Crisis worsens as Lebanon’s money runs short

Women and children among protesters chant slogans during ongoing demonstrations against the Lebanese political class, at a road leading to the parliament building in Beirut. (AP)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Crisis worsens as Lebanon’s money runs short

  • People fear internet service may be interrupted because Lebanon is unable to pay for its use

BEIRUT: All roads to solving the political and economic crises in Lebanon appeared to be blocked on Monday.

Queues reappeared in front of banks after the weekend, as people waited to withdraw the maximum amount allowed. The permitted amount for withdrawals has been decreasing weekly and has now reached $100. Moreover, the dollar exchange rate on the black market is more than LBP2450, while the official rate is around LBP 1517.
Rumors that household gas supplies may soon be cut due to the financial crisis drove people to queue up at filling stations to buy this basic heating material.
People also fear that internet service may be interrupted in the coming months because Lebanon is unable to pay for its use.
An insurance company official said a new phenomenon was that the Lebanese are resorting to keeping their deposits out of banks. He explained: “The demand for safe deposit boxes inside banks has grown and their annual rent increased to $175. People who anticipated the crisis and withdrew their money from banks are asking to deposit it again in their own safe deposit boxes in the banks for fear of robbery at home.”
The confused handling of the political crisis has prompted the return of street protests after a three-week lull. During the weekend, groups of activists chased some politicians out of restaurants, cafes, and shops, including the minister of defense in the caretaker government, Elias Bou Saab, the minister of public works, Youssef Fenianos, and Future Movement MP Sami Fatfat.
Tents were set up in the courtyard of the Rachid Karami International Fair in the northern city of Tripoli by an activist group calling itself  “The Gifts of Lebanon” to house 35 women and children.
The group said that these people “have no shelter because they could not pay their rents due to the very difficult living situation.”

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The confused handling of the political crisis has prompted the return of street protests after a three-week lull.

The minister of labor in the caretaker government, Kamil Abu Suleiman, said: “We are seeing more companies declare bankruptcy and citizens lose their jobs,” he said. “There is a huge budget deficit and it is on the rise because revenues are shrinking. We have to resort to capital control in a codified form to protect banks and prevent discretion in dealing with depositors.”
The minister of labor revealed that Lebanon must reach a public debt that constitutes about 75 percent of the GDP, while it presently stands at 150 percent.
Furthermore, the chances of forming a new government are diminishing as supporters of the prime minister-designate, Hassan Diab, gradually abandon him. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told the Press Syndicate delegation that Diab “refuses to appoint ministers from political parties in the government, although he received the support of 4 party blocs.”
Berri considered that “the prime minister-designate set conditions for himself that were not required of him, which made the government formation process difficult for him. I will support him, but it is not necessary for me to participate in the government.
“The prime minister-designate remains committed to forming a government of technocrats. He refuses to abandon his mission, and there is no legal mechanism to withdraw his assignment by the allies who nominated him.”

 


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 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.”