US economic plan for Middle East peace gets chilly reaction

US economic plan for Middle East peace gets chilly reaction
Women wave Palestinian flags during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip June 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 23 June 2019

US economic plan for Middle East peace gets chilly reaction

US economic plan for Middle East peace gets chilly reaction
  • Israeli minister calls a major piece of the White House’s 'peace to prosperity' plan 'irrelevant'
  • Jordan and Egypt restated their support for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

JERUSALEM: The economic component of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan drew chilly responses from regional allies Sunday, two days before it was to be discussed at a conference in the Gulf.
An Israeli minister called a major piece of the White House’s “peace to prosperity” plan “irrelevant,” while Jordan and Egypt restated their support for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pouring cold water on Washington’s focus on economic issues.
The $50 billion economic plan, published on Saturday, calls for massive infrastructure projects and job creation for Palestinians. It makes no mention of Palestinian political aspirations — a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.
The plan does not address the core issues of the conflict: the contested holy city of Jerusalem, sought by both peoples as a capital; the fate of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants; and the borders of a future Palestinian state.
American officials say these issues will not be raised at this week’s conference in Bahrain. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will have official representation at the two-day summit. The US delegation is to be led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said on Sunday that Palestinians do not need this week’s US-led Bahrain meeting to develop their country, they need peace.
The June 25-26 conference in the Bahraini capital Manama, which the Palestinian Authority is boycotting, will discuss US-led proposals for an economic vision to be presented by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, part of a wider plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
While many Arab states are attending the meeting, the plan has drawn rebuke as an attempt to circumvent Palestinian demands for an independent state on lands captured in the 1967 war.
“We don’t need the Bahrain meeting to build our country, we need peace, and the sequence of (the plan) — economic revival followed by peace — is unrealistic and an illusion,” Bishara said on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab finance ministers in Cairo.
“First of all, give us our land and our freedom.”
While the precise outline of the political part of Kushner’s plan has been shrouded in secrecy, officials briefed on it say he has jettisoned the two-state solution that envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Kushner told Reuters that the plan, previously dubbed the “deal of the century,” could be the “opportunity of the century” for the Palestinians.
In an address to Sunday’s meeting at the Arab League headquarters, Bishara cited the “bitter experience” of the Palestinians since the 1993 Oslo Accords, including the US decision to cut aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.
“We are careful and skeptical of what is called the deal of the century — or what was called a couple of days ago, the opportunity of the century,” Bishara said.
Sunday’s Arab finance ministers’ meeting was called to discuss the Palestinian budget deficit, which Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit put at $700 million for the current year.
The finance ministers said they were committed to activating a financial safety net for the Palestinians of $100 million a month, agreed upon at previous Arab meetings.
The Trump administration said it did not invite Israeli officials in order to keep the conference apolitical. The Palestinians have refused to attend, saying the US plan adopts hard line Israeli positions and neglects the internationally backed two-state solution.
Speaking Sunday in an interview with Israeli public radio, Cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi said one of the proposals in the Trump plan— a land link connecting the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip — was “irrelevant” so long as Hamas controls the latter.
The Trump administration’s outline calls for “a major road and, potentially, a modern rail line” between the West Bank and Gaza, saying this would “reduce the complications of travel for Palestinians” and stimulate commerce.
“It will be relevant when Gaza will stop being a pro-Iranian terror kingdom, meaning it’s irrelevant today and in the foreseeable future,” said Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation and an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The 10-year plan calls for projects worth $6.3 billion for Palestinians in Lebanon, as well as $27.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza, $9.1 billion in Egypt and $7.4 billion in Jordan.
Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday that the country will not be “tempted” by money into what he said amounts to giving up Palestinian rights.
Berri said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency that although Lebanon is currently dealing with an economic crisis, it would be a mistake to think that billions of dollars could convince the government to abandon Palestinians’ rights as refugees.
Sufian Qudah, a spokesman for Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, said that while Jordan would attend the conference, “no economic proposal can replace a political settlement to the conflict which must be resolved according to the two-state solution.”

