Israel-Palestine ‘peace moves ahead with Biden government working quietly behind the scenes’

Exclusive Israel-Palestine ‘peace moves ahead with Biden government working quietly behind the scenes’
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas receives US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr in Ramallah last year. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2022

Israel-Palestine ‘peace moves ahead with Biden government working quietly behind the scenes’

Israel-Palestine ‘peace moves ahead with Biden government working quietly behind the scenes’
  • ‘Hundreds’ of Arab Americans working in US administration including several dozen high-profile appointees such as Amr

CHICAGO: The Biden administration is quietly getting things done to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, working outside of the headlines to improve the lives of the people, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Amr, who defined his responsibilities as “coordinating US foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians (for the State Department),” said that US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are committed to ensuring that Arab Americans have a “real role” in that process.

In his first public interview since being appointed on Jan. 20, 2021, Amr said that a primary responsibility is to “coordinate US foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians individually and also in efforts to bridge the divide between the two” to create an atmosphere where peace becomes possible. He said that the Biden administration has made headway on that front.

“If you are an ordinary person living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, you have seen some changes in the past year. Israel has increased the water supply in Gaza by 40 percent. It doesn’t sound like much but it really makes a difference to people’s lives,” Amr told Arab News.

“Israel has granted over 10,000 work permits to Palestinians in Gaza to work in Israel. That was not the case a year ago and this is a higher number than at any time in many, many years. And as we just heard in recent days, Israel has announced it will increase that number to about 20,000. And, as a result of that, we have seen unemployment fall in meaningful ways for the people of Gaza for the first time. And so, the situation is improving.”

Amr gave another example: “Israel has been issuing identification cards to thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank who didn’t have them. These aren’t just administrative issues in our view or economic issues. They are issues that touch on freedom of movement. Of having a residency permit that allows you to travel. We hope and expect they are making a real difference in people’s lives.”

He said that there are many examples of how pressures on Palestinians are easing, which in turn helps create a positive atmosphere outside of the news media headlines to get things done.

But Amr stressed that the Biden Administration through Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is “working quietly and relentlessly on a range of other issues behind-the-scenes” that he cannot detail.

“He also said we were going to work behind the scenes through quiet relentless diplomacy to that end and so that is our core philosophy,” Amr explained, referring to Blinken.

“The secretary of state believes that is important in its own right but also as a means to get back to a negotiated solution. That is kind of the big picture.”

BACKGROUND

  • US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr defined his responsibilities as ‘coordinating US foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians.’
  • Amr said that he does not want to discuss efforts that are currently being pursued to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together for peace.
  • Amr said that he was honored to be asked by the administration of President Joe Biden to work under Antony Blinken at the State Department.
  • In the 2000 presidential election campaign, Amr served as national director of ethnic engagement for candidate and former vice president, Al Gore.

Amr said that he doesn’t want to discuss efforts that are currently being pursued to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together for peace. “I don’t want to get into that because I find that the more we talk about these things upfront, the less likely they are to happen. But my hope is that we are going to continue working on such steps that improve the quality of life for ordinary people, which we hope begin to create a confidence and get us back in the direction we want to go to.”

Amr said: “The United States has restarted what we view as vital assistance to the Palestinian people. We provided over half a billion dollars in the last year, over 400 million of that through UNRWA, the UN agency which provides services. And we feel that these funds make a real difference improving the quality of life for ordinary people.”

Amr said that he was inspired as a child by the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The quote is embedded among several at the MLK Memorial in Washington, DC.

Amr’s career has included working at the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, and with various United Nations organizations, including UNICEF, where he said, “I have always tried to infuse the concept of bringing people the equality and justice they deserve in that work.”

In the 2000 presidential election campaign, Amr served as national director of ethnic engagement for candidate and former vice president, Al Gore. He later served as deputy assistant administrator for the Middle East at the United States Agency for International Development, “helping to manage foreign assistance programs.” In 2013 he spent four years working as deputy special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for Secretary of State John Kerry.

Amr said that he was honored to be asked by the Biden administration to work under Blinken at the State Department and to pursue a policy to treat both Israelis and Palestinians equally.

“President Biden articulated that when he said he believes Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Amr said.

As Arab Americans prepare on April 1 to commemorate “Arab American Heritage Month,” Amr insisted that Arab Americans are playing a significant role in the Biden administration.

“Arab Americans absolutely have a role. As a young person growing up and then as a college student, I never saw names like ours in government. I’m not saying they weren’t there, but they were invisible. At some point I promised myself that if I ever got the chance to try to change that, I would. I want my kids to grow up in an America where it is a normal thing for Arab Americans to have a visible role in government,” Amr said.

