Special interview: Abraham Accords have ‘not fundamentally changed Palestinians’ situation,’ says EU envoy

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Updated 27 November 2022

Special interview: Abraham Accords have ‘not fundamentally changed Palestinians’ situation,’ says EU envoy

Special interview: Abraham Accords have ‘not fundamentally changed Palestinians’ situation,’ says EU envoy
  • Dialogue that recognizes need to combine normalization with peace progress is key to a lasting settlement, Sven Koopmans tells Arab News
  • He says Saudi Arabia has a very important role to play in the resolution of Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts

RIYADH: Normalization between Israel and Arab nations ought to occur in tandem with resolving the simmering regional conflict because the Abraham Accords alone have not fundamentally changed the situation for the Palestinians, Sven Koopmans, the EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process, has said.

The Abraham Accords are a series of agreements that have resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries. The UAE was the first to sign the pact in 2020, inaugurating a new era of political, economic and security cooperation with Israel in the face of common strategic concerns and regional threats. 

“I think these accords have, in some way, shown that change is possible,” Koopmans, a Dutch international lawyer and former politician, told Arab News during a visit to Riyadh on Monday

“Relations between the countries (concerned) have changed and we see positive things come out of it. At the same time, I do not believe that those agreements have fundamentally changed the situation for the Palestinians.” 

Although welcomed by much of the international community at the time, skeptics had warned that normalization alone would do little to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor would it bring about a final settlement based on the two-state solution. 




Palestinian demonstrators confront Israeli security forces following Friday prayers in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron. (File/AFP)

In the absence of tangible progress toward a peace settlement that addresses the needs of the Palestinians, most Arab countries have declined to embrace the logic of normalization of ties with Israel. 

Koopmans said he had talks on Monday with Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, in the course of which they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts and the need to find a positive solution that would offer peace, not just for the Palestinians and the Israelis but for the wider region. 

“I believe Saudi Arabia has a very important role to play,” Koopmans told Arab News. 




Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali and the EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process Sven Koopmans. (Supplied)

“It is everyone’s hope that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets resolved and that a Palestinian state comes into full existence and is recognized. For that, we need more. 

“So, that’s also what I’m discussing with the Saudi government and with many other governments in the region. How can we do everything in a way so that, at the same time you have normalization, you also have actual peace? We cannot leave one thing for later. That may never happen.” 

Koopmans, who has been tasked by the EU with providing an active contribution to the final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighted the continued relevance of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah in 2002. 

The initiative, which was re-endorsed at the 2007 and at the 2017 Arab League summits, offers normalization of relations in return for a full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied Arab territories, a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. 




Palestinian security forces stand guard as locals holding up banners and waving national flags protest in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)

Saudi Arabia and several other states want to see the Arab Peace Initiative implemented before they agree to consider formal normalization with Israel. 

“I should first say that the EU also supports the Arab Peace Initiative, and that initiative of King Abdullah at that time was very courageous and very important, and I believe it still stands and we still support this,” said Koopmans. 

“There are many obstacles to seeing it become reality, and those obstacles are precisely what we are working on right now.” 




The EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process Sven Koopmans. (Supplied)

Splits within the Palestinian body politic, together with Israel’s own protracted political difficulties, are just some of the many obstacles stalling the peace process. Koopmans believes the way forward is for all parties to recognize the interests they hold in common.

“We need to come to a point where everybody is strong enough and willing enough to say now is the time for peace, as I believe,” Koopmans said.

“If we all look at what our real interests are, then we find much that unites us, including the Europeans. 

“We want security for the Middle East. We want everybody to live in freedom. We want people to enjoy equal rights. And we want all the nations in this part of the world so close to ours to have good trade relations, to have energy and water and climate change agreements and exchanges. 




Palestinian security forces stand guard as Palestinian protesters wave national flags during a demonstration in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (File/AFP)

“There is a lot to be done on that front, and I believe it is in everyone’s interest. And so that is the effort that I have come to Saudi Arabia to discuss with your government.” 

