How Nigeria’s Police used Telecom Surveillance to Lure & Arrest Journalists

Africa, Civil Society, Democracy, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Jonathan Rozen* is Senior Africa Researcher at Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

NEW YORK, Feb 19 2020 (IPS) – As reporters for Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper, Samuel Ogundipe and Azeezat Adedigba told CPJ they spoke often over the phone. They had no idea that their regular conversations about work and their personal lives were creating a record of their friendship.


On August 9, 2018, Ogundipe published an article about a communication between Nigeria’s police chief and vice president. Days later, police investigating his source issued a written summons, CPJ reported at the time.

It was not addressed to Ogundipe and made no mention of his article or the charges he would later face of theft and possession of police documents. Instead, as Ogundipe recounted, police called Adedigba for questioning in connection with a slew of serious crimes, allegations that evaporated after police used her phone to summon her friend to the station.

Ogundipe’s experience is one of at least three cases since 2017 where police from across Nigeria used phone records to lure and then arrest journalists currently facing criminal charges for their work.

In each case, police used the records to identify people with a relationship to a targeted journalist, detained those people, and then forced them to facilitate the arrest.

The police methods reinforce the value of internet-based, encrypted communications at a time when authorities have also targeted journalists’ phones and computers to reveal their sources. Those prosecuted in all three cases are free on bail.

Nigerian journalist Samuel Ogundipe (Photo: Samuel Ogundipe)

“If the police called me and said we have something to ask you, I would go there…this is just their tactics,” Ogundipe said.

Ogundipe and Adedigba told CPJ that police made no secret of the way they had established their relationship, showing them each call records they claimed to have obtained from the pair’s cellphone network providers—Nigeria-based 9mobile, a subsidiary of the UAE-based Etisalat telecom company, and South Africa-based MTN, respectively.

“[Police have] been checking who I’ve been talking to…[in order to] see who was close enough to me to be used as bait,” Ogundipe added.

CPJ’s repeated calls in late 2019 and early 2020 to Nigerian police spokesperson Frank Mba rang unanswered.

The 2003 Nigerian Communications Act mandates that network service providers assist authorities in preventing crime and protecting national security. Regulations for enforcing it grant senior police officials the power to authorize requests to obtain “call data” from telecom companies without a judicial warrant, according to CPJ’s review.

That data includes where and when regular phone calls and SMS messages took place and between which numbers, according to documents reviewed by CPJ and interviews with three individuals with knowledge of police requests for call data in Nigeria. All three requested not to be named for fear of reprisal.

Nigeria has over 184 million active mobile phone lines, with roughly two million lines added every month to service its estimated 190 million people, according to 2019 data released by the national telecom regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). SIM card ownership for these lines is tracked under a 2011 regulation, which CPJ reviewed, mandating the collection of personal information, including fingerprints and photos, that police can access without a warrant as long as a senior-ranking officer gives written approval.

Other NCC regulations, released in October 2019 and reviewed by CPJ, detail police permissions to intercept communications under certain circumstances.

At the time of publishing, Ogundipe told CPJ his next court date had yet to be scheduled, but two journalists who were taken into custody at the end of 2019–Gidado Yushau and Alfred Olufemi–were preparing for their fifth hearing scheduled in Kwara State for March 4.

Similar to Ogundipe and Adedigba, police used call records to identify individuals that could be used to lead them to their targets, those affected told CPJ.

Nigerian journalist Gidado Yushau (Photo: Gidado Yushau)

Yushau, publisher of The News Digest website, and Olufemi, a freelance reporter, were charged in November 2019 with criminal conspiracy and criminal defamation in connection with a complaint over a May 2018 News Digest report Olufemi wrote about a factory owned by Sarah Alade, now special adviser to Nigeria’s president. Alade and other representatives of the factory did not answer calls or declined comment when CPJ reported on the case.

The first journalist police used to track down Yushau and Olufemi worked in another city for an unrelated news outlet. Wunmi Ashafa, a Lagos-based journalist with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), told CPJ that police tricked her into meeting, then made her summon her colleague, Yusuf Yunus, who in turn was used to facilitate the arrest of the Digest’s web developer, Adebowale Adekoya. The officers claimed to know they were connected from their call records.

Police were “tracking all the people that are calling me, that I’m talking to,” Yunus told CPJ in an interview. “The network provider has said that this line and this line have spoken at this particular hour,” he said police told him. Ashafa and Yunus said they were released after police detained Adekoya.

