Hady Amr appointment ‘unlikely to bring genuine change,’ say Palestinian officials

Special Hady Amr appointment ‘unlikely to bring genuine change,’ say Palestinian officials
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland and US Special representative for Palestinian affairs Hady Amr. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Hady Amr appointment ‘unlikely to bring genuine change,’ say Palestinian officials

Hady Amr appointment ‘unlikely to bring genuine change,’ say Palestinian officials
  • Officials in Ramallah said that Hady Amr’s appointment will not have any practical impact on the impasse between Israel and Palestinians
  • Former US congressman Jim Moran: ‘Amr has fought very hard to give the Palestinians representation and a voice in Washington’

WASHINGTON: Palestinian officials in Ramallah said that US President Joe Biden’s recent promotion of US State Department official Hady Amr as special US representative for Palestinian affairs falls short of their expectations of a more comprehensive engagement by the administration.

Amr, who previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, will now focus on Palestinian issues as part of the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs.

Palestinian leaders said the move is not enough to show the US is serious about its declared objectives of reopening the US consulate general in Jerusalem, which historically was considered as the de facto US embassy to the Palestinians, but was closed by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

Officials in Ramallah said that Amr’s appointment will not have any practical impact on the impasse between Israel and Palestinians, especially since Israel has shown no interest in engaging in meaningful peace talks.

Amr is unlikely to have an influence on the day-to-day situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, they added.

Palestinian leaders argued that the Biden administration is not following through with its own declared objectives of largely ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

However, a US State Department spokesperson told Arab News that the Washington-based Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, which Amr now heads, will engage closely with the Palestinians and their leadership and, together with US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides and his team, continue to engage with Israel on Palestinian-related issues.

The spokesperson added that Amr’s appointment reflects the Washington administration’s “commitment to strengthening US engagement with the Palestinians.”

“The president reiterated that in Israel and the West Bank, we remain committed to reopening our consulate general in Jerusalem and to the vision of a two-state solution.”

Jibril Al-Rjoub, secretary general of the Fatah Central Committee, the governing party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Arab News that it is important to know what Amr will do to advance the Palestinian issue in Washington, especially considering the current right-wing Israeli political environment.

“The real question for us as Palestinians is to know what Mr. Amr’s mandate will be in this new position, as Israel is moving toward more extremist policies against the Palestinians,” he said.

“Is Amr going to oversee and implement Mr. Biden’s stated policy objectives, or just give us yet another two years of running around in circles without any real results on the ground?”

Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, praised Amr and told Arab News that he is someone Palestinians can trust.

However, Abu Yousef argued that while Amr’s appointment may have symbolic meaning for the US administration, it changes little on the ground as far as Palestinians are concerned.

The Biden administration’s reluctance to make “tangible steps” toward Palestinians shows that it is interested only in “conflict management,” not a solution.

Jim Moran, a former US congressman from Virginia, said that he understands Palestinian frustration with the Biden administration and lack of enthusiasm for Amr’s appointment, but added “that’s because they simply don’t know how hard Amr has fought to get them representation in Washington.”

Moran said: “Amr has fought very hard to give the Palestinians representation and a voice in Washington.”

Amr had to overcome “insurmountable objections and obstacles by people in Washington who opposed this move,” he said.

“Amr is a genuine hero, and one who cares about the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause.”

A Palestinian Authority official who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity said that part of the problem the PA has with the Biden administration is that it has refused to take real action to undo steps taken by the Trump administration as part of his so-called “deal of the century.”

“The lack of action on part of the Biden administration tells Palestinians that Trump’s deal of century is still in force under the Biden administration.

“While Amr is highly respected within the Palestinian leadership, this appointment is not enough to make us think the Biden administration is serious about its commitment to the two-state solution.”

In 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — an illegal move under international law — and moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as part of the proposed deal.

The agreement envisioned granting Palestinians economic incentives and privileges inside a disjointed patchwork of territories within the occupied West Bank.


Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer

Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer
Updated 05 December 2022

Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer

Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer

KHARTOUM: Former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir has been moved from prison to hospital to complete some medical treatment, his lawyer Hashim Abu-Bakr said on Sunday.

The 78-year-old has been in custody while he is being tried over the 1989 coup that brought him to power. He was ousted in an uprising in 2019.

