Frankly Speaking: Saudi leadership is central to any Palestine peace solution, says Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej

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Updated 19 June 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi leadership is central to any Palestine peace solution, says Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej

Frankly Speaking: Saudi leadership is central to any Palestine peace solution, says Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej
  • Describing Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing as “a huge mistake,” Frej says killer remains unknown and urges joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation
  • Denying that his position as an Arab Muslim in government is tokenistic, he reiterates rejection of Amnesty’s “apartheid state” accusation against Israel

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia must be involved in any peace solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Esawi Frej, Israel’s minister of regional cooperation, said during an interview with Katie Jensen, the host of Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show that features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders. 

Frej, only the second Arab Muslim to serve in an Israeli cabinet, made the comments amid an uptick in inter-communal violence in the decades-old conflict between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians. 

Arab leaders across the region have called for calm and appealed for both sides to return to peace negotiations. In Frej’s view, Saudi Arabia’s involvement is essential to reaching a lasting solution. 

“The Saudi leadership would be central to any solution in the future and His Royal Highness King Salman and the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman), I believe that they will play a central role in any renewed peace process in the future,” Frej said. 

“All of us need Saudi Arabia.” 




Esawi Frej, Israel’s minister of regional cooperation, speaks with Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show. (AN photo)

The Kingdom is not a signatory of the Abraham Accords — a series of deals brokered by the US in 2020, which helped to normalize relations between Israel and several Arab states, including the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. 

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on May 24, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterated the Kingdom’s stance on the accords, stating it would not normalize relations with Israel until the Palestinian issue had been addressed. 

However, Frej believes Saudi Arabia has the regional clout and the standing among Arabs and Muslims to drive forward the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians should it choose to take the lead. 

“For me, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very important,” said Frej. “For the Muslims in Israel, it’s very, very, very important. You know that 15 percent of the population in Israel are Muslims and the Kingdom for us is the protector of our holy places. It’s very important. 

“The Kingdom should play a central role in this region to find the solution, because the Kingdom is one of the countries that all the Arabs, all the Muslims look to, and want to look to. It is central.” 

Asked how confident he is about the prospects for peace within his own lifetime, Frej admitted the process is not a priority for the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — a coalition that features Frej’s own left-wing Meretz party. 

In Frej’s view, the best that can be hoped for under the current government is a strengthening of the Palestinian economy and its institutions. 

“We have half of this government who believe in a two-state solution and the other half who don’t believe in that. It’s not easy. But all the government agrees to strengthening the Palestinian Authority on the economic side. 

“I hope that we will find a way, in the future, to renew the peace process and find a way to reach something on the political horizon for the region and the Palestinians. But this government is a complicated government. Our policy is not there.” 

Asked whether the recent outbreak of violence has complicated the peace process and caused embarrassment for those Arab countries who have signed the Abraham Accords, Frej said these events had demonstrated the need for stronger Palestinian institutions. 

“The situation between the Arabs and the Jews, for the Palestinians in the region, it’s not so good. We are not in a good situation,” he said. 

“We tried 30 years ago to have Oslo and to try and begin a new period in the region. And I’m sorry to say that we failed. Now we try to build new confidence measures between the Palestinian and the Israelis and to have the trust. 

BIO: Esawi Frej

* Born on Dec. 14, 1963, in Kafr Qasim.

* Second Muslim Cabinet minister in Israeli history.

* Grandson of 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre victim.

* Studied accounting & economics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

* Speaks Arabic, English and Hebrew.

* Supporter of two-state solution & Abraham Accords.

“In order to have a safe and good future, you need to build a strong present. Now when I speak about the present, nowadays, the Palestinian Authority is weak. Palestinian society is weak. First of all, we need to strengthen Palestinian society.” 

As a strong supporter of the normalization deal, Frej believes the Palestinians made a big mistake in not joining the Abraham Accords. 

“I think the Palestinians should be part of this movement. I believe they made a mistake not to be part of the Abraham Accords because, as I said in the past, there is a blessing in movement and the Palestinians should be part of this movement.” 

If recent events are anything to go by, the chances of resuming peace talks any time soon appear remote. 

On May 11, Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli police raid in the West Bank, despite wearing clearly visible press patches on her blue helmet and flak jacket. 

Two days later, as Abu Akleh’s coffin was carried from the French Hospital in Jerusalem for burial, Israeli police attacked the funeral procession, causing the pallbearers to almost drop her body. 

Asked whether these were the actions of a government truly interested in seeking peace with the Palestinians, Frej reiterated that Abu Akleh’s death had been a mistake and that the government is committed to reducing tensions. 

