Palestine Central Council meeting faces tough choices

A Palestinian man holds a bunch of keys during a protest against the US’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Tuesday north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018

Palestine Central Council meeting faces tough choices

AMMAN: Eighty members of the Palestine Central Council (PCC) will meet on Sunday in the temporary Palestinian political capital of Ramallah to review and recommend the direction of the Palestinian struggle.
The PCC, a medium body between the Palestine National Council (PNC, Palestine’s Parliament in exile) and the PLO Executive Committee, last met in March 2015.
Its meeting is taking place five weeks after the US president, according to his own words, “took Jerusalem off the negotiating table.” Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and began steps to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Arab News sources have indicated that the PCC will take some tough decisions, including declaring Palestine a state under occupation, suing Israel in the International Criminal Court, suspending the recognition of Israel, escalating peaceful resistance and calling on Europe and other countries to recognize the state of Palestine (see recommendations to the PCC in separate story).
Anees Sweidan, director of external relations for the PLO, told Arab News that the PCC meeting will be facing some difficult choices. “Tough decisions are needed to be taken as a result of the US pronouncement on Jerusalem.” Sweidan also noted that a total review of the Oslo Accords is needed, especially concerning relations with Israel.
“It has become clear that what is needed is a total review of Oslo. There is no Israel partner for peace at the present time and we can’t keep hiding our heads in the sand. This means we need to revisit both security and economic agreements with Israel,” he said.
Najeeb Qaddoumi, a member of the PNC and PCC, told Arab News that the US could not continue to monopolize the peace process. “They have disqualified themselves as an honest broker when they sided with one part on the crucial issue of Jerusalem,” he said.
Qaddoumi believes that the time has come for genuine national unity. “We can’t really do any serious restructuring and reinvigoration of the PLO unless we are totally and honestly united.”
For PLO executive committee member Tayseer Khaled, the point of departure for the meeting on Sunday must be in honoring previous resolutions. In the 2015 meeting, Khaled told Arab News on Dec. 26: “It was decided to end our connection with the Oslo Accords and the security coordination with Israel but this has not happened.”
Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad, Fatah spokesman for international affairs, told Al-Monitor: “In the beginning of the PCC meeting, it is expected that members will discuss the matter of withdrawing recognition of Israel as a reaction to the US decision on Jerusalem.”
In 1993, the PLO and Israel agreed to mutual recognition. The move gave Israel legitimacy, but members of PLO factions remained in jail for membership of a “terrorist organization,” and in March this year Israel declared the Amman-based Palestinian National Fund, essentially the PLO’s treasury, a terrorist organization.
While suspending security coordination and the recognition of Israel might be among the toughest decisions that will be discussed in Ramallah, it is clear that some are worried about the potential Israeli reaction.
Nabil Amer, a respected Fatah leader, believes that such escalation is a mistake. Speaking to the Raya FM radio in Ramallah, Amer said that any escalation will be painful to the Palestinian people. “I don’t add my voice to the calls for escalation. Any such escalation will be costly. We have boycotted meetings with the US; that was a good decision and that is enough.”
Even the left-wing Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was critical of the voices of escalation. Iyad Joudeh, writing in the DFLP’s flagship publication al-Houria on Jan. 3, rejected the idea of dissolving the Palestinian Authority.
“It is illogical to dissolve the Palestinian Authority because Israel has been doing its utmost to weaken the Palestinian Authority because it knows that the PA is the nucleus of the Palestinian state,” he said. “We should think logically and retain our national accomplishments.”
Palestinian leaders are caught in a bind. On the one hand they needs to show unity and resilience, yet at the same time they must be careful not to burn all their bridges.
Because the choices that the council members make are likely to have a major effect on the trajectory of the Palestinian struggle, it is likely that the most radical decisions will be postponed for the consideration of the highest PLO body, the Palestine National Council.

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

Updated 08 December 2019

Airstrikes kill 19 civilians in northwest Syria

  • The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks

AL-BARA, Syria: Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes on Saturday killed 19 civilians, eight of them children, in the country’s last major opposition bastion, a war monitor said.

The air raids in the rebel-run northwestern region of Idlib also wounded several others, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Airstrikes by regime ally Russia killed four civilians including a child in the village of Al-Bara in the south of the region, the Observatory said.

An AFP correspondent at the scene saw rescue workers pick through the rubble of a two-story home whose concrete roof had collapsed.

Rescuers carried away the body of a victim wrapped in a blanket on a stretcher.

Russian raids also killed nine civilians including three children in the nearby village of Balyun, the Observatory said.

Crude barrel bombs dropped by government helicopters killed five civilians including three children in the village of Abadeeta, also in the same area.

In the southeast of the embattled region, a raid by a regime aircraft killed another child in the village of Bajghas, the Observatory said.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, says it determines the provenance of an airstrike by looking at flight patterns and the aircraft and munitions involved.

The airstrikes on Idlib province have intensified over the past few weeks as the government appears to be preparing for an offensive on rebel-held areas east of the province to secure the main highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest and once commercial center.

The Idlib region, which is home to some 3 million people including many displaced by Syria’s civil war, is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Damascus regime has repeatedly vowed to take back control of Idlib.

Bashar Assad’s forces launched a blistering military campaign against the region in April, killing around 1,000 civilians and displacing more than 400,000 people from their homes. A cease-fire announced by Moscow has largely held since late August.

But the Observatory says deadly bombardment and skirmishes have persisted, with more than 200 civilians killed in the region since the deal.

Syria’s war has killed over 370,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since beginning in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests.

Earlier, the Observatory and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense said four people, including a child and two women, were killed in airstrikes on the opposition-held village of Bara.

The Observatory said five others were killed in the village of Ibdeita and a child in another village nearby.

Different casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria, where an eight-year conflict has killed about 400,000 people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s prewar population.

Syrian troops launched a four-month offensive earlier this year on Idlib, which is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants. The government offensive forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

A fragile cease-fire halted the government advance in late August but has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks.