Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

Israeli border policemen detain a foreign activist during a protest on Friday in the West Bank village of Bil’in, west of Ramallah. (AP)
Updated 04 March 2018
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Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

AMMAN: Palestinians fear that plans for a major new Jewish settlement will place further strain on a West Bank city already surrounded by Israel’s controversial separation wall.
Last month Israeli television revealed that three existing settlements near Qalqilya will be unified later this year. A fourth settlement is due to be added within five years, bringing together about 20,000 settlers on land that is illegally occupied under international law.
The project throws into doubt long-awaited Palestinian plans to improve and expand Qalqilya’s infrastructure, leaving residents of the most overcrowded city in the West Bank facing an uncertain future.
In response, Qalqilya Gov. Rafi Rawajba described continued Israeli settlement as “state terror.”
He called on the international community to protect the city.
“This right-wing (Israeli) government is taking away Palestinian land and using it exclusively for expanding the Jewish settlement enterprise,” he said.
Surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall, Qalqilya covers an area of just over 1.5 square miles, yet is home to an estimated 53,000 residents, making it the occupied West Bank’s most densely populated city.
Palestinian officials had hoped to expand and improve the city by building 14,000 housing units, an industrial park and several playgrounds. The ambitious infrastructure project was approved by the Israeli Cabinet in 2016 following a recommendation from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But concerted pressure by the powerful settler movement has since caused the Israeli government to backtrack. On July 13, 2017, the Israeli cabinet decided to freeze Qalqilya’s expansion, ignoring Palestinian concerns that any pause in the development project would be a “catastrophe” and opening the way for last month’s decision to unify the settlements.
According to Israel’s Hebrew-language Channel 7, the Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has approved a plan to unite the settlements of Sheari Tikva, Etz Efraim and Elkana to the southwest of Qalqilya. A fourth settlement, Oranit, will be added in 2023, formally creating a new Israeli city in the occupied West Bank.
However, a spokesman for the Israeli movement Peace Now downplayed the impact of the settlement expansion. Brian Reeves told Arab News the expansion would reinforce the existing situation in and around Qalqilya, but not make it significantly worse.
“This decision is primarily administrative and will not give those supporting the settlement enterprise a significant advantage to confiscate land that they did not already have,” he said.


Missile deal signals hot summer for Turkey’s transatlantic ties

Updated 24 May 2019
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Missile deal signals hot summer for Turkey’s transatlantic ties

  • Turkey says buying Russian weapons system is aimed at meeting Turkey’s defense needs

ANKARA: Turkey has until next month to cancel a multibillion dollar S-400 missile system deal with Russia, or face harsh US penalties, CNBC reported on Tuesday. 

If Ankara does not cancel in favor of buying the US-made Patriot missile defense system instead, it may also be removed from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program, costing thousands of jobs. Turkey is currently producing about 800 parts for the world’s most advanced fighter.

The delivery of 100 F-35s to Ankara may also be halted, and other defense and industrial cooperation projects with the US may be put at risk.   

In his latest visit to Turkey in early May, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said its procurement of the S-400 was a national decision. 

However, the system, which cannot be integrated alongside other NATO systems and carries fears around data collection, has been a major source of disagreement between Ankara and Washington. 

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) used to impose sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia, could be used against Turkey should the deal with Moscow proceed, though it is thought not until Ankara takes physical delivery of the missiles, which is expected to take place in July.

Sanctions could include prohibitions on banking and foreign exchange transactions, and the denial of export licenses. 

Individuals involved may also be subject to visa denials and exclusion from the US, as well as partial freezing or confiscation of assets.

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, says CAATSA would hurt Turkish interests, but would also limit US President Donald Trump. 

“He could technically veto (CAATSA), but the language in the legislation is not as straightforward as other waivers included in sanctions legislation. It is not a question of if Turkey will be sanctioned, it is how, and using which of the 12 available sanctions,” he told Arab News. 

“Turkey would do itself a lot of favors if it stopped saying this was a done deal and delayed acquisition to allow for more talks. But that is Ankara’s choice to make.” 

Turkish military personnel have already traveled to Russia for training on the S-400 system, but Ankara does not believe the deal will affect its involvement in the F-35 program. 

Turkish officials are also evaluating an offer made by the US in late March to sell them the Patriot system, with a decision expected by early June.

In a statement on Tuesday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the country was meeting its responsibilities under the F-35 project and added that buying the Russian system aimed at meeting Turkey’s defense needs. 

“Turkey prepares itself for the possible implementation of CAATSA sanctions. In our meetings with the US, we perceive a general rapprochement on issues including the east of the Euphrates, F-35s and Patriots,” he said. 

Besides pushing Turkey away from the Atlantic alliance, the potential CAATSA sanctions would also hit the Turkish economy, which is already in recession, with the Turkish lira losing more than 40 percent of its value over the past two years.

Timothy Ash, a London-based economist, said Ankara would be taking a huge gamble if they thought Trump would block sanctions, telling Arab News it would be “catastrophic for the Turkish economy.”

Trump already doubled US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum last year, over the detention of an American pastor on espionage charges in the country. 

“There will be very real and very negative consequences if Turkey goes through with its plans to buy the Russia system,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

An expected state visit by Trump to Ankara in July has not been officially confirmed.