Frankly Speaking: Biden’s peace plan — too little, too late?

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Updated 09 June 2024
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Frankly Speaking: Biden’s peace plan — too little, too late?

Frankly Speaking: Biden’s peace plan — too little, too late?
  • Hala Rharrit explains the precise reasons behind her recent resignation as the US State Department’ Arab language spokesperson
  • Underscores urgency of suspending arms sales to Israel, fears that US actions may radicalize a generation of Muslim and Arab youth

DUBAI: Hala Rharrit, who resigned as the US State Department’s Arabic-language spokesperson on April 24 over the government’s stance on Gaza, has commended President Joe Biden’s peace proposal, saying “this will hopefully alleviate some of the suffering; we’ll have to wait and see.” However, she expressed concern that he US is violating international law by continuing to sell weapons to Israel.

Appearing on Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Rharrit said she was pleased to hear President Biden calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, but cautioned that the peace plan neither addressed US arms sales to Israel, nor committed to creating a Palestinian state.

Biden outlined on May 31 a three-phase ceasefire proposal, beginning with Israeli troops pulling out of Gaza’s cities, releasing humanitarian aid, and freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Hamas returning some of the hostages and captured Israeli soldiers.

Under the plan, the warring sides would then discuss a full hostage release and military withdrawal, followed by multilateral talks to rebuild Gaza without rearming Hamas. One week into the US pressure campaign, the world still is waiting for signs that the ceasefire appeal is working.

“First and foremost, the priority is to stop the fighting and stop the violence by any means necessary,” Rharrit told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen during an interview that explored the motives and timing for her resignation from the State Department among other topics.

“I think we can see that there’s been intense suffering and every day that this conflict continues, there are more lives that are lost in Gaza. And I was very pleased to see that the president from the podium was advocating for a ceasefire and saying it is now time for this war to end.

“Of course, it is horrific that it’s taking this long. And I’m also very concerned that we have not stopped our US weapons flow to Israel.

“It does not address the fact that we are still in violation of US and international law, for all intents and purposes, and that we continue to supply deadly ammunition, offensive weaponry to the state of Israel. And that also needs to stop.

“And obviously the issue of a two-state solution and the Palestinian right to self-determination needs to be included in that. But, for the immediate term, we need a ceasefire. We need the weapons to stop dropping and we need the Gazans to be able to breathe and to live.”




Appearing on Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking,” Rharrit said she was pleased to hear President Biden calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, but warned it did not prevent US arms sales to Israel nor commit to creating a Palestinian state. (AN Photo)

Rharrit was neither the first nor the last administration official to quit over the issue. Nearly a month earlier, Annelle Sheline of the State Department’s human rights bureau announced her resignation, and State Department official Josh Paul resigned in October.

A senior official in the US Education Department, Tariq Habash, who is Palestinian-American, stepped down in January, and Lily Greenberg-Call became the latest to go in mid-May when she left her position at the Department of the Interior.

Rharrit said she resigned after failing to influence the administration’s position from within and because the government’s stance made it “impossible” to promote US interests abroad. “I did it, really, to follow my conscience, and I did it, really, in service of my country,” said Rharrit.

“I became a diplomat 18 years ago to help the US promote its interests throughout the world, specifically in the Arab world, and to strengthen ties throughout this particular region. And I felt like I could effectively do that for the last 18 years. This policy unfortunately made it impossible.

“I saw that there was mass killing in Gaza that my government unfortunately was enabling through the continuous flow of US weapons. I could go on and on about the atrocities that we all bear witness to these last few months.

“I did everything I could since Oct. 7 to try to dissuade the US position, to try to help the situation. But after a while, it became clear that the policy was not shifting. And so I decided to submit my resignation, also to speak out on behalf of the US, not as a diplomat, but as an American citizen, to try to help the situation from the outside.”

Challenged by Jensen on whether it was the US policy itself that she objected to or the talking points the administration made her deliver as Arabic-language spokesperson, Rharrit said her opposition was not “based on personal reasons.” Rather it was intended to serve US interest in the face of “growing anti-American sentiment” in the Middle East.

Elaborating on the issue, she said: “The talking points I was expected to deliver to this part of the world really failed to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians. You cannot speak about one people without speaking about the suffering of another people. ... I had intense pushback and I actually refused to do interviews on Gaza.”

She added: “I was opposed to the policy based on my experience and my regional expertise in the Middle East and what I’ve done for my country in this part of the world.”

