Renewed support from Washington boosts hopes for a two-state solution

Renewed support from Washington boosts hopes for a two-state solution
At UN, Washington assures support for two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. (File: Reuters)
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Updated 27 January 2021

Renewed support from Washington boosts hopes for a two-state solution

Renewed support from Washington boosts hopes for a two-state solution
  • President Joe Biden also intends to restore US assistance programs for Palestinians that were halted by Donald Trump
  • UN envoy urges international community not to squander opportunities arising from recent regional developments

NEW YORK: The US under President Joe Biden supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state,” the UN Security Council heard on Tuesday.
“This vision, (though) under serious stress, remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, while upholding the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for a state of their own and to live with dignity and security,” said Richard Mills, the acting US ambassador to the UN.
In an effort to advance the two-state vision, Mills said the Biden administration will restore “credible US engagement” with Palestinians and Israelis alike.
“President Biden has been clear that he intends to restore US assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, and to take steps to reopen diplomatic relations that were closed by the last US administration,” said Mills.
His comments came as the Security Council convened at a ministerial level to discuss the stalling Middle East peace process. While Washington is expected to maintain staunch support for the Israelis, Mills said the new administration “will urge Israel’s government and the Palestinian Authority to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, and incitement to violence.”
He also expressed hope that recent normalization-of-relations agreements between Israel and a number of Arab states, including the UAE and Bahrain, “can proceed in a way that unlocks new possibilities to advance a two-state solution.” He urged more countries to follow suit.
In his first briefing to the council, Tor Wennesland, the UN’s new special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, hailed as a “crucial step toward unity” the announcement this month by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections beginning in May.
Wennesland also praised changes to election laws that raise the quotas for female representation, and called on Palestinian authorities “to take further steps to facilitate, strengthen and support women’s political participation, including as voters and candidates, throughout the election cycle.”
The envoy emphasized the importance of forthcoming talks in Cairo that will aim to resolve issues related to the voting, and told the virtual meeting that “the holding of elections in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, will (give) renewed legitimacy to national institutions, including a democratically elected parliament and government in Palestine.”
He urged the international community not to squander the incredible opportunities provided by recent developments in the region.
“I hope that the promise of the recent agreements made between Israel and Arab countries will lead to a situation where a more peaceful Middle East can be realized,” he said. “However, it requires leaders on all sides to re-engage meaningfully and return to the path of negotiations.”
In the meantime, Wennesland said, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on the Palestinian people, with Gaza particularly badly affected as many people there have lost their livelihoods.
He reiterated the support of UN agencies for efforts to ensure Palestinians have access to vaccine supplies but called on Israel, which has launched a large-scale immunization campaign for its citizens, also to help address the priority vaccination needs of Palestinians in the occupied territories. “This is (in) line with Israel’s obligations under international law,” he added.
Wennesland also urged Israeli authorities to halt all settlement activity in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. He called on both sides to put an end to violence and to hold any perpetrators accountable for their actions.
“I reiterate that Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and may use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” he said.
“Furthermore, the indiscriminate launching of rockets toward Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately. There can be no justification for attacks against civilians.”
He also urged Israel to halt seizures and demolitions of Palestinian homes and agricultural land “in line with (Israel’s) obligations under international humanitarian law, and to allow Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem to develop their communities.”
Wennesland said he will engage with the Middle East Quartet — the UN, the US, the EU and Russia — to identify concrete steps that can be taken to return the peace process to “the path of meaningful negotiations.”
He also reiterated UN concerns over the financial situation facing the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and echoed an appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for support.
“The Agency is not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees but is also critical for regional stability,” Wennesland said.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit urged the new US administration to rectify the mistakes of its predecessor. He said there is a window of opportunity to end the “dangerous stalemate” in the peace process but warned that it might not remain open for long.
Given that the continuing plight of the Palestinian people remains detrimental to the overall dynamics of the Middle East, he said that a resolution could open the door to prosperity and sustained security for the entire region.
Riyad Al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, called for an international peace conference that could serve as a new milestone in efforts to resolve the conflict, akin to the Madrid conference of three decades ago.
“The current situation leads to one state and a continued occupation,” Al-Maliki told the council.
“We are asking for nothing more than what the UN charter stipulates — and we will accept nothing short of that. We cannot accept a future made of walls, sieges, humiliation and suffering.”

 


UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
Updated 13 min 59 sec ago

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight

UAE administers 118,805 doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight
  • UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight

DUBAI: The UAE administered 1118,805 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines overnight bringing total jabs given to residents and citizens to 9,156,728 or about 92.58 doses per 100 individuals.

The nationwide inoculation program aims to give the population immunity from coronavirus that will help curb its spread as well as bring down infection cases.

UAE health officials reported 2,022 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the country’s caseload to 487,697 since the pandemic began. Four deaths were also confirmed due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 1,537.

