Uproar over Israeli plan to build 4,000 settlement units in occupied West Bank

Uproar over Israeli plan to build 4,000 settlement units in occupied West Bank
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An Israeli settler scuffles with a Palestinian activist as Israeli soldiers hold him back during a protest in Masafer Yatta, Israeli-occupied West Bank, on May 13, 2022. (REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma)
Uproar over Israeli plan to build 4,000 settlement units in occupied West Bank
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An Israeli soldier chases a protester while Palestinian and Israeli peace activists attempt to open a road to the Jewish settlement of Mezbi Yair, West Bank, on May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Uproar over Israeli plan to build 4,000 settlement units in occupied West Bank
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Palestinian, Israeli and foreign peace activists clear a road block near the Jewish settlement of Mezbi Yair, Masafer Yatta, West Bank, on May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Uproar over Israeli plan to build 4,000 settlement units in occupied West Bank

Uproar over Israeli plan to build 4,000 settlement units in occupied West Bank
  • Mustafa Barghouti calls for US sanctions on Israel

RAMALLAH: Fears over the future of the two-state solution in Palestine have mounted after Israel approved a plan to build more than 4,000 settlement units in the West Bank.

The move threatens Palestinians’ hopes for a two-state solution and the establishment of an independent state.

If constructed, the settlements will sever the geographical contiguity between the occupied territories.

The Higher Planning Committee of the Israeli Civil Administration approved the construction of 4,427 new settlement-housing units in the occupied West Bank, according to NGO Peace Now.

Fifteen European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have denounced the plans, and demanded that Israel shelve the proposal.

The US also confirmed its opposition to the new approvals.

The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the approval of the new settlement plans that include 3,988 housing units, including many isolated outposts.

The ministry said in a statement that the approval was granted despite strong opposition from the US administration, which was expressed by more than one US official last week.

The UN stressed that efforts to build confidence between the Palestinian and Israeli sides and the establishment of a truce is a prelude to resolving the conflict.

The ministry said that “the racist colonial decision comes within the framework of the creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Masafer Yatta and the Jordan Valley — to eliminate any chance of establishing a viable, geographically connected and sovereign Palestinian state.”

Some Palestinian critics argue that the Israeli government is racing against time to resolve the future of the final negotiated issues unilaterally and by force of occupation in accordance with Israel’s interests.

It is also trying to preserve the ruling coalition at the expense of Palestinian land and the rights of people, they claim.

The ministry called on the US administration to fulfill its commitments and promises, and to translate its positions and words into actions to pressure the Israeli government to stop all its settlement activities in a way that leads to the protection of the two-state solution.

About 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank across 125 settlements considered illegal under international law. Some Israelis marked the recent approval with celebrations.

Critics warn that Israeli governments have tolerated and even encouraged settlers to seize Palestinian land in Area C, which forms 60 percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Settlement activities reached their peak during the term of former US president Donald Trump, who supported Israeli unconditionally.

The ruling Israeli regime of Prime Minister Naftali Bennet is an ultimate supporter of settlement expansion and settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, critics say, pointing to Bennet’s tenure as mayor of a settlement in the West Bank.

Many in Palestine are deeply concerned that the expansion of settlements is detrimental to the two-state solution and forms a serious threat to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with geographical continuity — a longtime goal of Palestinian political figures.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian Initiative Party, told Arab News: “This confirms that Israel’s intention is to destroy any possibility of establishing an independent Palestinian state.”

Barghouti said that the expansion of settlement-building under the Naftali government “is faster than any previous right-wing government, and it is, of course, worse than the Netanyahu government.”

He added: “It is shameful that parties such as the left-wing Meretz party and Mansour Abbas’ party remain in such a government, which must be brought down immediately.”

Barghouti said that Israel “will not be deterred unless sanctions by the US are imposed on it and the companies that invest in settlements.”

He noted that the US imposed heavy sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, but did not impose a single punitive measure against Israel, despite its apparent violation of international law.


How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation

How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation
Updated 17 May 2022

How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation

How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation
  • Pandemic restrictions accelerated the move towards remote and hybrid forms of working
  • Women trying to balancing their careers and homelife benefited most from the transition

DUBAI: At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were forced to take a more flexible approach to work, allowing their staff to carry out tasks remotely, splitting their time between home and the office and to define their own working hours.

The phenomenon has not only accelerated an existing trend toward the digitalization of work processes, but it has also made workplaces far more flexible and, as a byproduct, much more inclusive for women.

