Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project

A woman is fishing next to the bosphorus river on November 15, 2017 at Karakoy district in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project

  • Scientific findings show the project could prompt quakes, undermine wastewater system, change salinity

ISTANBUL: The municipality of Istanbul is to pull out of a controversial $15 billion project to build a shipping canal on the edge of the city. The announcement, made in Arabic by a spokesman for Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, came a day after Turkish presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, released a promotional video of the Canal Instanbul project in Chinese.
Companies from China are expected to shoulder most of the costs of building the 45 km waterway, which will link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara with the aim of easing shipping congestion in the adjacent Bosphorus.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “dream” megaproject has run into huge opposition from Istanbul citizens over environmental and economic concerns.
The Istanbul municipality’s announcement to withdraw from the scheme, is thought to have been delivered in Arabic in an attempt to dissuade Arab investors from buying land around the “second Bosphorus.”
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) expects the canal to carry up to 160 vessels a day when completed in 2025 and the tendering process for its construction is due to get underway soon after the project was given the green light from the Ministry for Environment and Urban Development.
But critics claim that as well as the cost to the economy, scientific findings have shown the canal could prompt new earthquakes, undermine the city’s wastewater system, change salinity and lead to more cuts in water supplies.
“It’s either the canal or Istanbul. We can’t have both,” Imamoglu said recently, adding that the project was a “betrayal” of the city.

FASTFACT

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party expects the canal to carry up to 160 vessels a day when completed in 2025.

But Erdogan said: “Whether they like it or not, Canal Istanbul is being built.”
In a televised interview on Sunday, the Turkish leader said warships would be able to use the canal, possibly violating the 1936 Montreux Convention, an international agreement aimed at guaranteeing stability and security in the Black Sea region and ensuring the free passage of ships through the Bosphorus, except in times of war.
In 2015, when relations between Turkey and Russia were at an all-time low over the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Syrian rebels, a Russian naval ship passed through the Bosphorus with a sailor standing on deck armed with a ground-to-air missile.
Erdogan claims that the Montreux Convention was only “mandatory” for the Turkish straits, and the Canal Istanbul project remained outside of its scope.
With foreign currency reserves in Turkey diminishing and the Turkish lira falling against the dollar and euro, investment in the real estate sector has become the principal way to bring in foreign cash and strengthen the economic parameters ahead of any snap elections.
Economist Mustafa Sonmez told Arab News: “The municipality will not assume any cost of the construction for the Canal Istanbul project because it canceled all the protocols that were signed before, during the rule of the AKP mayorship. This is a project that is being discussed just for rent-seeking and changing the domestic agenda of the country.”
He said the project model was not suitable to be built with a public-private partnership and within the scope of the build-operate-transfer model.
“The contractor cannot be pleased with the passage turnover of the ships, and it would be an unnecessary and risky choice to use the canal as long as the Bosphorus is free of charge.”
He added that if the project costs were met by state resources, it was unclear how it would be financed in the light of economic indicators for the country. Turkey’s central government budget balance recorded a deficit of 92.94 billion Turkish lira ($15.58 billion) in the first 11 months of 2019. The Canal Istanbul project is estimated at costing between $15 billion and $20 billion.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”