Archive for December 17th, 2011

Iceland recognizes state of Palestine

Thursday 15/12/2011

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) — Iceland on Thursday became the first west European country to formally recognize a Palestinian state, three months after the Palestinians began to seek full membership of the United Nations with peace talks with Israel frozen indefinitely.

“(This) will surely have positive influence on other states to follow the same steps,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told a news conference in Reykjavik.

“Iceland didn’t only talk the talk, we walked the walk,” Icelandic Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson said. “We stood by our word, we have supported the Palestinian cause and today will not be the end of that, we will continue to do so.”

East European countries that were once part of the old Soviet bloc, as well as Cyprus — all of them now European Union members — previously recognized Palestine.

Israel and the United States have opposed any recognition of a Palestinian state not based on the outcome of negotiations. Washington’s major west European allies echo this position, but Iceland is outside the EU.

In late September, President Mahmoud Abbas asked the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. The UN at present classifies Palestine only as an observer “entity”.

Iceland led the way in recognizing the independence of the three Baltic states after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Middle East peace talks have been suspended for more than a year. Abbas refuses to negotiate while Israel goes on expanding settlements on occupied West Bank land and in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after a 1967 war in a move not recognized internationally.

Malki said he wanted negotiations to restart.

“We have committed ourselves to the process of negotiations and we continue to commit ourselves to the process of negotiations with the Israelis,” he said. But the peace process was “going nowhere at the moment”.

Israel has said it is open to resuming negotiations without preconditions, but Palestinian leaders insist they cannot enter talks while Israel continues building settlements on lands Palestinians need for a viable independent state.

“Actually we are only seeing setbacks. The current Israeli government is not interested in peace and the international community is not doing what is needed,” Malki said.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Qalqiliya teacher unpaid for ‘political reasons’

Saturday 17/12/2011

QALQILIYA (Ma’an) — A schoolteacher in the West Bank says she has been working for nearly four years without a salary after the PA ministry of finance suspended payments for alleged political reasons.

Hadiyya Daoud said she first discovered her salary had not been paid to her bank in 2008, four years after she qualified with the ministry of education and took her post at a school in Qalqiliya.

The ministry of education referred her to the finance ministry, “who told me my salary was suspended, but I was not fired,” Daoud told Ma’an in a recent interview.

Daoud says she was informed the withdrawal of her salary was due to her alleged affiliation to Hamas, which she denies.

She told the government she is not affiliated to any political party and has abided by all PA rules, but her salary has not been reinstated, Daoud added.

The school principal said Hadiyya is doing the best job she can despite not receiving her salary for nearly four years.

Teachers’ union member Bassam Naim said dozens of civil servants have been fired or moved from their job for political reasons, but Daoud’s case is unique insofar as her salary was suspended without her being fired.

The union is following up with her case, he said.

Daoud appealed to President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the West Bank government to help her get payment for her job.

Her salary “is the only source of income for me, my mother and sisters,” Daoud said.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.

Jordan’s Islamists call for ‘salvation gov’t’

By Taylor Luck

THE JORDANIAN ISLAMIST movement has called for the formation of an emergency government to carry out “urgent reforms”, as the Muslim Brotherhood reiterated its demands for wider constitutional amendments.

Following a meeting of its executive branch late Wednesday, the Islamic Action Front (IMF), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political branch, called for a “national salvation government” to overcome political, economic and social “crises” currently facing the Kingdom.

Islamists urged Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh to head a government representing the interests of various political and social forces in the Kingdom to reduce the role of security services in public life, push through constitutional reform and draft a new elections law.

According to IAF politburo chief Zaki Bani Rsheid, the salvation government should be entrusted with “paving the way” for elections and wider political reforms which the movement claims have been “stalled” for nearly 11 months.

Islamist leaders claim that a recent spike in social violence and ongoing weekly protests are “warning signs” that the Kingdom cannot afford further delays in implementing political and economic reforms.

“If the government does not take immediate measures to alleviate the situation, we believe Jordan is entering a dangerous phase,” warned Hamzah Mansour, IAF secretary general.

“This is why we push for a national salvation government to restore the public’s trust in the political process.”

