Davos Diary: Snowy WEF struggles to balance the relationship between chaos and harmony

Heavy snow has made Davos 2018 a challenge for delegates. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Davos Diary: Snowy WEF struggles to balance the relationship between chaos and harmony

DAVOS: The climate is on everybody’s lips at WEF 2018, in more ways than one. Climate change and issues of environmental sustainability are prominent on the agenda at the gathering in Davos. Environmental risks were identified as the No. 1 concern of the WEF’s Global Risks Report, published just before the event began and intended to set a theme for the debates.
So much of the thinking is centered on climate change that it was fitting that the opening performance for the Crystal Awards ceremony on the eve of the first day proper was a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerto aimed at “exploring the fine line between chaos and harmony in our relationship with nature.”
Outside the Congress Hall where the concert took place, that fine line was explored further, and chaos was definitely the winner. Even for the Swiss, whose whole way of life has been defined by their ability to take on and beat the forces of nature, it was a challenge to deal with such unpredictable weather conditions.
Of course, snow at 1,500 meters up in the Swiss Alps is totally expected. But, as the locals explained, this was not normal snow. There had been several days of extreme snow falls, and the evidence was everywhere: High mountains of the stuff bulldozed to the side of the road; fountains of it being thrown into the air by those clever snow-blowers virtually every resident of Davos seems to keep in their garage; and multiple layers of it on the town’s freezing streets.
But on Monday, just as the Weffers were gathering from all over the world, nature played a cruel trick. The temperature rose quite sharply a few degrees below zero, and it began to rain. The effect on all that lying white stuff was catastrophic.
Roads were turned into slithering rivers of slush that even chained wheels had problems with. When, a few hours later, the temperature dropped again, the Davos-Klosters transit corridor turned into a dirty brown skating rink.
“Masters of the universe,” in very expensive but totally impractical handmade shoes, sitting on their backsides in the slush was a common sight, and strangely satisfying.
Train was the only way to make the journey between the two towns, and even that was a challenge, with services late (unheard of in Switzerland) and unusually overcrowded.
What will Donald Trump — who famously prefers the balmy climate of Mar-a-Lago in Florida to winter in New York or Washington — make of it all when he arrives later in the week? His arrival and the security arrangements involved will only add to the chaos.
Seasoned Weffers are indulging in a little sport to while away the hours spent waiting for trains or shuttle cars. One may only guess what Trump’s corny quip will be about the Swiss weather.
The favorite at the moment is something like: “How can you complain so much about global warming? Just look at all this snow!”


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 45 min 50 sec ago
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.