UN chief says important Mideast peace efforts realize two-state vision

Guterres was speaking at a pledging conference in New York. (Reuters)
Updated 26 June 2019

UN chief says important Mideast peace efforts realize two-state vision

  • Most of the refugees UNRWA helps are descendants of about 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday it was important “to pursue peace efforts to realize the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

Guterres was speaking at a pledging conference in New York for the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees as President Donald Trump’s administration launched in Bahrain a $50 billion economic formula for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

It is not clear whether the Trump administration plans to abandon the “two-state solution,” which involves creation of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. The Trump administration has consistently refused to commit to it, keeping the political stage of its peace plan a secret.

At the pledging conference in New York, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — which helps 5 million registered Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza — raised some $110 million to help continue its operations, UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl said.

He told reporters that there was no clash between the UNRWA pledging event and the US-organized conference in Bahrain because “we deal with the realities of today.”

Most of the refugees UNRWA helps are descendants of about 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation and claim a right of return to the lands they left.

Hatem Hamdouna, a 14-year-old student from Gaza and member of the UNRWA student Parliament, addressed ambassadors and diplomats at the pledging conference in New York on Tuesday.

“Since I was born, I experienced three wars,” he said. “However, during the darkest times UNRWA education was my only hope for a better future ... UNRWA education is just like oxygen, it keeps us alive.”

The US — formerly UNRWA’s largest donor, halted its funding to the agency in 2018, deeming its fiscal practices “irredeemably flawed” and stoking tensions between the Palestinians and the Trump administration.

UNRWA was able to fill the gap of several hundred million dollars and Krahenbuhl said that, while each year is a struggle, he was encouraged that donor momentum had not been lost.

UNRWA’s mandate is due to come up for renewal later this year in the General Assembly, where support for the agency has been traditionally strong and the United States would likely face an uphill battle to change or cancel the operation.

“We actually have probably the best support base in overall political terms that we’ve ever had in the history of this institution,” Krahenbuhl said.

Algerian court jails protesters over election

Updated 19 November 2019

Algerian court jails protesters over election

ALGIERS: An Algerian court has jailed four protesters for 18 months for disrupting a candidate’s campaign for the Dec. 12 presidential election which is opposed by a mass protest movement.
The court sentenced the four on Monday after protests on Sunday in the western city of Tlemcen, where one of the five candidates, Ali Benflis, was campaigning. No details were available on what their exact actions were.
Algeria’s authorities are trying to quell a protest movement that erupted in February to demand the departure of the country’s ruling hierarchy, an end to corruption and the army’s withdrawal from politics.
The army, which has emerged as the most powerful institution in the country, has pushed for next month’s election as a means to end the protests and restore normality. The former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, quit in April.
The judgment comes a week after a series of other prison sentences were handed down to protesters who had raised flags with Berber symbols during earlier demonstrations.
Several opposition leaders have also been held during the protests, and charged with contributing to damaging army morale.
However, the authorities have also detained numerous current and former senior officials on corruption charges, and have jailed some of them including the once untouchable former intelligence chief.
The protesters have rejected any presidential election carried out now, saying the continued presence of Bouteflika allies in the upper echelons of the government mean it cannot be free or fair.
Human Rights Watch said last week that the arrest of scores of protesters looked like “part of a pattern of trying to weaken opposition to Algeria’s interim rulers and their determination to hold presidential elections.”