J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Mahmoud Abbas said that he is prepared to return to the peace table to negotiate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Screengrab)
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Updated 19 April 2021

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Palestinian president tells delegates he would return to peace table if talks were based on 1967 borders, shared East Jerusalem
  • Former Israeli PM says deal could ‘still be done’ with the right attitude from both sides

CHICAGO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told the annual conference of the progressive American Jewish lobby, J Street, that he would return to the peace table to negotiate over a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During his presentation on Sunday, Abbas accused the current Israeli government of being an obstacle to peace by refusing to talk and he joined a succession of other speakers in reinforcing support for the two-state solution.

In 2008, Abbas met 35 times with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Madrid and came close to reaching an agreement, but the discussions were aborted when Olmert was ousted from office and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected premier.

“We believe in the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders … and a sharing of East Jerusalem. We are ready to resume negotiations,” Abbas told conference delegates.

The virtual J Street meeting was held in response to the continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and attracted nearly 5,000 registered attendees online.

In his address, Olmert said he believed that peace based on the two-state solution was not only possible but viable if Israel had the right government leadership to engage in direct negotiations with the Palestinians and if the Palestinians were to embrace the concept openly.

“There is no other way to resolve the historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians … on the basis of the 1967 borders – there will be some changes in the border, but the total size will be as it was in 1967.

“If we sit together with the Palestinians on that basis, I am sure it can be resolved,” he added.

The former PM detailed the discussions he had with Abbas and said that the Palestinian state would be based on the 1967 borders with land adjustments. He pointed out that settlements would be consolidated into three zones in the West Bank and that land swaps would be made to compensate the Palestinians for the settlement lands that remained.

Olmert noted that East Jerusalem would serve as the capital for both Israel and Palestine, and that it would include the support of nations including the US, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

He told the J Street conference that it would require “a change in the attitude in the government of Israel. But the present government of Israel is unwilling to do it. But I think the Palestinians have to adopt themselves to this framework, also. It still can be done.”

Both Olmert and Abbas said that the goal of establishing peace between Palestinians and Israelis had been “omitted from the Israeli discourse in politics” since Netanyahu was first elected in 2009 but agreed it could be revived “with some effort.”

J Street president and founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said that the two-state solution was “the only solution,” and that the priorities must be to stop the “creeping annexation” of the West Bank and expansion of the settlements.

He added that he did not believe that negotiations could start under the current political climate in Israel.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Hadash party and member of the Joint List in the Knesset, told conference attendees that “laws can be undone,” and that a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders “can be done.”

But similar to Olmert and Abbas, Odeh said he did not expect much progress while Netanyahu continued to offer limited equality to Palestinian Arab citizens.

Odeh urged Israeli society to “topple Netanyahu’s corrupt reign and build democracy that works for all of us.”

He added: “We are the hope … the wrench that will stop the machinery of division and fear. We are the Arabs and the Jews who refuse to be enemies.”

The Israeli administration remains in turmoil having held four elections since April 2019, all of which have resulted in weak and indecisive governments led by Netanyahu.

Speakers at the J Street conference said that if Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition to run the country, the person most likely to take his place was Naftali Bennett, who embraces many of Netanyahu’s extremist anti-peace platforms but was more willing to form coalitions with centrist political organizations.


Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
Updated 31 min 37 sec ago

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity

Iraqi activist’s killing sparks protests against impunity
  • Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption
  • He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras

