Trump adviser predicts more Arab and Muslim countries will sign deals with Israel

U.S. Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz during a press briefing on the agreement between Israel and the UAE at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., Aug. 13, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 September 2020

Trump adviser predicts more Arab and Muslim countries will sign deals with Israel

  • Berkowitz said that Arab leaders have been disappointed by the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to even discuss the “Peace to Prosperity” plan
  • Berkowitz stressed that the door remains open to the Palestinians if they agree to negotiate, but Trump will seek alternatives if they refuse to engage

As many as seven Arab or Muslim countries are likely to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain by signing agreements to normalize relations with Israel, according to Avi Berkowitz, special adviser to US President Donald Trump on Middle East negotiations.

He said that Arab and Muslim political and business leaders have been disappointed by the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to even discuss the “Peace to Prosperity” plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was proposed last year by the Trump administration. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described it as “the deal of the century.”

During an exclusive interview with Arab News on Tuesday, Berkowitz stressed that the door remains open to the Palestinians if they agree to negotiate, but Trump will seek alternatives if they refuse to engage.

He added the refusal by some Palestinian leaders to negotiate will no longer prevent other Arab and Muslim countries from pursuing peace with Israel, or deter the US from talking with other Palestinian community leaders and groups.

“We can disagree about the details. We can sit around the table and negotiate them,” Berkowitz said during the interview, which will be broadcast on Detroit radio station WNZK at 8 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning.

“But if you are unwilling to actually review the plan and think it through and explain why you think it is not acceptable, then we are not really talking — we are sort of talking past each other. And I think a lot of people in the region saw that and said ‘we are no longer going to allow this to be a veto over our national interests.’”

Berkowitz said that while there is a seat at the table for the Palestinian leadership to discuss the Trump peace plan, in their absence talks are taking place with other Palestinian community and business leaders, although he did not name them.

“We put out a plan and the plan calls for a realistic two-state solution,” he said. “It calls for a Palestinian state with a capital in areas of East Jerusalem. It calls for free access to all people who come in peace to all of the holy sites, so that no one can say that in any way they are under siege. (It also offers) $50 billion in investments, as well as provisions for people who have been displaced: the refugee issue.

“It undoubtedly is something that will make the lives of the Palestinian people better and will change the course of the region. And so when that was (announced) a lot of people saw that the Palestinians refused the plan prior to it even being published. They wouldn’t even read it before rejecting it — and honestly, that is unacceptable.”

Berkowitz said his own frustration with the situation “pales in comparison” to the frustration that can be heard in the voices of the Palestinian people about the actions of their leaders.

“They understand the current trajectory is a bad one and they constantly bring me fresh ideas,” he added.

Arguing that the presence of Israel is a reality that the Palestinians must accept, Berkowitz said: “We’re not going to allow that to be a veto over the project that we hope to make in the region going forward.”

However, he added that this does not mean that long-standing grievances and concerns will be ignored.

“This is not something that is being done at the exclusion of understanding the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “That is a real issue. It is one that we intend to give as much attention as the Palestinian leadership is willing to engage us on.”

The agreement between the UAE and Israel was announced on Aug. 13. Bahrain announced a similar deal on Sept. 11. Both agreements, known as the Abraham Accords, were brokered by Trump. They were signed by the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain and Netanyahu at the White House on Sept. 15.

In exchange for establishing full diplomatic and economic ties, Israel agreed to suspend its plans to annex large areas of the occupied West Bank.


For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement

Updated 20 October 2020

For Middle East children, pandemic adds to misery of displacement

  • Coronavirus has created new barriers to education for millions of children displaced by Middle East conflicts
  • Up to 50 percent of refugee girls worldwide are at risk of dropping out of school entirely because of COVID-19

DUBAI/ERBIL: Millions have been displaced by recent wars in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — a significant number of them children. Cut adrift in an unfamiliar world in search of safe harbor, the trauma of losing their homes is often compounded by the brutalizing experience of displacement.

According to the UN’s World Migration Report 2020, there are an estimated 31 million child migrants worldwide. Roughly 13 million of them are refugees, 936,000 are asylum seekers, and 17 million have been forcibly displaced inside their own country.

Individual tragedies have occasionally drawn the attention of the international community. When photographs emerged of Alan Kurdi, the drowned Syrian toddler lying face down in the Mediterranean surf, the issue of child migration appeared, for a time, to take center stage.

Syrian children displaced by the war gather at a makeshift camp at Idlib football stadium on March 3, 2020 in the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP/File Photo)

The world soon moved on, though, and initial pangs of sympathy and charity reverted to earlier anxieties about security. Now the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has left jealously guarded borders bolted tight.