“Even though Arab Americans only make up 1 percent of the US population, among the tens of thousands of employees at the state department, several hundred are now Arab Americans, from entry level to senior level folks. That wasn’t the case when I arrived in Washington decades ago. Very often I felt like I was the only Arab American in the room.”

Today, there are “many Arab Americans here in the Middle East bureau where I work,” as well as an “Arab Americans in Foreign Affairs Affinity Group,” which was set up more than a decade ago and has about 400 members, he said. The “Affinity Group” is one of many representing ethnic American constituents such as African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.

“Alongside of the diversity that is America, there are Arab Americans at every level of the State Department. The Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff Suzy George is an Arab American. There are Arab Americans throughout the department, including here in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, on my team alongside of a full range of diverse Americans from all backgrounds,” Amr said.

“It really is up to the (Arab) community to decide whether or not the president delivered on his commitments. But what I do see is that this is an administration that is committed to delivering on things. There are hundreds of Arab Americans in the civil service here at the State Department and in the foreign service that are rising up through the ranks.”

Amr said that diversity and inclusion “will contribute to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Amr has become a key player in helping the Biden administration define its policies toward the Israelis and Palestinians. Last year, reports surfaced that Biden might name him to serve as US Consul-General to Palestinians. Blinken had announced in May 2021 his hopes to re-establish the US Consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, where the consul-general would serve. However, the idea remains on hold.

“The peace, the freedom, the security and the prosperity that we all seek for all Israelis and Palestinians is something that is hard work. It’s not always a headlines thing. It’s things like work permits for Palestinians from Gaza to be able to work in Israel that have helped bring down the unemployment rate in Gaza, residency permits for Palestinians in the West Bank to be able to lead more normal lives, providing more water, providing more electricity.” Amr said.

“Peace is not just about the big headline issues. It’s all about building up and addressing concerns that affect ordinary peoples’ lives. It is also about preventing things that we don’t want to happen from happening as well. Essentially what we are trying to do is accentuate the positive, minimize the negative and try to move forward and
build good relationships that just lift up ordinary people’s lives as best we can.”


Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques
Updated 50 min 46 sec ago

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques

Houthi weapon-smuggling ring reveals information about routes, techniques
  • Cell members said they received money from the militia, training from the Iranians
  • The smugglers mentioned Iran’s Bandar Abbas as a key starting point for shipments of weapons

JEDDAH: A newly busted smuggling cell loyal to the Houthis in Yemen has given more information about Iran’s routes and techniques for transporting weapons and added more evidence of its military support to the militia, Yemeni officials have said.

The Yemeni government’s Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units on the country’s western coast, released a video on Saturday showing confessions from four members of a Houthi cell who were involved in smuggling Iranian weapons into Houthi-controlled areas.

The Joint Forces said they had recently busted Houthi cells along the western coast involved in smuggling weapons, espionage, and targeting military and security officials in Yemen.

The four men have been smuggling weapons from Iran to Yemen for the past five years.

Cell leader Ali Mohammed Halhali is still at large, the Joint Forces said, and vowed to release more videos of other Houthi smugglers and operatives in the coming days.

Based on the confessions, the Yemeni smugglers usually sailed from different coastal cities such as Sheher in the southeastern province of Hadramout and Al-Ghaydah in the eastern province of Mahra.

They met another group of Yemeni smugglers at a location in the Gulf of Oman, where they transported Iranian weapons from their boats before moving to a transit point in Somalia.

Later, another group of smugglers would take the same shipment to Yemen.

Some boats docked at Houthi-controlled areas in the Red Sea, while other weapon-laden vessels entered government-controlled areas in the Arabian Sea or the Red Sea.

Cell member Ibrahim Omer Hassan Akad said he and several smugglers sailed from Sheher to the Gulf of Oman, where they met other smugglers carrying weapons from Iran.

The smugglers later headed to the Somali port of Berbera, where they delivered the shipment to other Yemeni smugglers who took the goods to Yemen.

After successfully delivering the weapons, Akad would embark on another trip using the same routes through Sheher, the Gulf of Oman, and the Somali coast.

During one of his trips, he and other smugglers were asked to sail to Iran where they received weapons directly from the Iranians and handed them to other Yemenis.

Akad said that he had also smuggled fuel and fertilizer to the Houthis through some Somali ports.

The other smugglers, Mustafa Ahmed Gadad, Ali Mohammed Halhali, and Hussein Yahiya Futaini, said the Houthis gave some of them YER1.5 million ($5,994) for each voyage and that they were captured by the US navy in 2018 while transporting weapons from Iran to Yemen.

