Jordan, Egypt could join Quartet’s Mideast peace drive

Jordan, Egypt could join Quartet’s Mideast peace drive
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordan's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Ayman Safadi (L), French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and German Foreign Heiko Maas (R), attend a meeting in the Capital Cairo on January 11, 2021, to discuss the Middle East peace process. (AFP)
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Updated 12 January 2021

Jordan, Egypt could join Quartet’s Mideast peace drive

Jordan, Egypt could join Quartet’s Mideast peace drive
  • The Quartet consisting of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia was set up in 2002 to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations

AMMAN: Jordan and Egypt are emerging as potential new members of the international Quartet for Mideast peace after the foreign ministers of both countries joined a meeting of the multilateral forum in Cairo on Monday.

The Quartet consisting of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia was set up in 2002 to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations.

Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki were invited by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to attend the meeting, which included French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, according to a statement by Jordan’s Foreign Ministry.

Oraib Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told Arab News that the idea of adding Jordan and Egypt to the Quartet had been discussed by the Obama-Biden administration.

“Although the issue was discussed in the last days of the Obama administration, I don’t think that it will be decided until the Biden administration takes over and begins to make its position public,” he said.

Rantawi said that Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE also may be invited to participate.

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the UN, welcomed the potential expansion of the Quartet.

“If the nucleus of the international community’s approach to resolving the Middle East conflict is the Quartet, we would like to talk about its enlargement,” he said.

Mansour said that Egypt and Jordan could be the first additions, with other countries to follow later.

He told the Al-Monitor news website that when the 2007 Middle East peace talks were planned for Annapolis in the US, few countries signed up. “But within a short period of time, everyone wanted to attend. Fifty countries ended up joining the talks.” 

Ahmad Deek, director-general at the office of the Palestinian foreign minister, told Arab News that Palestinians are hoping for the return of a “sane international order” following the Trump era.

“We are looking forward to a period in which international law and the concept of collective multilateral efforts become the norm again in foreign policy conflict resolution,” he said.

Najeeb Qadoumi, a member of the Palestinian National Council, said there is optimism that current efforts will yield positive results.

“There is no doubt that the Palestinian cause will return to the center of attention when Trump is no longer around,” Qadoumi said.

“Jordan, which has suffered from the absence of a resolution of the Palestinian conflict and especially the status of refugees, will contribute to any efforts.”

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes
Updated 28 September 2021

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes

Illinois congresswoman slams Iron Dome funding and ‘theft’ of Sheikh Jarrah homes
  • Marie Newman tells taxpayers it is possible to change US foreign policy and speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses

CHICAGO: Illinois Congresswoman Marie Newman told constituents on Sunday they “can make a difference” in strengthening US support for Palestinian rights, and to curb excessive funding demands by Israel.

Newman was one of only nine House of Representatives members who voted against a bill last week giving Israel $1 billion to purchase more short-range missiles for its Iron Dome defense system.

Speaking at the Palestine American Club in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, Newman urged Americans to target donors who give hundreds of millions of dollars to the Senate’s 100 members as a means of forcing change.

“Start talking to senators. Remember, in Congress, in the House of Representatives, we only have the purse that we can deal with. We (members of Congress) can only say yea or nay to money,” Newman explained, noting that the House addresses funding while the Senate and administration addresses policy.

“So, that is why the Iron Dome vote is important, right? It is to say, ‘No, Israel. You can’t have another billion dollars.’ What we have to do is start talking to people who actually make policy.”

Congress voted on Sept. 23 to separate Israel’s Iron Dome vote from the larger and stalled vote to fund American news. The US already gives Israel $500 million annually for the missile defense system under an agreement signed by President Barack Obama in 2016.

Arab Americans denounced Congress for removing the Iron Dome funding vote from the larger spending bill that remains stalled in partisan, political bickering. Another attempt to pass it may not take place until Thursday.

“Instead of passing a bill to address the immediate and critical needs of the American people in the larger spending bill, Congress put Israel above the American people and removed the Iron Dome funding so Israel would not have to wait the way American taxpayers are waiting and suffering,” said Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland, which co-sponsored Newman’s appearance.

“It’s shameful when 420 members of Congress vote so quickly to give Israel, a foreign country, $1 billion. But they can’t seem to find the time or the courage to help American citizens overcome their challenges.”

Newman was among nine members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome appropriation. The nine were immediately attacked by Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan on Monday who said they were “either ignorant or anti-Semitic.”

