Tag Archives: Israeli Palestinian

Kerry in Turkey, eyes new bid for talks in Mideast

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Turkey early Sunday on the first leg of a 10-day trip to Europe and Asia that would also seek to unlock long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Kerry was expected to encourage Turkish leaders to continue improving ties with Israel. The two countries were once allies, but relations spiraled downward after Israel‘s 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American died.

Hopes for rapprochement improved after Obama brokered a telephone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey‘s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while President Barack Obama was in Israel last month.

Kerry also will coordinate with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on efforts to halt the violence in neighboring Syria.

Kerry planned to fly from Turkey to Jerusalem for meetings with the presidents and prime ministers of both Israel and the Palestinians. He had accompanied Obama there and made a solo trip to Israel shortly after.

Though expectations are low for any breakthrough on Kerry’s trip, his diplomacy represents some of the Obama administration’s most sustained efforts for ending more than six decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Kerry probably will seek confidence-building measures between the two sides. Negotiators and observers see little chance right now for immediate progress on the big stumbling blocks toward a two-state peace agreement.

Kerry will also visit Britain and then South Korea, China and Japan, where talks will focus on North Korea‘s nuclear program and escalating threats against the U.S. and its allies.

He is scheduled to return to Washington on April 15.

…read more

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Eyeing Syria, White House woos regional rulers

When President Barack Obama meets over the next month with leaders from Mideast and other regional nations, he will have a timely opportunity to try to rally the Syrian opposition’s main backers around a unified strategy to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — whose Sunni Muslim leaders will meet separately with Obama starting April 16 — are all believed to be arming or training rebel forces seeking to overthrow Assad’s regime. But disparate political, geographic and religious considerations have led to conflicting approaches to which rebel factions to back and what kind of support to provide.

Infighting among mostly Sunni opposition groups and their failure to agree on a power structure to take over if Assad falls has been an important factor aiding the Alawite president as he clings to power two years into a civil war that has left at least 70,000 dead. Alawites are an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and the civil war has largely broken down along sectarian lines.

As resolute as Obama and most U.S. allies are that Assad must go, officials are increasingly worried about what Syria will look like if the regime falls before opposition groups can agree on a governing structure. That has resulted in extra U.S. pressure on regional allies to convince the opposition to unite.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the high-level visits by leaders from the four nations reflect Obama‘s “deep personal interest” in the region and his commitment to the policies the U.S. is advocating.

“He will use these opportunities to discuss the complex developments in the broader Middle East,” Carney said. “Not just Syria, but including Syria.”

He pointed to other developments related to the Arab Spring and Obama‘s visit in March to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories as other topics the president would likely discuss with the Arab leaders. Secretary of State John Kerry also is returning to the Middle East on Saturday for meetings on Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Additionally, senior Obama administration leaders at the White House, State Department and Pentagon held a high-level meeting Friday that focused on Syria among its top national security priorities, according to two officials familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the talks to the media. Senior U.S. officials have been meeting regularly to discuss a range of options on U.S. involvement in Syria, …read more

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Op-ed stirs row over Palestinian rock-throwing

A newspaper op-ed piece by an Israeli writer has revived an emotional debate surrounding Israel‘s 45-year rule over the West Bank and east Jerusalem: Do Palestinians who throw rocks at Israelis exercise a “birthright” of resisting military occupation, as the author argued? Or is stone-throwing an indefensible act of violence?

The heated argument — along with a police complaint West Bank settlers filed against the author — was another sign of the deepening gulf between the two peoples after decades of conflict.

The debate comes at a time when Israelis are watching for any signs of a third Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, against the occupation that began in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Palestinians want the three territories for a state. However, two decades of intermittent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have come up empty and Israel — while withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 — has moved more than half a million of its civilians to the rest of the occupied lands during the four-decade occupation in what much of the world says violates international law.

In the past 25 years, Palestinians have launched two uprisings. The first erupted in 1987 and was characterized by large demonstrations, often accompanied by stone-throwing. Israeli troops responded with tear gas, live fire and mass arrests. The revolt led to negotiations that produced interim peace deals.

The second intifada broke out in 2000, after failed talks on a final deal, and violence escalated on both sides. Palestinians used guns and bombs, including suicide attacks. Israel retook parts of the West Bank earlier handed to partial Palestinian control and began targeting militant leaders in missile attacks from helicopters.

In an op-ed piece in the Haaretz daily Wednesday, Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote that Israel has engaged in systematic violence against the Palestinians as part of its well-oiled machinery of occupation.

“Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule,” wrote Hass, who covers the Palestinians and lives in the West Bank. Limitations of that right could include “the distinction between civilians and those who carry arms,” she wrote.

Her words elicited a flood of angry reactions in Israel on Thursday, including from the mother of a 3-year-old Israeli girl who was critically injured last month in a West Bank road accident triggered by stone-throwing. Another writer brought …read more

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Official: US to bring Arab states into peace push

A Palestinian official says the U.S. is seeking to bring Arab countries into efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the coming weeks.

Yasser Abed-Rabbo, a top official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, says that “U.S. efforts will increase in coming weeks and will include other Arab parties, such as Jordan and Egypt.”

Abed-Rabbo told a local radio in the West Bank on Monday that an Arab League delegation will visit Washington as part of these efforts.

Israel has said it’s ready for immediate talks, while the Palestinians say Israel must first freeze settlement building on lands it captured in 1967, which Palestinians want for their future state.

During his visit to Mideast last week, President Barack Obama sided with the Israeli view.

…read more
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Rockets Hit Israel As Obama To Meet Palestinians

By Breaking News

Israel flag SC Rockets hit Israel as Obama to meet Palestinians

JERUSALEM — On the second day of a Mideast tour, U.S. President Barack Obama is set to emphasize the importance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a message underscored Thursday when Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel.

After a visit to Israel’s national museum — where he was inspecting the Dead Sea Scrolls, which highlight the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the land that is now Israel — Obama will head to the West Bank to tell the Palestinians that the creation of a Palestinian state remains a priority.

He is not bringing a new plan to relaunch peace talks, but in meetings with the Palestinians and a speech to Israeli students later in the day, he will appeal to both sides to halt unilateral actions that make negotiations more difficult.

