Palestinian mission shuttered in Washington

The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2018
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Palestinian mission shuttered in Washington

  • State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.
  • The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords.

WASHINGTON: The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived.
State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.
It was the latest point of tension between the administration of President Donald Trump and the Palestinians, who cut off contact with Washington after Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
“Today is the deadline” for closure, Husam Zomlot, who headed the Palestine Liberation Organization mission, said in a Facebook video addressed to “the great people of America.”
The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, the first agreements between the rival Israelis and Palestinians which promised to end decades of deadly conflict, but which are now deadlocked and tarnished by soured relations.
Zomlot on Thursday denounced the “unfortunate and vindictive” US move to close the Palestinian mission.
“It was unsurprising to us the Trump administration gave us only two choices: either we lose our relationship with the administration or we lose our rights as a nation,” he said.
“Our president, leadership and the people of Palestine opted for our rights.”
Zomlot said the Palestinians were “extremely saddened by the current state of affairs.”
Addressing the “millions upon millions” of Americans who remain friends of Palestine, he hoped that “may we soon return to continue to be a symbol and a reflection of the historic relationship between the Palestinian and the American people.”
Prior to ordering the mission’s closure, the United States cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and canceled its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The move to not grant the mission its normal six-month renewal came after Palestinian leaders allegedly breached the arrangement by calling for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Palestinian leaders say Trump’s White House is blatantly biased in favor of Israel and is seeking to blackmail them into accepting its terms.
Under Trump, the United States is further away than ever from playing its traditional role as mediator in the long-simmering Middle East peace process.
But Trump, a foreign policy novice, promised upon taking office to help broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Wait until the peace plan is released, and when it’s released, please read it cover to cover and judge the plan on its merits — not on rumors, not on speculation, not on news reports, but on what’s in it,” one of the US negotiators, Jason Greenblatt, said Thursday on Twitter.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, however, that the administration is “not ready to unveil” the plan but remains optimistic.
“There needs to be a different kind of approach. Nothing has worked so we’re trying a different approach,” she said.


India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

Updated 23 September 2018
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India launches world’s biggest health care scheme, dubbed as ‘Modicare’ 

  •  “Modicare” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to half a billion people
  • The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a mega health care scheme, touted as the world’s biggest public health scheme, on Sunday in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. 

The National Health Protection Scheme, popularly known as “Modicare,” plans to provide around $7,000 of medical coverage to 100 million families or 500 million people, accounting for around 41 percent of people who fall below the poverty line.

 “The aim is to provide medical care to the people standing at the very margin of society. It has been a dream to provide health care to the needy and that dream is coming true today,” Modi said in a speech after inaugurating the scheme.

 “This is the first time in the world that a health care program is being launched where an individual will have an insurance cover of 5 lakh rupees ($7,000).”

The program has been launched in 400 districts out of 640 in India.

The intervention is meant to take the burden off the government hospitals and bring the expensive private hospitals within the reach of poor people.

For Ganesh Yadav, a daily wage earner, the “Ayushman Bharat Yojna,” as the program is officially called, is “a good move by the government if it really works.

 “Last year I spent more than 50,000 rupees ($720) in getting a kidney stone removed in a private hospital and I am still struggling to pay back the debt that I incurred. If the Modicare really works then poor people like me will not have to worry about the expenses in health care,” said Yadav, who lives in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi.

But one doctor raises doubts about the success of the program.

“An earlier health scheme also had the provision for insurance cover but the out-of-cost expenses of the poor people could not come down. There is a lack of clarity on this issue in the new scheme as well,” says Dr. Shakil, a cardiologist based in Patna, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
 
Talking to Arab News, he asks: “How will you identify the real beneficiaries? Besides, the scheme will not build public health infrastructure but give benefit to the private players, which I think is the real drawback of this policy.
 
“The government is in a hurry to launch the scheme and not many preparations have gone into it before inaugurating it.”

Economist Venkat Narayana questions the budgetary provisions for the scheme. “Under the scheme 60 percent of expenses would be borne by the central government and 40 percent by the state government. But the poorer states cannot afford the huge sums involved in the expenditure,” says Narayana, who also runs NGOs for poor people in Warangal district in the South Indian state of Telangana.

“My experience suggests that such a program does not address the real health care needs of the people living in villages and smaller cities. The money that the government plans to spend on insurance can be spent in expanding and enriching the medical infrastructure across the country.”

But Nirala, a political activist associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, feels that “this is a visionary intervention in the health care system of the country.

“Modi has tried to address the gap that exists in medical system of the country by bringing private hospitals within the reach of the poor masses,” he told Arab News.

Political analyst Pawan Pratyay, however, feels that Prime Minister Modi "has played a big political gamble in the election year by launching this attractive looking and sounding health care policy.

“The government has been cutting the health budget year after year. By bringing this pro-poor scheme Modi wants to change the pro-rich image that he has acquired over the years and attract the voters from the economically marginalized demography.”