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High-tech ‘smart’ cards to keep Hajj pilgrims safe and secure

Jeddah, (UNA-OIC) – Up to 25,000 Hajj pilgrims in Mina this year will be issued wearable high-tech smart cards in a pilot program being launched by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

The cards will store the pilgrims’ personal information, health status, residence and Hajj tour details.

They will also be fitted with a location tracker to follow individual pilgrims’ movements, managed by a control room in Mina.
“It is the experimental stage of a smart Hajj initiative we are working on, and we will study to what extent it might be advantageous to the pilgrims,”

Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, the chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said, according to Arab News.
“The numbers will increase in the coming years to include more pilgrims in the other areas.” The ministry is also issuing up to 200,000 pilgrims ID cards, which will have the same information storage technology but without the location tracking feature.

These cards are scannable, allowing Hajj service providers to quickly identify pilgrims, access their medical history and establish what assistance they may need.

The cards will be complemented this year by a Smart Hajj ID app, Al-Maddah said. “It will offer the same features as the smart ID card, including tracking location, identifying crowded spots on the map, and the transport schedule.”

The smart card and mobile app also enable the ministry to simulate and predict crowd behavior during Hajj. “This new technology will help us collect data through the cards, cameras, and sensors distributed around the pilgrimage sites,” said Al-Maddah.

Source: AG/UNA-OIC/Arab News
Image : hajjumrahplanner.com

AOHR: World must condemn Sisi’s human rights violations

Western governments must stop lending full support to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s military regime and must condemn the widespread human rights violations committed by his government, said a panel of human rights experts and lawyers yesterday.

In an event organised by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR), hosted in the UK’s House of Commons, a group of lawyers and professionals working inhuman rights gathered to discuss the situation in Egypt six years after the military coup in 2013 that toppled the country’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi.

The experts called on the international community to condemn Al-Sisi’s government for their human rights abuses and to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on the Egyptian government should the human rights violations continue. They criticised governments for their “deafening silence” in addressing the Sisi regime’s human rights abuses, saying that their inaction “further exacerbates the crisis”.

The panel also stressed the urgency of the human rights situation in Egypt, highlighting that it has “reached rock bottom over the past six years and is only getting even worse with a total clampdown on all freedoms and all opposition.”

Since the 2013 coup, there have been several credible reports of mass human rights abuses and international crimes committed, such as mass death sentences and executions, torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and restrictions on freedom of the press and to free expression.

This meeting came a few weeks after the death of Morsi, criticised by Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson as “sad but entirely predictable” due to his ill treatment by the Egyptian authorities. Human rights advocates had long been concerned about Morsi’s health, as he was suffering from diabetes, liver and kidney disease yet was consistently being denied medical attention, a common punitive measure Egyptian authorities use against political prisoners.

The panel called for an independent and impartial UN investigation into the cause of Morsi’s death, the human rights violations he suffered and how his conditions in prison contributed to his death in custody.

Source: MEMO
Image : eramuslim.com

gas - turkey

Turkey rejects EU claims that drilling off Cyprus is illegitimate

Ankara says EU cannot be impartial mediator amid rising tensions as Turkey sends a second drilling ship to the island.

Turkey’s foreign ministry says it rejects statements by Greek and European Union officials that Turkish drilling for gas and oil off the island of Cyprus is illegitimate.

The ministry said on Wednesday the EU could not be an impartial mediator on the Cyprus dispute, and that Turkey’s Fatih ship had started drilling activities off the Mediterranean island at the start of May.

Turkey claims having exploring rights off the island, either through its own continental shelf or in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots.

Cyprus, an EU member, rejects the claim, saying that assertion is not only inconsistent with international law, but that Turkey would not accept any international dispute settlement mechanism where its claims could be put to the test.

Turkey’s Yavuz ship recently arrived to the east of Cyprus to become the second ship to conduct drilling activities there.

On Tuesday, the US State Department urged Turkish authorities to halt drilling operations, a day after Cyprus protested against the Yavuz dropping anchor there.

“The United States remains deeply concerned by Turkey’s repeated attempts to conduct drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus,” the State Department said in a statement.

“We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint and refrain from actions that increase tensions in the region,” it said.

The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has set off a race to tap underwater resources, sparking a dispute between Turkey and European Union member Cyprus.

Second ship deployed

The Yavuz dropped anchor just northeast of the Karpasia peninsula, a jutting panhandle which is in territorial waters.