Newman did not address Erdan’s personal attacks, and instead focused on how US citizens can get their government to reprioritize spending to address their needs.

She said that activists need to focus on the corporations, businesses and individuals who donate hundreds of millions of dollars to Senate members who are responsible for defining so-far failed US policy efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.

“So, you have to start talking to their donors and you have to start making them realize this is an important humanitarian issue, and that everybody is safer in the region when Palestine is safe and free and able to move, and be healthy and prosperous — everybody will be happier,” Newman said.

Newman said she is also working to reinforce communications between Arab and Muslim Americans and the staff of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, announcing the creation of an Arab and Muslim American Council in the 3rd District.

“We have to start talking to the senators and we have to start talking with the administration.”

Newman also addressed the continued human rights “crisis” in Sheikh Jarrah in the occupied West Bank city of East Jerusalem, where Israel is taking homes and property from Christian and Muslim civilians and giving them to Jewish settler organizations.

“I always like to be very clear that this is home theft. When you steal someone’s house and you are a victim, it is called home theft. It is not right here in Chicago. It is not right in Palestine. It is not right in Montreal. It is not right in Hong Kong,” Newman said.

“So, we put together a letter that typically would only be signed by seven, eight or nine members of Congress. But because my team is amazing, and I decided to do a lot of outreach and to be very tenacious, we had 25 members of Congress sign on to the letter.”

Most of Newman’s remarks addressed the needs of the 3rd Congressional District, explaining that she is supporting an infrastructure bill that would provide economic and educational support to families hard pressed by the nearly two-year long pandemic.

“Roads and bridges bring lots of jobs. On the human infrastructure side of the package, it will bring paid leave, universal child care, two years of community college free for young people, middle-aged people or our elders who want to go back to school,” she said.

The proposed spending bill that remains deadlocked in the House would increase deductions for small businesses and reduce taxes between 5-10 percent. She also said that the spending bill provides funding to improve the nation’s infrastructure to improve the environment, and help Americans facing financial and health difficulties.

A first-term member of Congress, Newman was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District in November 2020. The district has been held by a Democrat since 1975 and is overwhelmingly Democratic. It was ranked as having the eighth-largest Arab-American population of 50 American congressional districts by The New York Times, and largest concentration of Palestinian-American voters.

Othman Jerandi tells UN General Assembly that country’s political crisis caused by rival parties’ infighting

Othman Jerandi tells UN General Assembly that country’s political crisis caused by rival parties’ infighting
Updated 28 September 2021

Othman Jerandi tells UN General Assembly that country’s political crisis caused by rival parties’ infighting

Othman Jerandi tells UN General Assembly that country’s political crisis caused by rival parties’ infighting
  • Parliamentary suspension essential to counter growing threats to the country, minister explains

WASHINGTON: Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi said on Monday that his country is determined to continue on the path to “genuine democracy” and live up to the expectations of its people.

Speaking at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Jerandi said that President Kais Saied’s recent suspension of the parliament, dismissal of the prime minister and shutdown of political processes in Tunisia were intended “to put the country back on the right path toward democracy.”

Explaining the political crisis in the country, Jerandi said that Saied had been forced to take the measures because of political infighting between rival parties and economic turmoil that had plagued Tunisia for years.

He described the situation in Tunisia before Saied stepped in as “dangerous” and a “threat” to the country’s future.

Jerandi highlighted what he described as “deeply rooted political polarization, and a socioeconomic and health crisis,” saying that Saied had taken a “series of exceptional resolutions and measures based on the constitution.”

However, the government’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law remains, the foreign minister said.

“Democracy in Tunisia is an irreversible option,” he added.

Saied ordered the dissolution of the government last July, triggering both supporters and opponents of his measures to take to the streets.

Supporters of Ennahda, the Islamist party that holds a parliamentary majority, condemned the president’s intervention as a “coup,” while Saied’s supporters called it a necessary step to end the country’s political impasse.

Jerandi said that rooting out corruption that has strangled Tunisia in the past is a prerequisite to building a democratic system.

He urged the UN to develop a stronger and more effective multilateral system for international diplomacy and cooperation for the betterment of the younger generation and the youth.

The foreign minister said that his country will always be a positive force for peace and security in the international community.

Tunisia will play an “influential role” in helping neighboring Libya to restore its security and stability, he added.

Speaking about instability in the Arab world, and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, Jerandi said that the international community must use its weight and influence to push for compromise and bring an end to the civil wars in both countries.

