JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area of the occupied West Bank has left Palestinian development planners in disarray.
The threat, if implemented, will rule out the two-state solution as a political concept, and have serious implications for a Palestinian state’s viability with regard to water, agriculture, natural resources and tourism.
Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday that if he is returned to office in the Sept. 17 election, he will “immediately” extend “Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.” The Jordan Valley accounts for about one-third of the West Bank.
Opinion polls indicate that Netanyahu’s Likud party is neck and neck with the opposition Blue and White party, and may struggle to form a coalition. His controversial pledge could get him the backing of right-wing parties.
Jad Ishaq, director general of the Applied Research Institute, said the land that Netanyahu referred to in his televised speech accounts for a big chunk of the West Bank.
“From the standpoint of Palestinian agriculture, this is the breadbasket,” Ishaq told Arab News.
Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with about 28 villages and smaller communities.
Ishaq, who advises Palestinian officials, said Netanyahu’s threat, if carried out, would kill off the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
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“Simply put, this will deny us our water rights in the Jordan River, and limit our potential for mining
our national resources and for recreational tourism in the Dead Sea,” he added. Ishaq put the potential annual income from these activities at an estimated $2 billion.
“This Israeli annexation plan stunts the sustainability, contiguity and integrity of a future Palestinian state,” he said.
“The plan leaves it without any control over the borders with Jordan, and converts Palestinian areas into an entity comprising cantons that won’t survive.”
Depriving Palestinians of the right to derive financial advantage from Dead Sea minerals would amount to a major economic blow, Ishaq said.
“At present, Dead Sea minerals are being divided between Jordan and Israel. Each country earns an average of $1.5 billion annually,” he added.
Sani Meo, publisher of the tourism monthly This Week in Palestine, said access to the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley is vital for the development of Palestinian tourism. “There’s huge potential for tourism here that would be destroyed,” he told Arab News.
Meo expressed concern that the absence of internal tourism will exacerbate existing problems.
“The only opening for us is to the east, and now that’s being blocked,” he said. “We can’t get to Gaza and we can’t travel to Lebanon. Every time we discover a strategic opening, they (the Israelis) shut it.”
Netanyahu’s threat “will cause more tensions. This is short-sightedness on the part of the Israelis,” Meo said.
“By destroying the small signs of hope, the Israelis are building up more pressure inside a veritable pressure cooker. They’re unable to understand that it will eventually bring about an explosion.”
Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from Jordan in the 1967 war. More than 2.5 million Palestinians now live there, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers.
President Abbas says will continue to do ‘everything possible’ to defend the Palestinian people
Abbas says they would not accept the fait accompli that Israel wants to impose in Jerusalem
The Palestinian president demanded that US and Israel end to the occupation
Updated 13 May 2021
LONDON: President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday that his government is doing everything possible to defend the Palestinian people.
The aging Palestinian leader said he was working to stop Israeli forces and settlers harming Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories.
His comments came at the start of a leadership meeting at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah to discuss the repercussions of “Israel’s aggression toward the Palestinian people.”
“The continued aggression of the occupation forces against our people everywhere, including the aggression on the Gaza Strip, exceeded all limits, throwing out all international norms and conventions,” Abbas said.
“This puts us in front of very difficult choices imposed by the national duty in defending our sanctities, our rights and our people,” he added.
The president said that “Jerusalem is a red line, it is the heart and soul of Palestine and its eternal capital, and there is no peace, security or stability except with its complete liberation.”
The Palestinian president said they would not accept the fait accompli that Israel wants to impose in Jerusalem by targeting the Palestinian presence.
He said Israel was carrying out war crimes and ethnic cleansing to remove the Arab Islamic identity of Jerusalem.
An angry Abbas, said this was being done by stealing homes and desecrating religious sites such as the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Directing his speech to the US and Israel, Abbas demanded an end to the occupation, adding that the Palestinians will never leave their homeland.
He said the Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood who are facing eviction by Israel, will not leave.
