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.


Fatah and Hamas blame each other for reconciliation failure

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Updated 18 February 2020

Fatah and Hamas blame each other for reconciliation failure

  • Sources said Fatah wanted to exclude three factions — the Liberation Movement, the Mujahideen Movement and the Popular Resistance Committees — whereas Hamas wanted them to participate because of their loyalty

GAZA CITY: Fatah and Hamas have blamed each other for their lack of reconciliation following the release of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
The Trump peace plan, supported by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that excludes Jewish settlements built in occupied territory and is under near-total Israeli security control. It also proposes US recognition of Israeli settlements on occupied West Bank land and of Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital, along with Israeli annexation of the Jordan valley.
It has been trashed by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on all factions to unite and develop a common strategy to counter the peace deal and there were hopes he would send a PLO team to Gaza to reconcile with his political rivals at Hamas, ending 13 years of internal division. But the meeting has yet to materialize, with each side accusing the other of obstruction and exclusion.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip by force from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in 2007, with the takeover leaving Palestinians divided between two governments. Hamas controls Gaza and the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority governs autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The two sides remain bitter enemies.
The PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is executive committee secretary, said the organization’s factions were ready to go to the Gaza Strip. “It is Hamas that is delaying the visit, by refusing to invite the factions to hold a meeting that includes all the factions in Gaza,” he told Arab News. “We do not see any reason for Hamas to delay issuing invitations to the Palestinian factions to respond to what was agreed upon in holding a factional meeting in Gaza, until a reconciliation agreement is reached and ending
the division.”
Azzam Al-Ahmad, a member of the Fatah central committee, said the group was not waiting for the approval of any party to go. It was waiting for an official date from Hamas in order to hold the factional meeting in Gaza.
In 2017 Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing.

The deal was brokered by Egypt and helped bridge the gulf between the two Palestinian parties — the Western-backed Fatah and Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist organization by several countries including the US.

HIGHLIGHT

Mahmoud Abbas called on all factions to unite and develop a common strategy to counter the peace deal and there were hopes he would send a PLO team to Gaza to reconcile with his political rivals at Hamas, ending 13 years of internal division. But the meeting has yet to materialize.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said there was no need for hiding or “evasion” as the group’s stance was clear about representation and delegations. “It (Hamas) has repeatedly welcomed the visit of the delegation to achieve reconciliation, the brothers in Islamic Jihad and the popular and democratic fronts approved that,” he told Arab News. Fatah, he said, opposed the inclusion of “resistance forces.”
“The problem lies in the political thought of Abbas and his team, who do not believe in real partnership on the ground, and they like to exclude the resistance factions that have presented hundreds of martyrs,” he added.
Sources said Fatah wanted to exclude three factions — the Liberation Movement, the Mujahideen Movement and the Popular Resistance Committees — whereas Hamas wanted them to participate because of their loyalty.
A Fatah delegation visited Gaza last week without meeting Hamas. Radwan said there was no meeting because the delegation insisted on holding a “bilateral meeting” with Hamas only.
“We welcomed the arrival of the delegation of the Palestinian Authority in the hope that it would be a prelude to a meeting at the level of general secretaries or a scheduled national meeting, but unfortunately Fatah started with obstacles, the first of which was the refusal of the national and factional presence at this meeting,” he said.
Ibrahim Abrash, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said there was no reconciliation agreement in sight. “What happened after the announcement of the deal of the century is an emotional state without real intentions on both sides of the division,” he told Arab News. Mutual accusations and the justifications for the visit’s failure were “trivial,” he added.