US-Iran rapprochement offers avenue to Mideast peace: Oman FM

Special US-Iran rapprochement offers avenue to Mideast peace: Oman FM
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens to Oman FM Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi as they attend a breakfast with GCC FMs, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, New York, US (Reuters)
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Updated 20 September 2023
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US-Iran rapprochement offers avenue to Mideast peace: Oman FM

US-Iran rapprochement offers avenue to Mideast peace: Oman FM
  • Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi hails recent prisoner swap between Washington, Tehran
  • Important for both sides to ‘maintain a momentum of trust and de-escalation’

NEW YORK: Rapprochement between the US and Iran offers an avenue for regional peace, Oman’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi added that the recent prisoner exchange between Washington and Tehran would lead to further dialogue and closer ties in the coming months.

He was addressing the inaugural Middle East Global Summit in New York, organized by Semafor and Al-Monitor, and attended by Arab News.

Al-Busaidi said even if rapprochement is “slow, painstaking and challenging,” it is important for the US and Iran to “maintain a momentum of trust … and de-escalation” in order to safeguard the stability of the global economy.

He described the Iran nuclear deal as “the best thing we have.” And amid concerns about Tehran’s regional foreign policy, Al-Busaidi said he is “in favor of having a platform where Iran can talk bilaterally.”

The key to Middle East security and integration is to “acknowledge that all of us are part of this region, including Iran, and therefore we all have a vested interest in the region’s future.”


Turkiye, OIC, Arab League to speak on Israeli occupation on final day of hearing at ICJ

Turkiye, OIC, Arab League to speak on Israeli occupation on final day of hearing at ICJ
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Turkiye, OIC, Arab League to speak on Israeli occupation on final day of hearing at ICJ

Turkiye, OIC, Arab League to speak on Israeli occupation on final day of hearing at ICJ
  • The ICJ, also known as the World Court, heard arguments from more than 50 states
  • Majority of speakers were overwhelmingly critically of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories

THE HAGUE: Turkiye, League of Arab States, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the African Union will present arguments on Monday on the final day of proceedings at the UN’s highest court examining the legality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, heard arguments from more than 50 states following a request by the UN General Assembly in 2022 to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

On the first day of hearings last Monday, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel’s occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution.
The majority of speakers were overwhelmingly critically of Israel’s conduct in the occupied territories, with many urging the court to declare the occupation illegal.

However, the US has stood by its ally, arguing against immediate and unconditional withdrawal from the occupied territory.
Israel, which is not taking part, said in written comments that the court’s involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement.

The hearings are part of a Palestinian push to get international legal institutions to examine Israel's conduct, which has become more urgent since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, which triggered a military response that has since killed about 29,600 Palestinians.
The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has been asked to review Israel’s “occupation, settlement and annexation ... including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue their opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences for states.


Israeli military proposes ‘plan for evacuating’ Gaza civilians

Israeli military proposes ‘plan for evacuating’ Gaza civilians
Updated 26 February 2024
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Israeli military proposes ‘plan for evacuating’ Gaza civilians

