Christmas is about keeping hope alive, says Bethlehem mayor

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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
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Pilgrims from around the world flocked to Bethlehem for what was believed to be the biblical West Bank city’s largest Christmas celebrations in years. (AN Photo/Hazem Belousha)
Updated 25 December 2018

Christmas is about keeping hope alive, says Bethlehem mayor

BETHLEHEM: Bethlehem Mayor Anton Salman said keeping hope alive was his biggest challenge.
Talking to Arab News during an exclusive interview, he expressed his wish to bring thousands of disapora Bethlehemites back to the city, but acknowledged his inability to do so “because there’s no land due to Israeli settlements.”
Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. What is your biggest challenge as mayor of a city surrounded by walls and settlements?
A. Keeping hope alive. We do so not only as a matter of carrying the message of Christmas, but also through our daily work: Building institutions and capacity for our people is a strong form of resistance against the occupation.
In practical terms, I’d like to bring back thousands of Bethlehemites from the diaspora, but I can’t do that because there’s no land due to Israeli settlements, and because the Israelis control the population registry and many people have lost their IDs. Whether by taking land or residency rights, Israel doesn’t want us here. We tell Israel that no matter what, we’ll remain.

Q. What is the biggest obstacle for tourism in Bethlehem?
A. Israel’s monopoly over tourism, but we also have a responsibility in terms of doing more advocacy and promotion. Israel has even tried to prevent tourists from sleeping over in Bethlehem, but we’ve succeeded in bringing more people. What’s important though is not the number of visitors as much as the number of people who stay in the city. Our goal for 2019 is to increase the number of people staying in the city.

Q. Are you interested in Arab tourists? What would you like to see in terms of tourism from Arab and Muslim countries?
A. Bethlehem is the Capital of Arab Culture 2020. We’d love to have thousands of people form Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon here. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible today due to the occupation, and we know we’re losing a lot from it. We lose our potential, but our Arab sisters and brothers should know that we’ll always be waiting for them.
Has the increase in tourism accommodation improved long-term economic conditions, or is it only short-term improvements?
It’s too early to make any conclusions about this, but we can’t take Bethlehem outside the context of the economic crisis that we have in Palestine in general. In any case, we’ll keep working to improve the situation, and to make our residents feel the increase in the number of visitors in their daily lives.

Q. What do you want from the international community?
A. More deeds and less statements. It needs to hold Israel accountable for violating international law. How can a Western government claim to care about the situation of Christians in the Middle East while doing nothing about the oppression we have in Bethlehem? How come separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem with an illegal wall has been normalized by the international community? We need it to uphold its legal and moral responsibilities. That’s all we’re asking for.

Q. What are the issues on which you would like to see the Palestinian Authority (PA) doing more?
A. We have a direct relationship with the PA, and we raise our issues with it. We’d like it to better promote the potential of our city.


Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

Updated 28 May 2020

Turkey’s rulers plot law changes to block breakaway parties’ power grab

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP is working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is looking at ways to change electoral laws in order to block challenges to power from two new breakaway political parties.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP and its nationalist coalition partner the MHP are working on a plan to stop parliamentary deputies from transferring to other parties — a move that has fueled rumors of an imminent snap election in the country.

Under Turkish election rules, political parties must settle their organization procedures in at least half of the nation’s cities and hold their first convention six months ahead of an election date.

Any political party with 20 lawmakers in Turkey’s parliament is entitled to take part in elections and be eligible for financial aid from the treasury for the electoral process.

The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has hinted at the possibility of transferring some CHP lawmakers to the newly founded parties to secure their participation in elections.

Turkey’s ex-premier, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the country’s former economy czar, Ali Babacan, both longtime allies of Erdogan, recently left the AKP to establish their own opposition groups, and have come under pressure from the AKP and MHP to leave their parties out of the race.

Babacan has been critical of Erdogan’s move away from a parliamentary system of governance in Turkey to one providing the president with wide-ranging powers without any strong checks and balances.

“The AKP is abolishing what it built with its own hands. The reputation and the economy of the country is in ruins. The number of competent people has declined in the ruling party. Decisions are being taken without consultations and inside a family,” Babacan said in a recent interview.

He also claimed that AKP officials were competing against each other for personal financial gain.

Babacan, a founding member of the AKP, was highly respected among foreign investors during his time running the economy. He resigned from the party last year over “deep differences” to set up his DEVA grouping on March 9 with a diverse team of former AKP officials and liberal figures.

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Ankara’s Bilkent University, believes Babacan’s recent statements have angered Erdogan.

“As a technocrat, Babacan gains respect from secular circles as well as the international community, which Erdogan clearly lacks. Despite being in office for 13 years, Babacan has not been tainted by corruption allegations and is known as the chief architect of Turkey’s rapid economic growth during the AKP’s first two terms,” he told Arab News.

“The legislation that the AKP-MHP coalition is working on may prevent deputy transfer only in case early elections are scheduled for the fall. Otherwise, the newly established parties will most likely build their organizations across the country and become viable for elections by summer, if not the spring of 2021.”

If Davutoglu and Babacan were successful in capturing disillusioned voters, they could prevent the ruling coalition getting the 51 percent of votes needed to secure a parliamentary majority.