His lawyers had on Tuesday petitioned the court to transfer him to hospital, saying blood pressure and kidney issues posed a threat to his life if left untreated in prison.

Images of Bashir walking round a hospital ward caused controversy earlier this year.


Two killed as demonstrators storm governor’s office in southern Syria

Two killed as demonstrators storm governor’s office in southern Syria
Updated 8 min 4 sec ago

Two killed as demonstrators storm governor’s office in southern Syria

Two killed as demonstrators storm governor’s office in southern Syria
  • Syria’s pro-regime media said tens of ‘outlaws’ stormed the governor’s office

JEDDAH: Dozens of demonstrators angry over worsening economic conditions in Syria stormed and ransacked the governor’s office in the southern city of Sweida on Sunday, clashing with police, the authorities and witnesses said.

Earlier, more than 200 people had gathered around the building in the center of the Druze-majority city, chanting slogans calling for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad, they said, amid spiraling prices and economic hardship.

“Down with Assad,” the crowd chanted. Anti-government protests in state-controlled areas in Syria are not tolerated and rare.

Syria’s pro-regime media said tens of “outlaws” stormed the governor’s office and burned files and official papers.

The Ministry of Interior said they had also tried to seize the city’s police headquarters, and that one policeman was killed in the ensuing clashes.

“We will pursue all the outlaws and take all legal measures against anyone who dares to undermine the security and stability of the province,” the regime’s statement said.

Three witnesses said the governor was not in the building which was vacated before protesters stormed and ransacked offices.

“The governor’s office was burnt completely from the inside,” said Rayan Maarouf, a civic activist and editor of Suwayda 24, a local website that covers the southern region, who said several people were wounded in the exchange of gunshots.

“There was heavy gunfire,” Maarouf said, saying it was not clear from where the shooting came in the heavily policed area.

A source in the city hospital said one civilian who was being treated had died from gunshot wounds while another was still in hospital after being shot.

Sweida province has been spared the violence seen in other parts of Syria since the start of the over-decade long conflict that began after pro-democracy protests erupted against Assad’s family rule were violently crushed by security forces.

The minority Druze sect, whose faith draws its roots from Islam, have long resisted being drawn into the Syrian conflict.

Many community leaders and top Druze religious leaders have refused to sanction enlistment in the army.

Syria is in the throes of a deep economic crisis where a majority of people after a devastating conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions struggle to afford food and basic goods.

Witnesses in Sweida said that once inside the building, demonstrators brought down pictures of Assad.


GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy

GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy
Updated 05 December 2022

GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy

GCC education bureau to partner with Jordanian teaching academy
  • Agreement outlines plans for joint professional development programs

RIYADH: Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Assimi, director general of the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States, and Dr. Osama Obeidat, CEO of Jordan’s Queen Rania Teacher Academy, signed an agreement to strengthen partnership through teacher training, exchanging expertise and establishing joint programs for professional development, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday. 

The move is in line with the ABEGS framework on boosting cooperation with specialized organizations and institutions.

 


Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock

Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock
Updated 04 December 2022

Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock

Morocco reaps cash, clout from fertilizer supply shock

RABAT: A global fertilizer supply shock deepened by Russia’s Ukraine invasion has brought boom times for the North African phosphate superpower Morocco and earned the country new diplomatic capital.

Rabat is using the leverage especially in the decades-old fight over the disputed desert territory of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony also claimed by Algeria-backed rebels, analysts say.

Morocco is set to chalk up record revenues for a second year running as farmers worldwide scramble for phosphate, made scarce by sanctions against top world producer Russia and a Chinese ban on exports.

Phosphate is a key ingredient of artificial fertilizers, which are vital for industrial agriculture and global grain supplies despite the long-term damage they inflict on soil and groundwater.

“It’s a strategic mineral for the future because it’s crucial for global food security,” said Abderrahim Handouf, an agricultural policy expert.

“As populations grow, fertilizers are the most effective way to increase farm productivity.”

According to Morocco’s state-owned phosphates firm OCP, the country controls around 31 percent of the international trade in the substance.

The OCP, which holds a national monopoly in the trade, is on track to record more than 131 billion dirhams ($12.4 billion) in revenue this year, up 56 percent on 2021 — already a bumper year.