“I don’t know why they decided to do that,” Ashafa told CPJ, adding that she missed a meeting at her daughter’s school because police involved her. “They apologized to us, to myself and Yunus, that that was the only way they could get [Adekoya].”

Mistaken for the Digest’s publisher, Adekoya described being held for five nights, driven over 1,200 kilometers—including to Abuja and Kwara State—and threatened with detention if he did not lead the officers to Yushau and promise to help bring Olufemi into custody, before his release.

Nigerian journalist Alfred Olufemi. (Photo: Alfred Olufemi)

CPJ reached Peter Okasanmi, a spokesperson with the Kwara State police, by phone in January. He declined to comment on Yushau and Olufemi’s case because the trial was ongoing, but described how police regularly used telecommunications information to make arrests.

“We are able to track the culprits by use of technology through the SIM [cards] that were registered,” Okasanmi said. “Suspects, they are usually like kidnappers…we use all of those gadgets to track their locations and get them arrested…we have our own equipment we are using,” he added, without elaborating.

On November 4, CPJ contacted NCC spokesperson Henry Nkemadu by phone and upon his request sent questions regarding security agencies’ access to communications data, but received no response. Subsequent calls to Nkemadu and other NCC officials went unanswered.

Police used a similar tactic in 2017 to arrest Tega Oghenedoro, the Uyo city-based publisher of the Secret Reporters news website who writes under the pseudonym Fejiro Oliver, CPJ reported this month.

He faces cybercrime charges related to reports alleging corruption in a Lagos-based Nigerian bank and is due in court on May 28, CPJ reported.

Isaac Omomedia, an aide to the governor of Delta State, told CPJ in October 2019 that he did not know Oliver, but that they had a mutual acquaintance, Prince Kpokpogri, the publisher of Integrity Watchdog magazine.

In March 2017, Omomedia arrived at a hotel in Asaba, the Delta State capital where he lives, after receiving a call to collect a parcel from the DHL delivery company, he told CPJ.

Instead, he was met by six police officers who questioned him about Kpokpogri, someone they claimed to know he was in touch with by reviewing his call records. On their instructions, Omomedia said he invited Kpokpogri to a meeting.

Kpokpogri told CPJ that police arrested him upon arrival, drove him over 200 kilometers to Uyo, and told him, in turn, to summon Oliver. The officers had identified him because they had “bugged” both his and Oliver’s phone lines, he remembered them saying. Kpokpogri said police arrested Oliver when he arrived and drove them both over 350 kilometers to Benin City; Oliver was then flown to Lagos and Kpokpogri was released without charge.

Kenneth Ogbeifun, the Lagos-based investigating officer in Oliver’s case, requested emailed questions when contacted for comment by CPJ in January 2020. Follow-up emails and messages went unanswered.

CPJ also reached an officer who confirmed his name as Moses and that he was part of the team that arrested Oliver on behalf of Lagos police, but when asked about how Omomedia and Kpokpogri were used in the arrest, the line disconnected.

Those involved in Oliver’s arrest, and the chain leading to Yushau and Olufemi, told CPJ they relied on the Nigeria-based Globacom, also known as Glo, India-based Airtel, or MTN for their cell phone service.

“I will give you the number used to commit the crime and you have only 60 minutes to produce the details,” the Premium Times quoted Isa Pantami, Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy, as saying in late 2019. Operators that failed to produce data would be sanctioned, according to that report.

CPJ called the ministry of communications and digital economy in mid-January. Philomena Oshodin, a deputy director, said that she was not the relevant person to comment before the line went silent; follow up messages went unanswered.

Between November 2019 and January 2020, CPJ reached out to public relations departments at MTN, 9mobile, Airtel, and Glo, and emailed questions to representatives for each about security agencies’ access to telecom user data in Nigeria. None replied with answers by date of publication.

“You’re reporting as a journalist, which is not a crime…[but] you feel you’re being punished,” Ogundipe told CPJ, reflecting on his arrest and prosecution. “It’s very scary…it’s difficult to predict how far these guys will go.”

For information on digital safety, consult CPJ’s Digital Safety Kit.

*Jonathan Rozen is CPJ’s senior Africa researcher. Previously, he worked in South Africa, Mozambique, and Canada with the Institute for Security Studies, assessing Mozambican peace-building processes. Rozen was a U.N. correspondent for IPS News and has written for Al-Jazeera English and the International Peace Institute. He speaks English and French.

