European Forum presents extra December newsflash on Tunisia, Morocco and Palestinian Territories
Palestinians to launch 6-month initiative to restart talks with Israel
On 9 December Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinian Authority plans to launch a new initiative to renew negotiations with Israel, which would include the release of prisoners and a halt to settlement construction. Speaking on Ramallah-based Voice of Palestine radio, Erekat said the move will be initiated in cooperation with international officials next month, in an effort to renew talks with Israel over a final status solution. Erekat said the initiative includes the resumption of negotiations from where they were left off, with an insistence on ending the occupation. He emphasized that the Palestinian leadership has allotted solely six months for the initiative. Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been at a stalemate since 2010. Erekat was speaking shortly after a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee was held in Doha. He said that after the UN resolution on Palestine`s statehood, a new stage has definitely started. In this context, the Arabs have decided that the entire stages of the peace process and its references and involved parties, including the Quartet should be reconsidered, Erekat cited. He pointed out that a small committee was formed to set up action plans by the end of this month. Afterwards, “this committee will turn to Washington, Moscow, Beijing, London, Paris and other capitals to say whether there is a chance to the peace process and on which principles it should held”. The Palestinians were given non-member observer status late last month and said they would use the upgrade as leverage to push talks forward. Israel opposed the UN move and approved a number of punitive measures following the vote, withholding tax money from the PA and ramping up building permits in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the sensitive E1 corridor east of the capital. Despite international condemnation and pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is determined to go ahead with the E1 plan. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the settlement construction plans, specifically those in E-1, a "red line, adding the PA would ask the International Criminal Court in The Hague to prosecute Israel if it continues to violate previous agreements.
President Abbas in a close meeting: prepare yourselves for confederation with Jordan
On 12 December Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has requested a number of Fatah officials to get well prepared for an impending stage in which the new Palestinian state may move to discussing a confederation plan with Jordan and other international parties. Specific circles of the Palestinian decision makers have received directives from Abbas to provide the presidential offices with detailed strategic reports on the best ways to lead possible negotiations with Jordan in the context of reviving the confederation enterprise. “Al-Quds al-Arabi” has learned that Abbas held a special secret meeting with seven Palestinian leading figures in Fatah movement and the PNA, few days after king Abdullah visited Ramallah on December 6, reportedly under new Jordanian efforts to re-launch exploratory Palestinian-Jordanian talks in Amman next February. In that meeting, Abbas requested the attendees to prepare themselves to an impending stage which may include a swift move to an agreement over a confederation with Jordan, citing this plan is moving strongly in the direction of the Palestinians. An informed source quoted Abbas saying that the confederation enterprise will happen soon, pointing at the necessity of a direct move in this direction, immediately 60 days after the approval of the UN resolution on upgrading the status of Palestine to a non-member observer state. According to experts, UN resolutions become valid according to the UN charter only 60 days after they were approved. Therefore, diplomatic circles said direct debates over the future relation between the Palestinian state and Jordan should start after February 21. Jordanian politicians quoted Abbas saying to Palestinian leadership elite group that the Palestinian state after the recent international recognition has no other choice for survival and steadfastness except through cooperation with Jordan under a formula of a cohesive and solid relation. Abbas hinted he discussed the plan in short with the Jordanian king in Ramallah. Presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeineh said in a statement to WAFA that the idea of a confederation had already been discussed in 1988, saying this discussion could take place after Palestine won independence and would be a choice of both the Palestinian and Jordanian people.