Those troublesome actions include continued construction of Jewish housing settlements on land claimed by the Palestinians and repeated Palestinian efforts to achieve recognition at the United Nations in the absence of a peace agreement.

Read More at OfficialWire . By Matthew Lee.

Photo Credit: kudumomo Creative Commons

…read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Western Journalism

Analysis: Israeli settlements at core of conflict

On his short helicopter ride from Jerusalem to the West Bank, President Barack Obama is flying over sprawling Jewish settlements — a reminder of Israel‘s ongoing construction on war-won land in defiance of much of the world and a major hurdle to renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Palestinian officials say Mahmoud Abbas‘ main message to Obama, as the two meet Thursday, is that the Palestinian president can’t return to talks on drawing a border between Israel and a future Palestine while Israel unilaterally shapes that line through accelerated settlement expansion.

At the same time, Palestinians doubt Obama is willing to spend the domestic political capital required to pressure Israel to halt construction — something he briefly tried at the beginning of his first term, before backing down when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resisted.

In a joint news conference with Netanyahu late Wednesday, Obama seemed to confirm Palestinian fears that he won’t confront Israel over the settlements.

The U.S. president didn’t mention settlements at all when asked about the lack of progress during his first term toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead he suggested a low-key approach, saying he came to hear from Abbas and Netanyahu and that “it is a hard slog to work through all these issues.”

But with settlements growing steadily, time for a partition deal may be running out, Israeli settlement monitors and European diplomats have warned.

“We are reaching the tipping point,” said settlement watcher and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer.

“A year from now, if the current trends continue, the two-state solution will not be possible. The map will be so balkanized that it will not be possible to create a credible border between Israel and Palestine,” he said.

Palestinians also argue that after two decades of intermittent negotiations, the contours of an agreement have widely been established and that it’s time for decisions, not endless rounds of diplomacy. They suspect Netanyahu is seeking open-ended negotiations to give him the diplomatic cover for more settlement-building, while being unwilling to make the needed concessions.

Netanyahu has said he is willing to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state. He reiterated Wednesday, with Obama by his side, that he is ready to return to talks, but also said there should be no “preconditions” — …read more
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AP INTERVIEW: Jordan king says Assad days numbered

Jordan‘s king is warning a jihadist state could emerge on his northern border in Syria with Islamic extremists trying to establish a foothold in the neighboring country.

King Abdullah II told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that in his view, Syrian President Bashar Assad was beyond rehabilitation and it was only a matter of time before his authoritarian regime collapses.

As President Barack Obama began a regional tour including stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, Abdullah said the visit opens a “window of opportunity” for restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

…read more
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AP Analysis: In Mideast, partial deal tantalizes

As the U.S. president prepares to reinsert himself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his best hope may be to set aside grand hopes for a final agreement and make do with a partial deal.

An interim settlement would leave neither side with full satisfaction, and the Palestinians in particular strongly oppose it for fear that it will become permanent. But with gaps seemingly unbridgeable on the same key issues that have scuttled all previous peace efforts, a piecemeal approach may be just enough to yield a sovereign Palestinian state, albeit an imperfect one.

Barack Obama heads to the region Wednesday in a long-awaited trip whose agenda includes hopes of restarting negotiations. The White House has been careful to lower expectations, saying Obama will mainly listen and learn as he speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But U.S. officials confirm the idea of an interim agreement, while not their preference, has been under consideration. One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said new Secretary of State John Kerry “is looking for options on a way forward” and that an interim arrangement has been among several ideas being explored.

“The challenge of diplomacy is to try and find areas where progress can be made, and not always try and seek a complete solution when one is not in the cards at present,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who has served as an informal adviser to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s new government, which was inaugurated this week, includes key moderate partners that want movement on the Palestinian front and can bring down the government if they choose.

The Palestinians will be a hard sell. They want a state in all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. From their perspective to suffice with that territory — leaving Israel with over three-quarters of what was British-ruled Palestine until 1948 — is compromise enough.

“If Israel was serious it would have offered a solution based on the two states, but Israel wants to annex Jerusalem and large parts of the West Bank by such an offer,” said Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Previous peace talks under more dovish …read more
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Old Catholic orders fade as monks and nuns age

The nuns of “Le Creche,” the only orphanage in Bethlehem, have raised generations of children in this biblical town.

But only four aging nuns remain, down from a dozen 30 years ago, and the Roman Catholic church is struggling to replace them. In the meantime, they have hired a professional staff to do jobs once solely performed by nuns.

“I am happy for the life I have chosen,” said Sister Elisabeth Noirot, 58, of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the Holy Land‘s largest and oldest Catholic orders, which runs the orphanage. “But it is in the hands of God if others will follow.”

Similar scenes are occurring across the Holy Land, where hospitals, schools and charities are feeling the effects of a dwindling population of monks and nuns to run them. In some cases, they have hired increasing numbers of lay people and professionals to cover the shortfall. In others, well-established orders have handed over emptied, coveted properties to newer Christian groups.

“We are going through a long period of passage, of transition,” said the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan order in the Middle East and a top church official in the Holy Land. “We are changing in different ways. We have not to be desperate.”

The shrinking numbers of apostolic orders, where nuns and monks undertake a charity or service, mirror a similar trend in the Christian population in the Holy Land and the broader Middle East.

Less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories today is Christian, down from more than 7 percent around the time of Israel‘s independence 65 years ago, according to Naim Ateek, director the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, a leading Christian think tank.

Several factors are behind the decline, including higher birthrates of Jews and Muslims and an exodus driven by continued Israeli-Palestinian violence and better opportunities in the West. In some instances, particularly in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Christians have been subject to intimidation by a minority of Muslims.

Before retiring, Pope Benedict XVI expressed deep concerns about Christians in the Middle East. On his final foreign trip, a visit to Lebanon last September, Benedict warned that a Middle East without Christians “would no longer be the Middle East.” The plight of Catholics in the cradle of Christianity is sure …read more
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Hillary, What Difference Did You Make?

By Bruno Korschek

Hillary Clinton on the Hill Hillary, What Difference Did You Make?

When recently testifying in front of Congressional committees investigating the fatal disaster that happened at the U.S. Consulate at Benghazi in Libya, former Secretary of State famously shouted, “What difference does it make?” when asked detailed questions regarding the inferior and shoddy security at the consulate. Maybe America should ask a slightly different question of Ms. Clinton if given the opportunity: “What Difference Did You Make?”