The other Turkish vessel, the Fatih, is anchored some 37 nautical miles off the western coast of the island in an area Cyprus claims is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the maritime zone in which it has rights over its natural resources.

The EU said on Monday the latest move by Turkey was an “unacceptable escalation”, having warned Ankara to stop its “illegal” activities or face sanctions.

Cyprus is divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after the 1974 Turkish occupation, following a coup sponsored by the military government then ruling Greece.

Earlier this month, Cyprus said it has launched legal proceedings against three firms that it accuses of supporting illegal Turkish oil and gas exploration in its waters.

It also issued arrest warrants for Fatih’s crew, accusing the ship of breaching the republic’s sovereign territory.

Sources : Al Jazeera and news agencies

oil tanker burning

US wants military coalition to patrol waters off Iran, Yemen

The move comes after the Trump administration blamed Tehran and its proxies for attacks on tankers in Gulf region.

The United States says it is working to form a military coalition to protect commercial shipping off the coast of Iran and Yemen amid heightened tensions in the region following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.

Under the proposal, a coalition of nations would patrol strategic waters in the Gulf area and the sea between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Tuesday.

“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” said Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dunford said the Pentagon had developed a specific plan, and that he believed it would be clear within a couple of weeks which nations were willing to join the effort.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has blamed Tehran and its proxies for several attacks on tankers in the Gulf in the past few months.

A fifth of the world’s oil exports passes through the area.

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Washington DC, said that Trump has said “the US should not pay for this, it should be an international military force”.

“But the move presents the potential for conflict with Iran. After all it’s only weeks after the US almost launched military strikes on Iran,” Hendren said.

War of words

The downing of a US surveillance drone by Tehran almost brought the two foes to the brink of war. Trump had authorised military strikes on Iran in retaliation but pulled back from launching them.

Washington slapped new sanctions on top Iranian leaders, including the supreme leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei, in the wake of the drone shootdown.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have grown since last year when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal that put a cap on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.

The crisis has escalated in recent days as Washington and Tehran have engaged in a war of words over Iran’s decision to pass the uranium enrichment limit set by the 2015 accord.

Tehran has asked the other parties to the nuclear deal – France, Britain, China, Russia, the European Union and Germany – to find ways to export its oil, a major source of revenue for its crippled economy that has been choked off by the new sanctions, or it will scale up its nuclear programme.

Trump has said the US will not allow Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons, with its close ally in the region, Israel, threatening to bomb Iran.

“We want to deny this regime the revenue it needs to export revolution, to run an expansionist foreign policy that drives a lot of the sectarian violence that we see in the Middle East,” Brian Hook, the US special representative to Iran, told Al Jazeera.

‘US position not softened’

Al Jazeera’s Hendren said the US position had not softened, as Iran announced it would violate the nuclear enrichment levels it agreed to under the nuclear deal.

“So the standoff intensifies and the potential for conflict only increases,” he said.

Mark Esper, the acting secretary of defence, raised the issue last month with allied officials at NATO headquarters, but no nations were ready to commit to participating. Esper said at the time that the plans would have to be further refined.

Dunford said he discussed the matter on Tuesday with Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and that plans were coming together.

“We’re getting ready now to move out,” Dunford told a small group of reporters at Fort Myer, Virginia. “We have a pretty clear concept of what we want to do.”

He suggested that the project could begin with a small coalition.

“This will be scalable. So with a small number of contributors we can have a small mission and we’ll expand that as the number of nations that are willing to participate identify themselves,” he said.

Iran has denied it was behind the recent attacks on commercial tankers in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday a commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard issued a new threat against US bases and aircraft carriers stationed in the region, saying they would be destroyed if they made a mistake.

Source : Al-Jazeera News Agencies

Nelson Mandela’s grandson says Trump wants to reinforce apartheid Israel’

Zwelivelile Mandela slams US president’s Israel-Palestine deal as ‘Hoax of the Century’ during speech at Palestine Expo

By Elphas Nkosi

Nelson Mandela’s grandson has slammed US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century,” calling it a way to “fortify apartheid Israel” during a speech in London on Saturday.

The situation in Palestine is dreadful. The United Nations warns that the Gaza Strip will be incapable of supporting human life by 2020. Palestinians in the occupied territory have been demonstrating every week since March 2018 against the loss of basic service provision due to Israel’s land, air and sea blockade which now enters its 12th year. Over the course of these demonstrations, 190 ordinary Palestinians were killed and 28,000 were injured. The United Nations has said that Israel may have been guilty of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting unarmed civilians with live ammunition.

