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Arab League to lobby for UN Palestine recognition

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AMMAN, Jan 7, (Agencies): Arab states will soon embark on a diplomatic drive to persuade the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said. Six Arab foreign ministers met in Amman on Saturday to follow up on earlier decisions taken by the Arab League to counter US President Donald Trump’s move in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision that overturned decades of US policy on the Middle East.

A committee made up of Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and headed by Jordan was set up after an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo shortly after Trump’s decision that called on Washington to abandon its decision. The Arab League said at the time the move would spur violence throughout the region and described Trump’s announcement as a “dangerous violation of international law” which had no legal impact.

Safadi said the ministers would recommend a series of moves to a full ministerial meeting of the Arab League due later this month. “We will confront the decision by seeking a (UN) resolution, an international one, to recognise a Palestinian state on 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” said Safadi. He did not elaborate on the timing of the diplomatic moves nor say whether he was referring to a UN Security Council or General Assembly resolution. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the ministerial meeting would also discuss Washington’s role in future Arab-Israeli peacemaking that members states said was now jeopardised by what they see as US bias towards Israel.

“We want to lessen any losses on the Palestinian side and lessen the Israeli gains,” Aboul Gheit added. Arab states would also discuss whether to convene an extraordinary summit of their leaders or wait until a scheduled summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh at the end of March, he added. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem has infuriated the Arab world and upset Western allies, who say it is a blow to peace efforts and risks sparking more violence in the region.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel regards Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital. Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it from Jordan in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory, and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks. On Dec 18, the United States blocked a United Nations Security Council call for Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem to be withdrawn. Three days later, more than 120 countries defied Trump and voted in favour of a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In 2012, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine in a resolution that said the status of Jerusalem should be resolved through negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin trod carefully on Sunday around a threatened US aid cut to Palestinians, stopping short of backing a funding halt as he repeated calls for a UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees to be dismantled.

Netanyahu’s public comments appeared to reflect a desire to show support for a major ally, but also concern that choking off funds would deepen Palestinian hardship and could put Israel and militants on a course for war. With Palestinians seething over US President Donald Trump’s recognition last month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he threatened on Tuesday to withhold aid money, accusing them of being “no longer willing to talk peace”. On Friday, in a report denied by a State Department official, the Axios news site said Washington had frozen $125 million in funding for UNRWA. The UN agency, founded in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees, is a main provider of educational and health services in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said UNRWA was “an organisation that perpetuates the Palestinian problem.” “It also enshrines the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’. Therefore, UNRWA should pass from the world,” he told a weekly cabinet meeting. Netanyahu made almost identical comments about dismantling UNRWA in June — a message he said at the time he had conveyed to the US ambassador to the United Nations.

Praising Trump’s “critical approach” on the aid issue, Netanyahu steered clear of advocating a suspension of funding for the Palestinians. He said UN money for them should be transferred gradually to its global refugee agency UNHCR “with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees and not fictitious ones, as is happening today under UNRWA.” Palestinians protesting church land sales to Israelis scuffl ed with Palestinian police in Bethlehem Saturday as they tried to block the arrival of the Holy Land’s Greek Orthodox patriarch for Christmas celebrations. Demonstrators scuffl ed with clubwielding Palestinian security forces and banged on the sides of police escort vehicles but patriarch Theophilos III passed safely in his black limousine to the Church of the Nativity for the traditional Orthodox Christmas eve observance.

“Today we stand here to prevent the entry of the traitor Theophilos,” Salama Shaheen, an activist of the Arab Orthodox Youth movement, told AFP in Arabic. “We do not want this man. This man must be brought to trial because he betrayed the homeland, betrayed the church and betrayed every human principle,” he added. Official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Theophilos joined heads of the Syrian and Coptic Orthodox churches in the ancient church, which Christians believe marks the birthplace of Jesus. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s office told AFP he would attend midnight mass celebrated by Theophilos at the church on Saturday and present him with a model of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre church as a Christmas gift. Most Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan 7, while those in the West observe it on Dec 25 because of differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala municipalities in the Israeli- occupied West Bank had called for the boycott over the Greek Orthodox church allegedly allowing controversial sales of its property in mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem to groups aiding Jewish settlement there.


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