He also said international cooperation is needed to combat terrorism and extremism as well as illegal migration.

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers
Updated 28 September 2021

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Taher Al-Sonni highlights the challenges facing Libya and how foreign powers are making them worse
  • In addition to national reconciliation there is a need for international reconciliation between the international community and Libyans, he said.

NEW YORK: Libya’s efforts to heal after 10 years of war will require not only a national reconciliation, but also an international reconciliation between the Libyan people and the global community.
That is the view of Taher Al-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, who on Monday reiterated his country’s demand for an end to external interference and the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
“Enough is enough,” he said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “Libyans are tired of 10 years of chaos.
“As much as we talk about national reconciliation, there should also be international reconciliation. As much as we talk about confidence building, there should be confidence building between the international community and Libyans — and that starts with the simultaneous withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries, and support for the will of Libyans when they go through the electoral process.”
Libyans have been killed and their country ravaged by thousands of foreign fighters recruited by the rival forces in the country. As long as Libya’s “free will” is held hostage by these armed groups and their foreign sponsors, Al-Sonni said, conflicts will continue to rage in the country at a time when the proliferation of such proxy wars is causing instability across the region.
The rebels who killed Chadian President Idriss Deby in April, for example, were based in Libya, where they amassed money, accessed advanced weaponry and gained battlefield experience as guns-for-hire.
“The challenge with mercenaries is that no one acknowledges their presence,” said Al-Sonni.
The UN-brokered Libyan ceasefire agreement in October 2020 included a call for all 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters to withdraw from the country within three months. But when the UN Security Council discussed ways of repatriating them, observers noted that some council members were fueling the problem.
For example, Russia’s support for the Libyan National Army includes mercenaries from Russian private security company Wagner Group. Turkey, meanwhile, provided transport for thousands of Syrians to fight in Tripoli, paid them salaries and offered promises of Turkish citizenship. Other mercenaries operating in Libya hail from South Africa, the US, the UK, Australia and about 30 additional countries.
Meanwhile, Libyans attempt to navigate this sinister foreign presence as they walk an already tricky path toward national reconciliation, and attempt to consolidate the many small victories achieved in the past year as part of the political process.
These achievements — which paved the way for a ceasefire and the formation of an interim unity government tasked with shepherding the nation toward parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December — would not have been possible without both Libyans and foreign powers reaching the conclusion that no one could win the war through military might, according to Al-Sonni.
“Everything was tried, and in the end everyone was convinced that there can be no military solution,” he said.
He conceded that all countries in the region are entitled to be concerned about preserving their security and national interests, but added: “You don’t need to intervene and interfere the way you did in order to have a stabilized region (and) boost the economy.
“Libya is a hub between Africa and Europe, East and West. Libyans are known for their modesty. I can no longer say Libya is a rich country, but it does have the means and the resources to come back, and with Libya stabilized we can find win-win deals that will satisfy everyone’s national interests as much as possible.
“So, let’s work together, put the past behind us and start a new phase. And let’s not provide an excuse for terrorism and extremism, which feeds on this chaos and perpetuates the conflict.”
The road to the national elections planned for December has been paved with as much fear as hope among Libyans.
Although the new Presidency Council managed to unify civilian executive bodies, the military remains fractured. Some fear that winners with weapons might start another war.
In the absence of a clear constitutional framework setting out the responsibilities of a new president, “who can guarantee that Libyans will not find themselves in the grip of yet another dictator?” asked Al-Sonni.
“There is a group of people that don’t want to lose the power they have today, so they are maneuvering and finding excuses for the elections not to happen,” he added.
“There are also those who fear losing power by having a high-level executive office, in the form of a president, that might lead to them losing popularity. Some want only parliamentary elections, and think a safer option is to have a steady state and give more time to the constitutional framework to be developed.
“And, finally, you have Libyans on the ground who are fed up with all the attempts of the past and want Libya as a state to have separation of power.
