Status of Jerusalem to feature prominently in Palestinian Authority talks with Biden: PLO secretary-general

In this March 27, 2022 photo, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas receives US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at his headquarters in Ramallah. (PPO handout via AFP)
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Updated 12 July 2022

Status of Jerusalem to feature prominently in Palestinian Authority talks with Biden: PLO secretary-general

  • Palestinian leadership to press the US president on his pledge to reopen consulate in Jerusalem, closed by Trump
  • PLO secretary-general warns Palestinian leadership could be ‘forced into options it does not wish’ if talks fail to yield results

AMMAN, Jordan: The status of Jerusalem will be high on the agenda when US President Joe Biden meets officials from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank this week, according to Hussein Al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.

“When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem, we have a number of important aspects that we need to discuss with the US administration,” he told Arab News ahead of Biden’s high-profile trip. The American president’s tour of Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia from July 13-16 will include a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

“We want to ensure respect for the status quo of all Christian and Muslim holy sites in the city of Jerusalem,” said Al-Sheikh, who was appointed secretary-general of the PLO in May.

In addition, he said, the Palestinian leadership will press Biden on his pledge to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which for decades functioned as a de facto US embassy for the Palestinians.

“Mr. Biden made the promise during his election campaign and that promise was repeated numerous times to us,” said Al-Sheikh. “It is high time that the US carry out their promise.”

In a recent interview with a Palestinian newspaper, Al-Sheikh said the US had also offered to open a consulate in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank, and even suggested the appointment of a special US envoy to focus on the Palestinian issue. However, the Palestinian leadership turned down the offer, he said, and instead reiterated the need to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem.

The Trump administration closed the consulate in one of a series of controversial decisions that included official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv.

Under Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly promised to reopen the Jerusalem consulate, which was established in 1844, long before the creation of the state of Israel. The Biden administration has already taken steps to improve ties with the Palestinians, in part by restoring US assistance to the Palestinian Authority and funding for the UN agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, which was cut by Trump. It has also looked into reopening the Palestinian mission to Washington, also closed under Trump, although there are congressional hurdles that need to be overcome.

In the meantime, US authorities recently announced the restoration of a line of communication that was blocked by the Trump administration. It means that Palestinians can deal directly with the US State Department in Washington rather than first having to go through the American ambassador to Israel.

However, this falls far short of Biden’s pledges — and Palestinian demands — for the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem. And as the US strives to boost defense ties and promote the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states, Palestinians hold out little hope of a breakthrough in the peace process or any significant changes of policy in Washington.

Al-Sheikh said the US had promised to remove the PLO from its list of foreign terrorist organizations and to open a regular diplomatic mission in Washington. However, these promises also appear to have fallen by the wayside.

Biden will meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials during his regional tour but, according to Al-Sheikh, there is currently no dialogue taking place between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, in part because of the current Israeli political deadlock.

“Relations with the occupation leaders on political issues are almost nonexistent because at present there is no Israeli partner that is willing to discuss the execution of signed agreements and the two-state solution,” he said.

“There is no political horizon for Palestinians, even though the Biden administration talks regularly about finding ways to move the political process (forward), based on the two-state solution. This is important, to give the people of Palestine a ray of hope that things are moving in this process in accordance with international law.

“Israel must be held accountable and there must be a serious international effort to force Israel to abide by international law when it comes to the Palestinian cause.”

If Biden fails to keep his promises and the peace process remains stalled, Al-Sheikh predicted the situation could deteriorate further.

“If there are no concrete results from Biden’s visit regarding the need for a political horizon, that will mean that the visit will be considered a failure and we will all be forced to go into uncharted and uncomfortable territory,” he said.

“I hope we will not have to go there. We desperately need and want a serious breakthrough. But if that fails, I cannot exclude the possibility that the Palestinian leadership will be forced into options it does not wish to move into.

“The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, warned last fall at the UN that some tough decisions will have to be made within a year if there is no process to end the occupation. The Palestinian leadership had taken a number of decisions that have been put on hold, based on a request from friends and awaiting the results of the Biden visit.”

Pressed by Arab News, Al-Sheikh would not rule out the possibility that a decision regarding withdrawal of the recognition of Israel could be on the table.