Israeli military proposes ‘plan for evacuating’ Gaza civilians

GAZA STRIP: Israel’s military proposed a plan for evacuating civilians from the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Monday, after he said a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory’s southern city Rafah was necessary for “total victory.”
Foreign governments and aid organizations have repeatedly expressed fears that such an operation will inflict mass civilian casualties.
More than 1.4 million Palestinians — most of them displaced from elsewhere — have converged on the last Gazan city untouched by Israel’s ground troops.
It is also the entry point for desperately needed aid, brought in via neighboring Egypt.
Israel’s military “presented the War Cabinet with a plan for evacuating the population from areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip, and with the upcoming operational plan,” a statement in Hebrew from Netayahu’s office said Monday.
The statement did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.
The announcement comes after Egyptian, Qatari and US “experts” met in Doha for talks also attended by Israeli and Hamas representatives, state-linked Egyptian media reported, the latest effort to secure a truce before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Israel’s ally the United States said ongoing mediation efforts produced “an understanding” toward a ceasefire and hostage release, while a Hamas source said the group insisted on the withdrawal of Israeli forces.
But Netanyahu — who has dismissed the withdrawal demand as “delusional” — said a ground invasion of Rafah would put Israel within weeks of “total victory” over Hamas, whose October 7 attack triggered the war.
“If we have a (truce) deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it will happen,” he said of the ground invasion in an interview with CBS Sunday.
“It has to be done because total victory is our goal and total victory is within reach — not months away, weeks away, once we begin the operation.”
Amid a spiralling humanitarian crisis, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians urged political action to avert famine in Gaza.
Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are “a man-made disaster” that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
“Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance.”
The UN has said it faces restrictions, particularly on aid deliveries to northern Gaza.

DEATH TOLL MOUNTS
Nearly five months into the war, desperate families in Gaza’s north have been forced to scavenge for something to eat.
“We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children,” Omar Al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid trucks to arrive.
“We are trapped in the north and there is no aid reaching us — the situation is extremely difficult.”
Hundreds of Palestinians headed south whichever way they could, walking down garbage-strewn roads between the blackened shells of bombed-out buildings, said an AFP correspondent.
Israeli forces continued striking targets across the Palestinian territory and battling militants in heavy urban combat centered on the southern city of Khan Yunis, near Rafah.
The Israeli military campaign has killed at least 29,692 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack, which killed about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

CEASEFIRE TALKS
Militants also took about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s army confirmed Sunday the death of soldier Oz Daniel, 19, whose “body is still held captive by Hamas,” according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which said he was killed on the day of the attack.
Mediators have voiced hope that a temporary truce and a hostage-prisoner exchange can be secured before the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned fighting during the holy month “will increase the threat of expanding the conflict,” according to a royal statement.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, whose country hosts Hamas leaders and had helped broker a one-week truce in November, is due in Paris this week, the French presidency said.
Media reports suggest the warring parties are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of female, underage and ill hostages for several hundred Palestinian detainees held by Israel.
Across from overcrowded Rafah, neighboring Egypt has kept its border closed, saying it will not help facilitate any operation to push Palestinians out of Gaza.
But satellite images show it has built a walled enclosure next to Gaza, in an apparent effort to brace for the possible arrival of large numbers of refugees.
Inside Israel, pressure has grown on Netanyahu from families of hostages demanding swifter action, and resurgent anti-government protests.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in action against Hamas’s powerful Lebanese ally Hezbollah, whose militants have traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces since early October.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Israel’s enemy Iran.
“If anyone thinks that when we reach a deal (with Hamas)... it will ease what is happening here — they are wrong,” he said.


Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor

Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor
Updated 26 February 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor

Yemen’s Houthis ballistic missile misses US tanker Torm Thor
  • The missile impacted the water causing no damage nor injuries

CAIRO: The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said early on Monday that Yemen’s Houthis launched one anti-ship ballistic missile likely targeting the MV Torm Thor, but missed the US-flagged, owned and operated oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 24.
The missile impacted the water causing no damage nor injuries, CENTCOM added in a post on X.


The Iran-aligned group said on Sunday that they targeted the tanker, as the militants continue to attack shipping lanes in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The US military also shot down in “self-defense” two one-way unmanned aerial attack vehicles over the southern Red Sea on Sunday, said CENTCOM.
The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels since Nov. 19 as a protest against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
The turmoil from Israel’s war with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has spilled over to some extent into other parts of the Middle East. Apart from the Houthi attacks on vital shipping lanes, Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group has traded fire with Israel along the Israel-Lebanon border and Iraqi militia have attacked bases that host US forces.

 


Frankly Speaking: Will Israel ever end its occupation of Palestine?

Frankly Speaking: Will Israel ever end its occupation of Palestine?
Updated 26 February 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Will Israel ever end its occupation of Palestine?

