Palestinian Government Sets Economic Reform Plan for Gaza Strip

October 5, 2017

Ramallah– Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah presented on Wednesday highlights of his government’s economic reform plan in the Gaza Strip.

“We have plans ready for action,” said Hamdallah, who remained in Gaza with a group of ministers following a Cabinet session on Tuesday.

“We hope we can invest in industrial areas and gas fields,” he stated, addressing a group of Gazan businessmen.

The prime minister was referring to his intention to reproduce the experience of the West Bank in the establishment of large industrial zones, which is still in its early stages, and to start extracting gas from the natural gas field off the coast of Gaza, which was discovered in 1998.

The Authority highlighted an initial agreement with foreign companies for gas extraction, hoping that the Gaza gas field would be one of the foundations of the Palestinian economy.

In addition, Hamdallah said that his government was looking to improve the business and investment environment in Gaza, to work on the land settlement and water purification projects and to complete infrastructure and sanitation plans.

The economic file will be one of the most important issues that the Palestinian government will have to deal with, in the wake of the high rates of unemployment and poverty, and the significant and dangerous economic decline witnessed over the last period.

According to a recent study, the Gaza Strip incurred losses worth $15 billion over the past ten years.

Hamdallah stressed that his government would work to improve the economic situation, despite the decline of foreign aid by more than 70 percent, the delivery of only 35.5 percent of aid, and with many countries not fulfilling their commitments to reconstruction in Gaza.

The prime minister, however, linked the ability of his government to implement its economic plans with the agreement between Fatah and Hamas on the reconciliation files in Cairo.

“We hope that reconciliation will be a lever for our efforts in this context, which will contribute to improving our economy and the living conditions of citizens,” he said.

Two delegations from Fatah and Hamas are expected to arrive next Monday in Cairo, upon an invitation by Egyptian Intelligence Chief Khalid Fawzi.

On Tuesday, Hamdallah presided over a Cabinet meeting in the Gaza Strip, in a move towards reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas parties.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://english.aawsat.com/kifah-ziboun/news-middle-east/palestinian-government-sets-economic-reform-plan-gaza-strip.

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Palestinian cabinet convenes in Gaza for first time since 2014 amid Fatah, Hamas unity talks

GAZA CITY, Palestine

October 3, 2017

The Palestinian cabinet met in Gaza on Tuesday for the first time since 2014 in a further step towards the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority retaking control of the territory.

The meeting of the Fatah-led government, which is based in the occupied West Bank, comes as part of moves to end a decade-long split between the PA and the Hamas movement, which runs Gaza.

In an opening speech, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah renewed his pledge to end the rift.

“We are here to turn the page on division, restore the national project to its correct direction and establish the (Palestinian) state,” he said.

It was the first meeting of the cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, and comes a day after Hamdallah entered the territory for the first time since a unity government collapsed in June 2015.

On Monday, he met with senior Hamas figures, including leader Ismail Haniya.

After Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, government spokesman Yusuf Al Mahmud said ministers discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza. No Hamas officials took part.

Mahmud warned that a full reconciliation deal would take time.

“The government does not have a magic wand,” he told reporters.

More than two million people live in impoverished Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for years.

The sides will hold further talks next week in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Punitive measures imposed by the PA against Hamas, including cutting electricity payments for Gaza, would remain in place pending the result of those talks, Mahmoud added.

Hamas called for the measures to be ended immediately as a show of good will.

“Our people look forward to practical steps to ease their suffering,” a statement said.

A main sticking point between the parties is whether tens of thousands of Hamas employees will be added to the PA’s already bloated government payroll. It is also unclear if Hamas will allow its militants to be replaced by PA security forces, especially at Gaza’s border crossings to Egypt.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing it from the PA in a near civil war in 2007 after Hamas swept 2006 legislative polls that were ultimately rejected by Fatah, Israel and the international community. So far, multiple previous reconciliation attempts have failed.

Last month, Hamas announced they were willing to cede civilian control to the PA, following Egyptian pressure.

The United States and the European Union blacklist Hamas as a terrorist organization, complicating the formation of any potential unity government.

The head of Egyptian intelligence Khaled Fawzi is to visit Gaza later on Tuesday and meet with Hamas and PA officials, including Haniya.