“The Palestinian people yearn for freedom and independence and a halt to this settlement enterprise and the violations of our sovereignty,” he said. “Ultimately, Palestinians want an end to the occupation.”

He insisted the Palestinians are primarily concerned with political goals, not economic partnerships.

“The Palestinian cause is a political one that requires a political horizon,” he said. “We need political solutions and not an economic peace by way of economic projects.”

Whatever the outcome of Biden’s visit, Al-Sheikh said all sides must proceed with steadfastness and patience, because the situation is extremely sensitive.

“This is not the time for speeches and slogans,” he said. “The coming period will be exceedingly difficult and we need to insist on our political goals and provide our people with their aspirations for an end to the Israeli occupation and the need to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its capital. 

“We hope to reach that goal in the shortest and least costly way.”



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Iran morality police status unclear after ‘closure’ comment

Updated 05 December 2022

Iran morality police status unclear after ‘closure’ comment

  • Iran’s chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri earlier said the morality police ‘had been closed’

CAIRO: An Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that Iran’s government is “paying attention to the people’s real demands,” state media reported, a day after a top official suggested that the country’s morality police whose conduct helped trigger months of protests has been shut down.
The role of the morality police, which enforces veiling laws, came under scrutiny after a detainee, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, died in its custody in mid-September. Amini had been held for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress codes. Her death unleashed a wave of unrest that has grown into calls for the downfall of Iran’s clerical rulers.
Iran’s chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri said on Saturday the morality police “had been closed,” the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. The agency did not provide details, and state media hasn’t reported such a purported decision.
In a report carried by ISNA on Sunday, lawmaker Nezamoddin Mousavi signaled a less confrontational approach toward the protests.
“Both the administration and parliament insisted that paying attention to the people’s demand that is mainly economic is the best way for achieving stability and confronting the riots,” he said, following a closed meeting with several senior Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi.
Mousavi did not address the reported closure of the morality police.
The Associated Press has been unable to confirm the current status of the force, established in 2005 with the task of arresting people who violate the country’s Islamic dress code.
Since September, there has been a reported decline in the number of morality police officers across Iranian cities and an increase in women walking in public without headscarves, contrary to Iranian law.
Montazeri, the chief prosecutor, provided no further details about the future of the morality police or if its closure was nationwide and permanent. However he added that Iran’s judiciary will ‘‘continue to monitor behavior at the community level.’’
In a report by ISNA on Friday, Montazeri was quoted as saying that the government was reviewing the mandatory hijab law. “We are working fast on the issue of hijab and we are doing our best to come up with a thoughtful solution to deal with this phenomenon that hurts everyone’s heart,” said Montazeri, without offering details.
Saturday’s announcement could signal an attempt to appease the public and find a way to end the protests in which, according to rights groups, at least 470 people were killed. More than 18,000 people have been arrested in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations.
Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said Montazeri’s statement about closing the morality police could be an attempt to pacify domestic unrest without making real concessions to protesters.
‘‘The secular middle class loathes the organization (morality police) for restricting personal freedoms,” said Alfoneh. On the other hand, the “underprivileged and socially conservative class resents how they conveniently keep away from enforcing the hijab legislation” in wealthier areas of Iran’s cities.
When asked about Montazeri’s statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian gave no direct answer. ‘‘Be sure that in Iran, within the framework of democracy and freedom, which very clearly exists in Iran, everything is going very well,’’ Amirabdollahian said, speaking during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia.
The anti-government demonstrations, now in their third month, have shown no sign of stopping despite a violent crackdown. Protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women. Young women continue to play a leading role in the protests, stripping off the mandatory Islamic headscarf to express their rejection of clerical rule.
After the outbreak of the protests, the Iranian government hadn’t appeared willing to heed the protesters’ demands. It has continued to crack down on protesters, including sentencing at least seven arrested protesters to death. Authorities continue to blame the unrest on hostile foreign powers, without providing evidence.
But in recent days, Iranian state media platforms seemed to be adopting a more conciliatory tone, expressing a desire to engage with the problems of the Iranian people.