“It’s not an easy government. We are from the right to the left, and, from the left side of this government, we believe that we must review the peace process and try to calm the situation in the West Bank. 




Esawi Frej, Israel’s minister of regional cooperation, is interviewed by Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show. (AN photo) 

“We try to do a lot in this government. The violence that we have seen in the Palestinian territory, it’s not easy, but we are all the time trying to relax (the situation) and not let the extremist side push us into a dark place. 

“I called from the beginning for a joint investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. I believe the Palestinians need to do it together with us. The problem is the situation that led up to it. Too many innocent people are being killed. 

“We will try to do our best (to see) that the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh will be the last one and we can find ways to be together.” 

Pressed on how the Israeli government can possibly claim to want to ease tensions while its forces are filmed attacking a funeral procession, Frej said the authorities needed to learn from their mistakes. 

“This case is still sensitive to speak about, because until now we don’t know who killed Shireen,” he said. “It’s a huge mistake to lose Shireen, we know that, but we try to think forward for the future.” 

Frej is only the second Arab Muslim minister in Israeli history, after Raleb Majadle. Born to a Muslim-Arab family in Kafr Qasim, Frej joined the joint Jewish-Arab “Campus” group while at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and subsequently joined the Ratz party, which later merged into Meretz. 

Given Israel’s stark political divisions and historical tensions, some view Frej’s appointment to the cabinet to be purely symbolic — a tokenistic gesture rather than a reflection of changing attitudes. 

“It’s not symbolic,” said Frej. “It’s not easy, but it’s not symbolic.” 

Rather, Frej sees the formation of the coalition government and the involvement of Arabs as a historic shift in Israeli politics. 

“After 73 years in Israel, to have a government such as this, to see Arab ministers, to see an Arab party as part of the coalition, to see a coalition from the right and the left, it’s not easy for us, because there is a different agenda in this government. 

“I am from the left side. My party believes in the two-state solution. My party believes in justice for all citizens: Arabs and Jews within Israel. We believe that we need to support Palestinian society, the Palestinian Authority, and renew the peace process. 

“Yes, I am the second Muslim Arab in the Israeli government. It’s a big challenge, but we are part of this society, and we need to try to change things inside the government, not just to be outside.” 

Critics have accused Frej of toeing the government line by rejecting claims by the human rights monitor Amnesty International that Israel is an apartheid state. Pressed on the point, Frej said such labels are not helpful and do not help the peace process. 

“Within Israel we have a lot of problems, criticism of Jews and Arabs, that the Arabs, the Arab society, is not in the first class with the Jewish. We know that we have a lot of problems, but this is a problem you cannot translate (into saying) Israel is an apartheid state. 

“Israel is not apartheid state. There are a lot of problems between Arabs and Jews, human rights. We know that we struggle to be equal, equal rights in every field. But to the Palestinian Authority, this is occupation. It’s not apartheid. And in the Palestinian territory, West Bank and Gaza Strip, it’s a conflict. We must finish it. We must find a solution. 




Katie Jensen hosts Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show that features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders. (AN photo) 

“This is my belief. And to say that it’s ‘apartheid, apartheid, apartheid,’ I ask myself and ask you and ask the audience, if I give it this title, will I help find a solution for our problem here in the region? No.” 

Frej has lobbied extensively for the inclusion of Arabic as a language within the official Israeli school curriculum and the establishment of the Arab Heritage Society. Does he feel that the Israeli people are with him or against him over these changes? 

According to Frej, the mainstream in Israel wants the Arabs to be part of the society.

“Arabs: I want to be part of the society. Israel: It’s my state. But the Palestinians? They are my people. I need to be, I should be, the bridge between my state and my people,”  he replied, adding: This is the correct way. This is the right way … . The majority of the Arab sector in Israel … chose this way.” 

What, then, is Frej’s advice to the Palestinians if they wish to further the cause of peace? 

“My advice to Palestinians is to be part of any peace agreement with any Arab country. And I hope the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — the hope and the vision for all the regions — will create a central role for any solution. 

“And the other thing that I need to say is that the Palestinian Authority, all of us, Israel, and all the region, should do our best to strengthen Palestinian society, because Palestinian society nowadays is in a bad situation. 

“In order to have the two-state solution and to have the Palestinian state, we need to support them to build their institutions and their society.”

 


IMF lowers Saudi Arabia’s economic growth to 2.6% for 2023

IMF lowers Saudi Arabia’s economic growth to 2.6% for 2023
Updated 6 min 39 sec ago

IMF lowers Saudi Arabia’s economic growth to 2.6% for 2023

IMF lowers Saudi Arabia’s economic growth to 2.6% for 2023

RIYADH: The International Monetary Fund has lowered Saudi Arabia’s economic growth forecast to 2.6 percent for 2023, 1.1 percentage points lower than its October estimate of 3.7 percent, its latest report showed. 