‘Carefully optimistic’

Tuesday’s cabinet session took place at the official Gaza residence of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the cabinet office, hung with portraits of Abbas and historic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Huge posters of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who brokered the reconciliation effort, were also featured outside Abbas’ residence.

Abbas himself remained in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Hamas security were on the roof of the building, while Palestinian Authority agents were deployed inside, an AFP correspondent reported.

“Today we are faced with a historic revival in which we are grappling with our wounds and elevating our unity,” Hamdallah said, reaffirming that there would be no Palestinian state without Gaza.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said on Monday that he was “carefully optimistic” about the reconciliation talks.

“If the region stays engaged, if Egypt’s role continues and if the political parties themselves continue to show the willingness they are currently showing to work with us on this process, then it can succeed,” he told AFP.

In an interview on Monday night Abbas said that while the two sides “might have wronged each other and cursed each other, today we enter a new phase.”

A key issue is Hamas’s powerful military wing that has fought three wars with Israel since 2008. Hamas officials reject the possibility of dissolving it.

Abbas told Egypt’s CBC that there will be “one state, one system, one law and one weapon” — in an apparent reference to Hamas’s military wing.

He also warned Hamas could not “copy or clone Hezbollah’s experience in Lebanon,” referring to a situation where an independent armed group exerts major influence on national politics.

The United States cautiously welcomed Hamdallah’s visit, but White House special envoy Jason Greenblatt warned any Palestinian government “must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties and peaceful negotiations.”

The Palestinian Authority has signed peace deals with Israel, but Hamas was not party to them and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2017/10/03/palestinian-cabinet-convenes-in-gaza-for-first-time-since-2014-amid-fatah-hamas-unity-talks.

Palestinian leader launches reconciliation push in Gaza

October 02, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Palestinian prime minister traveled Monday to the Gaza Strip to launch an ambitious reconciliation effort with the rival Hamas militant group, receiving a hero’s welcome from thousands of people as the sides moved to end a bitter 10-year rift.

Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, representing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, was joined by dozens of top officials, aides and security men on the trip from the West Bank through Israel and into Gaza to meet with the Hamas officials. It is by far the most ambitious attempt at reconciliation since Hamas seized power of the coastal strip in 2007.

The sides exchanged smiles, handshakes and pleasantries — a reflection of the changed climate that has ripened conditions for reconciliation after other failed attempts. But difficult negotiations lie ahead, and key sticking points, particularly who will control Hamas’ vast weapons arsenal, could easily derail the effort.

On Monday, at least, the two sides put aside their differences. Well-wishers surrounded Hamdallah’s car as it entered Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing, and dozens of Palestinian youths gathered alongside a barbed-wire fence to glimpse the welcoming ceremony. Some waved Palestinian or yellow Fatah flags, and many chanted Hamdallah’s name.

“The only way to statehood is through unity,” Hamdallah told the crowd of about 2,000. “We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.” Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated greatly in a decade of Hamas rule, and the feeling of hope by desperate residents was palpable Monday.

Thousands lined the streets to watch Hamdallah’s 30-vehicle convoy. The crowd forced the delegation to delay its first meeting at the home of the top Fatah official in Gaza and instead take a break at a beachside hotel.

Dozens of vehicles later returned to the Shejayeh neighborhood for the lunch. Hamas’ top leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Yehiyeh Sinwar, said next to Hamdallah and West Bank security chief Majed Faraj. “This is a day of joy,” said Shaima Ahmed, 28, a women’s rights activist who covered her shoulders with a Palestinian kaffiyeh. “Yes it’s difficult and not easy to go forward, but we only have to be optimistic this time.”

Hamas ousted the Fatah-led forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in the summer of 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments on opposite sides of Israel. Hamas has ruled Gaza, while Abbas’ party has controlled autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Abbas seeks both territories, along with east Jerusalem, for a Palestinian state, and the division is a major obstacle to any possible peace deal. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, although it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

While previous reconciliation attempts have failed, years of international isolation and steadily worsening conditions in Gaza have pushed Hamas toward compromise. In a significant concession, Hamas has offered to turn over all governing responsibilities to Hamdallah. His ministers are expected to begin taking over government ministries Tuesday, with negotiations in Cairo on more difficult issues in the coming weeks.

Hamdallah said the reconstruction of Gaza, which is still recovering from a 2014 war with Israel, would be a priority. “We realize that the road is still long and hard. We will be faced with obstacles and challenges, but our people are able to rise again from among destruction and suffering,” he said.

