Palestinians furious at plans for permanent US Embassy in occupied Jerusalem

Palestinians furious at plans for permanent US Embassy in occupied Jerusalem
Then US ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at a ceremony at the American Embassy in Jerusalem, on Friday, October 30, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 November 2022

Palestinians furious at plans for permanent US Embassy in occupied Jerusalem

Palestinians furious at plans for permanent US Embassy in occupied Jerusalem
  • Site for development includes land illegally seized by Israel, they claim
  • ‘Israel using Absentee Property Law to obliterate our social history,’ retired professor says

RAMALLAH: Palestinians have expressed anger at the decision by Israeli and US authorities to build a permanent US Embassy complex in Jerusalem on land they say was illegally taken from them.

The project will comprise the mission building, offices, staff housing, parking lots and security buildings.

The US and Israel submitted a plan in February 2021 to build the complex on land Israel seized from Palestinians under its 1950 Absentee Property Law. Descendants of the original landowners, including US citizens and East Jerusalem Palestinians, are demanding the cancellation of the development.

The Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee published plans for the construction of a permanent mission after its predecessor was moved to a temporary site in Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2018.

The site chosen was the abandoned Allenby military base on the outskirts of Talpiot, which was used by the Israeli army until the 1990s. Although most of the site is in West Jerusalem, some of it is classified as “forbidden land” because it sits between the eastern and western parts of the city.

The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem has not given a completion date for the project but Deputy Mayor Flor Hassan Nahum said the publication of the plans came after four years of hard work with the US mission.

Israeli sources said on Wednesday that the public would have 60 days to raise any objections to the plan before any development work began.

Ali Qleibo, a 70-year retired university professor from Jerusalem who owns 20 dunums (two hectares) of the land to be developed, told Arab News that it had been in his family for 350 years.

“The Israelis do not care who owns it. All they care for is pleasing the Israelis and having the embassy in Jerusalem,” he said.

“It’s extremely vexing, annoying and frustrating to be so helpless, knowing that the Israelis and Americans can decide the fate of my social history, my prosperity and my identity against all international laws that recognize Jerusalem as an occupied city.

“This land is an Islamic endowment, and I am benefiting from it. But the Israeli authorities seized it under the Absentee Property Law.”

Qleibo said he had tried several times to access his land but had been prevented from doing so by the Israeli authorities.

The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) said in a statement in July that after looking at archived records it could “definitively” confirm that the land slated for development was owned by Palestinians.

The US Embassy in Israel has not commented on those claims.

Suhad Bishara, a legal adviser at Adalah, told Arab News that as the land had been illegally confiscated by Israel, the US should not use it for its embassy complex, adding that her organization would write to the US State Department next week in an attempt to have the plans overturned.

Adalah was also considering submitting an objection to the Israeli authorities, she said.

Former US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 before moving the embassy to the city the following year. Most countries have refused to move their embassies to Jerusalem, although Honduras, Guatemala and Kosovo are among those to have bucked that trend.

Israel insists its capital comprises all of Jerusalem, but Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as capital of the Palestinian state.