Zwelivelile Mandela, whose grandfather led South Africa out of apartheid, also told an audience at Europe’s largest Palestine event, Palestine Expo, that the boycott movement against the Israeli occupation “is the most painful thorn in the side of apartheid Israel”.

Israel and many of its allies have vehemently opposed the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS), including by passing legislation against it, and the event’s support for a boycott fuelled calls by some pro-Israel groups for it to be cancelled.

Recalling the words of his grandfather Nelson Mandela during a visit to Gaza in 1995 in which he declared “that our struggle is yet incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people,” Mandela told Markaz Sahaba Online Radio that the struggles in South Africa and Palestine were linked, and referred to the boycott of the apartheid state that brought pressure against the government there.

“They [Israel] cannot stomach its worldwide popular appeal and success and will do all in their power and might to obstruct, hinder or stand in the way of any forum that advances the principles that BDS stands for,” said Mandela, who is an MP in the ruling African National Congress.

Mandela also stressed that South Africa should be a leading country in supporting the plight and struggle faced by Palestinians.

“Apartheid South Africa and its imperialist allies too underestimated the power of the people but today we stand before you free from centuries of colonization and free from decades of apartheid brutality and discrimination.”

Mandela derided Trump’s plan for Israel-Palestine, calling it the “Hoax of the Century” and accused the US of being a biased partner to negotiations.

“Since coming to power he [Trump] has cut development aid to Palestinian refugees and literally severed the pipeline that provides hope and much needed medical care for children, some as young as one or two year old,” he said. 

“He has defied international law and disregarded the global outcry against his announcement of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem.”

The two-day Palestine Expo involved panels on discussing life under occupation as well as Palestinian food and cultural shows.

There were also virtual reality tours of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque and exhibits on the struggles of providing healthcare under Gaza’s blockade.

Sri Lanka: Govt complicit in violence against Muslims

Muslims in Sri Lanka are facing abuses, according to a global human rights body, which has accused the Sinhalese government of complicity in excesses against the community.

In a statement this week, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said members of the Muslim community are facing arbitrary arrest and other abuses and called on the government to protect the community from violence.

Following a series of interviews with members of the community, HRW said in a report that ever since the Easter bombings on April 21 this year, “Sri Lankan Muslims have faced an upsurge in violations of their basic rights and assaults and other abuses from Buddhist nationalists.”

“Sri Lankan officials and politicians should stop endorsing, ignoring, or exploiting hate speech and mob violence directed at Muslims by members of the Buddhist clergy and other powerful figures,” HRW’s statement said.

At least 250 people were killed and more than 500 others injured in a series of bombings in April which targeted churches and hotels in and around the capital Colombo when Christians were observing Easter mass.

“The Sri Lankan government has a duty to protect its citizens and prosecute those responsible for the terrible Easter Sunday bombings, but it shouldn’t be punishing the Muslim community for this crime,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asian director at HRW.

“It’s crucial for the authorities to act swiftly to stop mob violence, threats, and discrimination against Muslims,” she added.

HRW noted that since the bombings, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of people under counterterrorism and emergency laws.

Sri Lankan lawyers said their clients “had often been arrested without any credible evidence of terrorist involvement, for reasons including having the Quran or other Arabic literature in their possession during searches”, the HRW statement added.

The rights group said the Sinhalese government-appointed Human Rights Commission had found in May that the government had failed to protect Muslims during communal rioting.

“Police have repeatedly failed to act properly or prosecute perpetrators. For instance, the manager of a Muslim-owned business who was attacked said the police did not make any arrests ‘despite plenty of CCTV footage to identify the perpetrators’,” the statement said.

The rights watchdog observed the complicity of the Sinhalese government and officials in the excesses against the Muslim community.

“Officials have made little effort to discourage public campaigns by religious figures that put the Muslim community at greater risk. On May 15, Gnanarathana Thero, one of Sri Lanka’s most senior Buddhist monks, called for the stoning to death of Muslims and propagated an unfounded allegation that Muslim-owned restaurants put ‘sterilization medicine’ in their food to suppress the majority Sinhalese Buddhist birthrate,” the statement added.

“Government leaders, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect Muslim citizens, have at times appeared to associate themselves with Buddhist nationalist elements…On May 23, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Gnanasara Thero, the leader of the nationalist Bodu Bala Sena (organization), who has long been associated with instigating deadly anti-Muslim violence, freeing him after he had served less than a year of a six-year prison term for contempt of court,” it added.