How Muslim faithful in Jerusalem savored the essence of Ramadan
The last 10 days of Ramadan are always special but in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque they are unique
Worshippers and students often have questions about life and sought solutions for daily issues
Updated 13 May 2021
JERUSALEM: The last 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan are always special. In Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque they are unique — and charged.
On May 10, Israeli police, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, stormed the Haram Al-Sharif, which houses both Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. More than 300 people were injured in the ensuing violence.
Before the unrest erupted there, Arab News spent four days in Jerusalem and talked to the faithful as they awaited Laylat Al-Qadr, the night of fate that falls on the 28th day of Ramadan and marks the date, according to Muslim scholars, when the Holy Qur’an was revealed.
Most worshippers stressed the spiritual dimension of their visits.
Mohammed Abdo, a laborer from Jerusalem’s Sur Baher neighborhood, said he liked to go to the mosque as often as possible but due to his work he usually visited for afternoon and evening prayers. “But my favorite is the dawn prayer. It feels very spiritual and heavenly,” he added.
Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor of Islamic studies at Al-Quds University and holder of the Ghazali chair, said he is almost always at Al-Aqsa Mosque for noon prayers. “I give daily lectures and the best time for these spiritual talks is just before the noon prayers.”
He noted that worshippers and students often have questions about life and sought solutions for daily issues.
“We try and deal with how the Islamic faith has a direct influence on our behavior. Whether it is in personal relations, work ethics, or issues of the environment, we talk about all these issues during our discussions,” he added.
He pointed out that there was great interest in international academic circles in the doctrines and thinking of Al-Ghazali, an influential Islamic theologian and a famous preacher.
Getting to Al-Aqsa is not easy. The nearest parking lot for those coming from outside the Old City is several kilometers away. A fleet of electric carts carry older and disabled people, but the majority have to make the long walk on cobbled streets.
Some enter via the Damascus Gate to the north and make their way up the Khan Al-Zayt and the Suq Al-Wad, two ancient thoroughfares, to the higher ground of Haram Al-Sharif.
Others come via Lion’s Gate in the city’s eastern wall. Once inside the compound, there are separate entrances for men and women in the Dome of the Rock mosque. Inside, a small wooden barrier divides the genders.
In the separate Al-Aqsa structure, the southern Al-Qibly is reserved for men while the part close to the Bab Al-Rahmeh, another prayer section, is divided with men on the right side and women on the left.
The whole compound, which forms an esplanade that dominates the Old City, is maintained by the Jordanian Ministry of Waqf. Jordan held the Old City and the West Bank until 1967.
During Ramadan, the Waqf sets up special areas for hundreds of worshippers to break their fast. Many come from out of town either from within the 1948 borders of Israel or from various parts of the West Bank.
This year and last, entering Israel from the West Bank has been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Only those who have been vaccinated have been able to obtain a permit to travel from the West Bank.
Before the May 10 incursion by the Israeli police into the Haram Al-Sharif, Israeli commanders had ordered the green-bereted border guards and plainclothes security to adopt a low profile.
At the beginning of the holy month, Israeli security forces cut off electricity to four minarets and blocked a plaza in front of the Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the Old City northwest of Al-Aqsa.
The commanders were trying to silence the call to prayer on the same evening as a Jewish remembrance event for fallen Israeli soldiers. On another date, they attempted to head off clashes between Palestinians and hardline Jewish protesters who shouted, “Death to Arabs.”
The atmosphere was further soured by attempts to evict Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood outside the Old City from buildings claimed by Jewish settlers. The US and EU appealed for calm.
The mosque’s guards, who are employed by the Jordanian government, also kept a low profile as worshippers moved into and around the complex.
The Palestinian guards were monitoring visitors to ensure that they did not violate an agreement reached in 2014 in Amman between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then US Secretary of State John Kerry, and King Abdullah of Jordan.
The unwritten understanding stated that only Muslims may pray in Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock while all others may visit. The esplanade is, however, claimed by Jews to be the site of the First and Second Temples, which are sacred to the Jewish tradition. Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its undivided capital.