KARBALA: A leading Iraqi anti-government activist was killed early Sunday, security sources and activists said, sending supporters of a protest movement onto the streets to demand an end to bloodshed.
Ihab Al-Wazni, a coordinator of protests in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, was a vocal opponent of corruption, the stranglehold of Tehran-linked armed groups and Iran’s influence in Iraq.
He was shot overnight outside his home by men on motorbikes, in an ambush caught on surveillance cameras. His death was confirmed by security forces and activists.
Wazni narrowly escaped death in December 2019, when men on motorbikes used silenced weapons to kill fellow activist Fahem Al-Tai as he was dropping him home in Karbala, where pro-Tehran armed groups are legion.
Both were key figures in a national protest movement that erupted against government corruption and incompetence in Iraq in October 2019.
Around 600 people were killed as a result of their association with that movement — many on the streets during rallies, others targeted on their doorsteps away from the rallies.
Protests broke out in Karbala, Nassiriya and Diwaniya in southern Iraq in reaction to Wazni’s killing, as people called for an end to the bloodshed and to rampant corruption.
In a video recording in the morgue where his body was initially held, a fellow activist made it clear who he and colleagues blamed for the killing.
“It is the Iranian militias who killed Ihab,” said the unnamed activist. “They are going to kill all of us! They threaten us and the government remains silent.”
Police in Karbala said they “will spare no effort” to find “the terrorists” behind Wazni’s killing.
Politicians, including Shiite leader Ammar Al-Haki, deplored the killing and called for justice.
Around 30 activists have died in targeted killings and dozens of others abducted, some detained briefly, since October 2019.
Such targeted killings are normally carried out in the dead of night by men on motorbikes, and nobody claims responsibility.
Activists and the UN repeatedly blame “militias.”
Authorities have consistently failed to identify the perpetrators of these political killings.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi took office a year ago, vowing to rein in rogue factions, fight corruption and roll out long-awaited reforms after years of war and insurgency.
Pro-Iran groups view the premier as being too close to Washington and protesters believe he has failed to deliver on his promises.
“Such crimes against activists in Iraq raise again the question about the real steps of the government regarding accountability for... (those) responsible for crimes” targeting protesters, Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, tweeted Sunday.
Wazni had himself challenged Kadhemi in a Facebook post in February, asking rhetorically: “Do you know what is going on? You know that they kidnap and kill — or you live in another country?“


Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
Updated 21 min 27 sec ago

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts

Netanyahu says Israel firm on Jerusalem as global concern mounts
  • Pope Francis has also called for an end to the violence in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.

"We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem. To my regret, this pressure has been increasing of late," Netanyahu said during a televised address ahead of national commemorations of the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.
"I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel's capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do," Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.

Jordan also urged Israel on Sunday to stop what it described as "barbaric" attacks on worshippers in Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque and said it would step up international pressure.
Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.
"What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behaviour) that is rejected and condemned," the government said in a statement.
Frictions have mounted in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with nightly clashes in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah - a neighbourhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom, which lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, would do its utmost to protect rights of Palestinians against ownership claims by Jewish settlers.
"Israel as the occupying force carries responsibility for protecting rights of Palestinians in their homes," Safadi said in comments on state media.

East Jerusalem tensions have spilled over into clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians around al Aqsa, Islam's third-holiest mosque, at the height of the Ramadan fasting month.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 09 May 2021

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445

DUBAI: The UAE has administered 11,126,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses so far with an additional 78,342 jabs provided to residents overnight, bringing the country’s distribution rate to 112.50 doses per 100 people.

Health officials have embarked on a rapid vaccination campaign to stem the spread of coronavirus, and the country has one of the highest proportions of the population inoculated

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said the vaccination program was in “line with plan to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all members of society and efforts to reach acquired immunity resulting from the vaccination,” a report from state news agency WAM said.

This will help reduce the number of cases and control the COVID-19 virus, the reported added.

Meanwhile, the UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445, as well as three new deaths overnight.

The number of coronavirus-related fatalities is now at 1,610.

The MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,701 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 514,769.


Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
Algerian youths pose beneath a street name plaque honouring an Algerian lawyer killed by the French during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence in Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 May 2021

Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
  • The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures

ALGIERS: Algeria on Saturday honored thousands killed by French forces in 1945, as the North African country waits for Paris to apologize for its colonial era crimes.
Pro-independence protests broke out after a rally on May 8, 1945 marking the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
The rioting triggered two weeks of bloody repression in which French troops massacred thousands of mostly unarmed Muslim civilians, a key chapter in Algeria’s long independence struggle.
On Saturday, thousands of people took part in a march of remembrance following the same route through the northeastern city of Setif as the May 8 rally 76 years ago, official media reported.
Led by scouts, participants laid a wreath at a monument to Bouzid Saal, a 22-year-old man shot dead by a French policeman in 1945 for refusing to lower his Algerian flag — the first casualty of the violence.
The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures.
French historians put the toll at up to 20,000, including 86 European civilians and 16 soldiers killed in revenge attacks.
The killings had a transformative impact on the nascent anti-colonial movement, setting the scene for a full-blown independence war nine years later that finally led to independence in 1962.
Algerian officials have continued to call for a full apology from France for its colonial era policies, and President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has described the 1945 killings as “crimes against humanity.”
Government spokesman Ammar Belhimer repeated that demand on Saturday, calling for “the official, definitive and comprehensive recognition by France of its crimes (along with) repentance and fair compensation.”
He also called for help dealing with the toxic waste left behind by 17 nuclear tests France carried out in the Algerian desert in the 1960s.