Even before the start of the year, prices had been edging higher as the world emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic and market leaders like China imposed export restrictions, said sector expert Mounir Halim.

There was also “strong demand from India, one of the world’s biggest importers, which had exhausted its stocks,” Halim said.

Then as Western powers imposed sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, prices of fertilizer shot up.

That made Morocco a vital alternative supplier. 

The kingdom’s exports of phosphates and their derivatives jumped by two thirds year-on-year in the first nine months of 2022, according to the latest official figures.

Morocco has around 70 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves, and has been mining four sites since 1921, including in the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco’s OCP has ramped up its production capacity by a factor of four since 2008, hitting 12 million tons last year, on target to reach 15 million by the end of 2023.

That makes it a major player in a global market fearful of further supply shocks.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned in a report this year that “fertilizer supplies remain restricted, stocks are depleted and geopolitical tensions could spark additional supply restrictions at short notice.”

The result is that Morocco is enjoying not only an influx of cash, but also growing diplomatic muscle, particularly on Western Sahara.

The kingdom sees the vast stretch of desert as an integral part of its territory, but the Polisario movement backed by Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria seeks independence there.

Rabat has placed the question at the heart of its diplomacy.

King Mohammed VI in August demanded that Morocco’s allies “clarify” their stances on the issue, calling it “the prism through which Morocco views its international environment.”

According to L’Economiste, a Moroccan French-language newspaper, OCP has become “the economic arm of Moroccan diplomacy.”

In September, Rabat recalled a shipment of 50,000 tons of fertilizer destined for Peru after Lima restored diplomatic relations with the Polisario’s self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

But as well as sticks, OCP offers carrots.

The firm has been expanding its presence across Africa, with branches in 16 countries, a fertilizer factory in Nigeria and a deal signed in September to open another one in Ethiopia.


Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem

Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem
Updated 04 December 2022

Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem

Palestinian Santa brings festive cheer to Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: In Jerusalem’s Old City there are dozens of churches, but as Christmas beckons there is just one Santa Claus — a towering Palestinian former basketball player.

Each December, the streets sparkle green and red as Christian pilgrims and others arrive to celebrate Christmas in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Seven years ago one resident, Issa Kassissieh, transformed the ground floor of his 700-year-old home into a grotto, complete with candy, mulled wine and a chance to sit on Santa’s lap.

Welcoming the season’s first visitors to Santa House, the red-suited and bearded Kassissieh belted out a “Ho, ho, ho!” at families queueing to see him.

“We are dealing with many religions here in Jerusalem. We have Muslims, Christians and Jews. I have all religions come to my house. I open my hands to everybody,” said Kassissieh, himself a Christian.

Among the visitors were a group of Israeli tourists, as well as two priests who blessed the opening with prayers in Arabic and the ancient language of Aramaic.

At 1.9 meters tall, Kassissieh’s height served him well as captain of the Palestinian basketball squad, and does not seem to intimidate the children he towers over.

“I’m not a Christian, but I still love Santa Claus ... We have a (Christmas) tree at home too,” said eight-year-old Marwa, a Palestinian Muslim, grinning.

Visitors from around the world also lined up to sit on Santa’s lap, and to find out if they were on his naughty or nice list.

Alison Pargiter, from the US, waited with her children.

“It is important that our kids have fun, but we also want them to know the true story behind Christmas,” the 52-year-old said.

At Santa House, Kassissieh said his young visitors have more modern concerns.

“Every child asks me for an iPhone,” he chuckled.

“I never promise anything, but I say: ‘Let’s pray, and if you’re on my good list, you will get it’.”

As a child, Kassissieh’s father would dress up as Santa for him and his two sisters.

Fifteen years ago, he found his father’s suit and decided to slip into the red velvet role.

But it has involved more than just putting on a suit.

Since then, he has attended the World Santa Claus Congress in Denmark and studied at a Santa school — yes, there is such a thing — in the US state of Colorado.

Kassissieh displayed a certificate from another center of Santa learning, the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and said his training makes him Jerusalem’s only accredited Santa.

Based in Michigan, the Howard school traces its establishment to 1937, making it the world’s longest-running.

In his role, he is all too aware of the sensitivities in Jerusalem.