The Waqf guards seek to head off attempts by hardline Jewish groups, such as the Temple Mount Faithful, who want to rebuild the third temple on the site. They may attempt to recite Jewish prayers as a sign of claiming sovereignty.
In the few hours separating the afternoon prayers from the evening prayers that follow the breaking of the fast or iftar, Al-Aqsa was quieter. Locals from the Old City returned to their homes to break the fast with their families, while outsiders were invited to a special corner of the mosque compound by various charities to share in a hot meal, drinks, and sweets.
Washing areas were available as well as drinking water for those who fasted through the day without drinking or eating.
In the evening, residents of the Old City came out of their houses to hold joint Taraweeh prayers with those who stayed in the mosque. Late evenings were spent in small and large group talks and religious studies.
Some stayed up all night for the suhoor breakfast. Many slept before being awakened to partake in a light meal before the imsaq (the time of abstaining) as the sun rose.
Early risers returned to the mosque for the special time in the early morning hours for the dawn prayers.
Some do not have the luxury of being able to spend a night in the Haram Al-Sharif, in what is the third-holiest site in Islam.
Nemeh Quteneh, from Beit Safafa, another district in east Jerusalem, was with her mother and aunt as they walked toward the Dome of the Rock, which houses the tip of Mount Moriah, for afternoon prayers.
She said: “My mother, Sufiana, can only come in the afternoon, but I prefer the early morning prayers. The air is calm and the quiet allows one to have that spiritual connection that this holy place allows.”
UN peace envoy warns of ‘all-out war’ as Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues
Tor Wennesland: Cease fire immediately. We are escalating toward an all-out war. Leaders on all sides must take responsibility for de-escalation
Wennesland: The cost of the war in Gaza is devastating and paid for by ordinary people. The UN is working with all parties to restore calm. Stop the violence now
Updated 12 May 2021
GAZA CITY: The UN’s Middle East peace envoy on Wednesday warned of “all-out war” unless there was an “immediate ceasefire” as Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip saw a dramatic rise in the Palestinian death toll.
Loud explosions continued throughout the day as Israel pounded Hamas targets and forces in Gaza responded by launching hundreds of rockets deep into Israeli territory.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that at least 56 people had so far been killed, including 14 children, five women, and an elderly man, while more than 335 had been injured.
In a statement, Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said: “Cease fire immediately. We are escalating toward an all-out war. Leaders on all sides must take responsibility for de-escalation.
“The cost of the war in Gaza is devastating and paid for by ordinary people. The UN is working with all parties to restore calm. Stop the violence now.”
Palestinian and Israeli reports said efforts were being made by Egypt, the UN, and a number of other countries to restore calm and return to the ceasefire agreement.
The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Military exchanges have escalated over recent days, sparking international pleas for an end to the violence.
On Wednesday, Israel targeted a number of Hamas government buildings and houses, private cars, agricultural plots, and military training sites belonging to the movement and Islamic Jihad were also hit.
Bombing was stepped up following the destruction of two residential towers in Gaza City, and Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, retaliated by firing a barrage of rockets toward Tel Aviv and Beersheba. The commander of the Gaza brigade, Basem Issa, along with others were reported to have been killed during the strikes.
The Islamic Jihad announced that a number of its leaders belonging to its missile unit, most notably Muhammad Abu Al-Ata, died when an apartment in the center of Gaza City was hit.
Al-Qassam Brigades and Al-Quds Brigades fired hundreds of rockets toward Tel Aviv and Beersheba — cities far from Gaza that had not previously been targeted.
Mother-of-three Sherine Awad, 38, told Arab News: “The terror and fear do not stop. After the towers were hit, I moved from my apartment because it is in a high-rise. I moved to my friend’s house with my children, but last night a house was bombed near the place I took shelter in.
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“This is not life. We cannot bear all this. The bombing does not stop, and the terrifying sounds are nonstop. My children are in a state of fear and shock. Our life has taken a U-turn from what was planned for the Eid reception.”