Rharrit also emphasized that she was actually a political affairs officer (“This is what I have done my entire career”), citing her previous postings as a political and human rights officer in Yemen and deputy political economic chief in Qatar.

“My latest position was as spokesperson and I was the one that was supposed to go out on Arab television and promote this policy. I did not become a diplomat to promote a war and I certainly didn’t become a diplomat to promote a plausible genocide.

“So, from the very beginning there were major concerns that I made very clear about our talking points that they were, indeed, dehumanizing to the Palestinians, that they did not acknowledge the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, that they tried to gloss over the suffering of Palestinians.

“And why I made that point is that, as spokespeople, our job was not just to be communicators; our job was to be effective communicators. And what I was documenting on a daily basis, and reporting back to Washington, was that what we were saying was creating anti-American sentiment. Generating a backlash. And that, in itself, was not in the interests of the US.”

Israel launched its retaliatory assault in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack, which saw some 1,200 people killed and 240 taken hostage. Over the course of the eight-month conflict, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials.

Asked by Jensen why it took so long — and the deaths of so many civilians — before she “developed a conscience” and resigned, Rharrit said she had hoped to influence the administration’s stance from within by communicating the sentiments of the Arab street.

“I believed in my government. I continue to believe in my government despite all of it. And I felt it was my duty and my responsibility to stay on and make my voice heard,” she said.

“Part of what I did as spokesperson was generate daily reports back to Washington covering pan-Arab media — not just traditional media but (also) social media. And we all have been witnessing what has been happening on Arab social media, specifically everything that has been coming out of Gaza.

“I needed and I wanted Washington to see this and I sent those images that were going viral, of the toddlers being killed, of the children being burnt. I sent these images to Washington to wake up their conscience as well to show them that Americans were being blamed for this, not just the Israelis, and that is fundamentally not in the US interest.

“I felt it was my duty as an American diplomat to stay on and do it and say that. But, unfortunately, as you said, it became abundantly clear that there were no red lines and it was intensely disheartening, day after day, week after week, month after month, to see that we would continue to send more and more arms.

“And I would stress, that is in violation of US law in addition to international law. And that is why I eventually submitted my resignation after countless conversations internally, which basically made me feel like no matter what I would do, no matter what anybody else would do, the position wasn’t changing.”




A woman and child walk among debris, aftermath of Israeli strikes at the area, where Israeli hostages were rescued on Saturday, as Palestinian death toll rises to 274, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. (Reuters)

Although they did not resign in “any coordinated manner,” Rharrit said she was in regular contact with other former administration officials who quit over the issue and who hope to continue to change attitudes in Washington.

Rharrit concurred that the stance adopted by the Biden administration could radicalize a generation of Muslim and Arab youth, potentially creating a Hamas 2.0 capable of replicating attacks like the one that befell Israel on Oct. 7.

“This was my argument for months, every single day, that, again if you want to even ignore the plight of the Palestinians, even if you are choosing to not acknowledge their humanity, this is not in the interests of the Israeli people, because all this will do is generate an endless cycle of violence, and this cycle of revenge,” she said.

“And that does not serve Israeli interests and it certainly does not serve the US. It will continue to destabilize the Middle East for generations to come. All the countries in this region will have to deal with that.

“Violence is not the answer. Bombs are not the answer. A political solution which actually recognizes the dignity and the humanity of the Palestinians, establishes a state of self-determination for the Palestinians, that is the only solution to this, and the only thing that really can counter extremism. And we’ve seen that. And that’s what we need to get to, that type of political resolution.”

Of course, Washington’s stance on Gaza could soon change if Biden fails to secure a second term in November’s presidential election and his Republican rival Donald Trump returns to the White House.

Whatever the outcome, Rharrit expects Gaza will weigh heavily on the election.
“I think it will weigh intensely,” she said. “Because I think young Americans have been consuming all of this carnage on their phones and they’ve risen up. It’s awakened their consciousness not just in terms of Gaza, but in terms of so many injustices in this world.

“And they’re seeing through a lot that the government has sort of tried to promote and they’re demanding a change. They’re demanding social change. And it doesn’t matter what walks of life.

“And I want to stress this, that a lot of this movement, it’s not about an us vs. them narrative. Not at all. People that are supporting the Palestinians in Gaza come from all faiths, all backgrounds. And it’s for the sake of humanity and nothing else.”