This has taken place at a time when many more women in the Arab world are entering the workforce thanks to new legislation designed to protect them from discrimination and harassment, and also due to burgeoning growth in new sectors of the economy.

Regional experts have welcomed this new environment of hybrid working and greater inclusivity. “We see quite a few companies adopting the flexible working model,” Marketa Simkova, partner of People and Change at KPMG, told Arab News.

“It could be more flexible working hours and also the off-site/on-site model. Women require the flexibility to juggle their private life, their family and work environment.”

Simkova, who is taking part in a panel discussion, “A new beginning: Work 2.0,” at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on May 17, said several of her female clients appreciate such flexibility and view it as one of the deciding factors when they look for new opportunities.

“They prefer companies that could offer that,” she said.

Marketa Simkova, partner of People and Change at KPMG, says regional firms are still divided on the issue women’s equity. (Supplied)

In fact, advancing the role of women in society and the economy is considered a key driver of change in the Middle East.

According to the management consulting company McKinsey, increased female participation in professional and technical jobs could turbo-charge economic growth in a region that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

McKinsey researchers estimate that the share of women in professional and technical jobs is set to more than double by 2030 as a result of the move toward digitalization, online platforms and entrepreneurship.

“Capturing this opportunity would put women in the Middle East at parity with global peers,” the firm said. “Women in the Middle East can go further and aim to achieve parity with the region’s men in professional and technical jobs.”

However, according to Simkova, regional firms are still divided on the issue, with many demanding their employees come back to the office after the lifting of pandemic restrictions as they feel productivity would otherwise drop.

Others simply do not have the flexibility because of the nature of their work.

“Most offer a hybrid model, which is a mix of working from home two or three days a week and the office,” Simkova said. “Very few select companies are completely flexible.”

Today, technology allows for this flexibility, with the expansion of tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom offering virtual meetings and the secure transfer of large files, while allowing home-based workers a better work-life balance.

“I see on the ground that this is an advantage,” Simkova said. “The benefits are that the flexibility suits more women than men, and the fact that they get this flexibility thanks to digitalization can then combine their family life and career, hence this whole situation is promoting diversity.”

According to McKinsey, digital inclusion is critical to boosting female participation in professional and technical jobs in the region, offering more advanced job opportunities with greater flexibility.

For Samia El-Kadiri, adviser and head of research in governance and compliance at Hawkamah, who is also taking part in the Arab Women Forum panel, diversity is a fundamental element to innovation and creativity.

“It is generally understood that companies with a diverse workforce are more likely to have a better understanding of their consumers,” she told Arab News. “So this (pandemic) crisis should be an encouragement for a new future that is more flexible, more diverse and more well-being oriented.”

Boards of directors are nowadays under the microscope as never before, measured on their racial, cultural and gender diversity criteria under the umbrella of environmental, social and corporate governance.

Samia El-Kadiri, adviser and head of research in governance and compliance at Hawkamah, says diversity is a fundamental element to innovation and creativity. (Zubiya Shaikh/AN)

As a result, practices are changing, and El-Kadiri foresees that they will remain in place well into the future.

“Company leaders are also realizing that as well. So leaders can now focus on blending a culture that can provide for employees to work from anywhere they want. Some companies are already practicing those policies.”

As a result, digitalization has helped women during the pandemic to balance their work life with their responsibilities as mothers and caregivers.

“Especially in our region, women are under the pressure of stereotypes to give more time to home responsibilities or to their husbands,” El-Kadiri said.

“Today, they can do both. They can be successful and (fulfill) their responsibilities, not only in our region, but also globally.”

Despite many of the clear benefits, Simkova has a word of caution for companies and employees embracing remote and hybrid work.

“This digitalization trend will continue,” Simkova said. “But it remains to be seen how it will impact things such as employee engagement, productivity and employee learning in the long term.”

Indeed, there can be downsides to working from home. For instance, those employees who come into the office regularly tend to have greater visibility with management.

“We need to be a bit careful because we are starting to notice that it’s a disadvantage for a new starter,” Simkova said. “People don’t typically come to the office, so it’s more difficult for them to be integrated and make connections.”

Equally, newer employees working remotely tend to miss out on the chance to learn from others through observation and networking. “People are also social creatures,” Simkova said.

“If they don’t have the opportunity to meet frequently, create relationships and spend time together then, in the long term, it might impact their bond with the company, its culture and their engagement.”