The streets of Gaza City were mostly empty on Wednesday except for some pedestrians and cars, while most of the shops remained closed barring some grocery stores.
Ahmed Al-Kahlout, a grocer on Nasr Street, told Arab News that on the last day of Ramadan people still needed supplies and “fear does not prevent them from buying food.
“There are deaths, but people in their homes want to eat. This is not the first time Gaza has faced an escalation, but this time it is the most severe since the 2014 war,” he said.
Despite both sides in the conflict threatening further bombing, Palestinians in Gaza are hoping the latest round of bloodshed and destruction will end soon.
“We hope this will end. It will definitely end, but when? Nobody knows. Hopefully, it will be soon,” Awad said.
El-Sisi: Egypt’s water rights ‘will not be violated’
Talks over the filling and operation of the dam between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have come to a halt
Updated 12 May 2021
Mohammed Abu Zaid
CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has said that Egyptians’ concerns over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) are “legitimate” and warned that Egypt will not give up its water rights.
“I appreciate your concern about the dam crisis, and I share this concern with you and consider it a healthy phenomenon that stems from Egyptians’ fear and love for their country, but I call on Egyptians to be patient,” he said, adding that negotiations will take time.
Speaking on the sidelines of the inauguration of several projects, El-Sisi said that pressure is being applied to solve the crisis through negotiations.
“Our rights will not be violated,” he added.
Cairo has witnessed intense diplomatic activity recently, with Jeffrey Feltman, US envoy to the Horn of Africa, and Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the current session of the African Union, holding talks in an effort to reach a settlement.
Talks over the filling and operation of the dam between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have come to a halt.
Earlier, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Dina Mufti, expressed hopes that negotiations will resume following Tshisekedi’s efforts to break the deadlock.
Feltman called for a “profitable solution” for all parties involved.
Ethiopia began work on the 1.8-kilometer dam in 2011. Egypt fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.
Both Cairo and Khartoum are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries.
US sends diplomat to try to quell Israeli-Palestinian violence
Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has appeared to catch the Biden administration off guard as it pursued other priorities
Israel said it killed 16 members of the Hamas armed wing in Gaza in a barrage on Wednesday.
Updated 12 May 2021
WASHINGTON: The United States dispatched a senior diplomat on Wednesday to urge Israelis and Palestinians to calm the worst flare-up in violence between them in years.
The violence has appeared to catch the Biden administration off guard as it pursued other priorities.
In remarks welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended Israel’s right to protect itself and condemned rockets fired by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
He also said Israel had a particular obligation to avoid civilian casualties.
Israel said it killed 16 members of the Hamas armed wing in Gaza in a barrage on Wednesday. At least 56 people have been killed in Gaza since violence escalated on Monday, according to the enclave’s health ministry. Six people have been killed in Israel, medical officials said.
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The military action follows unrest involving Israeli police and Palestinian protesters near Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.
Blinken, who spoke by telephone to Netanyahu, said he had sent Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to meet with both sides.
“He will urge, on my behalf and on behalf of President (Joe) Biden, a de-escalation of violence.”
Biden has yet to name an ambassador to Israel, a post his predecessor Donald Trump had filled before his inauguration. Other top state department officials handling the region are still awaiting approval from the Senate.
Deflecting suggestions that the long-standing conflict has not been a priority, Blinken repeatedly described the administration as “fully engaged.”
“We are deeply engaged across the board. State Department, White House, senior officials, with the Israelis, Palestinians and other countries and partners in the region to call for and push for de-escalation,” Blinken said.
A senior State Department official, asked if Biden would speak with Netanyahu, said further “high level engagement” from Washington was to be expected.
In his remarks, Blinken drew a distinction between “a terrorist organization, Hamas that is indiscriminately raining down rockets in fact targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself.”
However, he added: “I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything they possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defense of the people.”
Netanyahu’s office said: “Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked Blinken for the US support for Israel’s right to self-defense, a right that the secretary of state reiterated in this call.”