Frankly Speaking: Will Israel ever end its occupation of Palestine?
  • Israeli journalist Gideon Levy accuses Israel of dehumanizing, demonizing Palestinians
  • Calls on compatriots to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid one

DUBAI: With the war in Gaza heading toward its sixth month, some are wondering if there is any end in sight to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. What is certain, however, is that Israel carries out a policy of dehumanization of Palestinians to justify its occupation, according to one of Israel’s most famous journalists.

“Israel systematically, from its first day, dehumanized and demonized the Palestinians in order to maintain their occupation, to maintain even the creation of the state of Israel,” Gideon Levy said.

He said Israel “is very efficient in manipulating propaganda and brainwashing all over the world,” and is “the only occupier in history which presents itself as a victim.”

Levy, who has spent over four decades as a journalist writing for the Israeli daily Haaretz covering mainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, made these remarks on the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”

Gideon Levy has spent over four decades as a journalist and columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz. He spoke to Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs show. (AN photo)

Levy has been harshly critical of Israel’s actions, particularly those carried out in the wake of the Hamas attack in southern Israel in October 2023 which resulted in 1,200 deaths and the kidnapping of 240 people. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, nearly 30,000 people, many of which are women and children, have been killed so far in Israel’s retaliatory offensive.

Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have been putting pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire or scale back its offensive. The Kingdom has made the establishment of a Palestinian state a prerequisite for any normalization deals, with Israeli officials keen on the idea of improved relations with Arab states.

Levy, however, doubts that any Israeli prime minister, including current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would go that far.

“I don’t see them … putting an end to the occupation,” he told Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Israeli politicians might be hoping for a repeat of the 2020-2021 Abraham Accords, which saw Israel normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (2-R) grins from ear to ear after signing the so-called Abraham Accords with Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani (L) and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (R), brokered by the US government under President Donald Trump (2-R), at the White House in Washington, DC, on Sept. 15, 2020. (AFP/File)

Israel quickly also normalized ties with Morocco and Sudan.

“Maybe they also hope that, like in the Abraham Accords, in which they got quite a good deal without changing the policy toward the Palestinians, only by all kind of lip services for this,” he said.

“I think that all the candidates for being prime minister in Israel, not only Netanyahu but also the opposition, would still prefer to maintain an occupation rather than to have normal relations with an important country like Saudi Arabia.”

Even beyond the Arab world, Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has triggered international backlash, including South Africa’s landmark court case against Israel in the International Court of Justice. However, Levy sees most of this as empty words.

This photo taken on January 26, 2024, shows the International Court of Justice panel assembled in The Hague during the reading of the genocide case filed by South Africa against Israel over its attacks on civilians in the Gaza Strip. (X: @CIJ_ICJ)

“Sympathy toward the Palestinians is very deep rooted among the grass roots, but I don't see many leaders really care about the Palestinians. Unfortunately, they fall between the chairs for many years now, when many statesmen give their lip service about solidarity with them, but finally almost nobody is doing for them anything and they are left quite alone, especially in (the) last years,” Levy said.

“Yes, there is a lot of talking going on; condemnations, resolutions, rulings, rules, hearings, many, many things. There is only one thing lacking, and this is action. That is, taking measures.

“The world never took real measures and the US, in particular, never took any measures to promote its interest, to promote its ideas. The US claims that it wants to see this war ended. And (at the same time) it is supplying Israel with more ammunition and more arms.”

Israel has learned “that you can very easily ignore the talk and stick to its policy, because Israel doesn’t pay any price for its policy,” Levy said.

A shipment of 155mm artillery shells supplied by the US for use by the Israeli army is transported on a truck along a highway between the Jerusalem and Beersheba in southern Israel on October 14, 2023. (AFP)

With Palestinians themselves and leaders across the world calling for peace, Levy is not certain that peace should be the top priority when it comes to talks on Palestine, but rather justice for the Palestinian people.

