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Israel moves to strengthen control of Jerusalem

International | Recent legislation highlights the stalemate between Israel and Palestine
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/09/18, 02:32 pm

The Israeli parliament last week passed a law that will require a supermajority vote to cede control over any part of Jerusalem.

The move is Israel’s latest attempt to exert full control over Jerusalem since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized it as the Israeli capital. The new law shows how far away peace between Israel and Palestine remains.

The amendment to the Jerusalem Law requires approval from at least 80 of the 120 members of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, to relinquish Israel’s control over any part of the city. The law also allows the government to remove Palestinian territories from Jerusalem and turn them instead into separate municipalities under Israeli control.

Israel claims Jerusalem as its united capital, while Palestinians want east Jerusalem to serve as the capital of their future state. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli law is “tantamount to declaring war on the Palestinian people.”

Alan Baker, director of the contemporary affairs institute with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told me the law serves more as a political statement. Lawmakers can repeal it with a simple majority of 61 parliamentary votes. “I can’t see any situation where Israel, whatever political party is leading, will give up any part of Jerusalem,” Baker said, ”so it’s probably more symbolic than anything else.”

Ramzy Baroud, editor of the Palestine Chronicle, said Israeli lawmakers are using the laws to further isolate Jerusalem and clear Palestinians from the city. “They understand that the unparalleled U.S. support must be exploited to the maximum and that any delay on those bills would be a missed opportunity,” Baroud wrote for Arab News.

In a historic move in early December, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The announcement sparked protests in Palestine and several other countries. Palestinians now worry Trump’s declaration emboldened Israel’s ruling party. In a similar move last week, the ruling Likud party’s central committee passed a nonbinding, unanimous resolution that urged lawmakers to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Abbas commented the resolution could not happen “without the full support of the U.S. administration.”

Attempts last year to revive peace talks between Israel and Palestine showed no progress. Baker said Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will likely have no impact on the peace process since it still remains at a stalemate. After a Saturday meeting with ministers from Palestine, Egypt, and other Arab states, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab states will push for an international resolution to make east Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. “We want to lessen any losses on the Palestinian side and lessen the Israeli gains,” said Ahmed Aboul Gheit, head of the Arab League.

Getty Images/Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP Getty Images/Photo by Fayez Nureldine/AFP A cross and a sign reading “Jesus is Lord” in a Protestant church in Algiers, Algeria

Church closures spur fear of crackdown in Algeria

Algerian Christians fear government officials may be coordinating intensified persecution against them following arrests, inspections, and church closures in recent months.

Middle East Concern and World Watch Monitor reported that police arrested three people on Dec. 19 in a cafe in Chlef after finding they had Christian literature. A newspaper hostile to Christians called it a “foiled evangelism attempt.” Although released, the three Christians could face criminal charges of proselytizing. Punishment can include fines up to 1 million dinars and five years’ imprisonment, according to the U.S. State Department.

That same week, intelligence, police, religious affairs, and fire brigade authorities showed up and inspected two Protestant churches in Bejaia, a northern province, for safety compliance. The buildings host eight congregations.

In southern Algeria, a provincial governor ordered a church to cease all religious activities at their facility after a decade of use. Officials there accused church leaders of failing to comply with safety regulations and obtain government permission. They were told they cannot reconvene until three months after obtaining a permit. Other churches and Christian facilities were targeted recently. The churches are all part of the L’Eglise Protestante d’Algeria.

Although the Algerian Constitution allows for freedom of conscience and worship, groups must be registered, and religious services can only be held in buildings set aside exclusively for that use. Acts like insulting any religion or proselytizing a Muslim remain illegal. —Julia A. Seymour

Creative Commons/UNIDO Creative Commons/UNIDO Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

Ethiopia to release political prisoners

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn last week said the country would drop charges against political prisoners and shut down a prison camp known for abuse. The move marks the first time the country admitted to holding political prisoners. The announcement also comes as a major breakthrough after months of nationwide antigovernment protests.

“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will either have their cases annulled or be pardoned,” Desalegn said, adding that the government will also transform the prison, traditionally called Maekelawi, into a museum.

Antigovernment protests that sometimes turned deadly began in late 2015 and triggered a state of emergency the government lifted in August 2017. Authorities arrested tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of others died in clashes. Desalegn called the release of political prisoners an attempt to “widen the democratic space for all.” Amnesty International researcher Fisseha Tekle in a statement said the announcement “could signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia.” —O.O.

Mass burial for herdsmen attack victims

Nigeria’s Benue state will hold a mass burial Thursday for 49 victims of herdsmen attacks that killed at least 65 people since Jan. 1, state officials said. Fulani herdsmen armed with heavy weapons and cutlasses attacked the state’s majority Christian local government areas of Guma and Logo in separate attacks Jan. 1 and Jan. 6. Anthony Shawon, the chairman of Guma, said the attackers destroyed crops, farms, and houses in the community. Shawon said the State Emergency Management Authority stepped in to assist the displaced survivors after the few established camps become overcrowded.

State press secretary Terver Akase said the state-sponsored burial will take place after a memorial service on Thursday in the communities. Benue Gov. Samuel Ortom, who visited the morgue at the state university’s teaching hospital, said the Benue will observe three days of mourning for the victims. “Several innocent people have been killed,” he said. “The whole of Guma and Logo have been turned into desolate lands.” —O.O.

American freed in Zimbabwe

A Zimbabwean court freed an American citizen who faced subversion charges for insulting former President Robert Mugabe in a tweet. Authorities said Martha O’Donovan, who works for a political satire news organization called Magamba Television, referred to Mugabe as a “sick and selfish” man on Twitter. O’Donovan denied the charge, which could carry up to 20 years in prison. The presiding magistrate freed her from custody and said the court could only summon her back if it provided more evidence. In past cases, the court rarely followed up to summon people. “It all depends on what they gather, but for now, the case has crumbled,” said O’Donovan’s lawyer, Obey Shava. “She is free for now.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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