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

  • 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.


Iraqi expert on armed groups shot dead in Baghdad

Updated 07 July 2020

Iraqi expert on armed groups shot dead in Baghdad

  • Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on Hisham Al-Hashimi outside his home in the Zeyouneh area of Baghdad
  • Al-Hashimi was a well-connected security analyst

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi analyst who was a leading expert on the Islamic State and other armed groups was shot dead in Baghdad on Monday after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias.
Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on Hisham Al-Hashimi, 47, outside his home in the Zeyouneh area of Baghdad, a family member said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. The family member heard five shots fired.
Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said he was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Al-Hashimi was a well-connected security analyst who appeared regularly on Iraqi television and whose expertise was sought out by government officials, journalists and researchers.
Weeks before his death, Al-Hashimi had told confidantes he feared Iran-backed militias were out to get him. Friends had advised him to flee to the northern city of Irbil, in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
He rose to prominence as an expert on the inner workings of IS and even advised the US-led coalition during its yearslong battle with the extremists.
After Iraq declared victory over IS in December 2017, he increasingly turned his attention to the Iran-backed militias that helped to defeat IS and now wield considerable power in the country. He was an outspoken critics of some of these groups, which have thousands of heavily armed fighters.
News of his killing spread quickly, with fellow researchers, journalists and others taking to social media to express their condolences.
The head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed shocked at the assassination and said the UN strongly denounces the “cowardly act.” In a tweet, she called on the Iraqi government to quickly find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
British Ambassador to Iraq, Stephen Hickey, said he was “devastated and deeply saddened” by the news of Al-Hashimi’s death. “Iraq has lost one of its very best — a thoughtful and brave man,” he tweeted.
Iraqi researcher Fanar Haddad said Al-Hashimi was a “strikingly bright mind and a true gentleman,” calling his death a “major loss and an unforgivable crime.”
Asked what Al-Hashimi’s death might signify to critical analysts, he said, “Critical voices are liable to be silenced if and when deemed necessary.”
Political analyst Ihsan Al-Shammari, a colleague of Al-Hashimi, said those who killed him wanted to “silence the voices that disagree with their opinion” and blamed the shooting on the proliferation of armed groups in the country.
Many saw his death as a worrying sign as the government struggles to rein in the militias.
The Iran-backed groups have been blamed for a spate of recent rocket attacks targeting US interests. Authorities launched a raid last week in which they detained 14 members of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah group in Baghdad, but all but one were released just days later, in what was widely seen as a capitulation by the government.
In a statement, Al-Kadhimi said Iraqi security forces would “spare no effort” in pursuing his killers.
“We will work with all our efforts to confine arms to the state, so that no force will rise above the rule of law,” the statement said.
In some of his final tweets before he was killed, Al-Hashimi lamented the country’s bitter divisions and the corruption plaguing its political system.
“The rights, blood and dignity of Iraqis have been lost, and their money gone into the pockets of corrupt politicians,” he tweeted Sunday.