Of course, it is not just war and terror that drives civilians from their homes. Political and cultural persecution, the loss of economic opportunities, and the ravages of climate change have also contributed to this vast nation of stateless people.

But it is the recent spate of conflicts in the Middle East that has specifically fed the phenomenon of child migration. As Ramzy Baroud, author and editor of the Palestine Chronicle, says, the cause of child migration in the Arab region is the direct result of “violent” conflict.

Displaced Syrian children attend a workshop aimed at spreading awareness about COVID-19 coronavirus disease and precautions for its prevention, at a camp near the Syrian town of Atme close to the border with Turkey in Idlib on March 16, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“Unlike economic hardship, which often evolves over prolonged periods of time, war is decisive and often leaves people with no other option but to flee,” he told Arab News. “We have seen this trend taking place in the early months of upheaval in the Arab world, starting in 2011 in Libya and continuing in Syria as well.”

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the MENA region, while Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) regional spokesperson, Rula Amin.

“The situation in Syria continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world. There remain over 5.5 million registered refugees from Syria in the main hosting countries — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and 2.6 million are children,” she told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

Children in the Pandemic

* 31 million - Total child migrants worldwide.

* 48% - Total refugee children out of school.

Syrians are by far the largest forcibly displaced population in the world — 13.2 million of them by late 2019, including 6.6 million refugees and more than six million internally displaced persons, according to the UNHCR.

Bombs and bullets no doubt drive the initial wave of displacement. But Baroud said the waves that follow are the result of the economic deterioration caused by conflict.

“This is important, because quite often war refugees and economic migrants are delinked, while in reality they are escaping the same threat, either that of war or its disastrous outcomes,” he said.

This can be seen in the case of Libyan and Syrian children, who fled the immediate danger with their families to become internally displaced persons — known in the humanitarian glossary as IDPs. It was predominantly the young and physically fit who dared to venture over land and sea to Europe.

Migrants, including women and children, in a dinghy, react as they approach the southern British coastline as they illegally cross the English Channel from France on September 11, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

However, as these conflicts dragged on, families with children increasingly lost hope in ever returning home and began contemplating far riskier options. As of January this year, Mediterranean crossings in rickety boats have killed at least 19,164 migrants since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“With time, whole families were escaping on long and arduous journeys together. In many cases, children were not even accompanied by adults, for their parents might have either been killed or separated from their children during the war,” Baroud said.

This trend was made clear in 2019, when UNICEF reported more than 33,000 child refugees crossed into Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria, most of them from the Middle East and North Africa.

“These first countries of asylum often serve as a gateway to other destinations in Europe, where refugees hope to reach a different country, which might be Germany, Sweden, or any other,” said Baroud.

Syrian children displaced by the war stand at a makeshift camp at Idlib football stadium on March 3, 2020 in the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria. (AFP/File Photo)

“So quite often, once a refugee arrives in Greece, for example, where he or she is granted some kind of refugee identification, they hope to continue with their journeys past Greece to somewhere else where they can permanently settle.”

Keeping families together is a “concern and a priority” for aid agencies, says Amin. Key to this is obtaining civil documentation, such as birth, marriage and death certificates. With these, refugees and IDPs are able to access services, move freely and have their rights respected.

The COVID-19 has complicated matters. According to the UNHCR, lockdown measures have pushed displaced populations even deeper into poverty and uncertainty, with children bearing the brunt.

“Refugees have lost their incomes and livelihoods, they are suffering from serious historic disruption to the education of their children, deteriorating economies in their host countries add to their challenges and expose them to increased risks of child labor, early marriage and school drop-out,” Amin said.

Children sit on the ground in the burnt camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos after a major fire broke out, on September 9, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

In fact, 50 percent of refugee girls worldwide are at risk of dropping out of school entirely because of COVID-19. With classes moving online, many displaced children simply don’t have access to computers, consistent internet, or a stable learning environment.

“The pandemic is threatening to erase years of progress made to ensure that refugee children get a proper education,” Baroud said.

“Today, 48 percent of all refugee children globally are out of school, 77 percent are enrolled in elementary education, 31 percent are enrolled in schools at secondary education, and only 3 percent get a chance to enroll for higher education.”

And the longer these children are out of school, the harder it will be to go back. Baroud added the economic realities of displacement effectively rob them of their childhoods, pushing them into the world of work.

“Families have to make a choice between turning their children into providers or having them enlist in long-term education,” he said.

“They often choose the former.”

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Twitter: @jumana_khamis