News reports and poll results show that Ms. Clinton has very high favorability ratings among Americans. To be honest, many of us don’t see it or get it. When we look at her record as Secretary of State, we see a string of failures, missed opportunities, and management shortcomings that culminated in the unnecessary death of four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador in Libya.

One cannot say that someone else could have done better in this role in this tumultuous times. But it is difficult to see why she is getting this much love for just showing up for work with no discernible success stories or accomplishments to her credit:

1) Iran is four years closer to having nuclear weapons, and no diplomatic efforts from this administration and this former Secretary of State have come close to terminating this growing danger.

2) North Korea is four years closer to having nuclear weapons, and, more importantly, four years closer to having the rocket delivery capability to put one of those nukes into the West Coast of the United States. No diplomatic efforts from this administration of this former Secretary of State have come close to terminating this growing danger.

3) This administration and this former Secretary of State were caught completely by surprise and off guard by the so-called Arab Spring and the ramifications from these uprisings. Once caught by surprise, they never got out in front of the changes and problems associated with these earth moving political shifts.

4) This administration and this former Secretary of State apparently did not anticipate and have no plan to cope with the civil war in Syria, showing no leverage to get the violence to stop or to contain the various types of weapons, including chemical, from falling into the wrong hands.

5) Four years of this administration and this former Secretary of State has gotten us no closer to resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Now, granted, not much progress has been made since the whole conflict started in 1948 so this was a tough issue on which no progress was made.

6) Late last year, the Associated Press reported on the disaster that was to be a U.S. consulate facility in the northern part of Afghanistan. After $80 million of taxpayer wealth had been expended, the State Department decided to abandon the facility since it was basically indefensible, wasting $80 million. Existing State Department procedures and protocols were ignored or overwritten that would have prevented this wasting of $80 million. This calls into question of how well the State Department functioned administratively under Clinton’s direction, especially on high profile, expensive spending initiatives like this consulate.

7) Four years …read more
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Netanyahu ally: Peace with Palestinians impossible

A powerful partner of Israel‘s prime minister has called peace with the Palestinians “impossible,” saying the conflict between them and Israel can only be “managed.”

Saturday’s comments from former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman follow a White House announcement of an upcoming visit to Israel by President Barack Obama, expected to focus on a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Talks have been largely frozen during the past four years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now re-elected, Netanyahu has hinted at resuming talks.

But Lieberman told Israel‘s Channel 2 TV that reaching a final accord with the Palestinians “is impossible.”

Lieberman resigned as foreign minister two months ago after he was indicted for breach of trust in a fraud and money-laundering case. He remains a powerful lawmaker and Netanyahu’s top political ally.

…read more
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Textbook study faults Israelis and Palestinians

A U.S.-funded study released Monday said both Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks largely present one-sided narratives of the conflict between the two peoples and tend to ignore the existence of the other side, but rarely resort to demonization.

The research by Israeli, Palestinian and American researchers, billed as setting a new standard for textbook analysis, tackled a particularly fraught issue — longstanding Israeli claims that the Palestinians teach incitement and hatred of Israel in their schools.

The study, funded by the U.S. State Department, appeared to undermine these allegations, though it was unlikely to resolve the debate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues that the conflict with the Palestinians is not over land, but over Israel‘s acceptance in the region, and that peace is not possible until the alleged incitement stops.

Palestinians say Netanyahu is hiding behind such claims to divert attention from settlement building on occupied lands and from what they believe is his unwillingness to reach a peace deal on internationally backed terms.

The new study said the school books of both sides are typical for societies in conflict — though books used in Israeli state schools include significantly more information about Palestinians and more self-critical texts. Books used in Israel‘s ultra-Orthodox religious schools, attended by more than a quarter of Jewish students, and in Palestinian schools contain little information about the other side, the study said.

“On both sides, the chief problem is the crime of omission. It’s the absence of a clear, outright recognition of existence and the other side’s right to exist,” said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli member of the study’s scientific advisory panel.

Israel‘s Education Ministry dismissed the study as biased but did not elaborate. The Palestinian Education Ministry said its books reflect the reality of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories but do not incite to hatred.

The study analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian books, covering grades 1-12 and teaching social sciences, geography, literature, religion, Arabic and Hebrew. The Israeli books were from state-run secular and religious schools, as well as independent ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. The vast majority of the Palestinian books were used in government schools, and only six in private Islamic schools.

Scholars said they developed a new method to ensure greater objectivity, as they reviewed nearly 16,000 pages from Israeli state school books, close to 3,500 pages from books in ultra-Orthodox schools and close to 10,000 pages from Palestinian books.

All Israeli and Palestinian researchers were fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic so they could analyze the books of both communities, study organizers said. Often, the same texts were reviewed by more than one person, and the data was entered remotely into a database at Yale University so researchers could not be influenced by how the study was progressing.

The study found that as part of the selective narratives presented, both the Israeli and Palestinian books tended to describe negative actions of the other against the own community, while portraying the own community in positive terms. Books often lacked information about the religion, culture, economy and daily life of the other side.

“It is clear that each side is emphasizing its own narrative of the conflict,” said Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, one of three lead scholars, along with Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University and Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus at Yale.

“There is really minimal dehumanization on both sides, but at the same time, there is really a line of ignoring the other side,” he said.

The failure to recognize the other is particularly apparent in maps of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, where the Palestinians hope to establish their state alongside Israel.

The Palestinians want to form their state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967. For now, they have limited autonomy in 38 percent of the West Bank, where more than 90 percent of the Palestinians live. Israel annexed east Jerusalem immediately after the 1967, a move not recognized by most of the world, and withdrew in 2005 from Gaza, now controlled by the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

Israel was only shown in three of 83 post-1967 maps in Palestinian books, the study said.

Of 330 post-1967 maps in Israeli books, 258 included the area between the Jordan River and the sea. Of those, 196 maps, or 76 percent, did not indicate any borders between Israel and the occupied lands. Of the 62 maps that included a demarcation, 33 showed which areas are under Palestinian self-rule, while 29 maps showed borders with color lines, but do not refer to a Palestinian presence.