The demand marks the closest the movement has come to criticizing the government of Awn Khasawneh, who reached out to the Muslim Brotherhood during the formation of his Cabinet in late October.

The statement comes amidst ongoing negotiations between Islamists and decision makers over its participation in the political process – widely viewed by officials and observers alike as key to the legitimacy of any upcoming elections.

Islamists have pinned their participation to a series of demands, including wider constitutional reforms guaranteeing an elected government, protecting the Lower House against dissolution, an elections law relying on proportional representation and the dissolution of the State Security Court.

According to the movement, the demand for a salvation government does not represent a break from its reform demands or criticism of the Khasawneh government, but rather a policy demand stemming from a growing “concern” for the domestic situation in Jordan.

“We are noticing that from the economy to the social sphere, the situation in Jordan is getting tenser day after day,” Bani Rsheid told The Jordan Times.

“We don’t want slogans or rhetoric, we want immediate action.”

In its statement, the movement also staked its position on the latest domestic and international issues, weighing in on issues ranging from the protection of Islamic sites in Jerusalem to the demands of disgruntled municipal employees in Jneid.

The movement expressed concerns over the minister of finance’s previously announced intentions to raise water, electricity and fuel tariffs, warning against measures that will affect average citizens which it claims are already facing the negative impact of a struggling economy.

“We need officials to find ways to raise funds other than raising the prices of basic goods that affect all citizens,” Mansour said.

The Islamist movement also welcomed the statements of His Majesty King Abdullah and Khasawneh earlier this month stressing that “no one is above the law”, urging for the Anti-Corruption Commission to refer all corruption cases to court in “transparency and justice”.

In its statement, the IAF condemned the attack on the home of MP Hamad Hajaya and the manner in which security services treated protesters who closed the Desert Highway in the Qatraneh area to demand the reclamation of wajihat – state-owned lands allocated for various tribes during the Ottoman era for grazing and habitation purposes.

The Islamist movement also called on the government to take action against Syrian embassy cadre in Amman who they claimed “broke the law and diplomatic norms” earlier this week by using physical force against Syrian nationals whom Damascus claimed stormed its embassy.

16 December 2011

Source: The Jordan Times.

Jordan, Georgia to boost cooperation in crisis management

By Hani Hazaimeh

AMMAN – Minister of Interior Mohammad Al Raoud and his Georgian counterpart Ivane Merabishvili on Thursday signed an agreement that paves the way for boosting joint cooperation in civil defense crisis management.

Al Raoud said Amman and Tblisi are parties to several agreements that have contributed to enhancing bilateral ties and boosting cooperation, adding that the newly signed agreement will add a new brick to the wall of Jordan’s and Georgia’s “strong and distinguished relations”.

“Our two countries signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement in 2010 and earlier this year the two sides signed a joint cooperation agreement in the health, tourism, trade, science and technology, culture, investment, education and youth sectors,” he added.

“The Civil Defense Department (CDD) in the Kingdom has advanced experience in crisis and disaster management. The government recently established the Regional Civil Protection Center in cooperation with the International Civil Defense Organization (ICDO),” the minister said, noting that the center is tasked with providing a databank of civil protection related news and exchanging technical data and experience among ICDO members.

Merabishvili said Georgia has been subject to frequent natural and manmade disasters and aspires to benefit from the Kingdom’s experience in crisis management and civil protection services.

“Jordan’s has acquired an advanced reputation in this field for its regional and international efforts in assisting countries subject to different kinds of disasters. We hope that the agreement will facilitate more cooperation and stronger ties between our two countries,” he added.

Merabishvili said his ministry will work with the Georgian ministry of foreign affairs to seek an agreement with its Jordanian counterpart to cancel visa requirements for citizens of both countries, in order to increase the flow of tourists between Jordan and Georgia and give their citizens the opportunity to learn more about each other’s cultures.

16 December 2011

Source: The Jordan Times.

Jordan set to end reliance on Egyptian gas

By Taylor Luck

JORDAN IS SET to move away from Egyptian gas due to the growing unreliability of the country’s main energy source, officials say.