Several factors appear to be working in favor of reconciliation. Under Hamas’ watch, Gaza has fallen deeper into poverty, battered by a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade and three devastating wars with Israel. Unemployment is estimated at over 40 percent, Gaza’s 2 million residents are virtually barred from traveling abroad, and residents have electricity for only a few hours a day.

Sinwar, Hamas’ newly elected leader, has expressed willingness to yield most power to Abbas, preferring to return to his group’s roots as an armed “resistance” movement battling Israel. The group’s leadership is based entirely in Gaza, meaning they no longer have to consult with exiled leaders spread across the Arab world to make difficult decisions.

And perhaps most critically, Hamas has improved relations with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The former general took office after the military ousted then-President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, had close ties with Hamas, and el-Sissi has previously accused Hamas of cooperating with Islamic extremists in Egypt’s neighboring Sinai peninsula. But the sides have grown closer in recent months, with Hamas now providing security cooperation with Egypt and el-Sissi promising to ease the blockade.

Reflecting these improved ties, Egyptian envoys attended Monday’s ceremony, and posters of the Egyptian flag and el-Sissi were hoisted at major intersections. Egypt also maintains good ties with Israel and could potentially play an important role in selling a reconciliation deal to Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist group.

Abbas also has much to gain. The 82-year-old Palestinian leader has said the rift with Gaza is his greatest regret. Regaining control of Gaza would help him burnish his legacy, especially after years of failure in peace efforts with Israel.

Still, many obstacles lie ahead. While Hamas is eager to give up its governing responsibilities, officials say the group will not give up its arsenal of thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at Israel.

Officials close to Abbas say he will not agree to allow Hamas to become like Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that dominates its country’s politics. The sides will have to find a formula that not only is acceptable to them but which Israel would be willing to tolerate.

Israel has demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognize its right to exist as part of any reconciliation deal. It also remains unclear what will happen to Hamas’ 40,000 civil servants, who were hired after Abbas forced his employees in Gaza to resign after the Hamas takeover. In an area with few jobs, both sides will likely want their loyalists to receive salaries.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmi said the sides are up to the task. “We believe these issues are difficult, but with our will and patience, we can resolve them,” he said. In signs of good spirits, a family named their child born in Gaza Monday after the visiting Palestinian prime minister, and the official TV station of Abbas’ government broadcast its main news bulletin from Gaza for the first time in a decade since the Hamas takeover.

Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said in a statement the U.S. “welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza.” It added that “any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel,” and should also accept previous agreements between the parties.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian PM Arrives in Gaza in First Step in Reconciliation

October 2, 2017

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday in what is seen as a major step towards ending the decade-long rift between Fatah and Hamas, which seized control of the coastal strip in 2007.

Hamdallah drove through the Israeli Erez crossing, heading a large delegation of Fatah officials from the West Bank trying to end the dispute.

Hamas announced last week that it was handing over administrative control of the Gaza Strip to a unity government headed by Hamdallah, but the movement’s armed wing remains the dominant power in the enclave of two million people.

Hamas’s reversal was the most significant step toward elusive Palestinian unity since the government was formed in 2014. It failed to function in Gaza because of disputes between Hamas and Fatah over its responsibilities.

Analysts said narrowing internal divisions could help Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas counter Israel’s argument that it has no negotiating partner for peace.

A Hamas police honor guard and hundreds of Palestinians, many of them waving Palestinian flags, welcomed Hamdallah outside the Hamas-controlled checkpoint, down the road from the Erez crossing.

“It is a day of Eid, a national holiday,” said Abdel-Majid Ali, 46. “We hope this time reconciliation is for real.”

Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, made its dramatic reversal toward unity last month, disbanding its Gaza shadow government, after Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed an economic boycott on its main donor, Qatar, over support of terrorism.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://english.aawsat.com/asharq-al-awsat-english/news-middle-east/palestinian-pm-arrives-gaza-first-step-reconciliation.

Fatah welcomes Hamas pledge to try to end Palestinian split

September 17, 2017

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement on Sunday welcomed a pledge by its Hamas rival to accept key conditions for ending a decade-old Palestinian political and territorial split, but said it wants to see vows implemented before making the next move.

Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed since the militant Hamas drove forces loyal to Abbas from the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after defeating Fatah in parliament elections. The takeover led to rival governments, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Abbas in charge of autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Earlier Sunday, Hamas announced that it has accepted key Abbas demands for ending the split. This includes holding general elections in the West Bank and Gaza, dissolving a contentious Gaza administrative committee and allowing an Abbas-led “unity government,” formed in 2014 but until now unable to start operating in Gaza, to finally assume responsibility there.

The announcement came after separate talks by Hamas and Fatah delegations with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo in recent days. Egypt relayed Fatah demands to Hamas that as a first step, it must dissolve the administrative committee, its de facto government in Gaza, and allow the unity government to take charge.

“We accepted that as a sign of our good will toward reconciliation,” Hamas official Hussam Badran told The Associated Press. “The administrative committee is now dissolved and the government can come to Gaza today to assume its responsibilities and duties,” he said.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah participant in the talks, said Hamas and Fatah agreed to meet in Cairo within 10 days, during which time the national unity government should assume its responsibility in Gaza.

Mahmoud Aloul, another Fatah official, told the Voice of Palestine radio that the news from Cairo is encouraging, but that “we want to see that happening on the ground before we move to the next step.”

Hamas has been greatly weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel and international isolation. Gaza’s economy is in tatters and residents of the territory have electricity for only a few hours a day. In recent months, Abbas has stepped up financial pressure on Hamas, including by scaling back electricity payments to Gaza, to force his rivals to cede ground.

Still, there were no guarantees that this deal would succeed where others failed. In previous deals, including one brokered by Egypt in 2011, both sides professed willingness to reconcile, but ultimately balked at giving up power in their respective territories.

A key sticking point in the past was Hamas’ refusal to place its security forces in Gaza under the control of an Abbas-led unity government. It also was not clear how Egypt’s latest effort aligns with its previous tacit support for a separate Gaza power-sharing deal between Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled former Abbas aide-turned-rival.

Hezbollah leader: Kurdish vote will sow division in region

September 30, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group has warned that a controversial referendum on support for independence in Iraq’s Kurdistan will lead to dividing several countries in the region.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Saturday night that the referendum held on Monday does not threaten Iraq alone but also Turkey, Syria and Iran, which all have large Kurdish minorities. Iran, Turkey and Syria rejected this week’s symbolic referendum, in which Iraq’s Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence.

Nasrallah said the divisions would also reach other countries in the region including Saudi Arabia, a country that he harshly criticized in his speech. “The responsibility of the Kurds, Iraqi people and concerned counties … is to stand against the beginning of divisions,” Nasrallah said.

Jordan: Syrian refugee camp holds recruitment fair

October 6, 2017

50 Jordanian companies and factories took part in a recruitment fair in the Zaatari refugee camp yesterday in an effort to help Syrian refugees find work.

The exhibition, organized by the Zaatari Employment Office in cooperation with UNHCR and the International Labor Organisation (ILO), is the first of its kind in the camp located in Mafraq, 85 kilometers northeast of Amman. It is being held nearly two months after the Jordanian Ministry of Labor began issuing work permits to refugees residing in refugee camps allowing them to work outside of the camps.

Statistics from the Ministry of Labor indicate that more than 7,000 Syrian refugees residing in the Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps were issued work permits.

Ahmed Orabi, owner of a Jordanian clothing factory, participated in the exhibition hoping to get skilled Syrian tailors and seamstresses. “The Syrians are skilled textile workers who have a good reputation in the field,” he explained, adding that there are about 35 refugees currently working at his factory.

Orabi received dozens of requests for employment from the refugees which he will review. He told Alaraby Al-Jadeed:  ‘I am looking for workers with experience. It is not a problem if they have minimal experience, as they can be trained quickly.”

The Jordanian Labor Law applies to Syrian refugees in terms of working hours and minimum wages, while the factory, located in a city about 30 kilometers from the camp, provides transport.

Refugees also benefit from financial exemptions provided by the Jordanian Labor Ministry in order to encourage them to apply for work permits. The fee for a working permit is $14.

Jordan began granting work permits to Syrian refugees living outside the camps following the Supporting Syria and the Region conference held in London in February last year. This came after European countries promises to facilitate the entry of Jordanian exports into their countries, in exchange for granting 200,000 work permits to refugees.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171006-jordan-syrian-refugee-camp-holds-recruitment-fair/.