Hamas chairman leaves Gaza after historic visit
On 10 December, ending 37-years in exile from the Palestinian territories, Khaled Meshaal, the political bureau chairman of Hamas, left the Gaza Strip after a historic 3- day visit. Meshaal, his deputy Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, political bureau members Mohammed Nasr and Ezzet Al-Resheq arrived in Gaza along with their families on December 7 to participate in Hamas’s massive celebration of its 25th inception anniversary along with other events. "I hope God will make me a martyr on the land of Palestine in Gaza," Meshaal said shortly after crossing from Egypt into Gaza via the southern Rafah crossing. After crossing the border, Meshaal knelt on the ground to offer a prayer of thanks and was then greeted by dozens of officials from an array of competing Palestinian factions lined up to meet him. A jubilant crowd lined the road leading from the border crossing into Gaza City. Among the throng were hundreds of jubilant Hamas fighters, wearing fatigues and balaclavas, hoisting AK-47s and RPG launchers, and cheering Meshaal's first visit to the Palestinian territory. Later on Friday, Meshaal's delegation visited the home of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004, as well as that of Ahmad al-Jabari, the group's military commander, whose targeted killing by Israel in November opened the recent eight-day conflict, as well as the home where 10 members of one family died in an Israeli airstrike. At Yassin's home, Meshaal promised to "walk down the route of reconciliation, bury the division [with rival Palestinian faction Fatah] and empower unity in order to be aligned as one in face the Zionist entity," noting that Yassin was a long-life "advocate of reconciliation and national unity, as well as resistance". Amidst positive climates of reconciliation, the two rival parties, Fatah and Hamas movements have recently exchanged good will gestures in the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip and the PA-controlled West Bank. Hamas movement was allowed for the first time since 2006 to mark its inception anniversaries in mass rallies in various West Bank areas. In return, 20 Fatah members were allowed to return to their homes in Gaza and an initial consent was given from Hamas-led government to Fatah to mark its 48th anniversary foundation in Gaza in the beginning of January, Gaza-based Fatah secretary Yihya Rabah affirmed. However, both Hamas and Fatah officials attributed the yet unachieved progress in reconciliation to the instable conditions in Egypt, which has been the key sponsor and host of Palestinian reconciliation.
Israel blocks PA tax revenues
On 12 December it was announced that the Israeli government has decided formally to stop transferring tax revenues collected by Israeli custom officers on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The move is a punishment for Palestine being approved by the UN as a non-member state. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz issued an order to block the transfer of NIS435m (£78,500m), the tax revenues collected this month. According to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Steinitz said, "This measure comes as a result of the Palestinian unilateral step in the UN." Meanwhile, Steinitz's cabinet colleague, far-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said that Israel would continue blocking tax revenues for four months. "They will not receive any penny for the next four months," the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying. Lieberman said that the money will be used to cover the PA's debts to Israeli companies which supply water and electricity to the Palestinian territories. "Then, in four months time we will see what to do," he added. Israel's move comes in defiance of the European Union, which called explicitly last week for Israel not to undermine the financial situation of the PA. The EU also criticized Israel's plans to build new illegal settlement units in the "E1" areas in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian Authority is facing a difficult financial situation. Its Finance Minister, Nabeel Kassis, commented, "The PA will not be able to fulfill its financial duties this month if Israel continues to block the tax revenues."
General strike cancelled after long negotiations
On December 5th, during the celebration of the anniversary of the death of the historical union leader Farhat Hached, violent clashes took place between individuals belonging to the Tunisian general union of workers and demonstrators belonging to the League of protection of the revolution. Several members of this league, mostly presenting themselves as activists or sympathizers of Ennahdha (the Islamist party in power) gathered outside the headquarters of the union. The slogans called for the “sanitation” of the union, considered by the government as partial in its positions. Unionists also gathered on the same street and faced the demonstrators. According to various testimonies and videos, objects, chairs or sticks are thrown from both sides, including by unidentified persons, sometimes hooded, located on the roof. As a result, many people mostly activists from the Union were severely injured. Therefore, the same day the Executive Board of the Union decided to organize a general strike on December 13. However, few days afterwards the union announced the cancellation of the general strike that would have been the second since 1956. Indeed, following negotiations with the government it was agreed that the government supports political and labor activism and that it condemns attacks against the union and will establish a commission composed of the two parties in order to investigate the previous events. On the other hand, the union called for national unity and vigilance about what is rowing against the union. On this same occasion, the Secretary General of the union, Houcine Abbassi promised that the union will always defend the interests of the nation, and face the attempts to undermine its unity.