HRW further said that the Sinhalese government has invoked the criminal law to arrest peaceful critics of Sri Lankan Buddhism in violation of their rights to free expression.

“The situation has caused mounting international alarm for the safety of Muslims and other minorities,” it stressed.

“The ethnic violence and human rights violations that many Sri Lankans have suffered are now being directed against Muslims,” Ganguly said.

“The Sri Lankan government needs to take a stand against discrimination and intolerance, use the law to punish those responsible for abuses and protect, rather than target, vulnerable people.”

Source : muslimnews
Feature Image : AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne

Saudi Ministry of Hajj increases the quota for South Africans by 500

Saudi Ministry of Hajj has increased the quota for South Africans for this hajj season from 3500 to 4000 hujaaj for the year 1440.

However the good news also presents a challenge to the South African Hajj and Umrah Council.

The organisation has to fast track processing the accreditation.

The waiting period for first time hujaaj is around 4 years.

There are limited choices available for potential pilgrims. Hajj operators are also gearing up to accommodate last minute hujaaj.


Turkey will not bow to US sanctions over S-400: Vice president

Fuat Oktay says US concerns over the Russian-made defence system are not reasonable, adding Ankara will not back down.

Turkey will never bow to US sanctions over its agreement to buy Russian S-400 defence systems, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Sunday in reference to a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies.

Washington has said the S-400s could compromise the capabilities of its F-35 fighter jets – for which it has a separate deal with Turkey – and warned of possible US sanctions if Ankara pushed on with the Russian deal.

Ankara has said the S-400s and F-35s would not affect each other and that it will not abandon the former.

Speaking in an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Oktay said United States concerns on the issue were not reasonable and added that Turkey would not back down.

Oktay’s comments come after Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned Friday that the Pentagon will halt manufacturing support for the F-35 in Turkey if Ankara buys a Russian missile defence system.

“If Turkey decides that the S-400 is a decision they want to go forward with, then we have to move work out of Turkey,” he said.

Shanahan noted that he had met delegations from US aerospace manufacturers Lockheed Martin and United Technologies to discuss options if Turkey refuses to forego the S-400.

As a member of NATO, Turkey is taking part in the production of the fighter jet for use by members of the treaty and has plans to buy 100 of the jets itself.

A number of Turkish manufacturers are making parts and equipment for the F-35, including internally carried Standoff Missiles, airframe assemblies and wiring, leaving the NATO programme partially dependent on them.

Washington has placed a freeze on the joint manufacturing operations with Turkey and has suggested that Turkey might be able to obtain a US missile defence system if it forgoes the one on offer from Moscow.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted he will buy the Russian system.


F 35

Erdogan: US scrapping F-35 jet deal with Turkey would be robbery

Ankara faces new strains in US relationship over upcoming delivery of Russian S-400 missile system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said it would be “robbery” for the United States to deny Turkey the F-35 fighter jets it has bought, according to remarks published in Turkish media.

“If you have a customer and that customer is making payments like clockwork, how can you not give that customer their goods? The name of that would be robbery,” the national Hurriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Thursday, as Turkey faces potential US sanctions over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.

He said that Turkey had so far paid $1.4bn for the F-35s and that four jets had been handed over, with Turkish pilots going to the US for training.

“We have made an agreement to buy 116 F-35s. We are not just a market, we are also joint producers. We produce some of the parts in Turkey,” he added.

The planes are currently in the US and some of the training the Turkish pilots were offered has beenhalted due to the strain between the allies.


After meeting US President Donald Trump last weekend in Japan on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Erdogan said Ankara would be spared damaging Washington sanctions once Russia’s S-400 air defence system started arriving in Turkey in the coming days.

However, US government officials told the Reuters news agency that the administration intends to impose sanctions on Turkey and pull it from the F-35 fighter jet programme if it takes delivery of the Russian S-400 system as expected.

“The United States has consistently and clearly stated that Turkey will face very real and negative consequences if it proceeds with its S-400 acquisition, including suspension of procurement and industrial participation in the F-35 programme and exposure to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act [CAATSA],” a State Department spokesperson said.

Turkey’s S-400 purchase has raised eyebrows among Turkey’s NATO allies and provoked anger in Washington, which expected Ankara to opt for the US Patriot air defence system instead. Ankara says the offer was late and Russia’s S-400 deal is far better than the US offer.

Speaking in Japan last week, Trump blamed former President Barack Obama‘s administration for failing to help Turkey acquire the US alternative to the S-400s system.