Iran state TV says 2 French nationals arrested over protests

Iran state TV says 2 French nationals arrested over protests
Updated 17 May 2022

Iran state TV says 2 French nationals arrested over protests

Iran state TV says 2 French nationals arrested over protests
  • The report identified the two as Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69, and said they were not on a tourist visit to Iran
  • France condemned the “groundless arrest” of the two and called for their immediate release

TEHRAN: Iran’s state TV on Tuesday confirmed the arrest of two French citizens, saying they met with protesting teachers and took part in an anti-government rally.
The report identified the two as Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69, and said they were not on a tourist visit to Iran. France had earlier identified the two as a teachers’ union official and her partner on vacation in Iran.
The Intelligence Ministry in Tehran last week only said that it had detained two Europeans.
The TV broadcast footage of the arrival of the two, saying they landed from Turkey at Tehran airport on April 28. It also broadcast footage of their meetings with Iranian teachers and other activists, as well as their presence at a protest gathering, and also aired a video purported to show the two being arrested while on their way to the Tehran airport to leave the country on May 7.
The report said the two French citizens were “organizing a protest” with the purpose of creating “unrest” in Iran.
Last Thursday, France condemned the “groundless arrest” of the two and called for their immediate release. France’s Foreign Ministry said its ambassador in Tehran has already attempted to obtain consular access to the couple and that the charge d’affaires at Iran’s Embassy in Paris has been summoned for explanations.
Another French citizen, Benjamin Briere, was sentenced in January by Iran to over eight years in prison for espionage, for photographing “prohibited areas” with a drone in 2020 during what he said was a tourist visit in the north of the country.
Briere’s lawyer had claimed his client was being used as a “bargaining chip” in diplomatic negotiations at the time between Iran and Western countries over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
Also in January, Iranian justice ordered the re-imprisonment of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, arrested in 2019, who had for a time been allowed to serve a five-year prison sentence under house arrest. She had been accused of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s political system” and “collusion to undermine national security.”
There have been teachers’ strikes over the past weeks in cities across Iran. Teachers have walked out of their classes to press for better pay and working conditions.


Libya’s parliament-appointed prime minister quits Tripoli after clashes

Libya’s parliament-appointed prime minister quits Tripoli after clashes
Updated 17 May 2022

Libya’s parliament-appointed prime minister quits Tripoli after clashes

Libya’s parliament-appointed prime minister quits Tripoli after clashes
  • Clashes break out between rival armed groups shortly after Fathi Bashagha enters the western city

TRIPOLI: Libya’s parliament-appointed prime minister Fathi Bashagha left the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, his office said, hours after his attempt to enter the city led to clashes between rival factions.
Bashagha’s government earlier said it had arrived in the capital, where the unity government has refused to cede power, prompting fighting between their militia backers.
Its press service announced “the arrival of the prime minister of the Libyan government, Mr. Fathi Bashagha, accompanied by several ministers, in the capital Tripoli to begin his work there.”
Clashes broke out between rival armed groups shortly after he entered the western city, an AFP journalist reported.
In February, the parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk designated former interior minister Bashagha as prime minister.
But he has failed to oust the Tripoli-based unity administration led by premier Abdulhamid Dbeibah, who has said repeatedly he will only cede power to an elected government.
Dbeibah’s government was formed in 2020 as part of United Nations-led efforts to draw a line under a decade of conflict since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Dbeibah was to lead the country until elections last December, but they were indefinitely postponed and his political opponents argue that his mandate has now finished.
The rise of Bashagha’s government gives the North African country two rival administrations, as was the case between 2014 and a 2020 cease-fire.


UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote

UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote
Updated 17 May 2022

UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote

UN chief calls for ‘inclusive government’ after Lebanon vote
  • UN chief also calls on country’s new parliament ‘to urgently adopt all legislation necessary to stabilize the economy and improve governance’

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Lebanon to form an “inclusive government” to tackle the country’s economic crisis, after elections held over the weekend, his office said Monday.
Guterres “looks forward to the swift formation of an inclusive government that can finalize the agreement with the International Monetary Fund and accelerate the implementation of reforms necessary to set Lebanon on the path to recovery,” his office said in a statement.
The UN chief also called on the country’s new parliament “to urgently adopt all legislation necessary to stabilize the economy and improve governance.”
He stressed the need for Lebanon’s “political leaders to work jointly with the best interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese people in mind.”
Lebanon’s largest parliamentary bloc, led by the powerful pro-Iranian Hezbollah armed movement, appeared to have suffered a setback against the opposition and independents, according to partial results released on Monday.
Turnout was particularly low in Sunni-dominated areas mostly inhabited by Sunnis — one of the main communities in the country governed by a political system based on communal power-sharing.


