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March 29, 2013

Gimme Shelter: Jordan’s Refugee Past Makes for an Unsure Future

March 23, 2013 by

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace compound in Amman, Jordan, Feb. 5, 2013

President Barack Obama rounded out his recent visit to the Middle East with a quick stopover in Jordan. Over the course of the Arab Spring, Jordan has remained the peaceful outlier in Middle Eastern politics, but recent events have put that position in grave peril.

As governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria underwent violent upheaval or regime transition over the past two and a half years, Jordan has thus far defended itself against all challengers. Surrounded by conflict on all sides - Iraq to its east, Syria to its north, and Israel and Palestine to its west - Jordan now may be rightly viewed as the eye of the storm rather than its safe harbor.

Decades of war have resulted in a deluge of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees taking up residence and valuable resources in the capital, Amman, and across the country. Already lacking sufficient supplies of water and having to import all of their gas and oil, Jordanians are not prepared to spare what little they have, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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Palestine’s New Status: A Rerun or a New Strategy?

December 6, 2012 by

Palestine has become a “non-member state” at the United Nations as of Thursday November 29, 2012.  The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’.

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Manipulating History: The Different Faces of ‘Popular Resistance’ in Palestine

November 2, 2012 by

Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Danica Bijeljac/UN

Apparently, ‘popular resistance’ has suddenly elevated to become a clash of visions or strategies between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and its rivals in Gaza, underscoring an existing and deepening rift between various factions and leaderships.  Addressing a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) meeting in Ramallah on July 2011, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sounded as if he had finally reached an earth shattering conclusion, supposedly inspired by the ‘Arab Spring.’ “In this coming period, we want mass action, organized and coordinated in every place…This is a chance to raise our voices in front of the world and say that we want our rights.” He called on Palestinians to wage “popular resistance”, insisting that it must be “unarmed popular resistance so that nobody misunderstands us,” (Reuters). He made a similar call at the UN General Assembly in September.

It was Abbas’ way of escaping forward. He needed to quell the mounting anger and resentment of his lacking leadership. His message targeted and continues to be aimed at dual audiences: Palestinians, thus the word “resistance” and international, thus ‘non-violence’ and “so that nobody misunderstand us.”

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On the Poisoning of Yasser Arafat

August 30, 2012 by

Yitzhak Rabin with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Saar Yaacov/Flickr

“It sounds to me like Arabian Tales from One Thousand and One Nights.”

– Moshe Yaalon, Israeli Vice Premier, Aug 29, 2012

It is the language of brutal indifference – words that are chewed, gnawed, spat out with derision. But when asked whether the Israeli authorities might have had a hand in the death of Yaser Arafat, the reaction is stubbornly predictable. “Israel did not have any hand in this,” claimed Dov Weisglass, the relevant chief of staff of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004. “We did not physically hurt him when Arafat was in his prime…so all the more so we had no interest in this kind of activity when he was politically sidelined.”

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Palestinian Refugees in Syria face a Bleak Future

July 25, 2012 by

“The flames are quickly approaching Yarmouk (as) someone is trying to drag the Palestinians into the fire,” reported Palestinian commentator Rashad Abu Shawar.

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Its inhabitants make up nearly a quarter of Syria’s entire refugee population of nearly 500,000. Despite the persistence of memory and the insistence on their right of return to Palestine, the Palestinian community in Syria is, on the whole, like any other ordinary community.

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A Post ‘Arab Spring’ Palestine

July 3, 2012 by

President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Photo by Olivier Pacteau

Will the Arab Spring serve the cause of Palestine?” is a question that has been repeatedly asked, in various ways, over the last year and a half. Many media discussions have been formulated around this very inquiry, although the answer is far from a simple “yes” or “no.”

Why should the question be asked in the first place? Hasn’t the Arab link to the Palestinian struggle been consistently strong, regardless of the prevalent form of government in any single Arab country? Rhetorically, at least, the Arab bond to Palestine remained incessantly strong at every significant historical turn.

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The Predicament of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

June 27, 2012 by

Outskirts of the Jerash Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordan. Photo by Omar Chatriwala

When Lebanese security reportedly killed 18-year-old Ahmad al-Qasim over a documentation dispute in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, the camp’s Palestinian refugee population erupted in anger and dismay.

Within a few days of the June 15 incident, the outrage had spread and more refugees were killed. Fouad Muhi’edeen Lubany was killed on June 18, as a crowd of mourning refugees attempted to bury the first victim of Nahr al-Bared, near Tripoli in the north. Another victim of the violence was Khaled al-Youssef, who was shot in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp, near Saida, about 30 miles south of Beirut. More Palestinians were reportedly injured, along with three Lebanese security officers.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon exist on the margins of a larger political question concerning the country’s irreconcilable sectarian, factional and familial divides. This makes it somewhat difficult to place the tragedy of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon within a single political context. Lebanon’s enduring conflicts and political alliances are in a constant state of flux. So when such events concerning Palestinian refugees in Lebanon take place, the issue becomes almost entirely hostage to political considerations and hyped factional sensitivities. Instead of attempting to uncover the best way to tackle the underpinnings of such dramas, or examining the relationship between economic, social and other forms of alienations and political violence, the priority repeatedly revolves around trying to cover the festering problem.

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Another ‘Symbolic Victory’: Abbas’ New Political Gambit

September 22, 2011 by

President Abbas addresses the UN Security Council. Jenny Rockett/UN

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to go to the United Nations to request the admission of Palestine as a full member, he appeared to have had an epiphany. Had he finally realized that for the past two decades he and his party, Fatah, have gone down a road to nowhere? That Israel was only interested in him as a conduit to achieve its colonial endeavor in the remaining 22 percent of historical Palestine? That his national project – predicated on the ever elusive ‘peace process’ – achieved neither peace nor justice?

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Confused Strategy: How the PA Sold Out Palestinian Unity

July 18, 2011 by

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. Photo by Ridvan Yumla

If you happen to be a Palestinian government employee, chances are you will receive only half your usual salary this month.  The other half will only be available when international donors find it in their hearts to make up for the huge shortage of funds currently facing the Palestinian Authority (PA).

With a deficit standing at around $640 million, the Palestinian Authority government of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is experiencing one of its worst ever financial crises. However, the Palestinian economy is not a real economy by universally recognized standards. It survives largely on handouts by donor countries. These funds have spared Israel much of its financial responsibility as an occupying power under the stipulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They have also propped up a Palestinian leadership that tries to secure its own survival by serving the interests of major donors.

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