clear vision for the future and a holistic approach toward a new strategy, but it is hard to determine how far these issues will be translated during the implementation phase,” said Asaad Abdel Rahman, a PCC member and also an independent member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee.
“As is often the case, the key will be in the implementation.”
Abbas’s fiery two-hour speech at the PCC meeting included demands for escalated action against Israel, but he did not specifically call for an end to security cooperation. However, after a heated closed session, the PCC did so — and also resolved to suspend recognition of the state of Israel.
The only concession Abbas was able to extract was that the two new policies should be implemented by the PLO’s executive committee, where he has a stronger grip than on the 80-member PCC.
The concession weakens the two resolutions, Abdel Rahman said. “There was no need to add that qualifier since all PCC decisions have to be implemented by the executive committee anyway, but in the end the leadership wanted a little bit of wiggle room during the implementation period.”
Palestinians both inside and outside Palestine have staged daily protests urging a total change in strategy, including an end to security coordination and revisiting mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO. In an online survey in the largest Palestinian daily, Al Quds, 92 percent supported the withdrawal of recognition of Israel and suspending security coordination.
Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, Fatah spokesman for international affairs, reflected the views of many of the younger generation by calling on the leadership to make serious changes. He told Al-Monitor in Washington that the PCC should call for withdrawing recognition of Israel as a tangible way to show indignation at the US-Israel collusion.
Nasser Laham, a television commentator and editor of the independent online Ma’an News Agency, also wanted escalation. “Palestinians should end security coordination with the Israelis and Arab states should withdraw their ambassadors from Washington,” he wrote.
Nabil Amer, a Fatah leader and representative of the older PLO generation, said such action would be a mistake. “I don’t add my voice to the calls for escalation,” he said. “Any such escalation would be costly. We have boycotted meetings with the US, that was a good decision and that was enough.”
US Vice President Mike Pence begins a visit to Jordan, Israel and Egypt on Saturday. He has no plans to meet Palestinians, who have in any case declared a boycott of meetings over the US decision on Jerusalem.
The PLO and Israel exchanged letters agreeing on mutual recognition on the eve of signing the Oslo Accords at the White House in September 1993. The agreement gave Israel legitimacy, but the PLO did not benefit. Prisoners from PLO factions, including Fatah, remain in jail charged with membership of a terrorist organization. In March 2017, Israel also declared the Palestinian National Fund in Amman, essentially the PLO’s treasury, a terrorist organization.


In Iraq, political wrangling spawns debate over US troops

An American military trainer observes Iraqi soldier during an exercise on approaching and clearing buildings at the Taji base complex, which hosts Iraqi and US troops and is located north of the capital Baghdad, on January 7, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 26 min 52 sec ago
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In Iraq, political wrangling spawns debate over US troops

  • American troop numbers in Iraq peaked at some 170,000 during the battle against Al-Qaeda and other insurgents that followed the US-led invasion of 2003

BAGHDAD: From the halls of parliament to the lightning-fast rumor mills of social media, pro-Iran factions are demanding US troops withdraw from Iraq in a challenge to the country’s fragile government.
The political wrangling is another indication of Iraq’s precarious position as it tries to balance ties between two key allies — the United States and the Islamic republic of Iran.
Calls for a US pullout have intensified since President Donald Trump’s shock decision last month to pull troops from neighboring Syria, while keeping American forces in Iraq.
In recent weeks, pro-Iran parties have organized protests to demand an accelerated US troop withdrawal while affiliated media outlets published footage of alleged US reinforcements in Iraq’s restive west and north.
The debate is heating up in parliament as well.
Last week a lawmaker demanded Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi provide a written explanation for the ongoing US military presence in Iraq and a timeframe for their stay.
MPs are also drafting a law that would set a deadline for a US withdrawal, according to Mahmud Al-Rubaie of the Sadiqun bloc, one of the political groups working on the text.
“We categorically reject the presence of foreign troops in Iraq,” Rubaie told AFP.
But rather than a genuine, popularly-driven desire for a US withdrawal, the draft is part of the wider race for influence between Washington and Tehran, analysts said.
“This talk is part of the power struggle between the US and Iran,” said Iraqi security expert Hashem Al-Hashemi.
Tensions between the two countries have intensified since the US pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear accord negotiated with Iran in May last year, and observers fear they could destabilize Iraq.

American troop numbers in Iraq peaked at some 170,000 during the battle against Al-Qaeda and other insurgents that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama ordered a withdrawal that was completed in 2011, but troops were redeployed in 2014 under a US-led coalition battling the Daesh group.
In December 2017, Iraq announced it had defeated Daesh.
Since then the number of foreign coalition troops has dropped from nearly 11,000 in January 2018 to 8,000 by December last year, according to the prime minister.
Coalition spokesman Sean Ryan says there are 5,200 US soldiers now stationed alongside Iraqi forces in various bases across the country.
Their presence angers the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force that is dominated by pro-Iran factions which played a key role alongside government forces in the fight against Daesh.
“The US has banned the Hashed from coming near the military bases where its troops are stationed,” said Hashemi.
“So the Hashed is now adopting a reciprocal policy,” he said, by pushing for a US withdrawal.

Trump’s surprise Christmas visit to troops stationed in western Iraq has added fuel to the fire.
Pro-Iran parties seized on the fact that he did not meet with Iraqi officials to slam the visit as insulting and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.
Renad Mansour, a researcher at the London-based Chatham House, told AFP the revived debate over US troops was likely a swipe at Abdel Mahdi by hard-line pro-Iran factions.
“If Adel Abdel Mahdi fails in removing the US troops, his opponents will of course use it to make him seem weak, just as they used the fact that Trump didn’t meet with him when he came,” he said.
Iraqis, meanwhile, are more concerned with staggering unemployment, power cuts, and a political crisis that has left key ministries unmanned for months.
Very few showed up Friday at protests in Baghdad demanding an American pull-out, while hundreds turned out for demonstrations in the south of the country to protest a lack of public services.
“If Abdel Mahdi is unable to deliver services or jobs or water, or pick a defense or interior minister, then he has way bigger problems,” said Mansour.
“If he succeeds in delivering in services, no one will care about US forces.”