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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Politics

WEST BANK: U.S. envoys' paper emboldens Abbas to go before U.N.

A paper special U.S. peace envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that was supposed to sway him away from going to the United Nations was what caused Abbas to take a final stand in favor of going, according to Nabil Shaath, a member of Abbas’ Fatah Central Committee.

Abbas told the Palestinian people on Friday that he is going to the Security Council to ask for membership in spite of strong U.S. objections and attempts to have him change his mind.

Shaath, speaking in Ramallah on Saturday, said the U.S. paper Hale and Ross had presented to Abbas when they met him at his headquarters and that was supposed to get him to decide against going to the U.N. has actually increased his resolve to go.

“It was the last straw” that got Abbas to take the decision in favor of going to the U.N. to ask for membership, Shaath said. “It seems that it [the paper] was designed to be rejected,” he said.

The American paper, Shaath said, was worse than a statement the U.S. had wanted the Middle East quartet -- the U.S., the U.N., Russia and the European Union -- to adopt two months ago and which the quartet members had then rejected.

The U.S. paper, he said, referred to the controversial settlements Israel had been building on Palestinian land occupied since 1967 as “demographic changes.” This, he said, would actually legalize the settlements, which the entire world, including the U.S., had so far considered as illegal.

Abbas is going to submit his membership application to the Security Council as soon as he finishes his speech, which he plans to make at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

Shaath said it may take a few days to bring it up for discussion and then a vote.

However, he said, if the application was delayed for whatever reason beyond reasonable time, the Palestinian Authority may then go to the U.N. General Assembly to ask for nonmember state.

In his speech to Palestinians Friday, Abbas said that he was going only to the Security Council without saying what would his next step be in case the U.S. vetoes the Palestinian application, as it has already said it would do. He only said that he will hold consultations on the next move.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank


WEST BANK: 18 years after Oslo, Palestinians try a new tack

On Sept. 13, 1993, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and current Israeli President Shimon Peres signed at the While House the so-called Oslo Accords, ushering in a new era and hopes of peace in the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The agreement was signed in the presence of President Bill Clinton, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

At a news conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday to talk about the Palestinians' latest U.N. statehood bid, Palestinian Authority negotiator Muhammad Shtayeh made reference to that agreement.

“The Oslo Accords was an interim agreement that should have reached a conclusion on May 4, 1999,” he said. “It was supposed to bring results through bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.”

However, 18 years later, as the Israeli occupation that was supposed to end more than 10 years ago remains in place and an independent Palestinian state is far from being a reality, the Palestinian Authority decided to try another course of action, asking the United Nations' 193 member states to recognize “Palestine” as member No. 194, based on the 1967 borders.

“The bilateral arrangement of Oslo is now taking us to the multilateral road, which is the U.N.,” said Shtayeh.

Whether the Palestinians will succeed in changing their fate remains to be seen when the Palestinian Authority formally asks the U.N. Security Council for recognition in a couple of weeks.

But as the date for submitting that application gets closer, Palestinians are coming under intense direct and indirect pressure from the U.S. and Europe to withdraw their initiative.

Well informed sources said the pressure seems to have made headway with at least some Arab countries upon which the Palestinians were counting for support in their bid.

Abbas traveled to Cairo on Monday to ask Arab foreign ministers meeting there for their support for the Palestinian application. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was also there for the exact opposite goal: to ask the Arabs to dissuade the Palestinians from proceeding with their move.

According to the sources, the U.S. and European pressure have persuaded some allies to discourage Abbas from proceeding with his U.N. adventure.

At his last news conference in Ramallah before traveling to New York to join the Palestinian delegation there to prepare the final documents for the statehood application, Shtayeh denied what he called “rumors” that the Palestinian Authority was backing down under Arab pressure.

He insisted that the plan was still on, and with the Security Council, not the General Assembly. He said Abbas was going to submit the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a couple of days before speaks before the General Assembly on Sept. 23. In that speech, said Shtayeh, Abbas would "ask the member states to recognize Palestine as a state on the 1967 borders."

However, as the U.S. has already announced that it would veto such a proposal if it comes up for discussion at the Security Council, Shtayeh said that this initiative was not a one-time effort. The Palestinians may resubmit the application a second, third or tenth time until it finally succeeds, he said.