“The challenge in this last one is to have an ‘inclusive’ president, not one who has revenge in mind, because those who have ambitions to be president are all affiliated to a certain group, and so that is scaring people.”
All of the fears people have are valid, said Al-Sonni.
“But what are the alternatives that we have today?” he asked. “If I name all the obstacles that we face today, one would conclude that the risk of the elections not happening is high.”
Even if they do go ahead, he said, challenges will remain — but they at least offer the hope for change and a better future.
“Anyone who thinks elections will solve all of Libya’s problems is naive,” he said. “But we have had a sick patient for the past 10 years and we have been using the same medicine.
“Now we have the option of a new medicine in the form of elections. We are not sure how that will unfold — it’s a 50/50 risk. But a certain level of legitimate representation will get the ball rolling.”
Meanwhile, Al-Sonni said, national reconciliation remains “the foundation for any permanent peace in Libya.”
From the establishment of a High Commission for Reconciliation to the release, albeit symbolic, of some prisoners, there have been steps taken in the right direction.
Al-Sonni stressed the importance of “transitional justice” as a means toward lasting reconciliation and true healing of the nation.
“For there to be a comprehensive national reconciliation, truth needs to be revealed, and apologies issued,” he said.
Although he admitted that the responsibility for reconciliation ultimately lies primarily with the Libyan people themselves, Al-Sonni questioned the lack of useful international support for the efforts.
The ambassador, who was a UN staffer for 17 years and so is familiar with the organization’s methodologies, criticized the UN for adopting a “top-down approach” to Libya, which he said has undermined the role of civil society.
“If you follow all the dialogue that took place, they were all technical discussions that tackled military, political and economical challenges, but there was no national reconciliation track,” he said.
“There is also a lack of understanding of the Libyan context by the international community. For Libya to become a success story, we need to adopt a bottom-top approach, work on civil society and try to get the best of the tribal structure that links Libyans together.
“Some have tried to use our tribal structure as a way to fuel the war. But having tribes is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a golden key, I call it, which can lead us to peace if we use it correctly.”
Inclusivity is another important aspect to the process. Al-Sonni took part in the Sukhairat dialogue in 2015, and was one of the signatories to the final agreement for the formation of a national unity government.
“Not all parties who really had power on the ground were represented,” he said. “Many were completely excluded, such as the ex-regime loyalists.”
He warned that such “exclusion in any post-conflict reconciliation is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. It is a fatal error.”
Exclusion can also happen in the form of centralized governance, Al-Sonni said, which can, for example, cause people living outside of Tripoli, where much of the wealth is concentrated, to feel excluded.
Despite all these challenges, however, Al-Sonni is pinning his hopes on the next generation of Libyan youth.
“The only people who will solve this are our young people,” he said. “They are vocal and much more aware than their elders. The problem is that they still lack coordination and leadership.”
Al-Sonni also addressed allegations of flagrant abuses of human rights in Libyan detention centers. While he expressed regret over the fact that his country has become a place where “innocent people die,” he denied any accusation of systemic torture. Once again he pleaded with the international community to “help us make Libya stable and these issues will be resolved.”
He added: “We’re totally against such violations and we’re working hard to fix the system and protect the most vulnerable. But there is a difference between a government that doesn’t care and one that really tries, and sees this as a priority, but is spread thin with all the other different challenges and has resource problems.
“The problem is the hypocrisy of the West, and their unwillingness to devise a comprehensive solution for the migrant crisis. You cannot blame a country in conflict for what happens within it when it comes to migrants. Migrants who come to Libya aim to continue to Europe. Nobody wants to live in the hellfire of conflict, that goes without saying.”
Condemning the “double standards” of the international community, he said: “They ask us to accommodate those migrants when they know our resources are stretched thin. They ask us to shut down detention centers but they won’t tell us what to do with migrants who enter illegally, or those who are arrested at sea and pushed back to Libya.
“If you really care about migrants, then agree on a quota also and take in some of them.
“The countries that are being most forceful with Libya on this issue are the same ones that are shutting their doors to migrants. One such country literally took in four or five migrants out of the thousands that are trying to cross.
“The problem is bigger: it is EU competition between countries, and we know it. You want to blame us? Blame yourself first.”