For some observers, formal recognition of a Palestinian state is an important prerequisite to reinvigorating the peace process. For Koopmans, however, the timing of such recognition is important. 

“There are some European member states, some countries that recognize a Palestinian state. The majority does not,” Koopmans said. 

He dismissed the notion that some instruction to this effect had come from “EU organizations in Brussels or from me.” 

“I believe that if we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a wider conflict, then it becomes very easy for everyone to recognize. 

“In fact, that would be an integral part of it, because at least in Europe, also, those countries that do not recognize a Palestinian state very much believe that it is necessary, that there is eventually a Palestinian state. 

“But they say, okay, first it needs to be recognized and negotiated. Where precisely are the borders? How are the government institutions set up and able to function in a sovereign way … without Israeli occupation? They want to see that first. And that is part of the peace agreement that we should all be working on, and not just between Israel and Palestine but, again, also with the Arab neighbors. 

“And maybe there is some combination to be seen, because when will Arab states that do not recognize Israel at this time recognize Israel? I think it may be the same day that some European countries recognize a Palestinian state. So, let’s do it all together.” 

In the meantime, Koopmans and other diplomats working on the Israel-Palestine case are adamant that Palestinian attacks must stop and further Israeli settlement expansion must be halted before talks can resume in good faith. 

“These settlements are illegal,” said Koopmans. “The EU is very clear about that, as is the UN and the US and so many around the world. And, so, we will keep speaking out against them. My role as EU special representative is next to that. In addition to that, to work to revive the peace process. 

“Many people say the peace process does not exist and, in a way, they are right. There are no active negotiations to finally conclude the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab conflict, but it has to end. The occupation cannot go on forever. The violence that we see, the terrorist attacks that we see, they cannot go on forever. 

“They must stop. And the best way to stop them is to have serious negotiations about peace between Israel and the Palestinians so that there is a vibrant Palestinian state alongside a vibrant Israel, that both are secure. But then there also needs to be peace (between Israel) with Saudi Arabia, with Lebanon, with Algeria, with all the countries in the region.” 

In Koopmans’ opinion, forming a broad and inclusive dialogue that recognizes the need to combine normalization with genuine progress toward peace is key to establishing a lasting settlement. 

“I do believe that all countries in this region have an interest in this conflict and rather in this conflict going away and having peace,” said Koopmans. “And I think that that means we need to speak with Saudi Arabia as a very big player, but also with Egypt and Jordan and many other countries in the region. 

“Iran also has a strong concern about what happens in the region. Israel has a strong concern about what happens in Iran. Again, it is not my role to pinpoint particular players or to say he or she did this. But it is my role to contribute to having everyone be part of the solution.”

 


Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
Updated 03 December 2022

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
  • Canada slaps more sanctions on regime

JEDDAH: Black-clad women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women dressed in body-covering chador garments chanted in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-governmental organization.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for more than two months.

“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he said.

“Women and minorities, who have for more than four decades been treated as second-class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to the streets and demand their fundamental human rights.”

Baluchi women were among the “most oppressed” in Iran and their protests were the most organized by them so far since demonstrations broke out across the country, Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “we don’t want a child-killing government,” footage posted online by activists showed. Security forces were seen opening fire with bird shots and tear gas on male protesters in Taftan, a locality in Sistan-Baluchistan, in a video published by IHR.

A prominent Sunni cleric said it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offenses. Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting Sunni voice in the Shiite-ruled country, said it was wrong for the hardline judiciary to charge protesters with “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.

Meanwhile,  Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said.

The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran’s “systematic human rights violations” and actions that “threaten international peace and security.” She added that Canada “will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people.”


Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
  • The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists

HEBRON: Dozens of Israeli peace activists toured the occupied West Bank’s largest city on Friday in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, amid chants of “shame, shame” from ultra-nationalist hecklers.
The encounter in the center of Hebron signaled the widening rift among Israelis over the nature of their society and Israel’s open-ended military rule over the Palestinians, now in its 56th year.
After parliamentary elections last month, the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in coming days or weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
In coalition agreements, Netanyahu has already handed key authorities in the West Bank to ultra-nationalist faction leaders, including former fringe figure Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric.
The new roles include oversight of Israeli settlement construction and the paramilitary border police, often deployed in Palestinian population centers.
At the same time, peace activists and pro-Palestinian rights groups have come under attack in recent years from right-wing politicians branding them traitors.
The immediate trigger for Friday’s tour was an incident in volatile Hebron that was caught on video last week.
The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists.
Another soldier is heard telling the activists: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That’s it, you guys have lost.”
The soldier uttering the taunts was initially sentenced to 10 days in military jail, but the army then reduced the sentence to six days.
As incoming national security minister, Ben-Gvir will have control over the border police whose troops are often deployed alongside regular soldiers in the West Bank.

As about 200 peace activists arrived in the center of Hebron on Friday, they were greeted by a group of protesters holding a banner reading: “The people of Israel demand: expel the anarchists from Hebron.” One man shouting through a bullhorn yelled, “shame, shame,” as the visitors listened to tour guides in a parking lot, separated from the right-wing protesters by security forces.
Friday’s visit was part of the regular offerings of anti-occupation groups, but turnout was larger than usual because of the election results and last week’s incident in Hebron, said Ori Givati, a spokesman for Breaking the Silence, one of the groups organizing the trip.
He said activists were worried — but also determined to continue their work, including tours to West Bank hot spots like Hebron, where dozens of heavily guarded settlers live in a city of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
“There is definitely fear for the safety, first and foremost for Palestinians under this occupation that are now going to be under a government that promotes hate and racism more than ever toward them, and toward our organization and other organizations and activists that are now in a reality where their activity here is delegitimized, also more than ever,” Givati said.
Those chanting slogans against the peace activists portrayed themselves as defenders of Israeli settlements and soldiers.
Matan Gerafi of the right-wing Im Tirtzu group alleged the activists aimed to discredit soldiers and branded them “anarchists.”
Palestinians were largely out of sight as the Israeli groups faced off.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, said he believes the hard-line ideology of Ben-Gvir and others will spread further in Israeli society.
“The settlers here are celebrating the election of their fascist representatives in the government,” he said. “What happens in Hebron will end in Tel Aviv.”

 


Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank
  • The Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP its medics “were prevented from dealing with a wounded person who was later declared dead”

HUWARA: Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian on Friday in the occupied West Bank, in an incident described by the force as a stabbing and by a Palestinian official as a quarrel.
Israeli police said its border guards were approached by several suspects in the town of Huwara when one “pulled out a knife and stabbed one of them.”
The guards “responded by shooting one suspect and neutralizing him,” police said in a statement, before confirming to AFP the Palestinian was killed.

Israeli machinery demolishes a Palestinian house in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank amid the recent surge in violence in the conflict. (Reuters)

There are regular patrols by Israeli forces through the town of Huwara, which straddles the main road south of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
A member of the Huwara municipality, Wajeh Odeh, told AFP the shooting followed “a quarrel.”
“An Israeli soldier pushed the Palestinian to the floor and shot him from zero distance,” Odeh said.
Heavily armed border guards were deployed along the street following the incident, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
The Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP its medics “were prevented from dealing with a wounded person who was later declared dead.”
Israeli police said one of its officers suffered minor injuries.
The shooting marks the ninth Palestinian killed since Tuesday in the West Bank, mostly in clashes with or raids by Israeli forces.
In one incident, a man was shot dead after running over a soldier in an alleged car ramming.
The recent surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has alarmed the international community.
On Monday, the UN envoy for Middle East peace, Tor Wennesland, warned the situation in the West Bank was “reaching a boiling point.”
At least 145 Palestinians and 26 Israelis have been killed so far this year across the West Bank, Israel and the contested city of Jerusalem.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the 1967 Six-Day War.
The US representative for Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, on Wednesday said Washington is “deeply aware of the tragic loss of life” in the Palestinian territories.
Those killed in recent months include Israeli soldiers, Palestinian militants and scores of civilians.
Forty-nine Gazans were killed in just three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in August.