That process, as in Oslo, may take years.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

WEST BANK: Palestinians start pro-U.N. bid activities

Mahmoud Abbas The Palestinian support group for the United Nations bid to gain statehood recognition announced Saturday a series of activities that would reach a peak when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23.

Abbas said on Thursday that he will be arriving in New York on Sept. 19 and that soon after he gets there he will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to hand him the Palestinian application seeking full membership in the U.N.

The application will go first to the U.N. Security Council, which is supposed to make the recommendation for the U.N. General Assembly for accepting Palestine as a member state. However, the U.S. has already officially announced that it will veto it, which means the application will be quickly buried.

Abbas did not say what will be his next step, but he is expected to be going for U.N. nonmember state, which should be easy to get at the General Assembly where the U.S. does not have veto power, and which would allow him to join all sorts of U.N. organizations, including the International Criminal Court, UNESCO, UNICEF, the Human Right Council, and many, many others.

The State Department’s expected announcement did not dampen Palestinian spirit to show support for their leaders as they fight for U.N. recognition and membership.

The popular support group, Palestine State 194, in reference to becoming the U.N. member state No. 194 if it succeeds, called on Palestinians everywhere to raise the Palestinian flag on their cars and homes and on everything within their reach starting Sunday.

Mass rallies are planned in West Bank city centers on Sept. 21, when the General Assembly opens, and Sept. 23, when Abbas is scheduled to make his plea for world recognition before the world body.

But before that, and on Friday, protest marches have been called for in the West Bank villages were Palestinians and their international and Israeli supporters hold weekly protests against Israel’s construction of sections of a barrier that goes right through their village land to separate them from Jewish settlements built on Palestinian-owned land.

The next day, Saturday, calls were made on Palestinians to join the women's movement and march to the Israeli army-controlled Qalandia checkpoint, half way between Ramallah and Jerusalem, also in a show of protest against the Israeli occupation.

In the Thursday meeting at his Ramallah headquarters with members of the foreign press in Israel, Abbas made it clear that he will not tolerate any act of violence by Palestinians during their rallies in support of his effort to get U.N. recognition.

“We will hold rallies in the city centers,” he said. “But we will not allow any one to reach contact points with the Israelis. This will not be tolerated. Even if Israel comes to our cities, we will not fight back.”

Abbas’ turn-the-other-cheek approach is supposed to convince the international community that he wants freedom and liberation for his people Gandhi-style.

While he said he can guarantee that there will not be any act of violence by Palestinians, he could not guarantee that there will not be acts of violence by Israelis, whether from soldiers or settlers, against Palestinians.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank have been carrying out almost daily attacks against Palestinians on West Bank roads and in their villages.

Settlers have set fire to a mosque in the northern West Bank, wrote anti-Islam hate graffiti on mosques and university walls, attacked fields, setting fully grown olive trees on fire or cutting them down as the olive harvest season nears when thousands of Palestinian families earn their entire year’s living from the olive harvest, and threw rocks at Palestinians commuting on West Bank roads, damaging cars.

The U.S., on Friday, joined world condemnation of escalated settlers’ violence. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described these acts as “dangerous and provocative attacks.” She said that “such hateful actions are never justified,” stating that “those responsible should be arrested and subject to the full force of the law.”


Some Syrians decry Arab League chief's visit with Assad

EGYPT: Thousands in Tahrir Square angry at slow pace of reforms

SYRIA: Protesters call for international protection

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee in the West Bank. Credit: Majdi Mohammed / Associated Press

ISRAEL: Diplomatic dispute with Turkey lands at Istanbul airport

Israel's airport security is widely admired but its stringent passenger screening has been criticized by other countries -- and by the Israeli supreme court. On Monday, some Israelis got a glimpse of what it's like on the receiving end of a harsh security inspection when they were forced to undress by personnel at an airport in Turkey.

The incident came days after relations between Israel and Turkey reached an all-time low when Turkey announced a further downgrade of diplomatic ties, including expelling the outgoing Israeli ambassador to Turkey and suspending military and economic dealings. The Turkish moves followed Israel's rejection of a Turkish ultimatum for Israel to apologize for last year's deadly flotilla raid.

After the airport incident, Israeli officials accused Turkey of trying to lead Israel into an open confrontation.