Turkey foils Daesh suicide bomber in province bordering Syria

A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
Updated 16 May 2022

Turkey foils Daesh suicide bomber in province bordering Syria

A helicopter gunship flies above a Turkish military vehicle in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province. (AFP file photo)
  • Bashar Al-Mizhen, the 10th terrorist caught this year, has confessed to planning the attack Terror group using new tactics to operate and reconstitute itself, retired military officer tells Arab News

ANKARA: As part of its countrywide counterterrorism operations, Turkey has arrested a suicide bomber allegedly linked to Daesh who was planning an attack in the southeastern province of Urfa, bordering Syria.

Bashar Al-Mizhen, codenamed Abi Enes Al-Kathani, has confessed to the authorities.

Mizhen, who joined Daesh in 2015 and received special arms training from the terror group, was allegedly preparing the attack in coordination with the Damascus branch of Daesh.

He is the 10th terrorist caught this year on Turkish soil. The authorities seized several digital materials and are currently examining various organizational documents belonging to the terror group.

FASTFACT

Bashar Al-Mizhen, codenamed Abi Enes Al-Kathani, has confessed to authorities.

Daesh members have carried out a number of attacks against Turkey, including at least 10 suicide bombings, seven bombings, and four armed attacks, which killed 315 people and injured hundreds of others.

Last year, Turkey also arrested a Daesh terrorist identified as the right-hand man of the late terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

In the first quarter of this year, dozens of Daesh members, including the sons of its top officials in Iraq, were caught in several Turkey cities, including Urfa, the northern province of Samsun and the western province of Izmir.

Last month, Turkey’s intelligence agents also caught two Daesh terrorists who were planning attacks against the country’s troops on home soil and in Syria.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a retired major now serving as a security analyst at the Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said such operations are held consecutively because one operation feeds another with the intelligence data that is gathered.

“Within its territories, Turkey hosts about 3.7 million unregistered Syrian refugees right now. Adding the unregistered refugees and those who are settled in the safe zones in northern Syria, this number has reached 7.5 million,” he told Arab News.

“We cannot assume that all of them are innocent people,” he said.

“There are several Daesh sympathizers among them. All immigrant-receiving countries are at the same time importing the domestic problems of their countries of origin,” said the retired major.

“In Turkey, one can identify several kinds of economic, cultural and security-related challenges that Syria has exported along with several ideological(ly-driven actors who are in competition with one another),” Ozcan added.

There are about 430,000 registered Syrian refugees in Sanliurfa, making the city the fourth-largest host of displaced people after Istanbul, Gaziantep and Hatay.

Ozcan also underlined the impact of faith-based actors in Sanliurfa, including tribes and clans that have linguistic, religious, and kinship ties with Syrians, which also feed this security eco-system and boost the sympathizer base of Daesh in this city.

Experts have emphasized that any attack plan of Daesh, including its timing and scope, is related to its own organizational dynamics, and should be considered a reminder of how dangerous the current situation in neighboring Syria and Iraq is, as the terrorists move across borders to fulfill their wider objectives.

“Daesh acts according to its own rationale. It uses terror to influence great masses, (send) message(s) to the political actors and show(s) … the world that it steps up efforts to bolster its presence in other regions as well,” Ozcan said.

Daesh still retains a significant presence in northern Iraq and Syria, as shown by one of the biggest assaults in years, which was the prison attack in the Kurdish-controlled northeast Syrian city of Hasakah in January that left hundreds dead and allowed several prisoners to escape.

In April, two Iraqi soldiers were killed and two others wounded in an attack by Daesh in the western Anbar province, while seven Peshmerga and three civilians were killed in another Daesh attack in northern Iraq in December 2021 — an assault that was condemned by Turkey.

“Several years ago, Daesh seized huge (swathes) of Iraq and Syria. Today, despite its significant loss of a territorial base, the terror group still struggles to maintain its existence through new tactics,” Ozcan said.

The global coalition against Daesh, which was formed in 2014 and now includes 84 states and international organizations, gathered last Wednesday in Morocco to coordinate efforts against any resurgence of the extremists in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Over the last several years, Daesh has been considerably weakened in Iraq and Syria, but it remains a threat, seeking any opportunity to reconstitute itself,” senior US diplomat Victoria Nuland said during the meeting.

Daesh recently urged its sympathizers to take advantage of the ongoing war in Ukraine to stage new attacks against European nations.