 

 


Four killed, several wounded by gunfire near mosque in Oman: Police 

Four killed, several wounded by gunfire near mosque in Oman: Police 
Updated 8 sec ago
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Four killed, several wounded by gunfire near mosque in Oman: Police 

Four killed, several wounded by gunfire near mosque in Oman: Police 

RIYADH: Four people were killed and several wounded by gunfire in the vicinity of a mosque in Oman’s Wadi Al-Kabir, the Omani Police said on X early Tuesday.

“All security measures have been taken to deal with the situation. Evidence-gathering and investigation procedures will continue,” the police said.

The omani force expressed condolences to the families of the victims and wished the injured a speedy recovery. 


US military confirms Houthi attacks on vessels in Red Sea

US military confirms Houthi attacks on vessels in Red Sea
Updated 12 min 30 sec ago
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US military confirms Houthi attacks on vessels in Red Sea

US military confirms Houthi attacks on vessels in Red Sea

WASHINGTON: Houthis launched multiple attacks in the Red Sea against MT Bentley I, which was carrying vegetable oil from Russia to China, and also attacked the Chios Lion tanker ship, the U.S. military said on X on Monday.
 

 


Israeli drone strike along Lebanon-Syria border kills Syrian businessman close to the government

Vehicles drive along a road, on the day of the parliamentary elections, in Damascus, Syria July 15, 2024. (REUTERS)
Vehicles drive along a road, on the day of the parliamentary elections, in Damascus, Syria July 15, 2024. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 July 2024
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Israeli drone strike along Lebanon-Syria border kills Syrian businessman close to the government

Vehicles drive along a road, on the day of the parliamentary elections, in Damascus, Syria July 15, 2024. (REUTERS)
  • Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in its northern neighbor, has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but it rarely acknowledges them

BEIRUT: An Israeli drone strike on a car Monday near the Lebanon-Syria border killed a prominent Syrian businessman who was sanctioned by the United States and had close ties to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to pro-government media and an official from an Iran-backed group.
Mohammed Baraa Katerji was killed when a drone strike hit his car near the area of Saboura, a few kilometers or miles inside Syria after apparently crossing from Lebanon. Israel’s air force has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in recent years, mainly targeting members of Iran-backed groups and Syria’s military. But it has been rare to hit personalities from within the government.
The strike also came as Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group have been exchanging fire on an almost daily basis since early October, after the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
An official from an Iran-backed group said that Katerji was killed instantly while in his SUV on the highway linking Lebanon with Syria. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
The pro-government Al-Watan daily quoted unnamed “sources” as saying that Katerji, 48, was killed in a “Zionist drone strike on his car.” It gave no further details.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based opposition war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that Katerji was killed while in a car with Lebanese license plates, adding that he was apparently targeted because he used to fund the “Syrian resistance” against Israel in the Golan Heights, as well as his links to Iran-backed groups in Syria.
Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in its northern neighbor, has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of Syria in recent years, but it rarely acknowledges them.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, sanctioned Katerji in 2018 as Assad’s middleman to trade oil with the Daesh group and for facilitating weapons shipments from Iraq to Syria.
The US Treasury declined Associated Press requests for comment. The sanctions imposed on Katerji were authorized under an Obama-era executive order issued in 2011 that prohibits certain transactions with Syria. A search of the OFAC database indicates that the sanctions were still in effect against Katerji and his firm at the time of his death.
OFAC said in 2018 that Katerji was responsible for import and export activities in Syria and assisted with transporting weapons and ammunition under the pretext of importing and exporting food items. These shipments were overseen by the US­ designated Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, according to OFAC.
It added that the Syria-based Katerji Company is a trucking company that has also shipped weapons from Iraq to Syria. Additionally, in a 2016 trade deal between the government of Syria and IS, the Katerji Company was identified as the exclusive agent for providing supplies to IS-controlled areas, including oil and other commodities.
Katerji and his brother, Hussam — widely referred to in Syria as the “Katerji brothers” — got involved in oil business a few years after the country’s conflict began in March 2011. Hussam Katerji is a former member of Syria’s parliament.
 

