Palestinians eye UN membership vote soon as US pushes back

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour (center), shown here with Yemen's Ambassador Abdullah Ali Fadhel Al-Saadi and Algeria's UN Representative Amar Bendjama, is pushing for a vote in the UN Security Council on April 5, 2024 to recognize his nation as a full member state next month. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 April 2024

Palestinians eye UN membership vote soon as US pushes back

  • Any request to become a UN member state must first pass a vote by the Security Council , where Israel’s ally the US and four other countries wield vetoes
  • After getting the UNSC's approval, the resolution needs to be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinian delegation to the United Nations is pushing for a vote to be recognized as a full member state next month, Ambassador Riyad Mansour said Wednesday, a move opposed by the United States.
“We are seeking admission. That is our natural and legal right,” Mansour said, adding that he was pushing for an April 18 vote at the Security Council.
“Everyone is saying ‘two-state solution,’ then what is the logic of denying us to become a member state?” he added.
Any request to become a UN member state must first pass a vote by the Security Council — where Israel’s ally the United States and four other countries wield vetoes — and then be endorsed by a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas originally launched the statehood application in 2011. It was not considered by the Security Council, but the General Assembly the following year granted a more limited observer status to the “State of Palestine.”
The Palestinian Authority submitted a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking for the Security Council to reconsider on Tuesday.

Mansour’s comments came as the United States earlier on Wednesday voiced its opposition for full Palestinian membership, saying it backed statehood but after negotiations with Israel.
“We support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“That is something that should be done through direct negotiations through the parties, something we are pursuing at this time, and not at the United Nations,” he said, without explicitly saying that the United States would veto the bid if it reaches the Security Council.
Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been actively engaged in establishing “security guarantees” for Israel as part of the groundwork for a Palestinian state.
President Joe Biden’s administration has increasingly signaled support for a Palestinian state, with a reformed Palestinian Authority in charge both in the West Bank and Gaza, as it looks for a way to end the ongoing war in which Israel is seeking to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for decades resisted a Palestinian state and leads a far-right government with members hostile to the Palestinian Authority, which holds limited autonomy in sections of the West Bank.
Under longstanding US legislation, the United States is required to cut off funding to UN agencies that give full membership to a Palestinian state.
The law has been applied selectively. The United States cut off funding in 2011 and later withdrew from the UN cultural and scientific agency UNESCO, but it rejoined it last year under President Joe Biden.
Robert Wood, the US deputy representative to the United Nations, said that recognition of a Palestinian state by the world body as a whole would mean “funding would be cut off to the UN system, so we’re bound by US law.”
“Our hope is that they don’t pursue that, but that’s up to them,” Wood said of the Palestinians’ bid.

Battleground: Jerusalem
The biblical battle for the Holy City



ICC members demand end to ‘intimidation’ so court can carry out work

Updated 15 sec ago

ICC members demand end to ‘intimidation’ so court can carry out work

  • Group of 93 states issues statement amid reports of Israeli activities against court
  • Call is also in response to the behavior of other countries

LONDON: A group of 93 states has demanded the International Criminal Court be allowed to work “without intimidation” after reports that Israel has been engaged in a nine-year clandestine campaign to undermine it.

In a statement the group said it would work to preserve the court’s “integrity from any political interference and pressure,” amid claims by the office of the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, that it has received threats after he requested arrest warrants for senior Israeli government and Hamas figures, including Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The statement in defense of the ICC, which called on “all states to ensure full cooperation with the court for it to carry out its important mandate,” was drafted by Belgium, Chile, Jordan, Senegal and Slovenia after “eye-opening” revelations about Israeli intelligence operations against the court published in The Guardian. It was also signed by Western states including Germany, France, Canada and the UK.

A diplomatic source told the paper that the story had “made some (diplomats) realise that it’s time to put out some sort of statement from the states that belong to the court, responding to what has now come to light.”