Iranian city shops shut after strike call, judiciary blames ‘rioters’

Updated 05 December 2022

Iranian city shops shut after strike call, judiciary blames ‘rioters’

  • 1500tasvir Twitter account shared videos of shut stores in key commercial areas like Tehran’s Bazaar
  • Amusement park in Tehran was earlier closed because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly

DUBAI:  Iranian shops shut their doors in several cities on Monday, following calls for a three-day nationwide general strike from protesters seeking the fall of clerical rulers, with the head of the judiciary blaming “rioters” for threatening shopkeepers.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide unrest following the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 in police custody, posing one of the strongest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police for flouting the strict hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarfs.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday that an amusement park at a Tehran shopping center was closed by the judiciary because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly.
The reformist-leaning Hammihan newspaper said that morality police had increased their presence in cities outside Tehran, where the force has been less active over recent weeks.
Iran’s public prosecutor on Saturday was cited by the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency as saying that the morality police had been disbanded. But there was no confirmation from the Interior Ministry and state media said the public prosecutor was not responsible for overseeing the force.
Last week, Vice President for Women’s Affairs Ensieh Khazali said that the hijab was part of the Islamic Republic’s general law and that it guaranteed women’s social movement and security.
In the shop protests, 1500tasvir, a Twitter account with 380,000 followers focused on the protests, shared videos on Monday of shut stores in key commercial areas, such as Tehran’s Bazaar, and other large cities such as Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Shiraz.
Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
The head of Iran’s judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, said that “rioters” were threatening shopkeepers to close their businesses and added they would be swiftly dealt with by the judiciary and security bodies. Ejei added that protesters condemned to death would soon be executed.
The Revolutionary Guards issued a statement praising the judiciary and calling on it to swiftly and decisively issue a judgment against “defendants accused of crimes against the security of the nation and Islam.”
Security forces would show no mercy toward “rioters, thugs, terrorists,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted the guards as saying.
Witnesses speaking to Reuters said riot police and the Basij militia had been heavily deployed in central Tehran.
The semi-official Fars news agency confirmed that a jewelry shop belonging to former Iranian football legend Ali Daei was sealed by authorities, following its decision to close down for the three days of the general strike.
Similar footage by 1500tasvir and other activist accounts was shared of closed shops in smaller cities like Bojnourd, Kerman, Sabzevar, Ilam, Ardabil and Lahijan.
Kurdish Iranian rights group Hengaw also reported that 19 cities had joined the general strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country’s Kurdish population live.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest since the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by the morality police for flouting hijab rules.

‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film

Updated 05 December 2022

‘Farha’: Palestinians reject Israeli backlash against Nakba film

  • Netflix release, directed by Jordan’s Darin J. Sallam, tells 1948 story of a girl in a village overrun by Israeli militias
  • Jordan chose ‘Farha’ to represent it in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film award during next edition of the premiere film event

RAMALLAH: Palestinians are defending the newly released movie “Farha” following an Israeli backlash against the film’s depiction of events in 1948.

As Netflix faces criticism for airing the film, activists advocating the Palestinian cause are taking the initiative to support its release.

The Jordanian film depicts the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948, known as the Nakba.

Screening of the film has caused widespread Israeli anger with threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions.

Israeli ministers and officials have accused the film’s creators of promoting a false narrative and inciting violence against Israeli soldiers.

The movie, directed by Darin J. Sallam, a Jordanian woman of Palestinian origin, tells the story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who witnesses the murder of her entire family, including an infant, when Israeli militias overrun her village and execute civilians during the Nakba. The girl dreams of moving from her Palestinian village to the city to continue her education.

The village’s exposure to the invasion prompts the girl’s father to hide her in a small room, and her life changes dramatically in a matter of days.

The film, inspired by real events, was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021.

Jordan chose “Farha” to represent it in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film award during the next edition of the world’s premiere film event.

The film was launched on Netflix on Dec. 1.

Israeli officials claim that Farha “presents a false narrative” about the Nakba, in which 760,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homelands.

Prominent Palestinian poet and writer Mutwakel Taha told Arab News that the reason for the Israeli anger was because the country’s actions in the Nakba had been exposed to the world through the film.

“They want to monopolize the victim image alone. So their madness is because the Palestinians appear as victims of the Israelis,” Taha told Arab News.

Taha said that Palestinians are betting on cultural solutions after the failure of efforts to reach a political settlement with Israel.

