Erekat calls on UK to recognise Palestine and reconsider plans to celebrate 100 years of the Balfour Declaration!

Palestinians demonstrate against the closure on August 11th of the UNRWA hospital in Qalqiliya
Palestinians demonstrate against the closure on August 11th of the UNRWA hospital in Qalqiliya

SECRETARY General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Saeb Erekat, has called on the United Kingdom to recognise the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders and to reconsider plans to celebrate the 100 years anniversary for the infamous Balfour Declaration.

This came during a meeting with UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, at Erekat’s office in Jericho, (in the eastern West Bank) where they discussed various issues, particularly bilateral relations.

‘Britain, the European Union, the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the rest of the world have to obligate the Israeli government to accept the principle of two states based on the June 4th, 1967 borders, that is an independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital living in security and peace alongside the state of Israel on the 1967 lines, and a halt to all Israeli colonial activities.’ Erekat told his British guest.

He also told him Israel’s practices are destroying the two-state solution and replacing it with one state with two systems – that is an apartheid system – by keeping the status quo on the ground.

Meanwhile, Erekat has called on Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, to dissolve its administrative committee and enable the national consensus government of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to assume full powers in Gaza.

• On Monday, the European Union (EU) Representative Ralph Tarraf, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Representative Roberto Valent, together with Nablus Governor, Akram Rjoub, and mayor of Nablus, Adli Yaish, inaugurated the newly revitalised Khan al-Wakalah historical site in Nablus.

It is estimated that around 40,000 local and international visitors will visit the site annually.

‘The historic sites in Palestine are not only important for their cultural and heritage values – some of them being designated as World Heritage – but also for their promising economic potential.

‘Therefore, the EU is investing a total of five million euros in reviving two Palestinian iconic sites: Khan al-Wakalah in Nablus and Maqam Nabi Mousa near Jericho,’ said Tarraf. As we celebrate the inauguration of Khan al-Wakalah, we are looking forward to seeing Palestinians and international tourists filling up these rooms and enjoying the chance to discover the hidden gems of Nablus,’ he added.

The project, which integrates socio-economic development with cultural heritage, has transformed the historic site into a tourist hub. Through the deployment of the first Public-Private Partnership model in the management and operation of cultural sites, 21 rooms were rehabilitated to be used as a boutique hotel and guest house, in addition to the 11 shops that were upgraded on location to serve the compound.

Over 1,600 jobs were created during the process and around 100 sustainable direct and indirect job opportunities will be created for the Nablus community as a result of the project. In addition to rehabilitation works, support was also provided in the form of on-the-job-training and capacity development to the Municipality of Nablus, and the private sector company in charge of managing the guesthouse, restaurant and shopping area of the historic site.

Valent highlighted the importance of revitalising Khan al-Wakalah in creating new job opportunities for young men and women and creating a new enabling economic environment at Nablus City. Tourism is a lever for sustainable development. This project is a result of a fruitful partnership between the EU, UNDP and various Palestinian institutions with the aim of contributing to economic growth, boost tourism, protect cultural heritage and activate Public-Private Partnership,’ he said. ‘This project is another way of translating the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a better future and improved livelihoods,’ he added.

The Khan al-Wakalah project is part of a five million euros EU-funded programme, implemented by the UNDP in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, local communities and other relevant stakeholders in the tourism sector.

The programme aims to support the development of cultural tourism in the State of Palestine, through the engagement of the private sector through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). The two sites targeted by this pilot initiative are Khan al-Wakalah in Nablus and Maqam Nabi Musa in the Jericho governorate. The event also showcased folk dancing, live music, traditional Palestinian food and a tour around the site.

• On Tuesday, the Israeli occupation municipality of West Jerusalem demolished a Palestinian home in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan for the second time in one week, citing unlicensed building as a pretext. Israeli border police cordoned off the targeted area as municipality crews proceeded to demolish the home of Abdul-Karim Abu Sneineh claiming it was ‘illegally’ built.

The municipality demolished the house for the first time last week but the destitute family, with the help of activists and neighbours, was able to rebuild it in a few days using brick and tin sheet for the roof to serve as temporary shelter. But a day after the reconstruction was completed, the municipality came back and re-demolished it.

The Abu Sneineh home is located in an area of Silwan known as the Bustan, where the municipality had previously issued demolition orders to 88 Palestinian homes in the same area under the pretext of construction without permit. Palestinians fear Israel wants to clear the Bustan area of homes in order to turn it over to hardline Jewish settlement groups, who claim Silwan as the City of David.

• UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, has responded to anger over its decision two weeks ago, to temporarily suspend services in a hospital in the northern occupied West Bank city of Qalqiliya, clarifying that the move came in response to an investigation over the death of a patient there.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said last Sunday, as locals in Qalqiliya protested outside the hospital, that all wings of the hospital, except the emergency room, had been ordered closed on August 11 due to ‘an ongoing investigation,’ – but he didn’t provide any further details.

At the time, head of the Palestinian doctors’ syndicate Najib Nitham described the move as ‘not carefully thought out,’ and ‘unjustifiable,’ adding that access to the UNRWA hospital was a right for refugees ‘who had been displaced from their lands.’

Head of the Qalqiliya subcommittee of the Palestinian doctors’ syndicate Ramez Abdullah, also present at the protest last week, called upon the Palestinian government and human rights groups to intervene to get UNRWA to go back on its decision to reduce services at the hospital, which serves tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees.

Gunness released a statement on Monday addressing the anger, saying that ‘UNRWA regrets the recourse by certain groups and institutions to personal attacks and unfounded allegations in expressing opposition to the Agency’s decision to suspend certain medical services at Qalqilya Hospital.’

He clarified that the wards would remain closed until UNRWA completed its investigation into the death of a patient and into ‘related appraisal of the hospital operations and performance.’ He said on Tuesday that the hospital was only serving acute cases. ‘Presently we have admitted seven acute cases between yesterday and today. The total admissions, including those admitted prior to the 21st, is 22.’

According to the UNRWA spokesperson, who did not name the institutions or groups responsible for the ‘attacks’ critics had used the term ‘genocide’ to describe UNRWA’s actions. In his written statement Gunness denounced the reference as ‘irresponsible’.

‘The decision to halt the intake of new patients for certain treatments at Qalqiliya hospital is an Agency decision and personal attacks against the UNRWA’s West Bank Director of Operations and other staff are totally unacceptable. Uninterrupted access for Palestine refugees to UNRWA services, the continuity of these services and the safety and security of UNRWA staff are paramount,’ the written statement said.

‘The Agency remains committed to delivering health and other services to Palestine refugees, in accordance with its mandate. Despite very challenging financial conditions UNRWA continues rendering effective and essential services to millions of Palestine refugees, including those residing in Qalqilya,’ he concluded.

UNRWA, established to provide direct relief and work programmes to the 700,000 Palestinians who were displaced in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, now serves some five million Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA has experienced a severe financial crisis in recent years, as member countries have cut their contributions amid a deepening refugee crisis. As funds to the agency have been slashed, UNRWA has also faced criticism from Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and neighbouring countries over the agency’s shrinking services.