Some saw the episode as retaliation for similar treatment of Turkish citizens by Israeli authorities the evening before. But an Israeli foreign ministry official admitted that Turkish citizens were routinely humiliated at Israel's Ben-Gurion airport.

Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor told Israel Radio on Monday that he hoped Turkey and Israel could find a way to fix the damage to their relationship but said that would not be easy. Once a strong strategic ally of Israel, Turkey now seeks closer ties with Egypt, another regional asset threatening to slip away from Israel.

Speaking at the International Conference on Economic Regional Cooperation in Tel Aviv, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer warned that a disruption of trade with Turkey could prove "expensive" for Israel.  Israeli exporters are already expressing concern; Turkey is Israel's sixth-largest export destination.

Some defense analysts speculated that the rift could hinder Turkey's fight against Kurdish militants. Turkey has recently acquired substantial military gear from Israel, including armored vehicles, upgraded tanks and unmanned aerial vehicles. That equipment already has been delivered but the usual post-sale agreements for maintenance and parts are now iffy.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: A Turkish Airlines jet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Legal opinion muddies U.N. statehood bid


As the Palestinian Authority is getting ready to ask the United Nations to accept the West Bank and Gaza Strip within the 1967 borders as a member state, a legal opinion by an Oxford University international-law professor has provoked second thoughts about the move among many Palestinians.

In the opinion, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a member of the legal team that argued in the International Court of Justice against Israel's construction of a wall in the West Bank, warned that a state in the West Bank and Gaza would not be able to represent Palestinians everywhere, nor would it have the legal status the Palestine Liberation Organization has achieved at the U.N. since it was accepted as an observer in 1974.

"Until such a time as a final settlement is agreed, the putative State of Palestine will have no territory over which it exercises effective sovereignty, its borders will be indeterminate or disputed, its population, actual and potential, undetermined and many of them continuing to live under occupation or in states of refuge," he wrote.

This state, he said, "will fall short of meeting the internationally agreed criteria of statehood, with serious implications for Palestinians at large, particularly as concerns the popular representation of those not currently present in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

In conclusion, he wrote: "The interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation, unless steps are taken to ensure and maintain their representation through the Palestinian Liberation Organization, until such time as there is in place a State competent and fully able to assume these responsibilities towards the people at large."

Responding to this opinion, University of Illinois professor of international law Francis A. Boyle, who describes himself as a legal advisor to the PLO and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Goodwin-Gill's argument is "based upon most erroneous assumptions," describing it as a "doomsday scenario."

He said the Executive Committee of the PLO was set up as the provisional government for the proposed state, which means that it would continue to represent the interests of all Palestinians around the world if the proposed state becomes a U.N. member.

"Hence all your rights will be preserved: for all Palestinians and for the PLO. No one will be disenfranchised. The PLO will not lose its status," he wrote. "All of your rights have been protected and will be protected by Palestine becoming a member state of the United Nations, including the right of return."

The Palestinian Authority, determined to proceed with its U.N. plan, has tried to ease concerns raised by Goodwin-Gill's opinion.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said state recognition would not affect the status of the PLO or the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to his spokesman, is to address the Palestinian people in the coming days on the implications of going to the U.N. -- and also apparently to ease their fears as more are questioning the wisdom of this move.


NATO keeps bombing pro-Kadafi forces in Libya

Turkey to expel Israel's ambassador over Gaza flotilla incident

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashes out at Israel in Quds Day speech

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Activists in the West Bank hold placards asking for United Nations membership for a Palestinian state as they protest against Jewish settlements on Saturday. Credit: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

SYRIA: Anti-government activist describes life in Baniyas

Ahmad, a Syrian university student and pro-democracy demonstrator, is optimistic that the regime of President Bashar Assad cannot sustain its ferocious crackdown on protesters for much longer.

“Perhaps one or two months,” he told Babylon & Beyond in an interview in neighboring Lebanon, where he recently arrived with the help of smugglers. “The international sanctions are hitting and the internal situation is very bad. In my area and in other places people are not paying their electricity and water bills anymore -- let alone taxes -- because they started to despise the regime. People are only buying food and necessities."

Ahmad, who did not want to give his last name, is from Baniyas, the Syrian coastal city that became a protest hub before coming under siege by the Syrian army and security forces in May. Large protests haven't been reported there since.