Historical events, while not fabricated, are presented selectively to present the own community’s national narrative, the study said.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior Israeli official who monitors Palestinian statements and actions for the government‘s “incitement index,” rejected the study’s conclusions.

“Our curriculum calls for peace and states why peace is good and there (in Palestinian schools) it is just the opposite,” he said. “Incitement to violence, to hatred, is the main obstacle to peace, and this has to change if we really are to have peace.”

Jihad Zarkarneh, in charge of textbooks in the Palestinian Education Ministry, said that as long as Palestinians live under military rule, their books cannot be expected to portray Israel in a positive light.

“If the study wants me to praise the Israeli occupation, the Israeli culture, I’m telling the researchers that no people on earth praised their occupier, neither in America nor in France or China or anywhere,” he said.

The study was overseen by a 19-member scientific advisory panel. On Sunday, 14 members endorsed the findings in a statement. Arnon Groiss, an Israeli researcher who conducted previous textbook studies and did not endorse the findings, declined comment when contacted last week, saying he had not seen the full report.

Previous textbook studies have come to varied conclusions.

A previous joint Israeli-Palestinian study noted that both Israeli and Palestinian books present a national narrative, but that Israeli books allocate more space than in the past to Palestinians and their suffering.

Two NGOs, Palestinian Media Watch and IMPACT-SE, have harshly criticized the Palestinian textbooks, saying they ignore Israel, emphasize “martyrdom,” a term for being killed while carrying out an attack or in a clash with Israelis, and do not educate to peace.

The new study was initiated in 2009 by the Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, which represents top Jewish, Muslim and Christian clerics.

However, the council is not participating in the study’s release, said a top official, Trond Bakkevig, a Norwegian reverend. The study went beyond the requested analysis of books teaching religion, he said, adding that “we found it best it is being published in the name of the scholars who did it.”

The State Department said it is one of several to have received grants from Washington, but that they are not being endorsed by the U.S. government. “They are independent assessments that can provide additional perspectives on complicated issues,” said spokesman Patrick Ventrell.


Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed reporting.

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Fragile economy, other global woes dominated Davos

The fragile state of the world economy, coupled with the relentless turmoil in Syria and the rocky fallout from the Arab Spring, dominated discussions during this year’s annual gathering of the global elite at Davos, leaving many participants uneasy about what lies ahead as they left for home Sunday.

Even broad agreement that there are some positive signs on the economic front, at least in emerging markets, was coupled with a warning from the head of the International Monetary Fund. “Do not relax,” Christine Lagarde said. There’s still a “risk of relapse.”

More than 2,500 of the best and brightest in business, government, academia and civic life gathered for the five-day World Economic Forum at this Alpine resort. But much of the overt glitz and glamor that is a usual feature was toned down or absent this year, a decision founder Klaus Schwab said reflected the serious issues facing the world.

Political and economic issues vie for top billing each year at Davos, and this time, the economy had the edge, with a special focus on how to promote economic growth and jobs, especially for the youth among the world’s 220 million jobless.

The IMF said that China, Africa, and other emerging markets could see significant growth, but Japan, eurozone nations and the U.S. are likely to struggle with negative to low growth. Ahead of the 43rd forum, the IMF downgraded its forecast for global economic growth this year by one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.5 percent.

While the U.S. avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts, and fears have abated that the euro currency union will break up, there is growing concern that governments may ease up on measures to improve growth and reduce debt that the IMF and many other institutions are calling for.

IMF chief Lagarde said the “very fragile and timid recovery” depends on leaders in the 17-nation eurozone, the United States and Japan making “the right decisions.” The eurozone in particular “is fragile because it is prone to political crisis” and slow decision-making, she said.

Davos participants’ uneasiness about the world economy was matched by growing concern over the political turmoil in the Arab world, terrorism in North Africa, a spate of natural disasters that have highlighted the failure to tackle climate change, and the growing inequality between the world’s “haves” and “have nots.”

“Two years ago, gloom around the stalled economic recovery was leavened by euphoria at the outbreak of the Arab spring,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press at Saturday night’s low-key final reception. “This year, relief at the improved economic outlook is tempered by despair at the unimpeded slaughter in Syria, uncertainty about the outlook in Egypt, and frustration over the Arab monarchies’ resistance to reform.”

The Arab Spring uprisings have ousted dictators in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Egypt over the past two years. But now Islamists and liberals are wrangling over power, with Islamists mainly gaining the upper hand. Democracy is far from certain, and economic woes have left hundreds of thousands of young people jobless and frustrated that their “revolutions” haven’t produced any dividends.

Former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a losing candidate in Egypt‘s presidential election last year, said there have been achievements, but warned that democracy isn’t only about casting a vote.

“It is the respect of human rights, for rights of women, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary. This meaning of democracy we have not yet achieved,” Moussa said.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks remain stalled, Arab monarchs remain entrenched, and the death toll from the escalating civil war in Syria has topped 60,000 with no end in sight.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose country is hosting almost 300,000 Syrian refugees, predicted that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime will last at least another six months. He called for a transition plan involving all Syrians and the Syrian army.

He also urged stepped up international support to end the Syrian crisis, saying, “The weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year’s harsh winter.”

Abdullah told the forum that “unprecedented threats to regional and global stability and security” need international action now, not the “wait and see” response by some countries — which he did not identify — especially in helping governments emerge politically and financially from the Arab uprisings.

The king, considered one of the region’s moderate leaders, also warned Israel to stop playing the “waiting game,” and said President Barack Obama’s second term offered the last opportunity to create two states — Palestine and Israel — that can live side-by-side in peace.

Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said the focus on resolving the world’s economic crisis has distracted leaders from many other important issues, including education, the social consequences of unemployment and promoting ways to deal with climate change.

Nonetheless, Gurria said, the world should be “very worried” because there aren’t many “tools” left to fix the economy if things get worse.

Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s National Planning Commission minister, told AP that the key message from Davos for him was a positive one — that “many of the decisions that have been taken bring us closer to where we need to be.” He warned that “a sense of an all-pervasive gloom … frequently becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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Facts and figures on Jordan's elections

Here are some facts and figures on Jordan‘s parliamentary election, being held on Wednesday:

THE SYSTEM: The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the two-chamber Parliament, is elected once every four years. But the king dissolved the previous parliament last year, halfway through its term, under pressure from street protesters who accused the legislature of being docile.