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International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education in Djibouti concludes with establishment of new Organisation of Educational Cooperation

Civil Society, Education

Djibouti City, Feb 3 2020 – At the Closing Ceremony of the III ForumBIE 2030, 38 governments, civil society organisations and academic entities became the first to sign the Universal Declaration of Balanced and Inclusive Education (UDBIE). Furthermore, with the objective of achieving the aspirations and commitments contained within the UDBIE, 30 signatories, including governments and civil society organisations, agreed to establish the Organisation of Educational Cooperation (OEC), a new international organisation from the Global South creating platforms and mechanisms of solidarity-based technical and financial cooperation and support for educational reforms.


The OEC, whose General Assembly will function on the democratic basis of one country, one vote, ensuring accountability to its Member States which will benefit from its support, will also count civil society and academic organisations as Associate Members with limited rights.

The OEC will be established with a wholly-owned financial subsidiary, accountable to the General Assembly, capable of generating funds ethically and sustainably in support of educational reforms. This subsidiary, structurally directed towards investments in socially and ecologically responsible projects in its member states, will eventually fully finance the organisation’s operations and provide funds for the OEC to support Member States’ education systems with solidarity-based financing.

The OEC is designed with a rational, streamlined structure, follows a strategy of efficient systematic intervention, and puts education at the service of communities, of society and of national development as required by the commitments made in the UDBIE.

Sheikh Manssour Bin Mussallam, President, The Education Relief Foundation

The OEC’s first Secretary General has been elected with the task of setting up and presiding a Preparatory Committee, which will lay the groundwork for the OEC until the Constitutive Charter of the Organisation enters into force, upon its ratification by a minimum of 10 of the founding State signatories. The Constitutive Charter’s entry into force will trigger the convening of the first General Assembly.

All signatories to the UDBIE embrace the four key pillars of balanced and inclusive education: Intraculturalism, Transdisciplinarity, Dialecticism and Contextuality. They commit to applying these principles within their education systems, with the cross-sectoral support of the OEC, based on the contextualised needs of their populations, their national priorities, and the global imperative of sustainable development.

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US Mideast Peace Plan: from a Paper Pharaoh & a Fake Moses

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 3 2020 (IPS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was slapped corruption charges last week while he was hobnobbing with US President Donald Trump in Washington. Bibi has, apparently, done his homework in psychology. He knew the quickest way to get around Trump was to flatter him.


Addicted to praise, Trump is incapable of understanding that there is a great deal of deception if someone praises him too much. In a June 16, 2017 article, USA Today opinion columnist Windsor Mann wrote, “Flattery is Trump’s cocaine — he’s addicted to it — and, like cocaine, it’s not always genuine.”

Rarely does he get sincere praises from honest people. So, Trump often self-praises himself.

On Tuesday, when Trump announced his Middle East peace plan, Bibi was superlative in his praises. As the drama unfolded in a White House room full of sycophants ready with applauses to ego massage praise-addict Trump and insincere Netanyahu, it became obvious that the peace plan was not worth the paper it was written on.

It also became clear that Trump did not have a thorough knowledge of the Middle East, for he failed to identify a typo in the text on the teleprompter. He read al-Aqsa as al-Aqua.

Many believe that the timing of the announcement was aimed at bolstering the political base of both Trump and Netanyahu – Trump embroiled in an impeachment battle was trying to appease pro-Israeli evangelical Christian voters, a key component of his support base, while Netanyahu used the occasion to go one-up over his political rival Benny Gantz in Israel’s election battle of the right-wings.

When Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives, and Netanyahu, an indicted suspect in a corruption case — a paper pharaoh and fake Moses – make a plan, it will be far from being value-based.

No wonder, the peace plan they unveiled promotes anything but peace and is an agenda to legalise Israel’s illegal land grab on the West Bank. No wonder peace analysts are unanimous in condemning the Trump plan as ‘dead on arrival’. (DOA)

It is one-sided and a travesty of justice in breach of the hallowed legal principle Audi alteram partem —which requires that the other side also be listened to. There was no Palestinian side in this ex-parte ruling that Trump’s pro-Israeli son-in-law Jared Kushner was instrumental in drafting.

If there is one US president who cares no two hoots about the Palestinians, it is Trump. He stopped aid to Palestine and his country’s annual US$ 360 million contribution to the United Nations Relief Work Agency which cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees.

Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu could not find a single Palestinian to endorse the plan made by Zionists for Zionists to continue their crimes in Palestine. Pro-American Arab states, however, have welcomed the peace effort but avoided extending support for the content of the plan.