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger
Updated 10 sec ago

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger

Iraq changes electoral law, sparking opposition anger
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament voted Monday to restore electoral laws that were scrapped after 2019 anti-government demonstrations, sparking anger from independent lawmakers who see it benefiting larger parties.
The law, which parliament said in a statement was “adopted” without detailing the votes, revives the electoral law of 2018 and sweeps away one of the gains of the mass protest movement which shook Iraq.
After the protests, a new system favored the emergence of independent candidates, with some 70 independents winning seats in the 329-member parliament in the last legislative elections in 2021.
Parliament is dominated by the Coordination Framework, an alliance of powerful pro-Iran Shiite factions, from whose ranks Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani emerged.
The new law removes 83 electoral districts and creates 18 seats, one for each of Iraq’s provinces.
This “makes it easier for top party politicians to win seats,” analyst Sajad Jiyad said on Twitter.
Conversely, it will make it “harder for candidates in smaller parties and independents to compete” because they will be running at a provincial rather than a local level, he added.
During the debate, which ran from Sunday into the early hours of Monday, several angry independent lawmakers were expelled from the debating chamber, according to videos they filmed themselves.
The law also replaces a first past the post system with proportional representation.
Overall, the changes will benefit the larger parties and make it possible “for their candidates who didn’t get enough votes initially to win seats,” Jiyad added.
“Independent candidates will no longer have any hope of obtaining representation in parliament,” said Alaa Al-Rikabi, an independent lawmaker. “They will be crushed.”
But Coordination Framework lawmaker Bahaa Al-Dine Nouri welcomed the change, arguing that it will “distribute the seats according to the size of the parties.”
Nouri said this will “lead to the formation of a government within the time limits set by the constitution” to avoid the endless standoffs that followed the 2021 election.
The new law will apply to the next legislative elections, the date of which has not yet been set.
It will also apply to provincial elections slated for November 6, to be held in 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces, excluding the three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, regional elections will take place on November 18 under a separate electoral system.

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests
Updated 11 min 12 sec ago

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests

Israeli government in chaos as judicial reform plans draw mass protests
  • Reports of Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart
  • Head of Israel’s top trade union calls for an immediate ‘general strike’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition plunged into chaos on Monday, after mass overnight protests over the sacking of his defense chief piled pressure on the government to halt its bitterly contested plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Netanyahu had been expected to make a televised statement on Monday morning announcing the plans had been suspended. But, amid reports that his nationalist-religious coalition risked breaking apart, Israeli TV stations said the statement was postponed.

Earlier, a source in his Likud party and another source closely involved in the legislation said Netanyahu would suspend the overhaul, which has ignited some of Israel’s biggest-ever demonstrations and drew an intervention by the head of state.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” President Isaac Herzog said on Twitter.

The warning by Herzog, who is supposed to stand above politics and whose function is largely ceremonial, underlined the alarm that the divisions triggered by the proposals have caused.

It followed a dramatic night of protests in cities across Israel, with tens of thousands flooding streets following Netanyahu’s announcement that he had dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

A day earlier, Gallant had made a televised appeal for the government to halt its flagship overhaul of the judicial system, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.

During furious scenes in the Knesset early on Monday, opposition members of parliament attacked Simcha Rothman, the committee chairman who has shepherded the bill, with cries of “Shame! Shame!” and accusations comparing the bill to militant groups that want the destruction of Israel.

“This is a hostile takeover of the State of Israel. No need for Hamas, no need for Hezbollah,” one lawmaker was heard saying to Rothman as the constitution committee approved a key bill to go forward for ratification.

“The law is balanced and good for Israel,” Rothman said.

Three months after it took power, Gallant’s removal has plunged Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition into crisis as it also faces a deepening security emergency in the occupied West Bank.

In a sign of the tensions within the coalition, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads one of the hard-line pro-settler parties in the coalition, called for the overhaul to go ahead.

“We must not stop the judiciary reform and must not surrender to anarchy,” he tweeted.

The shekel, which has seen big swings over recent weeks as the political turbulence has played out, fell 0.7 percent in early trading before recovering some ground as expectations grew the legislation would be halted.

As opposition spread, the head of the Histadrut labor union, Arnon Bar-David, called for a general strike if the proposals were not halted.

“Bring back the country’s sanity. If you don’t announce in a news conference today that you changed your mind, we will go on strike.”

Israeli media reported that takeoffs from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport have been suspended.

The judicial overhaul, which would give the executive more control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court and allow the government to override court rulings on the basis of a simple parliamentary majority, has drawn mass protests for weeks.

While the government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary, opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has so far vowed to continue with the project and a central part of the overhaul package, a bill that would tighten political control over judicial appointments, is due to be voted on in parliament this week.

As well as drawing opposition from the business establishment, the project has caused alarm among Israel’s allies. The United States said it was deeply concerned by Sunday’s events and saw an urgent need for compromise, while repeating calls to safeguard democratic values.