Minister of Higher Education raises controversy
On December 15, according to the Decree No. 3087 of December,3, 2012 and this starting September,1st, 1987 (when he was relieved of his duties), Moncef Ben Salem, Minister of Higher Education, passed from the rank of senior lecturer to professor of Universities (mathematics specialty). The decree was proposed by the minister himself and signed by the head of government. Ben Salem was both beneficiary and stakeholder in this case which raised a huge controversy. According to a statement from Mr. Ben Salem, he is experiencing economic difficulties and therefore has requested the payment of the wages he should have perceived since 1987.
A future fusion between “Al Joumhouri “and “Al Massar”
Talks between the parties “Al Joumhouri “and “Al Massar” are on track to reach a merger agreement between the two parties, themselves born from the merger of several political parties. Noomane Fehri, elected to the Constituent Assembly and a member of “Al Joumhouri” has indeed declared on December 16 that both teams had managed to agree on the structure and principles, indicating that the only point of difference was the name of the new party.
Moroccan NGO’s launch campaign to free 20 February jailed activists
On 6 December Moroccan human rights groups announced the launch of a national campaign to free more than 70 “political prisoners,” particularly jailed members of the “February 20th” protest movement. The movement was formed last year during the mass uprisings sweeping the Arab region by youths demanding democratic constitution, reforms and actions on a wide range of social grievances. A coalition of 18 Moroccan rights groups and the National Council for the Support of the February 20th Movement (CNAM) presented a report to journalists in Rabat giving the details of more than 70 opposition activists currently in jail. The two organizations called for “a national mobilization and an international pressure” to obtain their release, denouncing a “systematic repression” towards them. They also demanded that the government shed light on the circumstances leading to the deaths of many activists last year. “The authorities have all the evidences to reveal the truth about the fate of these young people,” said Mohamed Laaouni, member of the national council of the Unified Socialist Party and the CNAM’s coordinator. Indeed, five members of the opposition movement were killed on February 20th , 2011 when the protests first erupted in Morocco. Their charred bodies were found inside a bank in the northern town of al-Hoceima, according to the interior minister at the time, who described the activists as “troublemakers.” The families of the victims have insisted they were killed by Moroccan security forces. Other young protesters were killed among the numerous protests that are still being held until now.
New General Secretary of USFP Party elected
On 16 December Driss Lachgar was elected first secretary general of the socialist union of popular forces party (USFP) succeeding to Abdelouahed Radi in this post, at the end of the second election round in Bouznika, as part of the 9th national congress of the party, according to a detailed account before representatives of national media outlets. After the withdrawal of Mohammed Talbi, four candidates competed for the post of general secretary: Driss Lachgar , Lahbib El Malki, Ahmed Zaidi and Fathallah Oualalou. The election was held in two rounds, the second had seen Lachgar wining over M Zaidi after Fathallah Oualalou and Lahbib El Malki in the first round. The opening of this congress was characterized by the attendance of the prime minister Adbillah Benkirane , in addition to the leaders of other political parties. Driss Lachgar got 848 votes against 650 votes for his rival Ahmed ZAIDI announced Abdlouahed Radi, President of the Congress at the end of the operation count. The latest said “the 9th Congress of the USFP opens a new era for the party”. He added that Lachgar will surround themselves with other many skills because "no one ever could run the party alone." Indeed the new first secretary quoted that he is "committed to a collegial management" of the party, ensuring an approach based on collective management in its modern sense. This approach is for him "the only way to enable the party to regain its influence and consolidate its democratic, socialist and modernist project".
Mohamed Ghalim, Yasmin Abu Elasal, Najma Kousri