The Chamber of Notables, or the Upper House, is comprised of 75 members appointed by the king.

The 150-seat lower house approves laws and monitors government performance. But the king, who still enjoys significant powers under the constitution, can dissolve parliament and rule by decree.


ELECTORATE: About 2.3 million of 3.3 million eligible voters are registered to vote. Of the total registered voters, 52 percent are women in a country of nearly 6 million. Around 500,000 military, police and security personnel are not allowed to vote. By tradition, the royal family doesn’t vote.


POLITICAL GROUPS: Eighteen small and fractured political parties — a mix of right, center, left and Islamist leaning — are fielding candidates on a joint party ballot.

Other candidates — also a mix of right, center, left and Islamist leaning — are running as independents.

Five other licensed groups, including the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the largest and most organized opposition group, are boycotting the polls. The Islamic Action Front boycotted the polls two other times since 1997. This time, however, two party members broke ranks with the group and are running as independents. The four other groups boycotting include are communists and Arab nationalists.


 THE CANDIDATES: 1,425 candidates, including 191 women and about 139 former lawmakers, are running — many of them as independents, counting on their tribal affiliations and family connections. Nine seats are reserved for Christians, who make up about 4 percent of the population. Another three seats are reserved for the Chechen and Circassian minorities; and fifteen are designated for women in line with a quota under the election law of 2012.

Additionally, there are 61 lists — each with up to 27 members — fielded by political parties and small coalitions comprising trade and labor unionist and other activists.


 THE ISSUES: Campaigning has focused on poverty, unemployment, corruption, rising food and fuel prices, health care and education, civil liberties, interference by the powerful security services in lives of citizens, public participation in decision-making and women’s rights. Other issues include Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the Syrian civil war.


VOTING HOURS: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time (0400 GMT to 1600 GMT); can be extended by two hours. Nearly 1,500 polling stations begin counting when polls close, with early results expected on Thursday.


 VOTING SYSTEM: Universal suffrage. Voters mark their ballots to choose one candidate from a list of contestants in their constituency and another from nationwide lists.


FORMING CABINETS: The party winning a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament will consult with other blocs and independents to pick a prime minister, who will then be approved by a vote of deputies. This will be the first time the chamber picks its own prime minister, as opposed to the traditional method where one has been appointed by the king. The prime minister will then choose his Cabinet, whose members can either be serving lawmakers or politicians from outside parliament. All Cabinet members must win a subsequent parliamentary vote of confidence before they are formally installed.

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Israeli election casts ex-TV anchor as kingmaker

Israel‘s election has put a suave former TV news anchor and political novice in the role of kingmaker, and he has signaled he would use his power to try to move hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s next government to more centrist positions on Mideast peacemaking.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) emerged as the second-largest party in Israel‘s parliament after the prime minister’s bloc, giving the 49-year-old former journalist unexpectedly strong leverage in upcoming coalition negotiations. A nearly complete vote count early Wednesday showed a deadlock between Netanyahu’s hawkish bloc and the center-left camp.

Lapid told cheering supporters after Tuesday’s election that he wants a broad alliance of moderates, suggesting he would try to prod Netanyahu to abandon his traditional right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.

But that might be tough in Israel‘s cluttered political landscape of small parties with sharp ideological differences. Veteran political commentators were left scratching their heads when trying to come up with scenarios for a stable Netanyahu-led coalition.

With 99.8 percent of votes counted, according to media reports, Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beitenu electoral bloc won 31 seats in the 120-member parliament, remaining the largest party, but down from 42 in the 2009 election. Lapid’s party won 19 seats, followed by 15 for the centrist Labor, 11 for the ultra-Orthodox Shas and 11 for the pro-settler Jewish Home.

Israeli voters do not directly elect the prime minister — that depends instead on post-election negotiations in which the party leader who has the best chance of putting together a majority coalition in the newly-chosen parliament is given an opportunity to do so, offering both Cabinet posts and policy concessions to other blocs.

That person will have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If successful, he or she becomes prime minister. In the unlikely scenario that he or she is not successful, another party is chosen to try.

Although the blocs appear evenly split, Netanyahu would likely get the first shot at trying to form a coalition government, because the center-left bloc draws 12 of its parliamentary seats from Arab parties that traditionally neither have been asked nor sought to join coalitions.

With the blocs tied, Netanyahu will need Lapid in any constellation.

Lapid, in turn, called for “as broad a government as possible” that would include “moderate forces from the left and right,” but leaving unclear which partners he prefers.

Lapid is a member of Tel Aviv’s secular elite, the son of a former Cabinet minister and one of Israel‘s best-known faces, yet has portrayed himself as an average Israeli and champion of a middle class struggling to make ends meet.

During the campaign, he largely focused on domestic concerns, such as improving the education system, offering more affordable housing and ending blanket military draft exemptions and government stipends for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

He has said little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for a resumption of peace talks that were frozen during Netanyahu’s term, but also insisting Israel keep war-won east Jerusalem. Palestinians claim the eastern sector for a future capital, and would be unlikely to agree to an accord without shared sovereignty in the holy city.

Ofer Shelah, a leading member in Lapid’s party, said easing the burden on the middle class is a key demand, but that resuming talks with the Palestinians is also important. “We will insist on this with the same determination,” Shelah said.

Such demands could place Netanyahu in a difficult bind. The Israeli leader’s Likud, traditionally hawkish, became even more hard-line and pro-settlement after party primaries earlier this year and would likely balk at a government it deems too centrist.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would only return to talks on the terms of a Palestinian state if Netanyahu freezes construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967, along with the Gaza Strip.

Some 560,000 Israelis already live in areas they Palestinians want for their state, and Netanyahu has refused to halt construction. Instead, construction began on nearly 6,900 settlement apartments during his term, and thousands more housing units are in various stages of construction.

Lapid noted Wednesday that “we are facing a world that is liable to ostracize us because of the deadlock in the peace process,” but it was not clear if he would insist on a construction freeze as a condition for joining the coalition.

Instead, he could try to promote his domestic agenda, such as ending special privileges — notably draft exemptions — for the ultra-Orthodox. This could mean keeping ultra-Orthodox parties out of the coalition, but bringing in the pro-settler Jewish Home, which surged in Tuesday’s vote and draws much of its strength from the modern Orthodox community.