“He got treated very unfairly,” Trump said.

If the US removes Turkey from the F-35 programme and imposes sanctions on the NATO ally, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two nations.

Trump, who has shown a rapport with Erdogan, could still try to change course by seeking to issue a waiver and postpone sanctions. Such a move would please Ankara but upset some of Trump’s domestic allies in the US Congress.

{source: al – jazeera AND NEWS AGENCIES}

South African sisters held in Saudi prison speak of ordeal at UN testimony

Two South African sisters imprisoned in Saudi Arabia without charge spoke of their ordeal at the UN yesterday.

Yumna Desai, a former English teacher at the University of Ha’il in northern Saudi Arabia, and her sister Huda Mohammad, who had been married to a Saudi national, were imprisoned for a year without being informed of the charge for which they were being detained, Reuters reported.

“We were never given an explanation as to why we were arrested,” Desai said while giving testimony at an event on the side-lines of the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland. “Detainees are left for unknown periods in solitary confinement. They are threatened with arrests and detentions of family members if they did not confess.”

Desai said that she had been held at Dhaban prison in Jeddah from 2015 to 2018. She wasn’t made aware of the reason for her arrest until a year later, when she found out she had been charged with unspecified “cybercrimes”.

During Desai’s testimony, representatives from member states heard about the suffering of children that were held with their mothers and of four women that had to give birth while in custody.

“I stand here today to give a voice to the voiceless, those detainees who have been physically and psychologically tortured, sitting there for years without trial, denied visits, phone calls, medical aid,” Desai went on to say.

Desai also informed the meeting that she had seen some of the dozen or so leading female women’s rights campaigners rounded up a year ago being held in the same prison wing. Their plight has been the focus of a worldwide campaign led by human rights groups, the UN and EU, as well as those British MPs following widespread allegations of torture and abuse.

While these campaigns have focused on some famous names among female activists in Saudi Arabia, Desai said that the fate of less-famous women also needed to be publicised.

“It is not just people like Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef or Samar Badawi, all of them who were in the same prison wing as me, that we should feel outraged about,” said Desai. Pointing out that their detention was “entirely arbitrary and illegal,” she also drew attention to all the women that were detained.

Her sister, Huda added: “Our arrest, like of many in the country, was violent and to this day remains a mystery.” She continued by saying “today we have submitted an official complaint on Saudi treatment to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.”

The sisters were held with their two brothers, who were later released. The four siblings had been working in Saudi Arabia and have now returned to South Africa

Source : MEMO

Gaza sees mass protests denouncing Bahrain workshop

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets this morning and gathered in front of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City to protest against the ongoing US-led Bahrain workshop.

Another rally was held in Khan Younis, in the centre of the besieged Gaza Strip.

The protesters called for boycotting the workshop, which took place yesterday and today in Bahraini capital Manama to discuss the economic aspects of the US “deal of the century”.

Demonstrators held a variety of signs saying “down with the Bahrain workshop!” while others shouted “no to normalisation with Israel!”

Ahmad Ali, an elderly resident of Gaza, said: “I participated in this day of rage to show my rejection of the conspiracy against my Palestinian cause.”

Shouting “down with the Bahrain workshop of shame!” student Ayman Asali added: “Palestine is not a problem of economy. It’s a problem of ongoing, oppressive [Israeli] occupation. End the occupation and our problems will be solved.”

Meanwhile Fawziyyah Judah, a representative of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), stated that “the main aim of the ‘deal of the century’ is to eliminate the Palestinian cause – the workshop in Bahrain is suspicious.”

Several activities were organised by governmental and non-governmental institutions to highlight the dangers of the so-called “deal of the century”, which makes no mention of political issues like the creation of a future Palestinian state. For the first time, Palestinians across Gaza and the occupied West Bank united against the workshop, observing a general strike across the territories.

Source : MEMO
Feature Image : Wafa Aludaini

US pushes Bahrain economic plan in absence of Palestinians

The Trump administration is seeking support for an economic plan it says will be a foundation for Israeli-Palestinian peace but which Palestinians and many others dismiss as pointless without a political solution.

On Wednesday, as a US-led peace conference was under way in Bahrain, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) reiterated its rejection of the $50bn plan, saying the proposal’s lack of political vision guarantees its failure.

The statement said the US wanted to sell a “mirage of economic prosperity” which would only perpetuate the Palestinians’ “captivity”.