A Palestinian narrative of events during the Nakba frightens Israeli, said Taha.

Palestinian writer Tahsin Yaqeen agreed.

Yaqeen told Arab News that Israel considers every artistic or literary work from the side of Palestine as an attack, adding that Israel’s narrative had been challenged and undermined through the work of Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappe.

Shlomo Sand, another prominent historian who has questioned Israel’s actions, has also challenged prominent narratives, Yaqeen said, adding: “We do not need as Palestinians to explain what happened in 1948 and before and after that, because the world knows very well what happened.”

Israelis should view “Farha” and listen to the stories of Palestinians, even if they do not agree, said Yaqeen.

The writer asked: “If the Israelis are not believing what is narrated by the ‘Farha’ film, would they not ask themselves today, what is their government and army doing in the West Bank?”

Yaqeen said that the Israeli reaction to the film was based on “a national rejection because it violated the Israeli narrative.

“It is not artistic criticism of the film’s narrative.”

Sireen Jabarin, an Israeli-Arab activist from Umm Al-Fahm, told Arab News: “Israeli authorities limiting freedom of art is not new, but, interestingly, the Israeli policies in this direction are tending toward racism and extremism and not accepting the narration of the other party, and even rejecting any action that explains the truth to the Palestinians about what happened decades ago.”

An Israeli intellectual who opposes the release of “Farha” told Arab News: “Netflix is a global network and has many subscribers in Israel. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israeli subscribers have canceled their subscriptions to Netflix during the past few days in protest of its marketing of the Jordanian film ‘Farha,’ which lacks balance and objectivity, and neglects to mention the Israeli point of view.”

Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced the release of the film.

Lieberman said: “It is insane that Netflix decided to broadcast a film whose sole purpose is to present a false claim and incite against Israeli soldiers.”

Lieberman added: “We will not allow the reputation of Israeli army soldiers to be tarnished.”

The minister said that he had directed the leadership at the Ministry of Finance to take measures to withdraw the budget of the Jaffa Theater, which chose to screen the film.

Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said that the screening of the film in Israeli cinemas was a “shame,” adding that “Farha” promotes “lies and slander.”

Darin J. Sallam and producers Dima Azar and Aya Jardaneh condemned criticism of the film.

They criticized a social media campaign targeting the film’s rating on IMDb, attempts to stop the screening of the film at Jaffa Theater and threats to cancel Netflix subscriptions.

They also condemned hate messages, harassment, accusations and bullying on social media.

The trio said that they would not tolerate any harmful threats against any member of the “Farha” team.

“These attempts to silence Arab women and filmmakers is a stripping of humanity and freedom of expression,” they said.

“The film’s existence is a reality, and our existence is a reality. We have been robbed of a lot, but our voices will not be taken away.”

Azar and Jardaneh stressed their support for Sallam’s decision to “tell this human and personal story, and share it with the world, and to realize this creative vision cinematically without any restrictions.”

Man killed during Israeli raid in West Bank – Palestinian health officials

Updated 05 December 2022

Man killed during Israeli raid in West Bank – Palestinian health officials

  • It was the latest death in a recent surge of violence in the territory
  • Israeli military has been conducting daily raids throughout the West Bank since the spring

JERUSALEM: Palestinian health officials said a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli fire during a military raid in the occupied West Bank on Monday.
It was the latest death in a recent surge of violence in the territory. The Israeli military has been conducting daily raids throughout the West Bank since the spring.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that soldiers entered the Deheishe refugee camp near the city of Bethlehem early on Monday, sparking clashes with a group of local residents. The soldiers then fired tear gas and opened fire at the crowd, it said.
The agency said Omar Manaa, 22, was killed, while six other Palestinians were wounded. Four people were arrested.
There was no immediate Israeli comment.
Rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions have made 2022 the deadliest year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the long-running conflict since 2006. Further escalation appears likely, as the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in the coming weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
More than 140 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting this year. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting Israeli army incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Monday’s deadly shooting came against the backdrop of months of Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank, prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the spring that killed 19 people. The military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel’s open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year. A recent wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets killed an additional nine people.


Jailed Sudan ex-president Bashir transferred to hospital – lawyer

Updated 05 December 2022

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.