Palestinian elections fail to provide political answers

Palestinian elections fail to provide political answers
Women show their ink-stained fingers after casting their ballots during the municipal elections in the West Bank city of Ramallah Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2017

Palestinian elections fail to provide political answers

Palestinian elections fail to provide political answers

AMMAN: Long before Palestinian parliamentary elections, Palestinian radio and TV, and regular public opinion polls, elections — any elections — had a political meaning.
Elections for student councils, charitable organizations, sports clubs or trade unions had political significance.
Municipal elections for sure had a political message. Before the Oslo Accords, Palestinians proudly showed their loyalty and support to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by electing names that were clearly identified with one or more of the PLO factions.
But nowadays, alas, elections have a little political value the way it used to.
Palestine’s leading university held student council elections on May 10, but the results did not seem to matter very much to anyone.
At Birzeit University, which was the stepping stone into political life for imprisoned leading legislator Marwan Barghouti (now leading Palestinians on a hunger strike in Israeli prisons), students close to Hamas received the highest number of votes — 3,778, while students supporting Fatah got 3,340 and those loyal to Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) garnered 619 votes.
The two leftists organizations, the Democratic Front and the People’s Party, only managed 50 and 40 votes respectively.
In the presence of legal political parties, many would argue that student council elections are no longer a barometer of public support.
The same can be said about local council elections, held in the West Bank, only, on May 14.
Hamas officially boycotted these elections and so did the Popular Front, so most of the slates were either tribal lists or competing Fatah groups.
According to the Palestinian Independent Elections Commission, 420,682 Palestinians voted out of 787,386 registered voters in 2017 — 53.4 percent, similar to that of 2012.
The May 14 elections were scheduled for Oct. 8, last year, but were postponed by the Palestinian High Court when the Hamas-appointed courts in Gaza invalidated a number of lists that belonged to the competing Fatah movement.
After much deliberation, the court decided that elections would first be held in the West Bank on May 14.
Palestinian government and political officials, as well as the head of the elections commission, called on Hamas to allow the people of Gaza to participate in follow-up municipal elections in Gaza.
Wafa Adel Rahman, a Gazan living in Ramallah, was so upset about the elections not taking place in Gaza that she decided not to vote in her current place of residence, Ramallah.
Abdel Rahman, who runs the non-governmental organization (NGO) Falastinat, a media organization that supports the equitable discourse of youth and women, told Arab News that she decided not to participate in the current elections, because she did not feel it was necessary or urgent.
“At a time when we have not reached a political consensus and the divisions between the West Bank and Gaza have meant that Gaza has been removed from the occasion, plus the prisoners’ strike, I have decided personally not to participate.”
The sentiment is similar in the West Bank’s business capital Nablus.
Kaid Miari, who runs the Shahed think tank, told Arab News that the city witnessed the lowest voting percentage because of a lackluster election campaign and the prisoner strike.
“A coalition list was made up of a mix of pro-Fatah and pro-Hamas figures, and this left very little competition in the elections. Furthermore, the call by the prisoners’ support committee for a postponement of the elections also caused many to stay away.”
Anees Sweidan, an official in the PLO’s Ramallah office, told Arab News that many families of prisoners who are on hunger strike heeded the call to boycott the elections.
“Many stayed away for that reason; a small percentage, 2 percent, actually cast votes with the words hunger strike written on them.”
In some of the other major cities, it seems that the elections were not held on a political basis.
Fatah versus Fatah lists were featured in Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem.
In many villages, elections did not take place because there was consensus on the candidates, so there was no reason to hold elections. In addition, Gaza elections were not held in East Jerusalem either.
Palestinian officials have not been able to carry out any election procedure in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed shortly after the 1967 occupation.
Hazem H. Kawasmi, head of operations in the Municipal Development and Lending Fund in the West Bank, told Arab News that the Palestinian government did not try very hard to have East Jerusalemites participate in these elections.
“We all know that the Palestinian leadership has many cards it could use to force Israel to allow the 330,000 residents of East Jerusalem to participate in the elections,” said Kawasmi.
According to him, the Palestinian government can use the threat of going to the International Court of Justice and to UN agencies if Israel prevents Palestinians in East Jerusalem from participating.
While student councils and municipal elections cannot be used anymore as political barometers of political tendencies in Palestine, they are still seen as important features in the continuity and sustainability of daily life, irrespective of political progress or lack thereof.
For the Palestinian president, holding local elections, whether at universities or for municipal councils, is proof of the democratic nature of the Palestinian leadership, in contrast with the undemocratic tendencies of the Hamas movement in Gaza, which has not allowed any sort of elections.
What most Palestinians want, of course, is the renewal of parliamentary and presidential elections.
The last time President Mahmoud Abbas was elected was in 2005, and the last time Palestinians participated in legislative elections (in which East Jerusalemites and Gazans participated ) was in 2006.
Since then, these important general elections have not taken place and in the meantime different groups came to be in charge of the West Bank and Gaza.
Abbas, who won the presidential election, and his government are in firm control of the West Bank, while in Gaza, Hamas, whose followers won the parliamentary elections in 2006, refuse to recognize Abbas’ authority and created a renegade regime.
All attempts at reconciliation and agreements signed between Fatah and Hamas include the need to hold new elections as the best way to resolve differences.
Neither the student council elections at Birzeit University, in which Hamas sympathizers received the highest votes, nor the municipal elections in the West bank, in which pro-Fatah names won in most locations, will do much to break the larger logjam.
Until general elections take place in all of the occupied territories, including Gaza and East Jerusalem, with all political groups participating, the fractured nature of Palestinian politics will continue.


Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri (R) and his Libyan counterpart Najla al-Mangoush (L) give a joint press conference after their meeting in the capital Cairo on June 19, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 25 min 48 sec ago

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya
  • The two ministers discussed preparations for a new set of Libyan peace talks in Berlin

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called for the exit of foreign mercenaries from Libya without delay, during a joint press conference with his Libyan counterpart Najla Mangoush.
Shoukry affirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan Presidential Council during its transitional period to restore security and stability in Libya until the elections on Dec. 24.
He reaffirmed Egypt’s support for the Libyan interim executive authority, noting that he discussed with Mangoush the efforts to restore security and stability in Libya, and advancing relations between the two countries.
Shoukry said that the talks with his Libyan counterpart included discussions about preparations for the Berlin ministerial conference, which will be hosted by Germany on June 23.

HIGHLIGHTS

Egypt’s foreign minister reaffirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan interim executive authority, noting that he discussed with his counterpart the efforts to restore security and stability in Libya, and advancing relations between the two countries.

The meeting will discuss the Libyan crisis. The two ministers also discussed preparations for a new set of Libyan peace talks in Berlin.
The Egyptian foreign minister said that through this conference, both sides would seek the renewal of the commitment of the international community inside and outside of Libya.
He said that his and Magnoush’s renewed emphasis was on advancing joint cooperation frameworks aimed at ending foreign interference and preserving the capabilities of the Libyan people.
Meanwhile, his Libyan counterpart said: “We need Egypt’s support in the political process, to achieve stability and a cease-fire in Libya.”
Magnoush added that there were signs of hope for the unification of Libyans after the conference in Berlin.


Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts
Thousands of civilians have been killed in Marib since February when the rebels resumed a major offensive to seize control of the region. (Reuters/File)
Updated 5 min 18 sec ago

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts
  • Government forces repel ‘massive’ rebel assault on strategic city, forcing retreat

ALEXANDRIA: Yemen’s government warned on Sunday that Houthi military escalation in the central province of Marib and drone attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia threaten peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

In a statement carried by the official news agency SABA, Yemen’s foreign ministry slammed the Houthis for stepping up shelling of residential areas in the central city of Marib, as well as intensifying ground offensives in the province and firing explosive-rigged drones and ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia.
The ministry accused the Houthis of executing Iran’s “subversive” policies in Yemen and seeking to derail efforts to end the war.
“Those terrorist attacks and the ongoing military escalations are clear messages and responses to all regional and international efforts to bring peace and end the war in Yemen,” the ministry said, renewing the government’s support to the Kingdom in defending its soil against Houthi strikes.
The warning comes as fighting between the Houthis and Yemeni government flared up over the last two days in Marib after the rebels resumed their push to seize control of the strategic city.
Yemen’s defense minister said that dozens of rebel fighters were killed in key battlefields outside the city of Marib after army troops and allied tribesmen repelled a large Houthi offensive.
Speaking to Arab News on Sunday from Marib, a local military official said that on Saturday, the Houthis mounted a “massive” assault on government forces in Al-Kasara, west of Marib city, and retreated after suffering heavy casualties and losses in military equipment.
“We crushed their waves of fighters, burnt two armed vehicles and captured a key Houthi military leader along with his group,” the official said.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib since February when the rebels resumed a major offensive to seize control of the oil- and gas-rich region, the Yemeni government’s last bastion in northern parts of the country.
At the same time, dozens of civilians in the densely populated city have been killed after Houthis targeted residential areas with missiles, mortal shells and drones.
A week ago, Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad told Arab News that the government “would not allow the Houthis to capture Marib” as it had thrown all of its weight behind the “make-or-break” battle.
The latest round of fighting in the province comes as regional and international mediators shuttle between Riyadh, Muscat and Sanaa to make a breakthrough toward reaching an agreement to end the war.
At the same time, Awad said that the Omani delegation that visited Houthi-held Sanaa earlier this month could not convince the rebels to accept the UN-brokered peace initiative, adding that the Yemeni government is in favor of stopping fighting immediately to ease the humanitarian crisis in the country.
“We see that the first humanitarian step is a comprehensive cease-fire on all fronts — on the ground and in the air. This is the most important step, because it will stop the bloodshed and will open crossings and passages,” the minister said, adding that along with halting hostilities, the peace plan calls for reopening Sanaa airport, lifting restrictions on Hodeidah port and resuming peace talks.


Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
Updated 20 June 2021

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
  • The Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last for three to four days, state TV says

TEHRAN: Iran’s sole nuclear power plant has undergone an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown, state TV reported on Sunday.
An official from the state electric energy company, Gholamali Rakhshanimehr, said on a talk show that the Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last “for three to four days.”
He said that power outages could result. He did not elaborate but this is the first time Iran has reported an emergency shutdown of the plant, located in the southern port city of Bushehr. It went online in 2011 with help from Russia. Iran is required to send spent fuel rods from the reactor back to Russia as a nuclear nonproliferation measure.
In March, nuclear official Mahmoud Jafari said the plant could stop working since Iran cannot procure parts and equipment for it from Russia due to banking sanctions imposed by the US in 2018.
Bushehr is fueled by uranium produced in Russia, not Iran, and is monitored by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA did not immediately respond to request for comment on the reported shutdown.
Construction on Bushehr, on the coast of the northern reaches of the Arabian Gulf, began under Iran’s shah in the mid-1970s. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the plant was repeatedly targeted in the Iran-Iraq war. Russia later completed construction of the facility.
The plant, which sits near active fault lines and was built to withstand powerful quakes, has been periodically shaken by temblors. There have been no significant earthquakes reported in the area in recent days.


Decision time on Iran nuclear deal ‘approaching fast,’ says European diplomat

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2021

Decision time on Iran nuclear deal ‘approaching fast,’ says European diplomat

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
  • E3 official said talks could not be open ended
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on world powers to “wake up”

VIENNA: Talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers cannot continue indefinitely and a decision needs to be made soon, a senior diplomat from the ‘E3’ grouping of France, Germany and Britain said on Sunday.

“We continue to make progress but we still need to resolve the most difficult issues. As we have stated before, time is on nobody’s side. These talks cannot be open ended,” the diplomat said

“Delegations will now travel to capitals in order to consult with their leadership. We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to conclude a deal. The time for decision is fast approaching.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday opened his first Cabinet meeting since swearing in his new coalition government last week with a condemnation of the new Iranian president.

He said Iran’s presidential election was a sign for world powers to “wake up” before returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected Saturday with 62% of the vote amid a historically low voter turnout.

He is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi has not commented specifically on the event.

* With AP and Reuters

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Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede
Updated 20 June 2021

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede

Israel launches official probe into deadly festival stampede
  • Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival despite coronavirus restrictions
  • Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds
JERUSALEM: Israel’s government approved Sunday the establishment of an independent state commission of inquiry into a deadly disaster at a Jewish holy site in April that left 45 people dead.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the commission would investigate major safety shortcomings that led to a deadly stampede at Lag Baomer celebrations on Mount Meron.
It will be headed by a current or former senior judge, and its members selected by the country’s chief Supreme Court justice.
Some 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered for the April 29 holiday festival in northern Israel despite coronavirus restrictions limiting outdoor assemblies to 500 people, and longstanding warnings about the safety of such gatherings. The state comptroller’s office had previously issued a pair of reports in 2008 and 2011 warning that the conditions at Mount Meron were dangerous.
Hundreds of people funneled through a narrow passageway descending the mountain’s holy site during the festival. A slippery slope caused people to stumble and fall, precipitating a human avalanche that killed 45 people and injured at least 150.
The police launched an investigation into the disaster, but to date have yet to make any arrests.
The government said the commission would investigate the officials “who made the decisions that led to approving the event and determining the framework that was approved and its terms.”
Powerful ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials to lift attendance restrictions at the religious festival.
Experts had long warned the Mount Meron complex was inadequately equipped to handle the enormous crowds that flock there during the springtime holiday, and that existing infrastructure was a safety risk.
Netanyahu’s political allies, including ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, walked out on a Knesset committee hearing that discussed forming an investigation last month. Families of the mostly ultra-Orthodox victims of the disaster had called on Netanyahu to take action and form an independent state commission to investigate the incident.
Bennett said at the start of his newly formed government’s first Cabinet meeting that “the responsibility is on our shoulders to learn the lessons to prevent the disaster to come.”
“The commission cannot bring back those who died, but the government can do everything to prevent an unnecessary loss in the future,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, one of the ministers who advanced the motion to launch the commission, said in a statement: “We must make sure that a tragedy of this nature never repeats itself. The taskforce’s purpose is, above anything else, to save human life.”