Ahmad says he participated in protests from the start and became involved in a Syrian activist group that documents the uprising against Assad. He often spoke to Arab and international media, including the Los Angeles Times, about the situation on the ground during the upheavals. It didn't take long before his name ended up on the Syrian authorities’ black list of activists.

"They started listening to my phone from the beginning. My family had to flee the city and I haven’t seen them in six months. I can’t talk to them. I have a friend in Damascus whom I spoke to once on the phone. They took him and held him for two months."

Before the army and security forces started cracking down on demonstrators months ago, Ahmad said,  protesters did not call for the downfall of the regime. In the first week, protesters complained about sporadic and expensive electricity and wanted a corrupt local government official fired, he said. Then demonstrators called for prisoners to be freed.

The violence had not begun yet but security forces were trying to impose an economic siege as protests gained strength in Baniyas; the forces banned the entrance of various goods and necessities into the city, according to Ahmad's account. Then phones and electricity were cut late one night, prompting residents to fear that something bad was coming.

Ahmad recalls groups of people standing in the city streets that night, nervously talking to each other.

Continue reading »

ARAB WORLD: The absent debate on progressive taxation

With the revolts in many Arab countries, the subject of taxation in the Arab world should be urgently tackled. Taxation is not a financial issue in advanced democracies but rather a socio-political matter with various implications. Those same implications apply to the future economies and societies of Arab countries undergoing political revolutions.

6a00d8341c630a53ef0147e2190b46970b-800wi In developed countries, taxation shapes the contours of the social contract that governs the relationship between the state on the one hand and all components of society on the other, whether individual citizens, businesses or social interest groups. As a result, it is a fundamental pillar of democracy and accountability. Taxation determines the size of state revenue, and thus its ability to spend on vital matters—that is, the basis of states’ competency, legitimacy and its ability to achieve.

In the Arab world, there are two groups of states. The first group, the Gulf states—which take in oil revenues—redistribute part of these revenues to citizens and do not impose taxes. The second group, the non-oil Arab states—which have much lower per-capita incomes, depend on foreign markets or some foreign sources of income such as aid and workers’ remittances (Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan, for example) or a mixture of aid and rent sources, such as in Egypt, which contains natural sources and the Suez Canal.

The common denominator among the second group states is that they have not resorted to complex regimes for progressive taxation on individual incomes and corporate profits. Rather, they have primarily used indirect taxation. This approach does not greatly distinguish between the rich and poor but instead uses taxes—such as the value-added tax (VAT), which is a fixed percentage imposed on goods and services consumed inside a country irrespective of who the consumer is, custom fees on imported commodities, and additional fees sometimes imposed in a haphazard way, such as land fees, education fees, etc.—to generate state revenue.

Such indirect taxes are easy to collect and assess and do not require specialized tax staff. Furthermore, this kind of taxation, due to its wide base, normally does not worry or vex the traditional power centers in these states. In fact, the burden of such taxation on consumption favors the rich when one considers the difference between their income and consumption levels.

Indirect taxes also reduce political tensions. With direct taxes, the income tax goes right from the citizen’s pocket to the state’s treasury. The citizen therefore feels the loss of money and begins to question the legitimacy of these taxes and how they are spent.

Indirect taxes, however, do not normally generate such a response, perhaps because they are not paid at once but are linked to sporadic consumption throughout the month or year. These factors have motivated pre-revolution autocratic Arab states to implement indirect taxation while claiming their intentions of transitioning to direct taxation in the future.

More importantly, as long as sources of rent and other additional sources of income accrued directly to the state were available, they did not want to create any political opening that welcomed this taxation.

With winds of change blowing throughout the region, accompanied by talk of comprehensive political and economic reform, the lack of dialogue about how progressive taxation can open the door to political change and social justice is shocking. It is, rather, currently focused on the subjects of corruption, the privatization of public-sector enterprises, and social subsidies. Taxes—which could form the first step of the new social contract—are almost entirely absent from this discussion.

In conversations at the elite level, taxation does not receive sufficient attention. Perhaps it is because of its technical aspect or a collusion of some sort between elites and the official sectors collecting taxes. They neutralize the subject and keep it out of public dialogue. They do so because imposing direct taxes could increase accountability regarding justice in taxation and expenditure as well as the need for progressive taxation: redistributing income and improving the chances of those with limited income to benefit from taxes imposed on the rich.

