Netanyahu poll rival plans West Bank settlement removals

Ex-Israeli army chief and head of Israel Resilience party, Benny Gantz, delivers his first political speech at the party campaign launch in Tel Aviv, on Jan. 29. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2019

Netanyahu poll rival plans West Bank settlement removals

  • We need to find a way not to have dominion over other people, says Gantz
  • The secret plan is widely expected to be unveiled after Israel’s April 9 ballot

JERUSALEM, RAMALLAH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest election rival voiced openness on Wednesday to a future removal of settlements from the occupied West Bank, sparking debate over diplomacy with the Palestinians as a US peace plan looms.

The secret plan is widely expected to be unveiled after Israel’s April 9 ballot. Any recommendations it might contain to hand over territory to the Palestinians — and how Israelis respond — could affect the composition of Israel’s next coalition government.

Pollsters see Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party winning around 30 of Parliament’s 120 seats, setting him up for a fifth term. He has ruled out removing settlements from the West Bank, among areas where Palestinians want statehood.

Benny Gantz, a popular ex-general whose new Resilience party is gaining ground against Likud with as many as 24 projected seats, stepped into the settlements minefield on Wednesday.

“We need to find a way not to have dominion over other people,” Gantz told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper when asked about prospects for accommodation with the Palestinians, whose negotiations with Netanyahu stalled in 2014.

Citing Israel’s unilateral 2005 Gaza withdrawal, Gantz added: “We need to take the lessons and apply them elsewhere.”

Naftali Bennett, a partner in the current rightist coalition, said on Twitter: “Given the Trump plan for a Palestinian state that awaits us immediately after the election, there is a clear and present danger here to the settlements.”

The Trump administration has not explicitly endorsed Palestinian statehood. US envoys have spoken of both sides in the conflict needing to compromise. 

Resilience signalled Gantz would conduct any West Bank withdrawals differently to the Gaza pullout — a possible hint at agreed redeployments with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians responded by reiterating their position that the settlements — deemed illegal by most world powers — are an obstacle to their statehood goal and should be removed unless annexed by Israel under negotiated territorial exchanges.

“These ideals and values are the way to achieve peace,” said a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has boycotted the Trump administration since December 2017 over its perceived pro-Israel leanings. 

Abbas has meanwhile pledged to continue security coordination with Israel, despite recent US funding cuts to Palestinian security forces and years of impasse in the peace process.

Abbas told a gathering of Palestinian and Israeli activists on Wednesday that his government has counter-terrorism agreements with nearly 100 countries, including Israel.

He added his hopes that a party committed to peace would succeed in the upcoming Israeli elections.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”