Netanyahu’s govt of war a blow to peace moves — Palestinians

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Updated 08 May 2015

Netanyahu’s govt of war a blow to peace moves — Palestinians

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new rightwing religious “government of war” is a blow to an already stagnating peace process, Palestinians said Thursday, vowing to fight it on the international stage.
The Palestine Liberation Organization blasted Israel’s “extremist” cabinet, after Netanyahu announced a coalition government that gave him a slim parliamentary majority and included ministers who oppose the internationally-sanctioned two-state solution.
“This is a colonial settler cabinet, no doubt about that,” senior official Nabil Shaath told journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of the PLO-dominated Palestinian Authority.
“It’s a cabinet that includes all of those people who want to maintain” Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu’s new government, which he formed at the 11th hour, several weeks after winning his third straight term in office, includes ministers intent on expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, an issue that has derailed round upon round of US-brokered peace talks.
As Netanyahu formed his government, Israel approved the construction of 900 new settler homes in a controversial east Jerusalem neighborhood.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said before the March 17 election that he was willing to enter talks with whoever was reelected.
But Palestinian officials bristled at the cabinet line-up that emerged on Wednesday night.
“The face of a new form of racist, discriminatory Israel has been revealed,” chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in a statement.
“Netanyahu is vehemently leading the charge to bury the two-state solution,” he said, singling out Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, both from the far-right Jewish Home party.
“The presence of the extremist Shaked, of the ultra-Orthodox and of settlers in the government is proof that it’s a government of war, and against peace and stability,” Erakat said.
Bennett, who heads Jewish Home, openly opposes a Palestinian state and advocates annexing 60 percent of the West Bank.
Shaked last year likened Palestinians to “snakes” in a post later removed from her Facebook page but widely reported on by the Israeli media, and said all Palestinians, including mothers of attackers, should be eliminated.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said the appointments would “encourage more settler violence and the deliberate dehumanization of the Palestinian people.”
Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip and with which Israel fought a devastating 50-day war last summer, said the new cabinet line-up “reflects the growing racism among Israelis.”
Officials in the West Bank were careful, however, not to slam the door shut on any possible talks, but vowed to keep up pressure on Israel in the international arena.
“We are willing to negotiate with anybody the Israelis (electorate) chose,” Shaath said.
“What is needed is for that body, that government, to commit itself to the rules of the game, to commit itself to no settlements, and to recognize that east Jerusalem is ours, and to commit itself to withdrawal from the West Bank.”

Palestinian demands
The Palestinians demand that any peace deal include Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territory, recognition of east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled Israel after the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.
Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem its eternal, indivisible capital.
Netanyahu vowed during his election campaign to step up settlement building in Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog announced Thursday, shortly after the coalition cabinet was unveiled, that 900 new settler homes would go up in east Jerusalem.
With a peace deal further away than ever, the Palestinians vowed to fight Israel through the International Criminal Court and the UN.
“We call on the international community... to support our efforts in the ICC,” Erakat said.
The Palestinians joined the ICC in April and intend to sue Israeli officials over alleged war crimes, notably in Gaza, where 2,200 Palestinians died in the July-August conflict, mostly civilians.


Tunisia heads to polls for keenly fought presidential contest

Updated 43 min 2 sec ago

Tunisia heads to polls for keenly fought presidential contest

  • The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living
  • The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes

TUNIS: Rarely has the outcome of an election been so uncertain in Tunisia, the cradle and partial success story of the Arab Spring, as some seven million voters head to the polls Sunday to choose from a crowded field.
Key players include media mogul Nabil Karoui — behind bars due to an ongoing money laundering probe — Abdelfattah Mourou, who heads a first-time bid on behalf of his Islamist inspired Ennahdha party, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living, and he has found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August is politically inspired.
The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes, albeit one with few clear political differences, brought forward by the death in July of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi.
He had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July, but one thing appears sure — many voters remain undecided, due to difficulties in reading a shifting political landscape.
“I am undecided between two candidates — I will decide in the polling booth,” smiled one citizen, Sofiene, who added “honest candidates don’t have much chance of winning.”
Some hopefuls have tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials in a bid to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels.
One key newcomer is Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs, who has avoided attaching his bid to a political party.
Instead, he has gone door-to-door to drum up support for his conservative platform.
Another independent candidate is Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat who is running for the first time.
However, he has the backing of Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.
The crowded field of 26 has been narrowed slightly by the last minute withdrawal of two candidates in favor of Zbidi — former political adviser Mohsen Marzouk and businessman Slim Riahi, just ahead of Saturday’s campaign blackout.
But it is Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of the campaign, which has been one of the biggest talking points.
Studies suggest his arrest boosted his popularity.
A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.
On Friday, an appeal to have the Tunisian mogul released from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said, two days after he began what his defense team said was a hunger strike.
The polarization between the different camps risks a derailment of the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, has called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarizing candidate,” such as Karoui.
Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living of close to a third since 2016.
Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Polls open at 8:00 am (0700 GMT), although overseas voting stations for Tunisia’s sizeable expatriate population have been open since Friday.
Some stations will remain open until 6:00 pm, while others will close two hours earlier, for security reasons.
Some 70,000 security agents will be deployed on Sunday, including 50,000 focused solely on polling stations, according to the interior ministry.
Exit polls are expected overnight Sunday into Monday, but preliminary results are not expected from the electoral commission until Tuesday.
The date of the second round, which will decide the presidency, is not yet known, but it must happen by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls — October 6.
Those polls are supposed to be more significant, as Tunisia is an emerging parliamentary democracy.
But several candidates have called for presidential powers to be beefed up, despite years of dictatorship under Ben Ali.