“I am calling for justice, not for peace … maybe peace will be the bonus that we’ll get out of it. But I am not sure that two people are ready for peace, but there is one people who deserve justice. And this must be pushed by the world.”

From 1978 to 1982, Levy worked as an aide and spokesman for Shimon Peres, the then leader of the Israeli Labor Party. In 1982 he began to write for Haaretz, and later worked there as a deputy editor.

He has long written of his support for a one-state solution in which Jews, Arabs, and all citizens have equal rights — a controversial opinion among both Israelis and Palestinians.

“There are 700,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Nobody is going to evacuate them. And there is no viable Palestinian state with 700,000 Jewish settlers, part of them very violent, all of them very ideological. I don’t see (a two-state solution) happening.”

Objects are scattered more than a week after Jewish settlers attacked the occupied West Bank village of Wadi al Seeq on October 24, 2023. (AFP/File)

He added: “If not the two-state solution, what is left? Only the one state … the only problem is that it’s not a democracy.

“I have to tell my fellow Israelis, you can’t have it all. If you wanted a Jewish state, you had to pull out from the occupied territories a long time ago.

“If you want a democratic state, you should give up the Jewish state because you cannot have it both, because there are two peoples here. Either you are an apartheid state or you are a democracy.”

As the Israeli bombardment continues across the entirety of Gaza, many Palestinians have begun to lose hope in their own officials. Even one month prior to the start of the most recent Israel-Hamas war, 78 percent of Palestinians wanted the resignation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 7, 2024, during a Middle East tour, his fifth urgent trip to the region since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (POOL / AFP)

Observers now speculate whether there could be a replacement for Abbas, one that could carry out reforms and to revitalize the PA.

For Levy, jailed Palestinian dissident Marwan Barghouti could be a contender.

“He was the only one who would really unite the Palestinian people, Hamas and Fatah, together. I believed also that he is a man of peace. And he proved it in many ways,” he said.

Barghouti was arrested by Israel in Ramallah in 2002, and two years later was sentenced to five cumulative life sentences on five counts of murder.

“I hope he’s still capable of leading the Palestinians. I don’t have a better idea. I’m not sure Hamas will accept him today. Twenty years ago, yes, (but) I’m not sure today,” Levy said.

“I’m a great believer of him. And because I believe in him, and because so many people believe in him, Israel will never release him. And that’s so tragic.”

The portrait of jailed Palestinian dissident Marwan Barghouti (R) is seen along with that of the  late South African president Nelson Mandela at an office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Barghouti, in Israeli custody for nearly two decades after being convicted over multiple killings during the second intifada, is being compared to Mandela, who successfully led the resistance to apartheid in South Africa. (AFP/File)

Particularly since October, the popular rhetoric in Israel has increasingly turned against Palestinians, something that Levy blames on a combination of racism and dehumanization.

“If you conduct such a brutal occupation over so many years, if you teach your soldiers and your young people, generation after generation, that there is nothing cheaper, and there is nothing cheaper than the life of a Palestinian, I can tell you, if the Israeli army would have killed so many dogs as it did (people) in Gaza, it would be a huge, huge scandal in Israel.”

In addition to this, Israeli news media, which Levy explains “doesn’t cover the suffering of Gaza,” has played a role in inflaming racist attitudes in the country.

“They know Israelis don’t want to see it, don’t want to hear about it. It’s an outcome of decades of brainwashing, decades of humanization; as I said before, decades of demonization of the Palestinians.

“Israelis don’t meet Palestinians anymore at all, because of the barrier of the (West Bank) separation wall. There’s almost no contact anymore between the two peoples,” Levy said, explaining that the Oct. 7 attack has led Israelis to lump all Palestinians in the same category as Hamas and the perpetrators of the attack.

Participants run past a section of Israel's controversial separation barrier during the "Freedom of Movement Palestine Marathon" in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on March 10, 2023. (AFP/File)

“We are in a very, very low moment in history. And obviously the racism is now politically correct in Israel. It's enough to have one attack, like this terrible attack on the 7th of October, to make all the incorrect political ideas as politically correct.