In a statement earlier this week, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Qutaiba Abu Qura announced that the ministry is intensifying efforts to secure alternatives to Egyptian gas, on which Jordan relies for 80 per cent of its electricity generation needs, adding that the resource will not factor in the Kingdom’s future energy plans.

The minister’s statement, issued during a meeting of the Lower House Finance Committee, came amidst reports in the Egyptian press that Amman has gone back on its decision to ratify a new natural gas agreement, which was approved by the Cabinet in August and has been pending Cairo’s approval.

Officials denied that Jordan has formally withdrawn its support for the amended agreement, under which Egypt is expected to triple gas prices.

“We have had no developments, either towards ending or signing the new agreement,” Farouq Hiyari, the energy ministry’s secretary general, told The Jordan Times.

Despite the denials, according to a ministry source, frustration over the unreliability of gas supplies and a lack of communication from the Egyptian side has led Jordanian officials to “give up” on an arrangement that at its peak supplied the Kingdom with some 300 million cubic feet per day.

The Egyptian ministry of petrol declined to comment.

Cairo has yet to resume pumping since a Sinai explosion cut supplies on November 28, marking the ninth attack on supply line since the beginning of the year and the third in less than a month.

The most recent attacks came amidst assurances by Egyptian authorities that an increased military presence in the Sinai Peninsula combined with the arrest of several jihadists allegedly behind the spate of attacks would lead to the security of the pipeline.

According to sources at E-Gas, one of the two firms that oversee the 400-kilometre Arab Gas Pipeline – which also supplies Israel – repairs have faced “unexpected” delays leading to the prolonged disruption, which has forced the Kingdom’s power plants onto their fuel reserves at a cost of some JD3 million per day.

Economists say the series of attacks have had a direct impact on Jordan, with the series of disruptions pushing the national energy bill to record levels – over JD4 billion – and expected to widen the National Electric Power Company’s budget deficit to JD1.4 billion by the end of the year.

“For months NEPCO has covered the difference in price between natural gas and heavy oil, but this burden has become unsustainable,” NEPCO General Manager Ghaleb Maabreh recently told The Jordan Times.

According to officials, a ministerial team is to travel to Cairo “soon” to review the issue of gas supplies with their Egyptian counterparts before Jordan formally moves to end its decade-long reliance on Egyptian gas.

Meanwhile, Hiyari said talks are intensifying with Iraq and several Arab Gulf states over the potential of importing natural and liquid gas over the next decade as Jordan attempts to develop domestic energy sources including oil shale and nuclear power.

Despite the renewed efforts to secure additional energy sources, officials say it will take up to two years from the signing of any agreement before Jordan can benefit from a new energy market due to infrastructure requirements.

Should Jordan decide to end its decade-long reliance on Egyptian gas supplies, Hiyari said the government will resort to the international energy market to maintain electricity generation in parallel with its drive to secure additional energy sources.

“We will have no problem meeting the needs of electricity plants needs with oil and diesel during this period,” Hiyari said.

Energy officials privately conceded that the move will impact electricity tariffs as heavy fuel oil and diesel are much costlier than Egyptian gas imports, which Jordan previously received at prices of less than half the international market rate.

Sources claim the government has previously hesitated to formally end the country’s gas deal with Egypt for fear of raising electricity tariffs at a time of popular unrest over a struggling economy and a stalled political reform drive.

“Officials have finally come to the decision they can no longer wait around for the Egyptian situation to improve,” said an energy official who was not authorized to speak to the press.

“They have come to the terms that Jordan can no longer rely on subsidized energy.”

While an added economic burden for citizens, industry observers say the move away from Egyptian gas will serve as a boost to Jordanian oil shale, which experts say is cost competitive with unsubsidized natural gas, and renewable energy, which advocates claim has long been neglected in favor of subsidized fossil fuels.

Despite the recent boost in investments in the alternative energy sector, Jordan will not see the production of electricity from oil shale before 2016, while the first large-scale renewable energy project, a 90-megawatt wind farm south of Shobak, is not expected to come online before 2014.

Observers say uncertainty over Egyptian gas has elevated energy from a policy concern to an issue of national security for Jordan, which currently imports 98 per cent of its energy needs at a cost of 23 per cent of the gross domestic product.

16 December 2011

Source: The Jordan Times.