Middle East has failed its people, says Dutch minister

Joel Rayburn, US deputy assistant secretary for Levant affairs and special envoy for Syria, addresses the 2019 World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, Jordan. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019

Middle East has failed its people, says Dutch minister

  • No jobs, no future in the region and the public sector is bloated, says Sigrid Kaag addressing WEF
  • PLO's chief negotiator says Trump administration had done nothing to improve peace efforts

DEAD SEA, Jordan: The Middle East has failed its citizens and leaders must do more to meet their demands, a Dutch minister said Saturday, as senior figures from the Arab world insisted that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict was key to stability in the region.

Sigrid Kaag, minister for foreign trade and development cooperation of the Netherlands, was speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) being held in the Dead Sea, Jordan.

The EU and individual European countries were unlikely to play a central role in the Middle East and were more likely to support initiatives from the UN and provide humanitarian assistance, said Kaag.

“The institutions (in the region) have failed their own citizens,” she told Arab News. “Not everything is related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are no jobs. There is no future. The public sector is bloated. (Citizens) want to know how their governments are going to address this. Leadership ultimately has to come from the countries themselves. Europe can provide support. We are not living in a neo-colonial era.”

Her comments came as a senior Palestinian official said the US had “proudly become an integral part of the problem” in the conflict with Israel.

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and chief negotiator, said President Donald Trump’s administration had done nothing to improve things.

Trump insists he wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. But the Palestinians have refused to meet his administration since he controversially recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

The Palestinians consider the annexed eastern sector of the city as their capital, and the status of Jerusalem is one of the stickiest issues in their conflict with Israel.

“Trump’s ‘Middle East Team’ has not managed to propose a single initiative to get us closer to peace,” he told Arab News. “Instead, it has taken a number of steps that have significantly worsened the situation on the ground. Whether this has been triggered by the ideological biases or the political inexperience, of those chosen to represent US national interests in the Middle East, the Trump administration has proved its inability to be part of any solution. Instead, it has proudly become an integral part of the problem.”

Erekat said Palestinians would always appreciate the support and solidarity of King Salman and Saudi Arabia.

“King Salman has stated that his support for Palestinian rights knows no limits and will not rest until a viable and independent Palestinian state is established and  Palestinians enjoy a decent life on the soil of their independent state,” he added. “The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques at the Arab Summit in Tunisia and in the Arab-EU summit in Egypt reiterated his absolute rejection of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This sent a message to world leaders that Saudi Arabia does not compromise when it comes to the rights of Palestinians.”

Economic growth in any part of the world could not be achieved unless security and stability was secured and maintained, he said. The WEF was an opportunity to send a “strong message to the world” that any peace plan that did not factor in Palestinians’ legitimate demands and the international community’s support for a two-state solution would not survive and would not be accepted, Erekat added.

Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi Bin Abdullah said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue was crucial, but did not agree with the “expectations” of some leaders in the region. “We need to look for new means so that the Middle East will become a stable region,” he told Arab News. Arabs needed to understand why Israel moved to take the Occupied Territories, he added.

But Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said that the conflict remained at the forefront of geopolitical debates in the Middle East despite the emergence of wars in other parts of the region.

“We will not succeed if we do not realize a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital, and people living side by side,” Al-Safadi told Arab News. “Everyone knows what the answer is: A Palestinian state. Anything short of that will not be accepted. You have to look at (regional problems) in a holistic way. By addressing the despair and lack of horizons (among many citizens), you have the ability to be more convincing.”

The minister also touched on the impact of his country’s decision to help refugees. “There are 1.3 million Syrians in Jordan. That is beyond our capacity. Europe was shocked by the immigration from Syria, but it was small compared to what we have here in Jordan.”

Lebanon’s Defense Minister Ayman Elias Bou Saab, who remarked that everything else would be “easier” if a solution were found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warned that the military defeat of Daesh in Syria would not put an end to the group’s ideology.

