Week of September 2
On Thursday, September 5th, multiple news outlets reported that Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Middle East peace, had resigned —adding new obstacles to the “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians that Trump and his team have been pushing since the beginning of his term. Vox reported that Greenblatt, whose previous job was as a real estate lawyer for the Trump Organization, planned to step down later this month after releasing a draft of the long-awaited “political” portion of the Middle East peace plan following Israel’s upcoming elections. Trump confirmed the reports of Greenblatt’s departure shortly after in a pair of tweets in which he called the Middle East envoy “a loyal and great friend” whose “dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won’t be forgotten.” According to reports, most of Greenblatt’s responsibilities will be transferred to 29-year-old Avi Berkowitz, friend and deputy of Trump’s son-in-law/advisor, Jared Kushner.
Also on Thursday, thousands of teachers protested in Jordan to demand higher wages, with some scuffling with security forces. Organizers of the demonstration in the capital, Amman, said the government has yet to deliver on a 50% wage increase agreed upon in 2014. Security forces blocked roads and prevented the protesters from reaching the prime minister’s office. The teachers gathered in different areas, chanting anti-government slogans and calling for an open-ended sit-in. Organizers had called on teachers in other cities to protest at their schools if security forces prevented them from traveling to Amman. The government said in a statement that it is committed to dialogue with the teachers but that classes should not be interrupted and performance must improve.
In a speech to officials of his ruling party, Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made new threats if a controversial “safe zone” inside Syria isn’t established soon. On Thursday, he threatened to “open the gates” to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for western countries amid growing tension with Washington over delays in establishing the safe zone – first proposed by Donald Trump – to create a barrier between Turkey’s southeastern border and an area of Syria currently controlled by a key U.S-allied Kurdish militia, the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist organisation. Turkey has accused the U.S. of stalling and Erdogan has frequently threatened to move its troops unilaterally into the safe zone unless progress is made. As Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Erdogan’s threat raises the possibility of a surge of people into Europe that could dwarf even the recent migration crisis at its peak. Erdogan has become increasingly angry with Washington and the EU over the issue of Syrian refugees, claiming that Turkey has spent $40bn supporting them, and criticizing the West for failing to live up to its promises to do more to relieve the country’s burden. Under a 2016 agreement, the EU promised Ankara 6 billion euros in exchange for stronger controls on refugees leaving Turkish territory for Europe, but Erdogan said only 3 billion had arrived so far. Erdogan has sold the safe zone as a location where Syrian refugees in Turkey could be relocated. Further complicating the dispute over U.S.-YPG relations, U.S. troops continue to work with local Syrian Kurdish-led forces in the area, most recently conducting a joint patrol on the Wednesday before Erdogan’s speech in a town on the border with Turkey.
On Saturday, September 7th, eight presidential candidates participated in Tunisia’s first-ever televised election debate as they tried to impress voters ahead of the September 15th election. Although Tunisia has held elections twice since throwing off autocratic rule in the 2011 revolution which triggered the “Arab Spring” uprisings, democracy is still taking root and such direct questioning of all the candidates is a novelty. Though Tunisia has a strong cafe culture, few patrons were tuned into the debates. Reuters reported that “most cafe televisions seemed set to a football match between France and Albania, though politically engaged people may have chosen to watch at home where they could better hear the candidates.” Much of the working class continues to perceive politics as an arena dominated by the wealthy elite who have done little to improve the daily struggles that sparked the popular protests 8 years ago.
Lastly, the Istanbul-based Gaza Aid Association held a conference dedicated to the Gaza Strip, and released its annual report on the humanitarian situation in the enclave last week. The blockaded Gaza Strip has marked the highest tragic humanitarian figures in the world, according to the humanitarian group. It recorded tragic humanitarian figures that were “the highest in the world in the fields of unemployment with 52%, poverty 53% and water pollution 95% and the daily power outage rate that reached 75%,” said the manager of the association, Abdul Majed al-Aloul. The rate of medicines shortage is 50% in the enclave and lack of medical supplies is 27%, said Omar Tasli, a regional representative of the Islamic Committee of the International Crescent, speaking at the conference. Also, 77% of homes in the Gaza have been destroyed and damaged by Israeli attacks leaving thousands of families homeless or displaced amid crippled reconstruction process, according to Anne Jellema, head of the Run4, a Netherlands-based relief foundation. Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007 after Palestinian group Hamas seized control of the strip from its rival group Fatah, badly affecting livelihood in the Palestinian enclave. 1.8 million people reside in the Gaza Strip.