 


Israel waging ‘war of revenge’ on Palestinian prisoners: PA minister

Israel waging ‘war of revenge’ on Palestinian prisoners: PA minister
Updated 16 July 2024
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Israel waging ‘war of revenge’ on Palestinian prisoners: PA minister

Israel waging ‘war of revenge’ on Palestinian prisoners: PA minister
  • Accounts of alleged mistreatment including torture, rape and other sexual abuses in Israeli jails have all been denied by Israeli authorities

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority’s prisoners affairs minister on Monday accused Israel of waging an abusive “war of revenge” against Palestinian detainees since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
Accounts of alleged mistreatment including torture, rape and other sexual abuses in Israeli jails have all been denied by Israeli authorities.
“Israel has been waging a war of revenge against prisoners within the walls of prisons and detention centers since the first day of the decision to go to war against Gaza,” said the PA’s Prisoners’ Affairs Authority head Qadura Fares.
Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, he added that Palestinian prisoners were treated as “hostages” and the mistreatment was part of the “pressure.”
The authority’s lawyer Khaled MaHajjna denounced abuses which he said he had been told of when he visited detained Gaza journalists Mohammed Arab and Tariq Abed at the Ofer detention center near Ramallah.
MaHajjna said he was told how guards forced one prisoner to “lay on his stomach naked and then a fire extinguisher tube was inserted into his buttocks and the fire extinguisher was turned on.”
He said he was told how other inmates had “electric prods” used on their bodies.
In parallel to increasing complaints by Palestinians, some Israeli rights groups are fighting for a court order to close Sde Teiman, a desert detention camp just for detainees during Israel’s war with militant group Hamas.
The Israeli military said it “rejects outright allegations concerning systematic abuse of detainees in the ‘Sde Teiman’ detention facility, including allegations of sexually abusing detainees.” It also said that it acts within international law.
The lawyer said prisoners were handcuffed when they ate and that meals consisted of 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of bread or tomatoes with some milk.
MaHajjna quoted Arab as saying that he saw one handcuffed prisoner die after being beaten for demanding medical treatment. He said about 100 detainees had diseases and wounds in desperate need of treatment.
He alleged that some prisoners had their hands bound before dogs were then set upon them.
Five Israeli rights groups have gone to court over conditions at Sde Teiman.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), one of the five, said that the high court on Monday ordered the government to respond within three days to the original petition filed in May.
ACRI, Physicians for Human Rights, HaMoked, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Gisha have demanded the closure of Sde Teiman, saying that “severe violations of detainees’ rights” make imprisonment at the facility “unconstitutional and untenable.”
The government has not commented on the case.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, around 9,600 Palestinians are in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention which allows the military to keep detainees for long periods without being charged or produced in court.
The war started with Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 38,664 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.


US voices concern to Israeli officials after Gaza strikes

US voices concern to Israeli officials after Gaza strikes
Updated 16 July 2024
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US voices concern to Israeli officials after Gaza strikes

US voices concern to Israeli officials after Gaza strikes
  • The visit comes several few days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the US Congress on July 24
  • Israel has killed at least 38,584 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Gaza health ministry

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with two senior Israeli officials Monday and voiced worry over recent deadly strikes by Israel in the Gaza Strip, his spokesman said.
The Israeli army has launched several deadly attacks in recent days including on a refugee camp and a UN-run school that was being used as a shelter. In response, Hamas said it was pulling out of ceasefire negotiations, causing prospects for a truce and hostage release deal to dwindle.
Blinken received Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi “to express our serious concern about the recent civilian casualties in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
On Saturday, Israeli strikes killed more than 90 people in the Al-Mawasi camp near Khan Yunis, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said. In May, the camp was declared a safe humanitarian zone by the Israeli military, which told civilians to evacuate to it.
Israel said it had been targeting Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif, one of Israel’s most wanted men for decades, and Rafa Salama, the Islamist movement’s commander in Khan Yunis, believed by Israel to be one of the masterminds of the October 7 attack that triggered the current war.
A Hamas official said Sunday that Deif was “well and directly overseeing” operations, though doubts remained. The two Israeli officials told Blinken that “they do not have certainty yet” about Deif’s fate, according to Miller.
The discussions also focused on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, humanitarian aid for Gaza and post-war plans, he said.
The visit comes several few days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the US Congress on July 24.
“We continue to hear from Israel directly that they want to reach a ceasefire and that they’re committed to the proposal that they put forward,” Miller said.
The United States has strongly defended Israel’s right to defend itself after the October 7 attacks by Hamas, in which 1,195 people, mostly civilians, were killed, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
During the attack, Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza including 42 the military says are dead.
But Biden has been under mounting political pressure over the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s military offensive has killed at least 38,584 people, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Gaza health ministry.