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara
Updated 28 September 2021

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara

Morocco, Algeria clash at UN General Assembly over Western Sahara
  • Algerian foreign minister: Region has ‘inalienable right to self-determination’
  • Moroccan counterpart: Algiers ‘perpetuating an invented regional conflict’

NEW YORK: Morocco and Algeria took their bitter dispute over Western Sahara to the UN General Assembly on Monday as they respectively addressed fellow world leaders.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra vowed that his country will continue to defend the “just causes of the people who are fighting for their fundamental rights, including the inalienable right to self-determination, particularly in Palestine and Western Sahara.”

But his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita condemned what he called Algerian “interference” in Western Sahara, and reiterated his country’s commitment to finding a comprehensive settlement to the protracted conflict that “respects Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

He said Western Sahara’s 63 percent turnout in Morocco’s general elections earlier this month was the highest nationally, which shows Sahrawi attachment to the country’s territorial integrity.

Bourita urged the international community to back a “realistic, practical, permanent and consensual political solution” for the protracted crisis, saying such a solution will not be possible until Algiers “shoulders its responsibility for perpetuating an invented regional conflict.”

Algeria recently cut off ties and closed its airspace with Morocco as tensions over who controls Western Sahara have escalated between the two countries.

Rabat says the region is Moroccan territory, and last year the US recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for enhanced diplomatic ties with Israel.

Algeria has backed the Polisario Front, a separatist movement in Western Sahara vying for international recognition.

Decades after the end of the 1975-1991 war between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the latter announced last year that it was resuming armed struggle.

In his UN speech, Lamamra referred to the conflict as a “de-colonization” issue that automatically conjures up the principle of self-determination as “the only solution.”

He said: “Algeria believes that the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination is inalienable, non-negotiable, and not subject to statutory limitation.”

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects
Updated 28 September 2021

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects

Bahrain FM highlights country’s efforts to tackle pandemic’s economic effects
  • During UN address, Abdullatif Al-Zayani also spoke of the importance of the AlUla Declaration, and his country’s efforts to enhance human rights protections
  • Bahrain is also working to advance women’s rights ‘and to uphold the principles of equal opportunity and equality’ he added, and has made advances in criminal justice reforms

NEW YORK: In an address to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on Monday, Bahrain’s foreign minister highlighted the work of authorities in his country to combat COVID-19, along with the efforts they are making to tackle the economic effects of the pandemic. These include a $12 billion stimulus package designed to protect jobs and support business sectors affected by the health crisis.

Abdullatif Al-Zayani also expressed appreciation for the close cooperation the nation receives from the UN. In particular he described the ongoing work to enhance a partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to help guarantee and protect human rights in the Kingdom.

In August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the office of the UN resident coordinator in Bahrain signed a declaration of intent to work together to prepare a national human rights plan. Al-Zayani said it is hoped that this will serve as a comprehensive framework for the implementation of government projects designed to protect human rights.

Bahrain has “worked to advance the rights of Bahraini women and to uphold the principles of equal opportunity and equality,” he added, including efforts to ensure wage equity between men and women.

The country has also made advances in criminal justice reforms, the minister said, including a recently passed “alternative sentencing” law touted as a “qualitative leap forward” in the reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

Turning to energy policy, Al-Zayani said Bahrain shares the international community’s concerns about climate change and its drastic effects, and has developed an integrated plan to increase the share of renewable energy as part of a sustainable development strategy to reduce carbon emissions.

He also spoke about the importance Bahrain places on commitments that form part of the AlUla Declaration, an agreement reached in January that resolved a long-running dispute between Qatar and neighboring countries, and which Bahrain considers essential for closer cooperation between Gulf nations.

Bahrain is also a signatory to the Abraham Accords, the agreements last year between a number of Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel. Al-Zayani said the Bahraini government views the signing of the accords as being in line with the vision of King Hamad Al-Khalifa to promote peaceful coexistence, dialogue and mutual respect in the region and among faiths.

He added that this does not mean that Manama has forgotten about the Palestinian people, however, and that the government continues to believe in the need for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East that guarantees the right of the Palestinian people “to live in a secure, stable and prosperous nation … with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the principle of the two-state solution.”

Al-Zayani also reaffirmed Bahrain’s support for Saudi efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Yemen as part of the process to reach a political solution to the crisis in the country and end the suffering of the Yemeni people.

He said his country condemns the continuing Houthi attacks in Yemen and on Saudi Arabia, describing them as a “clear violation of international humanitarian law.

The minister also spoke of the need for an “urgent settlement” of the Renaissance Dam dispute between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia in a manner that preserves the water rights of Egypt and Sudan.

In Libya, Al-Zayani said the Bahraini government supports the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the country and the staging of elections that “reflect the will of the Libyan people.”

In the Western Sahara conflict between Morocco and southern separatists seeking independence, he reiterated Bahrain’s support for a political resolution that respects and preserves Morocco’s sovereignty.

Regarding Iran, Al-Zayani said the Middle East should be a region free of weapons of mass destruction and reaffirmed Bahrain’s support for international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

He urged Iranian authorities to help maintain regional stability and security by fully cooperating with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. The IAEA recently reported that Iran was failing to comply with UN-mandated international inspections at sensitive nuclear facilities.