 


Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief

Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief
Updated 03 December 2022

Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief

Syria confirms man killed in October was Daesh chief
  • The security source told the agency that Al-Hashimi “is the same person known as Abdel Rahman Al-Iraqi”

DAMASCUS: A Daesh commander killed in Syria in October was the group’s overall leader, a Syrian security source was quoted as saying on Friday by pro-regime media.
The source, quoted by SANA news agency, credited the army and local groups with the operation that led to the death of Daesh chief Abu Hasan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi.
Daesh on Wednesday said he died in battle and announced a replacement to head up its remaining sleeper cells.
The US military’s Central Command said Al-Hashimi was killed in an operation carried out by Syrian fighters in Daraa province in the country’s south in mid-October, but said the US provided no support.
In mid-October, Damascus said it had launched a joint operation against Daesh with former rebels in the province.

FASTFACT

The US military’s Central Command said Abu Hasan Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was killed in an operation carried out by Syrian fighters in Daraa province in the country’s south in mid-October, but said the US provided no support.

At the time, SANA identified one of the slain extremists as Abu Abdel Rahman Al-Iraqi.
The security source told the agency that Al-Hashimi “is the same person known as Abdel Rahman Al-Iraqi.”
He was “killed during a security operation” against Daesh carried out by “the Syrian army with local groups” in the city of Jassem on Oct. 15, the security source said.
Daraa province was the cradle of Syria’s 2011 uprising but it returned to regime control in 2018 under a ceasefire deal backed by Russia, which supports the government. The fighters were allowed to keep light weapons.
The province has seen years of security chaos, including killings and clashes, and Daesh terrorists have also claimed attacks there.
A fighter who took part in the operation had told AFP there was “an exchange of information” between rebels and the regime to “identify the houses where the jihadists were hiding.”
“Nobody told us that the Daesh chief was among them,” the fighter had said. Abu Abdel Rahman al-Iraqi was among the jihadists killed in the fighting, he added.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, said Iraqi blew himself up in a house where he was dug in after family members left the building.

 


Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say
Updated 02 December 2022

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say
  • Erdogan's government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar al-Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism
  • Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions

BEIRUT/ANKARA: Syria is resisting Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan, three sources said on Friday, after more than a decade of bitter enmity since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
However, two Turkish sources, including a senior official, disputed that Damascus was delaying and said that things were on track for an eventual meeting between the leaders.
Erdogan’s government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism, saying earlier in the conflict that peace efforts could not continue under his rule.
Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions and launching repeated military incursions inside northern Syria. Ankara is readying another possible operation, after blaming Syrian Kurdish fighters for a bombing in Istanbul.
Russia helped Assad turn the tide of the war in his favor and says it is seeking a political end to the conflict and wants to bring the two leaders together for talks.
Erdogan has signalled readiness for rapprochement.
Speaking a week after he shook hands with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi last month, after repeatedly saying he could not meet a leader who came to power in a coup, he said Turkiye could “also get things on track with Syria.”
“There can be no resentment in politics,” he said in a televised discussion at the weekend.
However, three sources with knowledge of Syria’s position on possible talks said Assad had rejected a proposal to meet Erdogan with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Two of the sources said Damascus believed such a meeting could boost Erdogan ahead of Turkish elections next year, especially if it addressed Ankara’s goal of returning some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees from Turkiye.
“Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections,” one of the two said, adding that Syria had also turned down the idea of a foreign ministers’ meeting.
The third source, a diplomat with knowledge of the proposal, said Syria “sees such a meeting as useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
Turkish officials said this week the army needed just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria, where it has already carried out artillery and air strikes.
But the government has also said it is ready for talks with Damascus if they focus on security at the border, where Ankara wants Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters pushed from the frontier and refugees moved into ‘safe zones’.
An Assad-Erdogan meeting could be possible “in the not too distant future,” the senior Turkish official said.
“Putin is slowly preparing the path for this,” the official said. “It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkiye. Russia would benefit too... given it is stretched in many areas.”