He compared the current situation to the end of armed conflict in Chechnya. Al-Qaeda fighters dispersed, some returned home to Lebanon and began to cause problems there. “The war may have been won in Syria, but [combatants] are heading home with their ideology. This can happen anywhere,” he told Arab News.


Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

Mask-clad shoppers walk past shops in Beirut's Hamra street on May 7, 2020, as Lebanon gradually eases its lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2020

Schools in Lebanon reopen, other sectors gradually

  • The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks

BEIRUT: The Ministry of Education will reopen schools for integrated education starting on Monday.

This comes after two weeks of closure and amid objections from civil bodies and commentators working in the public field.

Hilda El-Khoury, director of the counseling and guidance department at the Ministry of Education, said: “Returning to education through the combined method will be within the preventive measures that were previously approved.”

However, the Civil Emergency Authority in Lebanon said: “The decision will lead to a health crisis affecting the most vulnerable people, namely children and underage students, especially with the number of cases not declining since before the closure, and with the noticeable increase in the daily number of deaths.”

The Ministerial Committee for Combating the Coronavirus has meanwhile maintained its decision to impose a partial curfew in Lebanon but amended its implementation hours. Instead of starting at 5:00 p.m. each evening, the curfew now begins at 11 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m., provided that restaurants, cafes and malls close at 10:00 pm.

During its meeting on Sunday, the committee decided to restore vehicle movement on roads but maintained the suspension of social activities, cinemas and nightclubs.

Health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, said that the adoption of the strategy, permitting odd/even license plate vehicles on the roads on alternate days, had doubled the number of COVID-19 cases due to people’s reliance on shared transportation.

He said: “The rate of commitment to complete closure in all Lebanese territories has reached 70 percent over the past two weeks.”

Hassan said that the aim of the measures was to alleviate the pressure on the medical and nursing staff.

“The required medical measures, completed in terms of expanding the hospitals’ capacity to accommodate the COVID-19 cases, have been completed,” he said.

The death toll in Lebanon has reached 1,000, while the total number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 126,000 cases, at a rate of more than 1,200 cases per day during the past two weeks.

Abdul Rahman Al-Bizri, an infectious disease specialist and member of the emergency committee on coronavirus, regretted the lack of plans for the period following the closure due to a lack of coordination on COVID-19 between state departments.

He said that this had kept the country in a state of confusion and chaos while citizens paid a high price in light of the difficult economic and living conditions.

Al-Bizri said: “The repeated closures are unsuccessful, and one of their consequences is the decline in economic activity, the life cycle, and the living conditions.”

Meanwhile, video footage of Health Minister Hamad Hassan went viral on Saturday. It showed him cutting a cake for the birthday of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in the open market in Baalbek city.

The video was circulated on social media and caused a scandal following a similar episode in which the same minister was involved months ago.

The people of his town in the Bekaa met him during the peak of the spread of coronavirus, and he danced among them carrying a sword. Some people carried him on their shoulders and other social distancing measures were also not observed.

The Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries has called in the past few days for the sector to reopen to save what is left of it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the ministerial committees’ meeting, the syndicate called on the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, to “adopt a health-economic approach for the benefit of the rest of the sector.”

The syndicate added: “The sector has fully fulfilled its duties with regard to the preventive measures.

“We have also advanced a new approach related to the capacity of institutions, whereby chairs and tables are reallocated to accommodate only 50 percent of the original capacity, guaranteeing that no overcrowding will occur.

“We insist on adopting this as a new measure, and we discussed it with the minister of interior, and the sector will reopen its doors on Monday morning while remaining committed to all procedures and laws.”

Bechara Asmar, the head of the General Labor Union, called for the reopening of the country “because it secures a return to the economic cycle during the month of the holidays, protects workers, employees and daily-paid workers in all private, public, and official sectors, and preserves their livelihood at a time when they risk having their wages reduced, starving to death or dying of the coronavirus.”