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones
Updated 27 March 2023

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones

Rushed daylight-saving decision puts Lebanon in two time zones
  • Government issued last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month
  • Some institutions implemented the change while others refused, causing confusion

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight saving time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in mass confusion Sunday.
With some institutions implementing the change while others refused, many Lebanese have found themselves in the position of juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — in a country that is just 88 kilometers (55 miles) at its widest point.
In some cases, the debate took on a sectarian nature, with many Christian politicians and institutions, including the small nation’s largest church, the Maronite Church, rejecting the move.
The small Mediterranean country normally sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March, which aligns with most European countries.
However, on Thursday, the government announced a decision by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to push the start of daylight saving to April 21.
No reason was given for the decision, but a video of a meeting between Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri leaked to local media showed Berri asking Mikati to postpone the implementation of daylight saving time to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier.
Mikati responds that he had made a similar proposal but goes on to say that implementing the change would be difficult as it would cause problems in airline flight schedules, to which Berri interjects, “What flights?”
After the postponement of daylight saving was announced, Lebanon’s state airline, Middle East Airlines, said the departure times of all flights scheduled to leave from the Beirut airport between Sunday and April 21 would be advanced by an hour.
The country’s two cellular telephone networks messaged people asking them to change the settings of their clocks to manual instead of automatic so the time would not change at midnight, although in many cases the time advanced anyway.
While public institutions, in theory, are bound by the government’s decision, many private institutions, including TV stations, schools and businesses, announced that they would ignore the decision and move to daylight saving on Sunday as previously scheduled.
Even some public agencies refused to comply. Education Minister Abbas Halabi said in a statement Sunday evening that the decision was not legally valid because it had not been taken in a meeting of the Cabinet. If the government meets and approves the decision, he wrote, “we will be the first to implement it” but until then, “daylight saving time remains approved and applied in the educational sector.”
Soha Yazbek, a professor at the American University of Beirut, is among many parents who have found themselves and their children now bound to different schedules.
“So now I drop my kids to school at 8 am but arrive to my work 42 km away at 7:30 am and then I leave work at 5 p.m. but I arrive home an hour later at 7 pm!!” Yazbek wrote on Twitter, adding for the benefit of her non-Lebanese friends, “I have not gone mad, I just live in Wonderland.”
Haruka Naito, a Japanese non-governmental organization worker living in Beirut, discovered she has to be in two places at the same time on Monday morning.
“I had an 8 a.m. appointment and a 9 a.m. class, which will now happen at the same time,” she said. The 8 a.m. appointment for her residency paperwork is with a government agency following the official time, while her 9 a.m. Arabic class is with an institute that is expected to make the switch to daylight saving.
The schism has led to jokes about “Muslim time” and “Christian time,” while different Internet search engines came up with different results early Sunday morning when queried about the current time in Lebanon.
While in many cases, the schism broke down along sectarian lines, some Muslims also objected to the change and pointed out that fasting is supposed to begin at dawn and end at sunset regardless of time zone.
Many saw the issue as a distraction from the country’s larger economic and political problems.
Lebanon is in the midst of the worst financial crisis in its modern history. Three quarters of the population lives in poverty and IMF officials recently warned the country could be headed for hyperinflation if no action is taken. Lebanon has been without a president since the term of President Michel Aoun ended in late October as the parliament has failed to elect a replacement since.

US says ‘strongly urges’ Israel leaders to find compromise

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
Updated 27 March 2023

US says ‘strongly urges’ Israel leaders to find compromise

The North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP file photo)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fires Defense Minister Yoav Gallant
  • ‘We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible’

WASHINGTON: The United States is deeply concerned by events in Israel and “strongly urges” leaders there to find compromise as soon as possible, a White House spokesperson said on Sunday after the firing of Israel’s defense minister triggered mass protests.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday, a day after Gallant broke ranks with the government and urged a halt to a highly contested plan to overhaul the judicial system.
“We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Some three months since taking office, Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition has been plunged into crisis over the bitter divisions exposed by its flagship judicial overhaul plans.
The overhaul package would tighten political control over judicial appointments, handing the executive wider freedom to name judges to the Supreme Court.
“As the president recently discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu, democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship,” Watson said.
“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship
Updated 27 March 2023