The source added that the statement was not just aimed at the actions of Israeli intelligence agencies but was also a response to the behavior of other states, including a cyberattack on the ICC last year that came during investigations into senior Russian figures accused of involvement or complicity in crimes committed in Ukraine.

The source told The Guardian: “The court is going after some very powerful people, not just in the Palestine investigation, and it’s time to send a message that the state parties are there to defend it.”

Danya Chaikel, the International Federation for Human Rights’ representative to the ICC, said: “This is a unique moment of international solidarity, with 93 ICC states parties standing up for global justice and accountability for mass atrocities. They are collectively opposing the egregious threats to the court from powerful countries including Israel, the US and Russia, and strongly rejecting their efforts to manipulate the rule of law for political gains.”

Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid

Updated 16 June 2024

Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid

  • The pause came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the Rafah city
  • It was one of the heaviest losses for Israel in more than eight months of war against Hamas

GAZA: Gaza saw its first day of relative calm in months Sunday, after Israel’s military said it would “pause” fighting daily around a southern route to facilitate aid flows, following repeated UN warnings of famine in the Palestinian territory.
“Compared with the previous days, today, the first day of Eid Al-Adha, is considered near calm and the calm has prevailed across all of Gaza,” Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defense agency in Hamas-ruled Gaza, told AFP.
He said the exceptions included “some targeting” in Gaza City’s Shujaiya and Zeitun areas, as well as Israeli artillery fire in Rafah, southern Gaza.
AFP correspondents in Gaza’s north and center reported no fighting on Sunday morning, though they reported some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah and an air strike in central Gaza during the early evening.
The military stressed in a statement there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”
The announcement of a “local, tactical pause of military activity” during daylight hours in an area of Rafah came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the far-southern city and three more troops died elsewhere.
It was one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war against Hamas militants.
“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings... It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham Al-Ghura from Gaza City.
The United Nations welcomed the Israeli move, although “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
He called for “further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues” on aid needs.
Laerke told AFP Gazans “urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks.”
“We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza,” he added.
The UN and aid groups have repeatedly voiced alarm over dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip.
This has been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side in early May.
Israel has long defended its efforts to let aid into Gaza including via its Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for failing to distribute them to civilians.
The pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah Al-Din road and then northwards,” a military statement said.
A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.
The announcement came as Muslims the world over mark Eid Al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice.
“This Eid is completely different,” said Umm Muhammad Al-Katri in northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp.
“We’ve lost many people. There’s a lot of destruction. We don’t have the joy we usually have,” she told AFP.
Instead of a cheerful holiday spirit, “I came to the Eid prayers mourning. I’ve lost my son.”
The military said the pause was already in effect as part of efforts to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid” following discussions with the United Nations and other organizations.
The eight soldiers killed Saturday were hit by an explosion as they traveled in an armored vehicle near Rafah, the military said. Troops were engaged in fierce street battles against Palestinian militants there.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the blast was “apparently from an explosive device planted in the area or from the firing of an anti-tank missile.”
Separately, two soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Gaza and another succumbed to wounds from recent fighting.
Abu Obaida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, vowed to “continue our painful strikes against the enemy wherever it may be.”
Saturday’s losses brought the Israeli military’s overall toll to 309 deaths since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences following “this terrible loss” and said that “despite the heavy and unsettling price, we must cling to the goals of the war.”
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian group’s unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The latest toll includes at least 41 deaths over the previous 24 hours, it said.
Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators have been pushing for a new Gaza truce, so far without success.
The only previous truce lasted one week in November and saw many hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, while increased aid flowed into Gaza.
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire — demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan but Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed to a ceasefire, has not publicly endorsed it.
Israel’s hard-line National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Sunday the humanitarian pause announced by the military was part of a “crazy and delusional approach.”
In early November, the United States said Israel had agreed to humanitarian pauses of four hours. One such pause occurred on December 14, COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said at the time.

