Israeli annexation plan an ‘existential threat’ to Palestinian people: PM Shtayyeh

Israeli annexation plan an ‘existential threat’ to Palestinian people: PM Shtayyeh
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah, West Bank on 13 April 2020. (Palestinian Prime Ministry)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Israeli annexation plan an ‘existential threat’ to Palestinian people: PM Shtayyeh

Israeli annexation plan an ‘existential threat’ to Palestinian people: PM Shtayyeh
  • Premier warns Palestinians could one day be left ‘only with Gaza’ if controversial move goes ahead

LONDON: Palestine’s prime minister on Monday branded Israel’s annexation plan an “existential threat” to the Palestinian people and urged European countries to take the lead in multilateral peace negotiations.

In an online briefing premier Mohammad Shtayyeh said: “Annexation of the West Bank is part of the systematic destruction of a future Palestinian state, but not only that. It is an existential threat to Palestinians as a people.”

Israel’s parliament will on Wednesday vote on whether to initiate the highly controversial plan of annexing up to 30 percent of the West Bank.

Shtayyeh warned that if the move went ahead it could be the beginning of a far more expansive Israeli expansion, threatening almost all Palestinian land.

“This annexation is a creeping annexation — a gradual annexation — that will only end by Israel swallowing all of the West Bank. This would leave Palestinians only with Gaza,” he added.

Israel’s plans, which have been rejected outright by all Palestinian groups, were developed and approved by the US without consultation with the Palestinians.

Shtayyeh said this showed that America was not an “honest broker” in the negotiations and that it could not be trusted, adding that the US should no longer take the lead in the peace process.

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Instead, the PM urged a “paradigm shift from bilateralism to multilateralism,” and pushed for European countries and the EU to take the lead in negotiating a fair settlement.

He proposed an international conference to start a multilateral process and said: “We are ready for serious negotiations based on international law.” He added that British and European recognition of Palestinian statehood would be a justified and significant step in supporting the Palestinian people.

In a late development on the issue Monday, Benny Gantz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partner, suggested that the annexation vote may not take place on Wednesday at all, saying that Israel should instead focus on fighting the country’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Netanyahu, however, told members of his Likud party that the issue was “not up to” Gantz.

Israeli plans for annexation have been met with widespread international condemnation, including from the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the EU.

Human rights experts from the UN have likened it to “21st-century apartheid,” and British Middle East minister, James Cleverly, told the UN Security Council last week that the UK “strongly opposes” annexation as a breach of international law. “Annexation could not go unanswered, and we implore Israel to reconsider,” he said.

However, it remains unclear what concrete steps the British government, EU and many other objecting countries will take should Israel follow through with the annexation.


In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 29 min 46 sec ago

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.

HIGHLIGHT

The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”