Jewish Home, led by former army commando and high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, like Lapid seeks a more equitable military draft. Yet Jewish Home‘s call to annex 60 percent of the West Bank and prevent the creation of a Palestinian state appears to clash with Lapid’s position.

In a sign of Lapid’s new rock star status, TV stations opted for split screens when both he and Netanyahu began addressing their supporters at the same time in different locations early Wednesday. The stations switched back and forth, torn over whose words were more important, and only after a while settled on Netanyahu and his claim of victory.

Lapid’s new political leverage could produce a more moderate Israeli government, but it’s not clear if that would be enough to end the paralysis in Mideast peace efforts.

In an interview last week, Lapid told The Associated Press he would not be a fig leaf in an extremist government and would make firm demands for joining, including returning to peace talks.

“I think it is crucial that we take the path of being part of the Western, civilized world and the international community,” he said at the time.

Under Netanyahu, Israel has become more isolated internationally, and President Barack Obama has signaled increasing displeasure with the prime minister’s settlement policies.

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AP Interview: UN chief wants action on climate

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says his top hopes for 2013 are to reach a new agreement on climate change and to mobilize world leaders to urgently end the deadly and divisive war in Syria.

The U.N. chief told The Associated Press that he’s also hoping for progress in reviving the still struggling global economy, restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and promoting political solutions in Mali, Congo and the Central African Republic.

Ban, speaking before heading to the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, said he plans to take “the uncommon opportunity” of being with some 2,500 government, business and civil society leaders in the Swiss ski resort to exchange frank views on these issues.

Ban warned: “Climate change is fast happening — much, much faster than one would have expected.”

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Palestinians despair over likely Netanyahu win

Palestinian officials largely view Benjamin Netanyahu‘s expected re-election with despair, fearing the Israeli hard-liner’s ambitious plans for settlement construction over the next four years could prove lethal to their dreams of a state.

Some in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ circle hold out hope that President Barack Obama will re-engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, freed from domestic electoral considerations in his second term, get tougher with Netanyahu on settlements. One aide suggested Europe is ready to jump in with its own peace plan if Washington is not.

But short of trying to rally international opinion, it seems Abbas can do little if Netanyahu wins Tuesday.

Israeli polls indicate that a majority of seats in Israel‘s 120-member parliament will go to right-wing, pro-settler or Jewish ultra-Orthodox religious parties, with Netanyahu’s Likud the largest among them. Netanyahu could comfortably form a coalition government with these parties, seen as his natural ideological allies.

Even if he adds a centrist party to the mix, he’s unlikely to shift course from the pro-settler policies of his current government.

Under Netanyahu, construction reportedly began on nearly 6,900 settlement homes in the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to set up a state in the three territories.

That’s a bit less than what was started by Netanyahu’s predecessor, but many of the new homes are deeper in the West Bank, the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said this week. Thousands more apartments are in various stages of planning, Peace Now said, predicting an “explosion” of settlement construction in coming years.

Since 1967, Israel has moved more than half a million of its citizens to the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The conflict with the Palestinians and the fate of the occupied lands, hotly debated in Israel for decades, were largely missing from Israeli political discourse this campaign season. The centrist Labor Party, which led peace talks with the Palestinians in the past, has shifted almost exclusively to domestic concerns, such as growing income gaps.

A research department in the Palestine Liberation Organization, reviewing Israeli party platforms, concluded that most parties proposed to manage the conflict with the Palestinians, not end it.

“This appears to scorch all hopes for the internationally endorsed two-state solution,” the department wrote in an internal memo distributed to Palestinian officials and foreign diplomats.

Abbas aide Mohammed Ishtayeh said he and other senior officials have been watching the Israeli campaign closely.

“The first strong impression is that peace is not on the agenda of the Israeli parties, and it’s clear that Netanyahu is winning,” he said.

A Netanyahu victory “will be hard for us because it means more and more building in the settlements.” he added.

Palestinians believe hopes for their state are slipping further away with each new settlement home, and that partition of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River may soon no longer be possible.

Abbas has warned in a series of meetings with visiting Israeli politicians and mayors in recent months that Netanyahu’s policies will force Israelis and Palestinians to live in a single state, said an Abbas aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about closed-door discussions.

President Abbas warned Israeli party leaders that in the short run, this one state imposed by Netanyahu will be an apartheid state, but in the long run, our grandchildren will ask for equality,” the aide said.

Settlements are at the core of the paralysis in peace efforts talks since late 2008. Netanyahu refuses to freeze construction, rebuffing Abbas who says there is no point in negotiating while settlements steadily gobble up more of the occupied lands.

The standoff is likely to continue, though the Palestinians believe their diplomatic leverage has improved.

In November, the U.N. General Assembly recognized a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. The vote, while largely symbolic, affirmed the 1967 frontier which the Palestinians want to be the base line for future border talks. Netanyahu, while willing to negotiate, wont’ recognize the 1967 lines as a point of reference and wants to keep all of Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Some Palestinian officials hope Obama will now be tougher with Netanyahu. Palestinians were disappointed in Obama‘s performance in his first term, with the president seen as having backed down in a showdown with Netanyahu over settlements.

Earlier this week, there were signs of a more assertive president.

An American columnist with close ties to the White House described Obama‘s disdain for Netanyahu, warning that Israel‘s relations with the U.S. could suffer if the Israeli government doesn’t change its policies. The columnist, Jeffrey Goldberg, quoted the president as saying that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”

Nabil Shaath, another Abbas aide, said the Obama administration needs to become more assertive.

The Americans “keep talking about negotiations and the need to restart the negotiations,” said Shaath. “But what is needed is for the U.S. to pressure Israel to stop settlement activities and to go to real negotiations, to reach an agreement within six months.”

Europe might also get more involved, he said. France, Britain and Germany are working on a peace initiative and are trying to get the U.S. on board, he said, adding that “there is nothing written on paper.”

Palestinian officials have said they might also try to challenge a Netanyahu-led Israel in other ways, including by seeking war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court over settlement building. However, such a move would likely anger the U.S. and Abbas has not taken any concrete steps in that direction.

While those around Abbas privately agonize over four more years of Netanyahu, many ordinary Palestinians seem indifferent to the outcome of the vote.