It accused the White House of using the workshop as cover for Israel’s efforts to achieve normal relations with Arab states and grow its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

At the opening panel session of the Bahrain conference, International Monetary Fund managing director, Christine Lagarde, said that the fund’s experience in conflict-riven countries showed it can be a struggle to generate economic growth in such an environment.

Lagarde told the conference that growth in the West Bank and Gaza had to be “job intensive”.

“It cannot be any kind of growth in the West Bank and Gaza, it needs to be job intensive,” she added, citing agriculture, tourism and construction as sectors that “will absorb a lot of labour”.

A day earlier, White House adviser Jared Kushner – one of the architects of the economic plan – urged Palestinians, whose leadership is boycotting the event, to think outside the “traditional box” for an economic pathway that he said was a precondition for peace.

Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the event. READ MORE

In Gaza on Tuesday, Hamas and its rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas convened a gathering of leaders and activists in a rare show of unity to voice their rejection of the Manama conference.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh criticised Arab states participating in the workshop, which 300 delegates including Israeli and Palestinian businessmen are attending.

The conference aimed to finish off the Palestinian cause under the cover of economic and financial benefits, he said.

“The (Palestinian) people, who have been fighting for one hundred years, did not commission anyone to concede or to bargain. Jerusalem is ours, the land is ours, and everything is ours,” Haniyeh said.

Although US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates discreetly support the plan, several Arab states, such as Lebanon, have stayed away while others including Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab nations that have reached peace with Israel, have sent deputy ministers.

The presence of Sunni Muslim Gulf states in Manama showed some want to encourage closer ties to Israelis – with whom they share a common foe in Shia Iran – that have largely been under the table, said David Makovsky, a US-based Middle East expert attending the event.

“(But) it’s clear they won’t bypass the Palestinians and do anything they don’t want,” he told Reuters news agency.

Hard sell

Washington hopes wealthy Gulf oil producers will bankroll the plan, which expects donor nations and investors to contribute $50bn to Palestinian and neighbouring Arab state economies.

Saudi minister of state Mohammed Al-Sheikh told the panel that Kushner’s plan was bolstered by the inclusion of the private sector as a similar proposal, relying heavily on state funding, had been attempted during the Oslo interim peace deals of the 1990s that eventually collapsed.

“While I accept that peace is essential, back then it was the hope of peace that got them actually excited and moving,” Al-Sheikh said.

But the “economy first” approach toward reviving the moribund peace process could be a hard sell as the political details of the plan, almost two years in the making, remain secret.

On Tuesday, Riyadh reiterated that any peace deal should be based on a Saudi-led Arab peace initiative that calls for a Palestinian state drawn along borders which predate Israel’s capture of territory in the 1967 Middle East war, as well as a capital in East Jerusalem and refugees’ right of return – points rejected by Israel.

Kushner said on Monday the plan would not adhere to the Arab initiative.

It is not clear whether the Trump team plans to abandon the “two-state solution”, which involves the creation of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

The United Nations and most countries back the two-state solution, which has underpinned every peace plan for decades, but Trump’s team has consistently refused to commit to it.

Any solution must settle long-standing issues such as the status of Jerusalem, mutually agreed borders, Israel’s security concerns, Palestinian demands for statehood, and the fate of Israel’s illegal settlements and military presence in territory where Palestinians want to build that state.

Palestinian leaders are refusing to engage with the White House, accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Breaking with the international consensus, Trump in 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, infuriating the Palestinians and other Arabs.

Across the great divide

The IMF says unemployment stands at 30 percent in the West Bank and 50 percent in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered from years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Among the 179 proposed infrastructure and business projects is a $5bn transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
Some of them have been floated before and stalled for lack of underlying political or security agreements.

“The economic vision has to be linked to resolving the entire conflict, and this doesn’t bring the Israelis and Palestinians any closer together. So I’m not optimistic this plan can materialise anytime soon,” Makovsky said. READ MORE

Even at a break between sessions in Bahrain, differences between the two sides of the Israeli-Arab divide could be seen.

Israeli businessman Shlomi Fogel was in conversation with a UAE businesswoman. Asked for their views on Kushner’s approach of tackling economic issues first, Shlomi said: “If we wait for the politicians, it will take forever. We could do parts of this economic plan with the right support.”

The Dubai-based businesswoman suggested, however, that the plan was too ambitious to be put into effect anytime soon.

“There were efforts like Oslo that didn’t work out – and that was because of the Israelis,” she said. “You can’t assume the economics will work if the politics don’t move.”

Source : Al Jazeera
Image : (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

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