*Reuters and AP


    Iran uses Houthis as pressure card for 2015 nuclear agreement: Yemeni information minister

    Iran uses Houthis as pressure card for 2015 nuclear agreement: Yemeni information minister
    Updated 1 min 29 sec ago

    Iran uses Houthis as pressure card for 2015 nuclear agreement: Yemeni information minister

    Iran uses Houthis as pressure card for 2015 nuclear agreement: Yemeni information minister
    • Al-Eryani claimed that Iran is pressuring the Houthis for a military escalation in Yemen
    • Al-Eryani also claimed that Iran is preventing the Houthis from halting its attacks

    DUBAI: The Iranian regime is using the Houthi militia as a pressure card against the international community and the US administration to extract concessions on the 2015 nuclear agreement, Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani said on Thursday.
    Al-Eryani claimed that Iran is pressuring the Houthis for a military escalation in Yemen through suicide bombing in Marib province, as well as attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia, state news agency SPA reported.
    He said the militia is experiencing a major deadlock after failing to carry out the tasks assigned to it with a depletion of its fighters and armaments in Marib.
    Al-Eryani also claimed that Iran is preventing the Houthis from halting its attacks or yielding to calls for a ceasefire so that Tehran’s negotiating position is not affected.
    He again called on the international community, the United Nations and the permanent members of the Security Council to take firm stances regarding Iran’s role in Yemen.
    Dozens of Iranian-backed Houthis and government troops were killed on in fierce clashes in Marib earlier this month, which prompted warnings from local officials and NGOs the heavy fighting further impact the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
    Government forces and allied tribesmen, backed by Arab coalition warplanes, have consistently fended relentless Houthi attacks in Marib.


    Egypt authorizes Sputnik, AstraZeneca virus jabs

    Egypt authorizes Sputnik, AstraZeneca virus jabs
    Updated 8 min 10 sec ago

    Egypt authorizes Sputnik, AstraZeneca virus jabs

    Egypt authorizes Sputnik, AstraZeneca virus jabs
    • The agency had previously given emergency authorization for the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and the AstraZeneca jab produced in India
    • Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF said Egypt is the 35th country Sputnik V
    CAIRO: Egypt’s pharmaceutical authority on Wednesday approved the use of the Sputnik V and AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines, a month after the North African country kicked off its inoculation campaign.
    The drug body had “provided emergency authorization for the use of the two vaccines, Sputnik V, and AstraZeneca... imported from South Korea,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
    The agency had previously given emergency authorization for the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and the AstraZeneca jab produced in India and marketed under the name Covishield, it added.
    Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF said in a statement that “Egypt is the 35th country in the world to approve Sputnik V.”
    Egypt began its Covid-19 immunization program on January 24, becoming one of the first countries in Africa to vaccinate its citizens, with a doctor and a nurse receiving the Sinopharm jab.
    The Arab world’s most populous country, with over 100 million people, received its first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in December, and its first doses of the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at the end of January.
    Egypt has officially registered more than 179,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and over 10,400 deaths.
    Health officials have warned that low testing rates mean the real number could be at least 10 times higher.

    Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

    Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute
    Updated 28 min 38 sec ago

    Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute

    Egypt backs call to internationalize Ethiopia dam dispute
    • The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes
    • Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile

    CAIRO: Egypt said Wednesday it has endorsed a Sudanese proposal to internationalize arbitration in a years-long dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile.
    Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry said Cairo backs the formation of an “international quartet” including the US, the European Union, and the UN, along with the African Union to facilitate reaching a deal on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.
    The dispute centers on how much water Ethiopia will release downstream if a multi-year drought occurs and how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan also call for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling and operation, while Ethiopia insists on guidelines.
    Shukry said Egypt wants to develop the negotiating mechanism to reach a “legally binding agreement” at the earliest possible opportunity.”
    He announced Egypt’s position during a meeting Wednesday in Cairo with Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, the coordination of Democratic Republic of the Congo’s current leadership of the African Union.
    There were no immediate comments from Washington, Brussels, or the UN
    Sudan has announced its proposal earlier this year after AU-led talks failed to achieve progress. Since then, Khartoum has become vocal against Ethiopia’s plans to start the second filling during the next rainy season.
    Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok said earlier this month that the dam threatens at least 20 million Sudanese, roughly half the country’s population.
    Sudan wants Ethiopia to coordinate and share data on dam’s operation to avoid flooding and protect its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile River. The Blue Nile meets with the White Nile in central Sudan from where the Nile winds northward through Egypt and flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
    There was no comment from Ethiopia that had left a US-led attempt to mediate the dispute, alleging bias. The administration of former President Donald Trump last year sanctioned Ethiopia over the dam’s first filling before reaching a deal with Egypt and Sudan.
    On Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration said it has de-linked the sanctions from the dam dispute.
    About 85 percent of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia. Officials hope the dam, now more than three-quarters complete, will reach full power-generating capacity in 2023, helping pull millions of its people out of poverty.
    Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with over 100 million people, called the dam an existential threat and worries that it would reduce its share of Nile waters. The country relies almost entirely on the Nile to supply water for agriculture and its people.


    Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

    Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions
    Updated 25 February 2021

    Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions

    Lebanon MPs who jumped vaccine queue defend their actions
    • World Bank threatens to suspend its backing for the country’s vaccination drive

    BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers who allegedly jumped the queue and received the first shot of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on Tuesday are feeling pressure to defend their actions.

    Eleven politicians, some of them younger than 75 years old, even had their vaccines “delivered” to Parliament.

    A spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the organization in charge of monitoring the country’s vaccination plan, “was unaware that President Michel Aoun, his wife and his work team had received the vaccine on Friday, which is a violation to the terms of the national plan.”

    As a result, the ethics officer of Lebanon’s vaccination committee, Dr. Talia Arawi, resigned on Wednesday.

    It also prompted representatives from the World Bank, the Lebanese Health Ministry, the country’s COVID-19 vaccination committee and other commissions to meet and discuss the breach within the national vaccination plan. 

    The World Bank, represented by its Beirut-based office, said it “will continue supporting Lebanon, but with respect to priority groups. If necessary, it is ready to suspend the financing for vaccines.”

    Lawmakers who received the vaccine early were on the defensive Wednesday.

    “How are lawmakers at fault?” Elie Ferzli, the Parliament's deputy speaker, asked. “Twenty-five lawmakers have been infected in parliament so far, along with 25 other employees. The latest infections occurred during the Procurement Law Committee’s meeting.”

    Ferzli said he and other officials registered on the platform, based on the ministry’s request. Of those who registered, 27 lawmakers received approval for the vaccine, because they were 70 or older. Sixteen said they were inoculated in hospitals while the other 11 received the vaccine in Parliament.

    Ferzli cited an American University of Beirut (AUB) report that said more than 50 percent of those who have received the vaccine did not register on the national platform.

    He accused World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha of “playing a political role”. He said: “This reflects the lack of ethics that a World Bank representative should have. If this is how the bank is planning to deal with us in financing the vaccination plan, forget about the vaccines.”

    Ferzli also attacked activists on social media who criticized the lawmakers, describing them as “ridiculous” and “electronic flies.”

    Ghazi Zaiter, a politician and former minister, who was summoned for questioning by the former judge leading the probe into the Beirut port explosion, also tried to defend himself. He took to social media, claiming that “he is more Lebanese than others, which gives him the right to the vaccine before the others.”

    Zaiter was heavily criticized, with some even calling on him to leave the country. Using a hashtag that was trending on Twitter, online activists said he “considers himself above the law and citizens.”

    The AUB called on the ministry to clarify and apologize for the alleged breach of the vaccination plan. It also suggested more transparency when it comes to publishing criteria for those who are eligible for the vaccine, the number of inoculated people in each center, who should not be included in the priority groups and why.

    The country’s vaccination campaign started 11 days ago. Yet half of the 12,000 doctors who are members of the medical association have not been vaccinated, nor have 55 percent of the nursing staff.


    Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

    Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
    Updated 25 February 2021

    Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

    Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
    • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

    ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

    Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

    Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

    “An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

    Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

    “These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

    Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

    Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

    “What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

    Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

    Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

    Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

    A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

    “The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

    Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

    “All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

    A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

    The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.