Netanyahu denounces tactical pauses in Gaza fighting to get in aid

Updated 16 June 2024

Netanyahu denounces tactical pauses in Gaza fighting to get in aid

  • He turned to his military secretary and made it clear that this was unacceptable to him

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized plans announced by the military on Sunday to hold daily tactical pauses in fighting along one of the main roads into Gaza to facilitate aid delivery into the Palestinian enclave.
The military had announced the daily pauses from 0500 GMT until 1600 GMT in the area from the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Salah Al-Din Road and then northwards.
“When the prime minister heard the reports of an 11-hour humanitarian pause in the morning, he turned to his military secretary and made it clear that this was unacceptable to him,” an Israeli official said.
The military clarified that normal operations would continue in Rafah, the main focus of its operation in southern Gaza, where eight soldiers were killed on Saturday.
The reaction from Netanyahu underlined political tensions over the issue of aid coming into Gaza, where international organizations have warned of a growing humanitarian crisis.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads one of the nationalist religious parties in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, denounced the idea of a tactical pause, saying whoever decided it was a “fool” who should lose their job.
The spat was the latest in a series of clashes between members of the coalition and the military over the conduct of the war, now in its ninth month.
It came a week after centrist former general Benny Gantz quit the government, accusing Netanyahu of having no effective strategy in Gaza.
The divisions were laid bare last week in a parliamentary vote on a law on conscripting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant voting against it in defiance of party orders, saying it was insufficient for the needs of the military.
Religious parties in the coalition have strongly opposed conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, drawing widespread anger from many Israelis, which has deepened as the war has gone on.
Lt. General Herzi Halevi, the head of the military, said on Sunday there was a “definite need” to recruit more soldiers from the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community.

Despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire, an agreement to halt the fighting still appears distant, more than eight months since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas fighters on Israel triggered a ground assault on the enclave by Israeli forces.
Since the attack, which killed some 1,200 Israelis and foreigners in Israeli communities, Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health ministry figures, and destroyed much of Gaza.
Although opinion polls suggest most Israelis support the government’s aim of destroying Hamas, there have been widespread protests attacking the government for not doing more to bring home around 120 hostages who are still in Gaza after being taken hostage on Oct. 7.
Meanwhile, Palestinian health officials said seven Palestinians were killed in two air strikes on two houses in Al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza Strip.
As fighting in Gaza has continued, a lower level conflict across the Israel-Lebanon border is now threatening to spiral into a wider war as near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia have escalated.
In a further sign that fighting in Gaza could drag on, Netanyahu’s government said on Sunday it was extending until Aug. 15 the period it would fund hotels and guest houses for residents evacuated from southern Israeli border towns.

Frankly Speaking: Can Lebanon ever have an ‘independent’ president?

Updated 16 June 2024

Frankly Speaking: Can Lebanon ever have an ‘independent’ president?

  • Ziad Hayek explains how he would fix the economy and break the political deadlock without Hezbollah’s support
  • Presidential candidate weighs in on relations with the GCC bloc and whether a war with Israel is now inevitable

DUBAI: People familiar with Lebanon’s sectarian politics and power camps are typically skeptical about the likelihood and success of a truly independent candidate for the presidency — a position that has been vacant since October 2022.

However, Ziad Hayek, who claims to be an independent, says that the current parliamentary climate makes it possible to stand successfully and work effectively as a president representing none of the main political camps.

“The makeup of parliament for the first time in Lebanon is such that it allows us to do that,” said Hayek during an appearance on the Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.”

“The two general factions that are defined by either pro-Hezbollah or against Hezbollah and pro-Western camp or pro-East, these two larger factions are almost equally divided in parliament. And neither side is able or has been able for the past year and a half to get their candidate elected. 

“And so I think that they need to come to terms with that situation. They need to focus on finding a president, a candidate that they can both feel comfortable with, and yet does not belong to either side.”

Challenged by “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen on whether he really stands a chance of success without aligning himself with Hezbollah, Hayek said only an independent could help the country to break with the past.