One expert offered one of the best expressions on taxation in the Arab region explaining that non-oil Arab states are trying to achieve the “welfare of the Scandinavian states with African tax levels.”

Egypt took an important step in its 2011-12 budget by suggesting a capital gains tax on profits from capital operations, such as stock and real estate profits, raising taxes on the highest income bracket by 5%. This marks the founding of a new stage, perhaps one in which the government prioritizes the middle class rather than the rich.

The significant question now is how this concept of taxation as a political means can be introduced within debates in the Arab countries. What role can the international community play and how will local economic and political elites of each country address a topic that so far has been unwisely and critically ignored.

--Ibrahim Saif in Beirut

Saif is a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, specializing in the political economy of the Middle East.

Editor’s Note: This post was from an analyst with the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of the analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the political positions of The Times or its blog.

Photo: Carnegie Middle East Center logo. Credit: Carnegie Middle East Center website


SYRIA: Cartoonist beaten, Human Rights Watch disputes Assad pledge

Syrian-cartoonist-Ali-Fer-007-1 Activists say killings and arrests are continuing across Syria despite President Bashar Assad's pledge last week to end military operations against protest strongholds.

At least 12 people were killed across the country between Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a network of Syrian opposition activists. Additionally, Syria's army conducted raids on Thursday in the town of Bokamal on the Iraq border, activists said.

In the capital, Damascus, attackers abducted and beat a prominent Syrian cartoonist, who was found bleeding along the city's airport road. A photo released by activists after the attack showed cartoonist Ali Ferzat, 60, in a hospital bed, with his head and both hands swathed in bandages.

Activists blamed government security forces and pro-regime men known as shabiha.

The cartoonist, one of the best-known in the Middle East, had become increasingly critical of the Syrian regime and had begun addressing the uprising against Assad in his drawings. One of his recent cartoons depicts Assad painting railway tracks to escape from a train approaching him at fast pace.

Several Facebook groups sprang up Thursday in solidarity with the artist.

Also Thursday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch released a new report on Syria called "Setting the Record Straight.'' The report challenges the Syrian regime's accounts of the current state of the crackdown.

The organization sought to debunk the impression that the Syrian authorities have ended the military crackdown since Aug. 17, when Assad pledged to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon that "military and policing operations had stopped.”

The report claimed that at least 49 people have been killed in operations across Syria since that phone call.

"That same day, and in the days that followed, Syrian forces attacked peaceful protesters in Homs, Latakia, towns in the governorate of Daraa, and suburbs of Damascus," said the report. "On August 19 alone, 31 protesters were killed by Syrian security forces, including 3 children, according to local activists."

The report also explored the "myth" that Syrian troops need to use lethal force to put down armed groups, saying that only a small number of demonstrators have used force and that there is no real organized armed opposition.

The Syrian government has insisted throughout the uprising against Assad, now in its fifth month, that it is fighting obscure armed groups.

A report by Syria's state-run SANA news agency alleged that seven members of the army were killed in ambushes by "armed terrorist groups" in areas near Homs on Wednesday.

The Syrian government says hundreds of army and security personnel have been killed by armed gangs over the last months. Human Rights Watch says "there are credible accounts" that those Syrian troops were killed by other members of the security forces.

"Security force members who defected have told Human Rights Watch of cases in which soldiers who defected or refused to take up arms were shot by officers, for example. The Syrian government has not published a list of dead security forces, while anti-government activists have compiled a list of 394 security members killed," said the report.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Prominent Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat at his Damascus gallery. Activists say he was kidnapped, beaten up, and dumped on a road by Syrian security forces on Thursday. Credit: Khaled Hariri / Reuters



SYRIA: Troops caught on camera behaving very badly [Video]

Picture 8












Disturbing new footage showing uniformed soldiers beating, kicking, and humilitating what appear to be detainees have emerged on the Internet and gone viral on pan-Arab TV stations in the last few days.

One of the clips, posted below, shows a group of handcuffed, shirtless men being punched and kicked by men in camouflage uniforms -- some of whom are seen recording video of the abuse with their own mobile phones (warning: violent images).

The men are sitting in the middle of a dusty road in what looks like a makeshift military camp. Tanks and a fluttering Syrian flag can be seen at a distance away.

