The Abraham Accord: As the world watched, four men made history

Trump took center stage and emphasized the historic moment. (AP)
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Updated 16 September 2020

The Abraham Accord: As the world watched, four men made history

NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, the foreign minister of Bahrain, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the Abraham Accord to double the number of Arab states that enjoy normal relations with Israel.
Trump took center stage and emphasized the historic moment: In 72 years since the creation of Israel, he said, two peace deals had been signed, and his administration had added two more in just one month.
More than 700 people, including leading US senators and representatives, thronged the sun-washed South Lawn of the White House. While the administration previously declined to invite Democrats to signing ceremonies, this time a large number were on the guest list.
US media applauded too. “It’s a win, win, win for everybody,” said one TV pundit. Even the Washington Post headlined: “The haters won’t admit it, but Trump’s UAE-Israel diplomacy is an extraordinary triumph.” Many believed the Accord would herald a seismic shift away from the stagnation in which the Middle East has been mired for decades.
The South Lawn has seen only two such events in the past 40 years. Here, in 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin ended three decades of hostilities between Egypt and Israel, and activated diplomatic and economic ties after negotiating an agreement with President Jimmy Carter at Camp David.
The second took place on President Bill Clinton’s watch in 1994, with King Hussein of Jordan on his left and Yitzhak Rabin on the right. The “Washington Declaration” ended the official state of enmity between Jordan and Israel and started negotiations for “an end to bloodshed and sorrow.”
This time, outside the White House, a group of Palestinians chanted: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” An Israeli group gathered in front of the gate. While singing the praises of the Accord, they demanded the removal of Netanyahu, who they called “crime minister.”
The speeches began, interspersed with loud applause. “Any choice other than peace will lead to destruction, poverty and human suffering,” said Sheikh Abdullah, while the Accord would enable the UAE to “stand by the Palestinian people, and realize their hopes for an independent state within a stable and prosperous region.”
Al-Zayani said the Accord was a historic step on the road to a “genuine and lasting peace,” and he hoped the agreement would lead to a “comprehensive and enduring two-state solution for the Palestinian people.”
There were prayers. Netanyahu quoted the Book of Psalms: “May God give strength to His people. May God bless people with peace.” Sheikh Abdullah said: “We say in our Islamic religion ... O God, you are Peace and from you comes Peace.”
They signed the Accord. The crowd applauded. History was made.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.