M!ddleEasterners Newsblog 1 – 8 July
US Secretary of State John Kerry, on his fifth visit to the Middle East in a matter of months, is set to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in efforts to renew peace talks. Kerry warned that prospects for peace talks could be lost if there is no progress made by the UN General Assembly meeting in September. He said he was not setting a deadline for resuming negotiations, however maintained that time is an enemy stating “the passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen.” However, recent reports have shown that there may be possible concessions from both parties. Israeli media reported this week that Prime Minister Netanyahu may be willing to make gestures such as freeing more than 100 Palestinian prisoners and freezing new construction outside Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. Israeli media also reported that Palestinian President Abbas had dropped his previous requirements of a settlement freeze and the 1967 borders for resuming talks. However, Israel went on to approve the construction of 69 new homes in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Israeli officials stressed that the apartments had been approved years prior, and building permits had only been issued.
Kerry’s back and forth talks between Netanyahu and Abbas have mirrored Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy and has earned praise from President Shimon Peres telling Kerry that there is “a great expectation that you will do it and that you can do it”.
As he hosted the Italian Prime Minister, Netanyahu stated that he is ready to enter a “peace tent” with Mahmoud Abbas. At the beginning of the meeting he stated “We want peace…I want peace. We want to restart peace negotiations as soon as possible, without any obstacles.” His statements came only one day after Kerry left the country with no personal meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu initiated, which would have been the first in 3 years. At a press conference Kerry stated that ‘real’ progress has been made from the separate talks and “that with a little more work, the start of final-status negotiations could be within reach.” Both Netanyahu and Abbas have publically stated their readiness at holding direct talks and have requested Kerry to return soon, a promising sign.
Calls for peace talks by Netanyahu have not only just been declared in the last few days. Earlier in June at his speech to the 40 Signatures Knesset he called on Abbas “to put aside the preconditions and come to talk. I will appeal to him in a language we both know and I say to him in English: Give peace a chance.” Emphasising that preconditions not a play part in negotiations he told the Knesset: “We need to sit down, raise the various demands and positions of both sides and try to reach genuine peace. This is my goal and I hope it will be the goal of the Palestinian leadership.” In his speech he also called for greater integration of Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs work force into the labour market, where unemployment was recorded at its lowest in 30 years, in a bid to show the readiness of Israel in incorporating all the necessary steps to achieving lasting peace and security: a key requirement for Israel.
Meanwhile Israeli settlers have called for the boycott of MacDonald’s after the franchise refused to open a store at the Israeli settlement of Ariel which stretches 16 kilometres east of the green line in the West Bank. MacDonald’s has been accused by the residents of becoming politicised with the Mayor of Ariel criticising the move as discriminatory. The move, however, was supported by individuals such as the executive director of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, stating “In every democratic country, every person or company has the right to choose not to go against their values, ideology or morals…The decision of McDonald’s reflects this and we support it.”
Turkey, Jordan and Iraq have all constricted their borders from permitting any more Syrian refugees through leaving thousands stranded. 1.7 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries as the two year conflict rages on but the resources to accommodate the refugee’s means that conditions at refugee camps are dire.
Meanwhile Assad’s forces have begun an offensive in recapturing the central city of Homs from rebel control. The troops, backed my Hezbollah militia men, have made steady gains in and around Homs and in the towns bordering Lebanon by securing a main road to Hezbollah bases in Lebanon and army bases in the coastal region where Russian weapons have been shipped to aid Assad’s forces. British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Assad to halt his “brutal assault” on Homs and as Assad’s forces continue their advance many of the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia have renewed calls for the armament of rebels and for Lebanon to do more to stop ‘parties’ interfering in Syria. Syria’s own conflict has spilled over into Lebanon seeing unrest for the last couple of months and threatening to ignite another sectarian civil war. Meanwhile protests have continued to ring loud in support of Islamist cleric Ahmed Al Assir in Tripoli whose supporters have been fighting those loyal to Hezbollah in an effort to curb Hezbolla dominance within Lebanon.
Meanwhile China has seen its deadliest unrest in more than 4 years in the Xinjiang province, home to Muslim Uighurs, blaming the Syrian opposition for training Islamic extremists. 35 people were reportedly killed in attacks last week by a gang said to be engaged in ‘religious extremist activities’ influenced by Islamist groups trained in Syria.