“Because after what they have done to us, most of Israelis think, we have now the right to do and say whatever we want, because of those horrible things they did.

In the minds of Israelis now, Levy said, “all Palestinians must take responsibility for the October 7 crimes, all of them took part in it.”

 


WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough
Updated 26 February 2024
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WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

WTO convenes ministers in UAE with slim hopes for breakthrough

ABU DHABI: The world’s trade ministers gathered in the UAE on Monday for a high-level WTO meeting with no clear prospects for breakthroughs, amid geopolitical tensions and disagreements.
The World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13), scheduled to run until Thursday in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is the first in two years.
The WTO is hoping for progress, particularly on fishing, agriculture and electronic commerce.
But big deals are unlikely as the body’s rules require full consensus among all 164 member states — a tall order in the current climate.
“I don’t have hopes that a very substantive agreement will be announced,” said Marcelo Olarreaga, Professor of Economics at the University of Geneva.
“My impression is that the negotiators are dealing with tactical positions — how to make it look like it is the other (side) who is blocking negotiations,” he told AFP.
Even WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said she expects the meeting to be challenging due to the “economic and political headwinds” — from the war in Ukraine, attacks in the Red Sea, inflation, rising food prices and economic difficulties in Europe and China.
Her team is working around the clock to draft agreements for the talks, she told journalists this month, noting that “negotiating positions are still quite tough,” notably on agriculture.

During the WTO’s last ministerial meeting, held at its Geneva headquarters in June 2022, trade ministers nailed down a historic deal banning fisheries subsidies harmful to marine life and agreed to a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines.
They also committed themselves to re-establishing a dispute settlement system which Washington had brought to a grinding halt in 2019 after years of blocking the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appeals court.
“Replicating the success, the miracle, of MC12 in 2022 will be extremely challenging,” European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this month.
“Negotiations on the big-ticket items” — such as fisheries, agriculture and the e-commerce moratorium — will “remain open until the final phase of the conference,” he added.
“Negotiations on dispute settlement reform and potentially some parts of the outcome document will also be challenging.”
However, the WTO faces pressure to eke out progress on reform in Abu Dhabi ahead of the possible re-election of Donald Trump as US president.
During his four years in office from 2017 to 2021, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of the trade body and disrupted its ability to settle disputes.
“There will be the US elections in November...so this is the last chance,” a diplomatic source in Geneva told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Postponing anything until after MC13 is not a good strategy.”
Earlier this month, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai underlined Washington’s “commitment to reforming the WTO and creating a more durable multilateral trading system.”
But Olarreaga of the University of Geneva said the other members of the WTO “cannot expect huge concessions” from the administration of US President Joe Biden in an election year.

While there is doubt over progress at the WTO on major issues such as agriculture, there is hope for small advances on other fronts, particularly aid for developing countries.
On Monday, two new countries, the Comoros and East Timor, are expected to be accepted as WTO members.
More than 120 countries and regions, including China and the European Union, but not the United States, issued a ministerial declaration early Monday, marking the finalization of an agreement aimed at facilitating international investments in development.
They also issued a submission requesting the official integration of the deal into the WTO, but some diplomats fear opposition from India, which rejects any agreement that does not include all member states.
But amid the difficulty of obtaining full consensus, more and more plurilateral agreements — deals with a narrower number of signatories — are being reached, applying only to the participating countries.
Adding to the challenges for those gathering in the UAE, is the ongoing war in Gaza and related attacks by Yemeni rebels on ships in the Red Sea, a campaign that has disrupted global maritime trade.
“The current situation is characterized by geopolitical tensions,” said a European diplomat who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity.
“High expectations from developing nations following the financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as economic tensions due to inflation... (add to the) risk of fragmentation of the global economy,” the diplomat said.