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship

Group says Libyan coast guard fired shots over rescue ship
  • The Libyan coast guard vessel “dangerously” approached the rescue ship, threatening its crew “with guns and firing gunshots in the air,” the SOS Mediterranee said in a statement

CAIRO: Libya’s coast guard fired warning shots over a humanitarian vessel as it attempted to rescue a rubber boat carrying migrants off Libya’s coast, a sea rescue group said. The coast guard went on to return some 80 Europe-bound migrants to Libyan soil.
The incident Saturday in international waters was the latest reckless sea interception of migrants by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union to stem the influx of migrants to Europe, said the SOS Mediterranee group, whose vessel was warned off by the coast guard.
A spokesman for the coast guard didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Italian coast guard said it had received a report about the incident, but complained that SOS Mediterranee didn’t follow correct procedures in reporting it.
The Ocean Viking, a rescue ship chartered and run by the non-profit SOS Mediterranee, was responding to a distress call to help the rubber boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea when a Libyan coast guard vessel arrived at the scene, the group said.
The Libyan coast guard vessel “dangerously” approached the rescue ship, threatening its crew “with guns and firing gunshots in the air,” the SOS Mediterranee said in a statement.
The coast guard was caught on camera threatening the vessel and firing a weapon into the air. In the footage, the coast guard vessel is seen traveling at a high rate of speed before maneuvering, apparently to prevent the Ocean Viking from reaching the migrant boat. At one point, gun shots are heard.
“You can’t shoot at us. You can’t shoot at us. We’re leaving the waters now,” a person on the Ocean Viking is heard saying.
Under threat, the Ocean Viking sailed away while the Libyan coast guard intercepted the boat and “forcibly” took the migrants back to war-wrecked Libya, it said.
Seabird 2, a civil surveillance plane owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, reported seeing migrants who had fallen overboard from the rubber boat before the coast guard recovered them.
In further footage from the group’s civil surveillance plane, the coast guard was seen maneuvering and approaching the rubber boat, before forcing the migrants to disembark on the coast guard vessel. Gunshots were also heard in the footage, with people on board the surveillance plane saying, “They are shooting in the water ... They are shooting at the people.”
Saturday’s incident was the latest report from European NGOs operating in the Mediterranean Sea of threats or violent behavior by the Libyan coast guard, which is trained and financed by the European Union, part of efforts to stem the flow of migrants from the North African country toward Italian shores.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants seeking a better quality of life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on risky sea voyages.
So far this year, some 20,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, far exceeding the 6,000 who came in the same period in each of the preceding years, according to Interior Ministry figures.
Over the weekend alone, an estimated 3,300 migrants — many departing on small boats from Libya or Tunisia’s coastal city of Sfax — were rescued in the Mediterranean and were heading toward Italian ports to disembark, the Italian coast guard said.
At least three rescues were conducted by the Louise Michel rescue ship, which is financed by the street artist Banksy. The group said its vessel was detained Friday off Lampedusa after it rescued 180 people in several operations. Thirty-four were plucked from the water after their boat capsized.
The Italian coast guard said the vessel had been seized because the crew disobeyed orders to head to a port in Trapani, Sicily after the first rescue and instead picked up other migrants in three other rescues. The coast guard said that disobedience put migrants at risk and complicated its own efforts to coordinate rescues during a particularly busy weekend.
“The instructions given to the NGO ship, given its small size, were also aimed at preventing it from taking on board so many people that would jeopardize both its safety and that of the migrant boats it would be rescuing,” the coast guard said in a statement.
It added that the NGO aircraft that were also sending reports of boats in distress “overloaded the communications system” of the Italian coordination center, duplicating alerts that government aircraft were already providing.
In recent months, the hard-line Italian government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has made it harder for humanitarian vessels to operate, often assigning ships to ports farther north after a single rescue, which the groups say limits their ability to save lives.
Meloni’s allies say the presence of so many rescue ships in the Mediterranean encourages migrants to risk their lives on smuggler boats.