Palestinian leader urges world powers to replace US in peace talks

Mahmoud Abbas said Washington could no longer be an honest broker after the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018

Palestinian leader urges world powers to replace US in peace talks

UNITED NATIONS: In a highly visible snub to the Trump administration, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an alternative to US-mediated negotiations with Israel during a rare address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

Abbas urged other world powers to step in and facilitate peace talks, saying that Washington could no longer play an honest broker after President Donald Trump’s December 6 bombshell decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The United States has contradicted itself and contradicted its own commitments and has violated international law and the relevant resolutions with its decision regarding Jerusalem,” Abbas said in an impassioned, 33-minute address to the top UN body.

“Therefore, to solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multi-lateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference and in line with international law and the relevant resolutions.”

Abbas and his allies were left furious in December when US President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

He called for an international conference by mid-2018 to replace US-led mediation efforts. It would involve Palestinians, Israelis and the permanent UN Security Council members – the US, Britain, France, Russia and China – as well as the European Union and the UN, he said.  

That confab should welcome Palestine as a full UN member, with lands based on the borders prevailing before the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas also called for a U-turn on Trump’s Jerusalem decision and “halting transfer of the US embassy” there.

Arab News approached experts for their assessment of Abbas’ speech and his bid to “internationalize” the peace process. They warned that Middle Eastern geopolitics was becoming ever-more unfavourable to the Palestinian cause.

Jonathan Cristol, a scholar at the World Policy Institute, a think tank, said Abbas likely found sympathetic ears in the chamber, but that would not change Washington’s drive for a peace deal that would likely hurt Palestinians.

“In part, Abbas came to the UN because he expected to find more support among non-regional actors than within his own region, where concerns about Iran, combined with the wars in Syria and Yemen, make the Palestinian issue a more marginal factor,” Cristol told Arab News.

In an emailed statement to Arab News, Diana Buttu, a former advisor to Abbas, warned her former boss that calls for an international conference would “never lead to Palestinian freedom” and called for a policy re-think in Ramallah.

“What Abbas should instead be doing is signing onto the grassroots, global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to apply pressure on Israel to respect Palestinian rights and harnessing the immense untapped power of the Palestinian people to engage on widespread popular resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule,” Buttu said.

Abbas’ first UN Security Council address since 2009 was also his first face-off with top US officials since Trump’s announcement, with UN envoy Nikki Haley and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the 15-nation chamber. 

At the UN meeting, Haley brushed aside Abbas’ call for a rethink of the US embassy shift, saying “that decision will not change”. She warned that the Palestinian leader was only notching up diplomatic points rather than making life better for his people.

“You can choose to denounce the US, reject the US role in peace talks and pursue punitive measures against Israel in international forums like the UN,” Haley said. “That path will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere towards the achievement of their aspirations.”

Israel, which often accuses both the European Union and the UN of an anti-Israel bias, says it would not accept any mediator other than Washington. Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon said the Palestinians are not interested in peace.

“The current US administration is once again working hard to make progress towards peace,” Danon said. “Mr Abbas, however, is once again looking hard for an excuse. This time, he claims it was the American announcement about Jerusalem that drove him to reject negotiations.” 

As well as the embassy shift, the US has axed $65 million from a scheduled $125 million in UN payments for Palestinian refugees, and is poised to unveil a peace plan that is widely tipped to favour Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.

Abbas, 82, needs to plug that funding gap and rally global support to pre-emptively reject the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace proposal amid fears it will dash Palestinian hopes for a two-state solution.

Palestine is currently a non-member observer state at the UN, and would need a favorable UN Security Council vote to be upgraded to full membership. The Trump administration would be expected to veto any such upgrade.


Archaeologist Zahi Hawass: ‘There isn’t a country that doesn’t love Egyptian archaeology’

Updated 17 October 2019

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass: ‘There isn’t a country that doesn’t love Egyptian archaeology’

  • With only 30 percent of Egyptian monuments discovered, there is no rush to pursue the remaining 70 percent which remain hidden underground, says Hawass

 CAIRO: World-renowned Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass has affirmed the importance of Egyptian archaeology around the globe.

“There isn’t a country that does not love Egyptian archaeology,” Hawass, who was minister of state for antiquities affairs, told Arab News.

With only 30 percent of Egyptian monuments discovered, Hawass said there was no rush to pursue the remaining 70 percent which remain hidden underground.

“We don’t want to discover everything. We want to start by preserving and preparing the historical monuments which we have discovered, then start thinking about what is still undiscovered,” Hawass said.

So, restoration and preservation are the main goals for now.

With the new Grand Egyptian Museum still in the works, it seems likely that archaeology will be put in the spotlight once again, with more room for Egyptian artifacts to be showcased and appreciated rather than hidden, as in the old Tahrir museum.

“No one in the world doesn’t know Egypt. Egyptian archaeology is in the hearts of all people all across the world,” Hawass said.

This explains the immense popularity the new museum is expecting, located as it is, minutes away from the Pyramids of Giza.

Another reason behind its expected popularity is the attention ancient Egyptian figures have received across the years.

“Among the most famous ancient Egyptian figures, even for those who are not interested in monuments, we have King Kufu, who built the greatest pyramid, because that pyramid is something everyone talks about,” Hawass said.

He added that King Tutankhamun was popular because his coffin was restored whole, as was King Ramses II, the most famous of Egyptian kings, and Queen Cleopatra. Each of these figures gained fame due to popular tales and monuments attached to them.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass. (AFP)

Hawass plays a crucial role in drawing awareness about Egyptian archaeology around the world as well as focusing on the current situation in Egypt.

“I lecture everywhere (about archaeology)” he said. “Two to three thousand people attend each of my lectures. So I take advantage of to tell people everywhere that Egypt is safe and that Egypt is run by a president whom we have chosen. I am trying to change the perception about Egypt.”

As part of his efforts to promote Egypt and Egyptian culture, Hawass recently visited Japan.

“They (the Japanese) love archaeology. I would never have expected to be famous in Japan, but as a result of their love of Egyptian archaeology, they know me,” Hawass explained.

This is but a speck in the eventful career Hawass has led — which all started by accident.

“As a child I wanted to become a lawyer, so I enrolled in law school at 16 but realized that it wasn’t something I could do. So I left law and decided to study literature. There they told me about a new section called archaeology,” Hawass said.

After graduating Hawass went to work for the government, which he dreaded, until his first project came along. Workers came across a statue hidden inside a coffin which he had to clean. During the process he found his passion for archaeology. He went on to pursue his graduate studies on the subject.

“I went from failure to success thanks to one thing: Passion. When a person is passionate about something, he excels in it.”

Hawass did not point out his most successful or most preferred moment in his career, so full his life has been of memorable events.

“You cannot prefer one of your children over another. They’re all in my heart, all of the discoveries I have made.”