“The focus that I have today is on making sure that I’m an acceptable candidate to all sides, because all factions have to be comfortable, and I wouldn’t want to be the candidate of either side. That’s why I’m running as an independent candidate,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we are not going to move Lebanon from the mud … unless we really get to understand the issues that all the parties face and air concerns and allay their concerns. So that applies to Hezbollah and it applies to all the other parties.”

Independent presidential candidate Ziad Hayek outlined his political and economic vision for Lebanon during an appearance on the weekly Arab News current affairs program “Frankly Speaking.” (AN Photo)

Hezbollah has significant support among the Shiite population of Lebanon and even among many Maronite Christians, including presidential contender Gebran Bassil — the son-in-law of former President Michel Aoun, who took office thanks to his backing of Hezbollah.

Given the political clout of Hezbollah and Lebanon’s other big parties, can an independent hope to break through? Hayek says it is precisely because these big hitters have consistently failed to get their own candidates elected that an independent can break the deadlock.

“Of course, I do understand that Hezbollah has an influential role in this election,” he said. “I don’t discount that. But so do other parties. Hezbollah has not been able to get its candidate elected so far, and neither have the other parties. 

“Yes, I do understand that people may think that my position is a bit unrealistic simply because Lebanon has not had this type of situation before. But I think it is in this situation that we have the opportunity to break away from the past and look to Lebanon’s future in a different way.”

Hayek is not new to Lebanese politics. In 2006, he joined the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, becoming secretary general of the Republic of Lebanon’s High Council for Privatization and PPP until he was nominated to be president of the World Bank in 2019. 

Having witnessed the devastating 2006 war, the financial crash of late 2019, the economic toll of the pandemic, the destruction of the Beirut port blast of Aug. 4, 2020, the government’s paralysis since October 2022, and now a low-intensity conflict on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, one has to wonder: Why on earth would he want to be president? 

“I want this job because I really feel that this place is one of the best countries in the world with so much potential,” he said. “And yet the political discourse in it has been going in the wrong direction. And I would like to change that. 

“I’m hoping to be able to change the political dialogue, focus more on socio-economic matters, how to develop the country, how to develop its economy, rather than continuing the conversation that usually takes place about ‘this faction wants this guy’ and ‘this faction wants that guy.’

“None of these candidates have presented any program, any vision for the future. So I would like to change the way that the Lebanese public looks at politics in general, and focus on policies.”

Bridging the political divide in Lebanon’s multi-confessional system that emerged after the civil war would be a tall order for any experienced politician with a party machine to back them up.

Hayek is confident that his background in finance, helping governments balance their books and facilitate reform, makes him ideally suited to getting even the bitterest of rivals to work together for the public good.

“I have made a career of being able to work with people that everybody else said: ‘No, you cannot work with this guy. You cannot work with this group,’” he said.

“The Lebanese public in general is really yearning for somebody that can address the needs that it has and the daily needs of the Lebanese citizen, not just the geopolitics of America and Iran and all this conversation that really leads nowhere at the end of the day for the common person on the street.”

A smoke plume rises after rockets fired from south Lebanon landed near Kfar Szold in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on June 14. Fallout from the Gaza war is regularly felt on the Israeli-Lebanon frontier, where deadly cross-border exchanges have escalated. (AFP)

Like it or not, Lebanon’s destiny is tied up in geopolitics. In fact, Hezbollah’s Iranian backers and their Israeli rivals have turned the country into a battlefield in their ongoing shadow war.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel triggered the war in Gaza, Hezbollah has launched daily rocket and drone attacks against Israel’s northern territories to draw fire away from its Hamas allies.

Israel has retaliated with its own air and artillery strikes against southern Lebanon, leading to fears of an escalation that could drag the wider region into a major confrontation.

Asked whether a full-scale war can be averted, sparing Lebanon a devastating Israeli invasion it can ill afford to fight, Hayek said he was hopeful “cooler heads will eventually prevail.” 

“Both the Israelis and the Lebanese, including Hezbollah, have to realize, all of us, that these wars lead nowhere,” he said. “It’s just destruction on both sides. And at the end of the day, this conflict has gone on for decades. And all these wars end with some compromise and some agreement on a ceasefire that lasts for a certain period of time. 