Meanwhile, an additional 1,731 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 471,906.


Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE
Updated 34 min 47 sec ago

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

Biden administration proceeding with $23 billion weapon sales to UAE

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration has told Congress it is proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
A State Department spokesperson said the administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.
The Democratic president’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump in order to review them.


Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
An honour guard of Israeli soldiers with their rifles stands to attention during a one minute siren, as they partake in a state ceremony for Memorial Day in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier

Israel shocked by self-immolation of traumatized ex-soldier
  • ‘He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,’ his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israel was shaken Tuesday after a 26-year-old former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the 2014 Gaza war set himself on fire, suffering severe injuries.
Itzik Saidian went to a support service for wounded soldiers near Tel Aviv on Monday, doused himself with a flammable liquid and lit it, “due to significant psychological distress,” the army said.
He was rushed to the intensive care unit of Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and was in “critical condition” with “deep burns all over his body,” the hospital said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “very shocked” and “determined to undertake a complete reform of the way we take care of our disabled and wounded veterans.”
The young man had been recognized as partially disabled because he suffered from PTSD related to his service during the 2014 war between Israel and the armed Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Around 2,250 Palestinians were killed in the war, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Saidian’s self-immolation came on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and attack victims.
It sparked controversy over the support system for wounded or psychologically ill soldiers, which is often deemed inefficient and bureaucratic.
“He saw horrible things and nobody took care of him,” his tearful brother Avi Saidian told journalists at the hospital.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced a “thorough investigation to find the reasons for this tragic event.” His ministry pledged to “substantially improve the treatment of post-traumatic soldiers.”
Military service is mandatory in Israel for 18-year-olds. Women serve two years and men two years and six months.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.


Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
Mahmud Fannas, who carries out the traditional role of a Musaharati (Ramadan drummer), who awakens Muslims for the pre-dawn traditional suhur meal during Ramadan, visits a young fan in an alley in the old city of Sidon, Lebanon. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2021

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
  • Iftar events banned as new curfew goes into effect and donations are fleeting during the holy month
  • People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them

BEIRUT: The social events, traditions and gatherings usually celebrated during Ramadan will be very different this year in Lebanon as the country continues to grapple with unprecedented economic collapse and a coronavirus (COVID-19) surge.

Leading up to the holy month, preparations for Ramadan were slight in Beirut as only a few signs reminding people to donate could be seen in the city’s main streets. Charity foundations usually rely on the month of Ramadan every year to collect donations but the country’s ability to give is fleeting.

“More than 50 percent of the Lebanese now live under the poverty line,” World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Farid Belhaj said on April 4.

In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, the National Disaster Management Operations Room imposed a new curfew that applies during Ramadan from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. It has also banned all iftar events.

Charitable organizations can distribute food to houses, but only after obtaining a permit from the electronic platform. The capacity of worshippers at mosques will be limited to 30 percent while restaurants and cafes, which have already endured several months of lockdown, will be closed again during the holy month.

The price inflation has become a daily nightmare for the Lebanese, and with the arrival of Ramadan, the prices of essential goods, like vegetables and fruits, have increased even further due to the high demand.

“The price of one kilo of beef has increased to between 60 and 70,000 pounds and a kilo of taouk chicken was sold at 50,000 pounds on the first day of Ramadan,” Abbas Ali Salim, a butcher shop owner in Beirut’s southern suburbs, told Arab News.

“People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them. The black market is trading the state-subsidized meat, monopolized by traders who are controlling the prices.”

Due to inflation, the cost of a typical iftar meal — lentil soup, fattoush salad, a main dish of chicken and rice, a half a cup of yogurt and a single date — has reached more than 60,000 Lebanese pounds, according to the crisis observatory at the American University of Beirut.

By those estimates, a full month of iftar meals for a family of five would cost 1.8 million pounds, which is much higher than the Lebanese minimum wage of 675,000 pounds. This cost does not even cover the juices, desserts, gas, electricity or cleaning material used for cooking.

Researchers at the observatory said a fattoush salad for a small family that cost 6,000 pounds during Ramadan last year, now costs 18,500 pounds. This means that the cost of a daily salad during this year’s Ramadan would be about 82 percent of the minimum wage.

The observatory feared that families might cope with the inflation by “cutting quantities or opting for cheaper alternatives to replace vegetables and meat, which would result in malnutrition.”

Mohammad Chamseddine, a researcher from the independent studies and statistics company Information International, said: “The prices of basic goods in Ramadan have increased by between 25 and 100 percent, with a significant reduction in sales, as the purchasing power of the Lebanese, especially those getting paid in Lebanese pounds, has eroded.”

Ramadan has also been affected by the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccination plan, which started in February. Lebanon's Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Tuesday that “over 20 percent of the Lebanese people have developed immunity, either through infection or vaccination.”