Middle East has failed its people, says Dutch minister

Joel Rayburn, US deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria, addresses the 2019 World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, Jordan. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019
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Middle East has failed its people, says Dutch minister

  • No jobs, no future in the region and the public sector is bloated, says Sigrid Kaag addressing WEF
  • PLO's chief negotiator says Trump administration had done nothing to improve peace efforts

DEAD SEA, Jordan: The Middle East has failed its citizens and leaders must do more to meet their demands, a Dutch minister said Saturday, as senior figures from the Arab world insisted that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict was key to stability in the region.

Sigrid Kaag, minister for foreign trade and development cooperation of the Netherlands, was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) being held in the Dead Sea, Jordan.

The EU and individual European countries were unlikely to play a central role in the Middle East and were more likely to support initiatives from the UN and provide humanitarian assistance, said Kaag.

“The institutions (in the region) have failed their own citizens,” she told Arab News. “Not everything is related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are no jobs. There is no future. The public sector is bloated. (Citizens) want to know how their governments are going to address this. Leadership ultimately has to come from the countries themselves. Europe can provide support. We are not living in a neo-colonial era.”

Her comments came as a senior Palestinian official said the US had “proudly become an integral part of the problem” in the conflict with Israel.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and chief negotiator, said President Donald Trump’s administration had done nothing to improve things.

Trump insists he wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. But the Palestinians have refused to meet his administration since he controversially recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

The Palestinians consider the annexed eastern sector of the city as their capital, and the status of Jerusalem is one of the stickiest issues in their conflict with Israel.

“Trump’s ‘Middle East Team’ has not managed to propose a single initiative to get us closer to peace,” he told Arab News. “Instead, it has taken a number of steps that have significantly worsened the situation on the ground. Whether this has been triggered by the ideological biases or the political inexperience, of those chosen to represent US national interests in the Middle East, the Trump administration has proved its inability to be part of any solution. Instead, it has proudly become an integral part of the problem.”

Erekat said Palestinians would always appreciate the support and solidarity of King Salman and Saudi Arabia.

“King Salman has stated that his support for Palestinian rights knows no limits and will not rest until a viable and independent Palestinian state is established and  Palestinians enjoy a decent life on the soil of their independent state,” he added. “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques at the Arab Summit in Tunisia and in the Arab-EU summit in Egypt reiterated his absolute rejection of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This sent a message to world leaders that Saudi Arabia does not compromise when it comes to the rights of Palestinians.”

Economic growth in any part of the world could not be achieved unless security and stability was secured and maintained, he said. The WEF was an opportunity to send a “strong message to the world” that any peace plan that did not factor in Palestinians’ legitimate demands and the international community’s support for a two-state solution would not survive and would not be accepted, Erekat added.

Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi Bin Abdullah said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue was crucial, but did not agree with the “expectations” of some leaders in the region. “We need to look for new means so that the Middle East will become a stable region,” he told Arab News. Arabs needed to understand why Israel moved to take the Occupied Territories, he added.

But Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said that the conflict remained at the forefront of geopolitical debates in the Middle East despite the emergence of wars in other parts of the region.

“We will not succeed if we do not realize a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital, and people living side by side,” Al-Safadi told Arab News. “Everyone knows what the answer is: A Palestinian state. Anything short of that will not be accepted. You have to look at (regional problems) in a holistic way. By addressing the despair and lack of horizons (among many citizens), you have the ability to be more convincing.”

The minister also touched on the impact of his country’s decision to help refugees. “There are 1.3 million Syrians in Jordan. That is beyond our capacity. Europe was shocked by the immigration from Syria, but it was small compared to what we have here in Jordan.”

Lebanon’s Defense Minister Ayman Elias Bou Saab, who remarked that everything else would be “easier” if a solution were found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warned that the military defeat of Daesh in Syria would not put an end to the group’s ideology.

He compared the current situation to the end of armed conflict in Chechnya. Al-Qaeda fighters dispersed, some returned home to Lebanon and began to cause problems there. “The war may have been won in Syria, but [combatants] are heading home with their ideology. This can happen anywhere,” he told Arab News.


US ‘suspects’ Iran seized UAE based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Updated 8 min 48 sec ago
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US ‘suspects’ Iran seized UAE based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

  • Ship tracking data shows the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah stopped transmitting its location Saturday
  • A US defense official told AP that Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island

LONDON: The US said it suspects Iran has seized an oil tanker that drifted into Iranian waters as it traveled through the Strait of Hormuz.

Ship tracking data shows the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah, which is based in the UAE, stopped transmitting its location on Saturday.

The incident is the latest involving shipping in the region where tensions between Iran and the US have escalated in recent months. Iran has been accused of planting mines on several tankers as Washington ramps up economic and military pressure on the regime over its nuclear program and aggressive foreign policy in the region.

Iran also threatened to retaliate against shipping after British forces this month helped seize an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar as it attempted to deliver oil to Syria.

A US defense official told AP that Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it. He said the US "has suspicions" Iran seized the vessel.

"Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility," the official said. "But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it's going to be a concern."

The Riah, a 58-meter oil tanker, traveled from a port near Dubai through the Strait of Hormuz toward Fujairah on the UAE's east coast. After 11 p.m. Saturday something happened to the vessel, according to tracking data.

Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told AP that the tanker had not switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.

"That is a red flag," Raja said. 

An Emirati official told Al Arabiya that the oil tanker is not owned or operated by the UAE and has not sent a distress call.

“We are monitoring the situation with our international partners,” the official said.

The ship's registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told AP it had sold the ship to another company.

Iranian officials have not said anything publicly about the ship.

*With AP