The US confiscated the weapons and handed the smugglers to authorities in Aden, who later released them.

The smugglers mentioned Iran’s Bandar Abbas as a key starting point for shipments of Iranian weapons and said they received smuggling training from the Iranians.

Yemeni government officials, journalists, and activists called for the Iranians to be punished for undermining peace in Yemen by arming the militia, arguing that the Houthis’ smuggling of weapons showed they were preparing for war.

Yemeni journalist Hassan Ghaleb said the confessions contradicted the Houthis’ claims that they manufactured missiles, drones, and other weapons in Yemen and refuted their denial of receiving military support from Iran.

“Smuggling is the most important source that the Houthis rely on to obtain various weapons, especially guided missiles, drones, and Iranian military technology,” Ghaleb said.


Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities

Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities
Updated 14 August 2022

Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities

Israeli government accused of increasing settlement activities
  • Lapid accelerates ‘colonization’ of Palestinian land to win more votes in coming election, West Bank official says

RAMALLAH: Senior Palestinian official sources have accused the Israeli government of speeding up settlement activities in the West Bank to harvest the votes of right-wing parties in the lead-up to Israeli parliamentary elections on Nov. 1.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s caretaker government has stepped up plans to colonize Palestinian land and build hundreds of other settlement units, they said.

Ghassan Daglas, director of settlement affairs in the northern West Bank affiliated with the Palestinian Presidency Office, told Arab News: “It is clear that Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid believes that his access to power and the success of his party in the upcoming elections comes at the expense of confiscating Palestinian land and blood.”

A Palestinian man raises a national flag as Israeli security forces look on, during a demonstration against the establishment of Israeli outposts in Beit Dajan, east of the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, on August 12, 2022. (AFP)

“From a war on Gaza to murder in Nablus . . . to the confiscation of Palestinian lands and the approval of the establishment of settlements . . . we do not know what his next steps will be in this direction.”

Daglas said that Lapid had accelerated the implementation of settlement plans due to the approaching Israeli elections.

“After the Israeli leaders classified the settlements between a strategic settlement and an isolated one, their policy has now become to build a settlement between each settlement and to encircle the Palestinian cities and isolate them with a settlement belt that extends geographically and cuts off their geographical contiguity,” he said.

Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, has increased dramatically under the recently dissolved Israeli coalition government and reached 62 percent compared to the previous Benjamin Netanyahu leadership.

Settlement activity across the West Bank flourished during former US President Donald Trump’s time in power, even though it was considered illegal under international law and threatened the two-state solution for Palestinians to establish an independent state based on the 1967 borders.

The Israeli settlement in the Palestinian Territories is a program approved by all Israeli governments, as they look forward to reaching 1 million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by 2025.

The current number is 650,000 in the West Bank and 150,000 in East Jerusalem, living in 160 settlements and 126 outposts on a built-up area that constitutes 1.6 percent of the total area of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

On Saturday, the National Office for Defending the Land and Resisting Settlements said that Israeli authorities recently approved a plan to establish a new settlement on 259 dunums of Palestinian land belonging to the town of Deir Istiya in the Salfit governorate.

The plan calls for the establishment of 381 settlement units in the new settlement and public buildings, open areas and streets to connect the new settlement with its outer perimeter, the National Office said in a report.

The new settlement is located in the middle of the settlements of “Revava” to the east and “Kiryat Netiavim” to the west. This indicates the intention of the occupation authorities to create a new settlement bloc that includes the three settlements in addition to the industrial settlement of “Burkan” in the south.

Salfit governorate, a population of 70,000 distributed among 19 localities, has experienced the expansion of settlements projects in the region since 1975, with extension plans focusing on linking the Palestinian coast to the Jordan Valley.

The strategic location of the governorate has made it a target for the Israeli occupation, which confiscated large areas of land with 24 settlement blocs surrounding Salfit — the largest of which is the “Ariel” settlement, inhabited by about 25,000 settlers.

It is the second-largest settlement in the West Bank after the settlement of “Maalem Adumim” on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The towns and villages of Salfit governorate are undergoing hardship due to the practices of the occupation.

The Palesinians’ plight is made worse by escalation of the settlement rate, the racial isolation wall, and the environmental pollution resulting from the settlements’ waste, especially industrial areas, and the theft of agricultural land, groundwater sources, and obliteration of its historical and religious features, the report said.

It added that the occupation authorities were also accelerating the building of more settlement units in the Palestinian lands in Jordan Valley.