This is in line with its projection for the Middle East region which is projected to decline from 5.3 percent in 2022 to 3.2 percent in 2023, primarily attributed to Saudi Arabia’s growth slowdown, according to IMF’s World Economic Outlook report.

In 2022, Saudi Arabia witnessed an economic growth of 8.7 percent, the highest in the region. 

IMF, in its report, noted that the economic growth slowdown in Saudi Arabia could be due to the decision made by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies known as OPEC+ to reduce the oil output. 

Earlier in October 2022, OPEC+ had agreed to cut output by 2 million barrels per day, which equals to about 2 percent of world demand, from November 2022 until the end of 2023.

The IMF report, however, noted that non-oil growth in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region will remain robust in 2023. 


Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
Updated 31 January 2023

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
  • Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork

BONGABON, Philippines: Even before his onions are fully grown, Philippine farmer Luis Angeles races to harvest the crop and cash in on eye-watering prices for a vegetable that has become a luxury item in the country.
Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork.
Some restaurants have stripped the staple ingredient from dishes, while many families already grappling with the highest inflation in 14 years have stopped eating them.
To meet demand and push retail prices back below 200 pesos, the government has approved the importation of 21,000 tons of onions and faces calls to crack down on traders suspected of hoarding.
But prices remain stubbornly high and onion farmers like Angeles have been harvesting earlier than usual to reap the windfall.
“What is happening is historic,” said Angeles, 37, as his workers pulled undersized red and white bulbs out of the soil near the northern town of Bongabon, the country’s self-proclaimed “onion capital.”
“This is the first time that prices have reached this level.”
When he began harvesting last month, Angeles received as much as 250 pesos per kilogram for his crop.
By the time his onions reached Manila supermarket shelves, the price had more than doubled, exceeding the daily minimum wage.

Customers shop for onions at a market in Manila. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

“I told my family, ‘Let’s just smell the onion instead of eating it’,” Candy Roasa, 56, said as she walked through a market in the capital where she has seen vendors selling bulbs the size of a small child’s fist for as much as 80 pesos each.
As onion memes spread on social media, the humble vegetable has become a symbol of wealth in the poverty-afflicted country.
At least one bride used pricey bulbs instead of flowers for her wedding bouquet.
Philippine Airlines crew members on a recent flight from the Middle East were busted trying to smuggle a few bags of the pungent commodity through Manila’s airport.

It is not the first time the Philippines has experienced a shortage of a basic food staple that caused prices to spike — sugar, salt and rice have all been hit in the past.
Poor yields, high costs, insufficient investment in irrigation and machinery, lack of access to cold storage facilities and farm-to-market roads, and crop-destroying typhoons have long impacted the sector.
Pest outbreaks as well as soaring oil and fertilizer prices since Russia invaded Ukraine last year have only added to farmers’ woes.

A farmer harvests onions at a farm in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija province in the northern Philippines. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

Despite government pledges to boost domestic food production, the country relies heavily on imports to feed its growing population — but tariffs fuel inflation.
President Ferdinand Marcos appointed himself agriculture secretary to overhaul the near-moribund industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the country’s employment but only makes up 10 percent of gross domestic product.
“Our agriculture sector is significantly challenged,” said Geny Lapina, agricultural economics and management professor at the University of the Philippines.
Every Filipino eats an average of 2.34 kilograms of onions per year and theoretically the country produces enough to meet the demand, official data shows.
But since the tropical climate only allows one planting per year of the rain-averse crop, stocks are consumed or spoil well before the next harvest.
The recent lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, which allowed the resumption of food-focused festivals and family gatherings for Christmas, triggered soaring demand for onions.
William Dar, who was agriculture secretary in former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, said the shortage could have been avoided if the current government had allowed imports back in August.
“This is the net result of the poor planning,” Dar told local broadcaster ABS-CBN.
There are growing concerns about future food security in the Philippines, which is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change and is plagued by poor nutrition.
The median age of farmers is 57 and the average farm plot has shrunk to around 1.3 hectares from nearly three hectares in the 1960s.
Many farmers are sharecroppers who do not own the land they till and cannot afford to make much-needed investments to improve productivity without government help.
Salvador Catelo, an agricultural economist at the University of the Philippines, said there were “lots of daunting challenges to be immediately solved.”
“We have rich natural resource endowments which are absent in many countries that are performing (better) than us in terms of productivity and self-sufficiency,” Catelo said.
As imported onions flow into the country, Angeles fears farm-gate prices could plummet to as low as 30 pesos per kilogram before he finishes his harvest.
“We are just trying to make our investment survive,” he said.


Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel
Updated 31 January 2023

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel

Carrier Emirates test flies Boeing 777 on sustainable fuel
  • Airplane and engine manufacturers have been designing more-efficient models, in part to help keep down costs of jet fuel — one of the biggest expenses airlines face

DUBAI: Long-haul carrier Emirates successfully flew a Boeing 777 on a test flight Monday with one of its two engines entirely powered by so-called sustainable aviation fuel. This comes as carriers worldwide try to lessen their carbon footprint.
Flight 2646 flew for just under an hour over the coastline of the United Arab Emirates, after taking off from Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, and heading out into the Arabian Gulf before circling to land. The second of the plane’s General Electric Co. engines ran on conventional jet fuel for safety.
“This flight is a milestone moment for Emirates and a positive step for our industry as we work collectively to address one of our biggest challenges — reducing our carbon footprint,” Adel Al-Redha, Emirates’ chief operation officer, said in a statement.
Emirates, a state-owned airline under Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, described the sustainable fuel as a blend “that mirrored the qualities of jet fuel.” It included fuel from Neste, a Finnish firm, and Virent, a Madison, Wisconsin-based company.
Virent describes itself as using plant-based sugars to make the compounds needed for sustainable jet fuel, while Neste’s fuel comes from vegetable oils and animal fats. Those fuels reduce the release of heat-trapping carbon dioxide typically burned off by engines in flight.

An Emirates Boeing 777-300ER is filled with sustainable aviation fuel in preparation for a milestone demonstration flight on Jan. 30, 2023 at Dubai airport. (AFP)

Aviation releases only one-sixth the amount of carbon dioxide produced by cars and trucks, according to World Resources Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. However, airplanes are used by far fewer people per day — meaning aviation is a higher per-capita source of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Airplane and engine manufacturers have been designing more-efficient models, in part to help keep down costs of jet fuel — one of the biggest expenses airlines face. Emirates, for instance, used over 5.7 million tons of jet fuel last year alone, costing it $3.7 billion out of its $17 billion in annual expenses.
But analysts suggest sustainable fuels can be three times or more the cost of jet fuel, likely putting ticket prices even higher as aviation restarts following the lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much the fuel used in the Emirates’ test on Monday cost per barrel. Jet fuel cost on average $146 a barrel at the end of last week, according to S&P Global Platts.
The UAE, a major oil producer and OPEC member, is to host the next United Nations climate negotiations, or COP28, beginning in November. Already, the seven sheikhdom federation has been criticized for nominating the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s state oil company to lead the UN negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name.
 


Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
Updated 31 January 2023

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
  • The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7

BEIJING: Residents and travelers sought shelter after a strong earthquake rocked a remote part of northwestern China on Monday morning.
No injuries or major damage have been reported following the temblor that struck the Xinjiang region at 7:49 a.m., according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of people evacuating an airport departure hall and ceiling fixtures swaying as the ground rocked. Ground crews were seen inspecting the airport’s exterior as the sun began to rise over the region’s Shahe county.
The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7.
A vast, resource-rich region of mountains and deserts, Xinjiang is one of China’s most seismically volatile regions, though most quakes strike in sparsely inhabited areas outside major cities.
Investigators were checking on the epicenter but no disruptions had been reported to the local power grid, oil and gas production or petrochemical industries, Xinhua said.
China’s deadliest recent earthquake was magnitude 7.9 that struck Sichuan province, south of Xinjiang, in 2008, killing nearly 90,000 people.

 


China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
Updated 31 January 2023

China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
  • The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward

BEIJING: Southwest China’s Sichuan province will lift its three-child birth limit and remove restrictions on single parents as the world’s most populous nation faces a looming demographic crisis.
China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data released this month showed, and the nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages.
China ended its strict “one-child policy” — imposed in the 1980s out of fears of overpopulation — in 2016 and began allowing couples to have three children in 2021.
But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline.
Faced with falling birth rates, authorities in Sichuan on Monday said they would remove the limit on the number of children a family can have and lift a ban on single women registering a birth.
The Sichuan Provincial Health Commission said the new rules would take effect on February 15.
Out-of-wedlock births are frowned upon in China, with the National Health Commission saying in 2017 that they were “against the public order and against good morals.”
The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward.
The population stood at around 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported recently, a decrease of 850,000 from the end of the previous year.
Many point to the soaring cost of living — as well as a growing number of women in the workforce and seeking higher education — as being behind the slowdown.
Many local authorities have already launched measures to encourage couples to have children.
The southern megacity of Shenzhen, for example, now offers birth bonuses of up to 10,000 yuan (around $1,500) and pays allowances until the child is three years old.