Wajdi Sbeih, an electrical engineer from the West Bank town of Ramallah, said he’ll watch the results Tuesday night, but won’t care much. “The Labor Party came, the Likud came, but when it came to the Palestinians, they all had the same politics,” he said.


Laub reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Dalia Nammari in Ramallah contributed.

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Jerusalem barrier spurs illicit building boom

Dozens of apartment towers sprouting up illicitly in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem are creating a fraught new dynamic in the struggle for control of the sacred city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kufr Aqab is one of several Arab areas within Jerusalem’s municipal borders that have been separated from the city by the meandering barrier Israel has built to wall off the West Bank.

While Israel tightly controls development anywhere inside the barrier, anything seems to go in Arab neighborhoods outside the structure, like Kufr Aqab.

Palestinians believe Israel is turning a blind eye to the hundreds of cheap wildcat apartments being built there, hoping the abundant housing will lure the city’s Arabs to the other side of the barrier. They fear Israel will one day make the barrier the new municipal line to cement a Jewish majority in the city, whose eastern part, including the Old City with its major religious shrines, the Palestinians claim as a future capital.

“They want to empty Jerusalem of Arabs,” said Ayoub Burkan, one of the newcomers in Kufr Aqab.

The 45-year-old driving instructor said he couldn’t afford to buy in his old neighborhood of Ras al-Amud, close to the Old City, and moved to Kufr Aqab, where apartments cost 75 percent less. Israeli restrictions on Arab construction in the city have produced a drastic housing shortage and priced most Palestinians out of the housing market there.

Israeli officials deny they plan to change Jerusalem’s boundary unilaterally.

Since Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has built a ring of settlements to tighten its grip on the area. These settlements, which Israel calls neighborhoods, are now home to nearly 200,000 Jews, compared to 300,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem. In all, Jerusalem has just over 800,000 residents.

Last summer, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat fueled fears of a status change for city neighborhoods outside the barrier when, citing “security-related difficulties” in providing services there, he proposed the Israeli military take over the task. The mayor denied that his idea, which was rejected by the army, was a precursor to changing Jerusalem’s boundaries.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the separation barrier is not a political border, and that a future border between Israel and a Palestinian state can only arise in negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes giving up any part of east Jerusalem.

The mini-Manhattan going up helter-skelter on Jerusalem’s northern edge is just the most visible sign of a chain reaction of Arab migration triggered by the barrier.

Kufr Aqab started out as a West Bank hamlet, but became part of Jerusalem after Israel captured the eastern sector of the city and the West Bank from Jordan. It extended the city’s boundaries eastward into the West Bank, tripling Jerusalem’s size in an annexation that is not internationally recognized. Israel included Kufr Aqab, some nine kilometers (six miles) from the city center, because it wanted to add a nearby airfield to Jerusalem’s territory, historians say.

In 2002, Israel began building the barrier, portraying it as a temporary defense against Palestinian militants who had killed hundreds of Israelis in an armed uprising.

City officials say the route of the Jerusalem segment, which keeps an estimated 80,000 Palestinians in Kufr Aqab and the Shuafat refugee camp on the West Bank side, was drawn up according to security considerations. However, Haim Ramon, at one point a government minister for Jerusalem affairs, later acknowledged the barrier was also meant to ensure a Jewish majority in the city.

By 2005, the barrier in northern Jerusalem was finished and Kufr Aqab residents now had to endure long waits at barrier checkpoints to reach jobs and schools in their city.

Initially, many Arab city residents moved to areas inside the barrier to avoid such hardships. But this drove up already high housing prices in east Jerusalem.

Moving to cheaper West Bank suburbs was a dangerous option. Leaving Jerusalem‘s city limits would put them at risk of being stripped by Israel of their Jerusalem residency permits, which grant them freedom of movement and access to Israel‘s health care and social services.

Suddenly, Kufr Aqab became an attractive option again. After the barrier was built, city building inspectors stopped coming to Kufr Aqab, residents said. Contractors responding to a huge demand began building densely packed apartment towers — a jarring sight in generally low-rise Jerusalem.

These days, Kufr Aqab‘s main road, which leads from the Jerusalem barrier’s Qalandiya crossing to the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian self-rule government, is lined with high-rises, many still under construction.

Khaled Matouk, his wife Suhair and their four children are among the thousands of recent arrivals.

The physician, who grew up in the Old City, said he was forced to leave his previous home in the West Bank when Israel suspended his health and pension benefits for living outside the city limits. Matouk, 48, said he couldn’t afford to rent or buy in areas inside the barrier, leaving him only with Kufr Aqab.

Burkan, the driving teacher, said in some ways, the absence of any local authority makes life in Kufr Aqab more relaxed. “But it’s (also) difficult because there are no good streets, no (proper) sewage system, no green areas and only random building,” he said.

Barak Cohen, a city spokesman, said the city continues to provide health and education services, but that a security threat in the area hampers other city services. He did not elaborate.

There are no firm population figures because of the neighborhood’s administrative limbo, but estimates range from 40,000 to 60,000. In all, about 120,000 of Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arabs live outside the barrier, estimates Ahmad Sublaban of Ir Amim, a group that promotes an equitable solution for Jerusalem.

There are barely any signs of an Israeli presence in Kufr Aqab, except for a clinic linked to Israel‘s health care service and a city-funded community center. An Israeli army marker near Kufr Aqab, spraypainted in Hebrew on a large cement block, reads “Entrance to Ramallah,” a warning to errant Israelis that they should turn back at this point.

Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and Jerusalem activist, called the chaos in Kufr Aqab an expression of the “absurdity and unsustainability” of Israeli policy in the Arab areas of the city.

It appears only an Israeli-Palestinian partition deal could end Kufr Aqab‘s limbo, but that seems increasingly unlikely.

Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have failed over the past four years to agree on the framework for renewing negotiations, and Netanyahu seems poised to be re-elected next week. At the same time, Israel has announced ambitious plans for more Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem.

In the meantime, the unregulated construction boom is causing long-term damage to areas like Kufr Aqab that would form the urban core of a future Palestine, said Ahmed Saleh, an official in the Palestinian Planning Ministry.

“One day, when we have a state, this area will be a huge obstacle to any planning and development,” he said.


Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Dalia Nammari in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

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Hamas flagship university grooms Hebrew teachers

Hamas’ flagship university in Gaza has a new diploma on offer — Hebrew, the official language of its arch-foe Israel.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers say they want to produce qualified teachers as the government gradually introduces Hebrew studies in its high schools. The aim is simple: It wants Palestinians in Gaza to learn their enemy’s language.

“As Jews are occupying our lands, we have to understand their language,” said Education Ministry official Somayia Nakhala.

There are 19 students enrolled in the first one-year Hebrew diploma course offered at the Islamic University in Gaza City, a stronghold of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007. Hamas does not recognize Israel, is officially pledged to its destruction and has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, rocket strikes and other attacks.

Officials hope graduates will become Hebrew teachers. Hamas has already begun offering Hebrew studies as an elective to ninth graders in 16 schools, and plans to expand the program to dozens of other schools in the coming months.

Israel occupied Gaza for 38 years after capturing it, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. Since withdrawing its settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, Israel has fought two wars against Hamas and restricts access to the territory by air, land and sea.

The coastal strip still relies on Israeli-run crossings for most consumer goods, and Gaza patients must receive special permits to reach medical care in Israel or the West Bank.

Students need to “understand what’s going on, like wars, medical treatment in Israel, in the West Bank,” said the Education Ministry‘s Nakhala.

There is no shortage of Hebrew speakers in Gaza, at least among older residents. For years, Gaza Palestinians entered Israel to work in restaurants, construction and other menial jobs. Thousands of others learned the language while held in Israeli prisons. In quieter times, many Israelis would come to Gaza to fix their cars, bargain hunt or eat at local restaurants.

But after the outbreak of the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s, Israelis stopped coming. After a second uprising erupted in 2000, Israel sharply restricted the entry of Gazans. Since Israel‘s pullout and the subsequent Hamas takeover, direct contact between the sides is virtually nonexistent.

This tortured relationship with Israel was on display during Hebrew class this week at the Islamic University.

Two women, their faces veiled in line with conservative Muslim beliefs, practiced Hebrew in a doctor-patient dialogue. When the conversation turned to the chilly weather, another student described being cold while held in an Israeli prison because he wasn’t given a blanket.

“Saval maspik,” he said in broken Hebrew. “Suffered enough.”

Discussing medical terms, lecturer Kamal Hamdan and a student created a dialogue between Palestinian paramedics and Israeli officials, asking how many people were wounded in an Israeli military incursion into Gaza.

Hamdan noted the similarities between Arabic and Hebrew, which are both Semitic tongues. He pointed at parts of his body, calling out the words.

“Rosh. Ras,” he said, speaking in Hebrew, then Arabic as he pointed at his head. “Af, anf,” he said, gesturing toward his nose, “Re-ot, Ri-a,” he said, speaking the words for lungs.

“The head is ‘rosh’?” a student asked. “Ah!” he exclaimed as it clicked.

“Even if there’s a difference in politics, culture, even if there is an occupation and oppression, the languages resemble each other,” Hamdan told the students.

The conversation even delved gingerly into Zionism, Israeli life and history.

In discussing the Israeli health care provider, “Maccabi,” Hamdan told the students the word referred to ancient Jewish rebels. That led to a discussion of the early Zionist hero Joseph Trumpeldor, who helped bring Jewish immigrants to Palestine and was killed in 1920 while defending a Jewish settlement. Hamdan repeated a phrase attributed to the fighter as he died: “It is good to die for our country.”

Some students said they were studying Hebrew to understand Israeli TV and radio broadcasts, which are easily accessible in Gaza.

Ghada Najjar, 26, described her frustration at not understanding Israeli news broadcasts during the last major round of Israel-Hamas fighting in November. At the time, Israel pounded Gaza from air and sea, while Palestinian militants fired rockets toward cities deep in Israeli territory.

“It’s a weapon, even if it’s not very powerful, to understand,” said the mother of two.

Jihad Abu Salim, 24, said he began studying Hebrew after participating in a four-month coexistence program at New York University.

“I felt it was my duty to learn more about their history, politics and culture,” he said.

Palestinian students in Gaza face unique challenges to learning Hebrew. Because of Israeli restrictions, few will ever practice the language with native speakers.

Contact with Israelis is frowned upon in Gaza, where it angers many residents who have lost loved ones or suffered injuries in fighting.

A small group of Gaza residents, mostly traders and medical officials, regularly enter Israel for business purposes. However, Hamas bristles at other contacts, and the government recently banned Gaza journalists from working for Israeli media. Some Gaza residents who communicate with Israeli friends on email or Skype say they shy away from discussing those relationships with others.

Hostile attitudes have left veteran Hebrew-language teachers treading a careful line. Like most Gaza residents, they view Israel bitterly after years of conflict. But they also have memories of more peaceful times, when they could freely enter Israel to study Hebrew.

Instructor Jamal al-Hadad, 60, railed against what he called linguistic theft, noting the many Arabic words that have been incorporated into modern Hebrew. “Like they stole Palestine, they also stole our words,” al-Hadad said.

But he also proudly showed off a collection of poems he had written in Hebrew, a mix of pro-Palestinian rhymes and odes to love. And he said he objected to the idea he was merely teaching the language of his foes.

“It is the language of our enemies,” he said. “But it is also the language of our neighbors.”

Mixed attitudes are common on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Arabic is supposed to be mandatory in Israeli high schools from 7th to 10th grade, but only about half of them teach it. In most cases, students take it for two years, according to the coexistence group Abraham Fund.

Israeli Arabic language specialists are typically sought for military and intelligence positions, to monitor Arabic media, interrogate Palestinian suspects, handle Palestinian informants or use it during undercover operations.

In Gaza, high schools stopped teaching Hebrew in the mid-1990s, after a Palestinian self-rule government took over civilian affairs. Last year, the Hamas government decided to bring the language back — an acknowledgment that Gazans need the language to deal with Israelis, a people they are intertwined with for the foreseeable future. And while Hebrew had been offered as an elective at several Gaza universities, this is the first diploma to exclusively focus on the language.

Regardless of Hamas’ intentions, teaching Hebrew could open doors of understanding, said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist.

“It has the potential to change world views,” said Baskin. “Facebook, email, chatting, the whole world is open. You can’t prevent contact if people want contact.”

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