All indications confirm the existence of a new Israeli plan to promote and support settlements in the northern Jordan Valley as part of efforts to expel residents, implementing “a clear policy of ethnic cleansing and looting and stealing more lands and areas, especially in the village of Al-Farisiyah,” the report said.

According to sources from the National Office, the Israeli settlement committee has been harassing the residents of the village for more than a month, in addition to bulldozing the surrounding mountains and putting up advertisements for a project to establish a university for settlers, in addition to vital facilities such as parks and areas.

The Israeli army provides support to settlers, bulldozers destroy features of the mountains near Al-Farsiyah, and move the material to residential areas and close to their homes, the sources said.

 


Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region
Updated 14 August 2022

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region

Syria reports Israeli missile attack on coastal region
  • In June, Israeli airstrikes temporarily put Damascus International Airport out of commission

DAMASCUS: Israel launched a missile attack on western Syria Sunday night and explosions were heard in the coastal region of the war-torn country, Syrian state media reported. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Syrian state TV reported that Israel’s military targeted several positions in the province of Tartus without giving further details. The TV said the missiles were fired by warplanes flying over neighboring Lebanon.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the Israeli strike targeted a Syrian army air defense base in the area of Abu Afsa. It added that Iran-backed fighters are usually in the base.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled parts of Syria over the past years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.
Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that sent thousands of fighters to fight alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
In June, Israeli airstrikes temporarily put Damascus International Airport out of commission.


Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament
Updated 14 August 2022

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament

Iraq judiciary dismisses Al-Sadr’s demand to dissolve parliament
  • Followers of Sadr, in defiance of his Shiite rivals of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, have been staging a sit-in protest at Iraq’s parliament

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s judiciary said Sunday it lacks the authority to dissolve parliament as demanded by populist Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr, who is engaged in an escalating standoff with political rivals.
Followers of Sadr, in defiance of his Shiite rivals of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, have been staging a sit-in protest at Iraq’s parliament.
In the latest twist to the political turmoil, the firebrand cleric has urged the judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of this week to pave the way for new legislative elections.
But the judiciary replied that “the Supreme Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to dissolve parliament,” citing “the principle of a separation of powers.”
Under the constitution, parliament can only be dissolved by an absolute majority vote in the house, following a request by one-third of deputies or by the prime minister with the approval of the president.
Nearly 10 months on from the last elections, Iraq still has no government, new prime minister or new president, due to disagreement between factions over forming a coalition.
In the latest turmoil to strike the oil-rich but war-scarred nation, Sadr has called for “early democratic elections after a dissolution of parliament.”
Although it did not endorse the dissolution of parliament, the Supreme Judicial Council said it agreed with Sadr’s criticism of the system’s “failure to elect a president of the republic, a prime minister and the absence of a government formed within the constitutional timeframe.”
“This is an unacceptable situation that must be remedied,” it said.
The Coordination Framework opponents of Sadr launched their own Baghdad sit-in on Friday, nearly two weeks after the cleric’s supporters stormed parliament and began an open-ended protest, first inside, then outside the legislature.
The opposing encampments are the latest turn in a standoff which has so far remained peaceful.
On Twitter, a close associate of Sadr, Saleh Mohamed Al-Iraqi, said it was time to show “which of the two sides has the most support” among the Iraqi people.
He called on Sadr’s supporters across the country to rally in Baghdad for a “million-man demonstration.”
The demonstration would take place at 5:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Saturday, he said, calling for it to be “unprecedented in terms of numbers.”
Sadr’s camp launched the sit-in two weeks ago after the Coordination Framework nominated a candidate they saw as unacceptable for prime minister.
The cleric’s bloc emerged from the October elections as parliament’s biggest, but still far short of a majority.
In June, 73 of his lawmakers quit in an aborted bid to break the months-long political logjam.


Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire
Updated 14 August 2022

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire

Saudi Arabia, OIC offer sympathy following Cairo church fire
  • Blaze ripped through Coptic church in Egyptian capital, killing at least 41 people and injuring several others. 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry expressed “great sadness and sorrow” following a huge fire which engulfed the Abu Sefein Church in Cairo on Sunday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The fire ripped through the Coptic church in the Egyptian capital, killing at least 41 people and injuring several others. 

The ministry offered its deepest and sincere condolences to the government and people of Egypt, wishing the injured a speedy recovery, and security and safety for  Egypt and its people.

Also on Sunday, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Hissein Brahim Taha, expressed his condolences and sympathy.

Taha offered his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, wishing a speedy recovery for the injured.

He also stressed the support and solidarity of the OIC for Egypt in the tragic circumstances.