Continue reading »

SYRIA: Spirits (and shoes) high among protesters [Video]

Picture 6

The demonstrators hold their shoes aloft amid loud shouts of "Bye, bye, Bashar!" taunting embattled Syrian ruler Bashar Assad with their footwear in what is considered a grave insult in the Arab world.

Protesters in the Inshaat neighborhood in Syria's central city of Homs were in high spirits during Friday's nationwide "Promise of victory" rallies despite the regime's continued violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, according to the video below purportedly captured on Friday.


Continue reading »

WEST BANK: Palestinian officials succeed in taking TV political satire off the air

The worst fears of Imad Farajin, Palestinian actor and author of political satire and TV comedy show "Watan Ala Watar" ("Country on a String"), came true  Wednesday when the Palestinian Authority’s attorney general, Ahmad Mughani, ordered Palestine TV to stop broadcasting the locally produced show.

The show, aired nightly on Palestine TV, started broadcasting on the first day of the Muslim fast month of Ramadan. After a seemingly successful first year, the authors and producers of the short show decided to go for a second season.

However, its harsh and sarcastic criticism of Palestinian officials has upset them all; some decided to sue the show and Palestine TV and others put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to pull if off the air.

After 16 episodes, the attorney general decide to take action and issued an order shutting down the show, claiming it had offensive language and insulted senior officials.

Whether that was within his authority remains to be decided, but the decision was made and Palestine TV pulled the plug on the show.

“Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in the Palestinian law,” said Farajin, who saw the decision coming. “What the attorney general did was an outrageous infringement on freedom of opinion,” he said.

Farajin said he will not take the decision lightly, but will turn it into a public issue. He said he will go to court to challenge the attorney general’s decision, which he said came without even hearing their point of view.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the official in charge of Palestine TV, grudgingly accepted the attorney general’s decision and immediately pulled the show off the air. He also questioned the legality of Mughani’s ruling.

“We are going to challenge that decision because if it was allowed to hold, it will set a dangerous precedent that could also affect other works, and there are signs this might happen,” he said.

He expressed concern that the attorney general, who appointed himself in charge of artistic works, may take action in the future against any TV show, or play or painting, or a song or even a newspaper article.

“If the attorney general believes he now has the power to stop any artistic or creative work, we will be then facing a major catastrophe that will affect all freedoms,” said Abed Rabbo.

The attorney general defended his decision. “The 1960 criminal law (a Jordanian law) gives the attorney general the right to take proper legal action under the article that talks about slander against the authority,” said Mughani.

“We believe in freedoms and we defend it,” he added. “But this program included obscene language that touched esteemed and respected symbols of the Palestinian people.”

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

WEST BANK: Palestinians determined to get more recognition

The Palestinian Authority is doubling its efforts to get as many countries to recognize it before September, when it plans to officially ask the United Nations for recognition and membership.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki said on Saturday that “we have made very important breakthroughs, but we need to do more and build on what we have achieved so far.”

Malki was talking about 19 countries in Central America and the Caribbean who still have not made up their mind regarding recognition. He had recently visited most of these countries, including Caribbean Sea islands with a population not exceeding 45,000 people but are nevertheless sovereign U.N. member states, in an attempt to persuade them to recognize Palestine as a state.

He has to wait until the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) and the Central American SICA group convene their joint meeting Aug. 19 before he gets their final answer. So far, the situation does not look good since El Salvador, seat of SICA, has refused to place Palestine’s request on its agenda, nor invited the Palestinian Authority to attend the meeting.

But Malki said he would not give up. He would still travel to El Salvador and meet foreign ministers and officials of these countries to sway them to the Palestinian point of view.

The Palestinians need two-thirds of the U.N. member states -- that is at least 129 countries -- to vote in favor of their recognition resolution at the General Assembly if they are to gain membership. But they need first to go through the Security Council, which has to make the membership recommendation to the General Assembly.

If the Security Council adopts that resolution and recommends membership, the two-thirds vote will be needed in case any country asks for a count of vote rather than just applause as was the case with South Sudan.

With the U.S. strongly opposed to the Palestinian step, describing it as a unilateral act, it is expected to veto it once it comes up at the Security Council. If that happens, the resolution will never make it to the General Assembly, deeming the scrambling for two-thirds of the votes pointless.

This would leave the Palestinians with one option: to ask the General Assembly for nonmember state status, which they can get with only a majority of the votes of those present in the session. But that would be far short of their intended goal.

--Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank


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