“We need to move towards finding a lasting peace. And the makings of that were already starting to happen when Lebanon reached an agreement on the delineation of the maritime borders with Israel. There was work that was continuing, helped along by the Americans.

“Unfortunately, this Gaza situation came up and changed things. But I think when the dust settles, we do need to go back to working on the task of making sure that we build a lasting peace. 

“For now, it is a terrible situation. There is no doubt about it. I think that cooler heads will eventually prevail as they always do in every conflict. And we will see some agreement between the parties.”

Nevertheless, the rhetoric from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has continued to grow more hostile and the spate of cross-border attack more deadly, leaving some to conclude a full-scale war seems inevitable.

“Israel knows that it is in its best interest not to engage in a war in Lebanon that it cannot win,” said Hayek. “Lebanon is not Gaza. It’s going to be a lot more difficult. It’s something that Israel has experienced in the past, and I don’t think the Israelis wish to escalate the war in Lebanon. 

“But continuing to play with fire, tit for tat and all of that, is not helpful because we are a hair trigger away from an escalation. I mean, any day there can be a strike that goes wrong beyond the normally accepted, currently accepted type of trading fire between the two parties. 

“And such a situation can lead to a very fast escalation that may draw even regional powers into the equation. And I think that nobody wants that, really.”

Even if the region is spared a major war, Lebanon still has to contend with a broken economy, rampant corruption, shattered infrastructure, mass unemployment, extreme poverty, and a generation of young people who have fled abroad.

If he becomes president, how would Hayek go about untangling such a colossal mess?

Asked during his appearance on Frankly Speaking whether a full-scale war can be averted, sparing Lebanon a devastating Israeli invasion it can ill afford to fight, Hayek said he was hopeful “cooler heads will eventually prevail.”  (AN Photo)

“I have presented a plan specifically for Lebanon to get out of its financial crisis,” he said. “It is built on converting the bank deposits into tradeable CDs (certificates of deposit) on the Beirut Stock Exchange to enable the capital markets to come back to life again. 

“It involves using some of the gold reserves to create funds for social development and for economic development. It includes regaining the ability of the government not to raise taxes but to collect taxes in order to pay for the services it needs to deliver to the Lebanese public. So I do have some ideas. 

“I think that the International Monetary Fund’s approval is very important because we do need the seal of approval of the IMF to regain the confidence of investors. But I think there are many ways to discuss with the IMF what could be acceptable to them as well as taking the Lebanese reality into consideration.”

Hayek also wants to see Lebanon revive its economic ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council bloc, allowing Lebanese companies to prosper from investment opportunities, in particular Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda.

“The relationship with the GCC is crucial,” he said. “Those countries are the hosts of hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands of Lebanese that are working there. So they are very important currently to our economy with the remittances of these people. 

“But also, of course, the Lebanese are contributing to the growth and development that is happening in the region because the Lebanese working there are highly educated, highly skilled, able to contribute in a big way. 

“This mutual relationship of benefits needs to be strengthened. I think that with Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia and other plans in the UAE and other countries, these are big opportunities for the Lebanese, big opportunities for Lebanon to solidify its relationships with those countries and governments and projects and as well as for them to see that they already know that Lebanon has much to offer to contribute towards their success.”


Afghan Taliban government says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks

Updated 16 June 2024

Afghan Taliban government says to attend third round of UN-hosted Doha talks

  • Mujahid told local media on Sunday the decision had been made to send a delegation, the members of which would be announced later, because it was deemed “beneficial to Afghanistan”

KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman told AFP on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.
“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of the talks, which are scheduled to start June 30.
The participation of the Taliban authorities in the two-day conference of special envoys on Afghanistan had been in doubt after they were not included in the first round and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.
Mujahid told local media on Sunday the decision had been made to send a delegation, the members of which would be announced later, because it was deemed “beneficial to Afghanistan”.