Palestinian leader’s bid for UN spotlight ‘may backfire’

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas says the US had disqualified itself as a mediator for peace in the region. (Reuters)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Palestinian leader’s bid for UN spotlight ‘may backfire’

UNITED NATIONS: A bid by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to “internationalize” his dispute with the US over Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may backfire, analysts said.
Abbas will address the UN Security Council on Tuesday and is expected to repeat his earlier denunciation of Trump’s move and rejection of the US as future brokers of peace with Israel.
The address will bring the Palestinian leader face to face with a US official for the first time since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley expected in the chamber.
However, analysts told Arab News that Abbas’ attempt to “internationalize” the dispute with Israel and the US may backfire, since Palestinians have only lacklustre backing in Europe and ebbing support in the Arab world.
“Most likely, Abbas will leave New York disappointed,” Jonathan Cristol, a scholar at the World Policy Institute, a US-based think tank, told Arab News.
“He will doubtless highlight the centrality of Jerusalem to the Palestinian cause, and on that note will certainly garner sympathy from most Security Council members. But sympathy and $5 buys you a foot-long sandwich and not much else.”
The UN Security Council address by Abbas on Feb. 20 will be the first time the Palestinian leader faces off against an American official since Trump’s controversial decision late last year that Washington would formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Abbas has already made known his anger over moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by canceling a planned meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, saying the US had disqualified itself as a mediator for peace in the region.
He is not alone in that sentiment. On Dec. 21, the UN General Assembly voted 128 to nine to condemn Trump’s actions on Jerusalem, amid concerns that decisions on the Holy City should wait until the final stages of peace talks.
Ahead of the vote, Haley promised to “take names” of countries that sided against Washington. Later, she held a defiant cocktail party for the 65 countries that voted with the US, abstained or managed to be no-shows for the ballot.
The ambassador pushed for a cut-off in US support to the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees, getting the State Department to axe $65 million from a scheduled $125 million in payments.
Abbas, 82, is seeking to recover those lost millions and press again for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, while pre-emptively rejecting the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace proposal amid fears it will dash hopes for a two-state solution.
Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said that Abbas was making a mistake by seeking the global spotlight via the UN’s top body. The Palestinian leader “is completely misreading today’s reality and harming the prospects for a better future for his people,” he said this month.
Sigurd Neubauer, a Washington-based Gulf analyst, told Arab News that Abbas is increasingly squeezed between the US, Israel and Arab states who want to resolve the Palestinian question and focus instead on a perceived threat from Iran.
“Trump is playing hardball, Abbas is isolated and weak. When the time is right, he will tell Abbas to take his peace deal or leave it, and the Arabs won’t step in on his behalf,” he said. “Trump has already cut some funding. Imagine if there’s no money coming in.”
Cristol agreed, saying that a request by Abbas for an upgrade of Palestine’s UN status to full membership would never make it past the veto that Washington holds over any decision of the 15-nation Security Council.
“Abbas may just now be discovering what long-time observers of the region have known for years — not only do Arab leaders care little about the Palestinians, but also the Palestinian cause doesn’t have the resonance on the so-called Arab street that it used to,” he said.


Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

Updated 58 min 36 sec ago
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Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have removed nearly 30 kilometers of concrete blast walls across Baghdad in the last six months, mostly around the capital’s high-security Green Zone, a senior official told AFP.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, T-walls — thick barriers about six meters tall and one meter wide — have surrounded potential targets of car bombs or other attacks.
When premier Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year, he promised to remove barriers, checkpoints and other security measures to make Baghdad easier to navigate.
“Over the last six months, we removed 18,000 T-walls in Baghdad, including 14,000 in the Green Zone alone,” said Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the PM’s top military adviser.
Hundreds of the security checkpoints that contributed to Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams have also been removed.
And according to the Baghdad municipality, 600 streets that had been closed off to public access have been opened in the last six months.
Among them are key routes crossing through Baghdad’s Green Zone, the enclave where government buildings, UN agencies and embassies including the US and UK missions are based.
It was long inaccessible to most Iraqis until an order from Abdel Mahdi last year, and families can now be seen picking their way across its manicured parks for sunset pictures.
Iraq is living a rare period of calm after consecutive decades of violence, which for Baghdad peaked during the sectarian battles from 2006 to 2008.
It was followed, in 2014, by Daesh’s sweep across a third of the country and a three-year battle to oust the militants from their urban strongholds.
The group still wages hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi security forces and government targets, and Baghdad’s authorities are on high alert.
Thousands of the removed T-walls have been placed on Baghdad’s outskirts to prevent infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells, according to Bayati.