Key regional powers Turkey and Iran, meanwhile, have given an outright thumbs-down to Trump’s plan, which declares Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, thus ignoring the Palestinians’ aspiration of making East Jerusalem their future capital. The Palestinians are condescendingly told they can have their capital anywhere east of Jerusalem.

Rejecting the Trump plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Jerusalem and “all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain.”

The Palestinians have dismissed the plan as Balfour 2.0, whereby one country (the United States) is trying to hand over chunks of another’s country (Palestine) to a third country (Israel) just as Britain in 1917, through an atrocious colonial act of injustice, allowed the Zionist movement to set up a homeland in Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted a partition plan that unfairly divided historic Palestine, giving the Jews who were a little more than 30 percent of Palestine’s population, 55 percent of the land. Most of them were European migrants who came to Palestine following the 1917 Balfour declaration. The indigenous Palestinians who were about 67 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land.

The Trump plan will leave the Palestinians with a mere 15 percent of historic Palestine. In other words, 85 percent of Palestine will come under Israel’s sovereignty while the balance to be declared as the State of Palestine will be bits and pieces of territory – or Bantustans connected by tunnels and roads guarded by the Israeli military.

Trump’s plan was unofficially conveyed to Arab leaders more than two years ago. This came after the Trump administration on December 6, 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

At the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain in June last year, the plan was partially unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Kushner. The Palestinians boycotted the event where they were promised billions in development aid if they accepted the plan.

To promote the plan, Kushner partnered Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. On December 3, 2017, a New York Times report said the Saudis had summoned Palestinian President Abbas to force him to accept Trump’s plan, where, instead of Jerusalem, the neighbouring town of Abu Dis that overlooks the Dome of the Rock mosque, was offered as the Palestinian capital.

When news leaked out that the Saudis were backing Trump’s plan and had no qualms over al-Aqsa– Islam’s third holiest site –being placed under Israeli sovereignty, the Saudi royals became jittery, fearful of the reaction on the Arab streets.

King Salman invited Abbas to Saudi Arabia again and assured his support for the Palestinians’ stand. Abbas’ Saudi visits indicated that the Saudi establishment is divided over the Palestinian issue. Once the old king becomes history, the kingdom is likely to endorse Trump’s plan.

In December 2017, after Trump misused the US veto to quash yet another United Nations mechanism to bring peace to Palestine, the world community overwhelmingly passed a UN General Assembly resolution asking nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem.

They did so, defying Trump’s threat to developing nations that they would face an aid cut if they voted for the Jerusalem resolution. Just as the then US president George W. Bush’s 2003 Middle East peace roadmap, Trump’s plan, touted as the deal of the century, is bound to collapse, because it is not founded on justice. It is the fraud of the century.

It ignores international law, numerous UN resolutions, principles of justice, and norms of decency. Sri Lanka, as a true friend of Palestine, should not endorse Trump’s plan which promotes chaos and conflict instead of peace.

*Ameen Izzadeen is Editor International and Deputy Editor, Sri Lanka Sunday Times

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Our Message at Davos: Water & Sanitation Are a Critical Line of Defence Against Climate Change

Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Opinion

Tim Wainwright is Chief Executive of WaterAid UK.

Credit: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

LONDON, Jan 31 2020 (IPS) – There was only one topic on everyone’s lips at Davos this year – climate change. The headlines focused on the cold war between Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump, but there was much greater consensus among those gathered for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).


The Forum itself updated its manifesto for responsible business – with climate right at its core.

Among those calling for urgent action was WaterAid’s own president, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. It’s more than 30 years since he last attended Davos and, as he reminded the audience, 50 years since he made his first speech on the environment.

His message was stark, and his call to action challenging: the climate emergency requires nothing less than an overhaul of the current economy, with a new deal for people and planet.

The mood is slowly shifting towards the scale of action needed, given that climate change will affect every part of the economy. This cannot be truer than for water – the WEF has ranked water crises in its top five global risks in terms of likelihood or impact every year since 2012.

Infographic showing the top 10 risks over the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 report. Credit: World Economic Forum

The climate crisis is a water crisis, and a threat multiplier

Throughout the forum I had one consistent message: for the world’s poorest, the climate crisis is a water crisis. Yes, it has long-term implications for your businesses and economies. But, first and foremost, it is a question of survival, dignity and justice, with climate change already having devastating impacts on the lives of the people who did least to cause it.

Flooding, storms and droughts, which all impact on how and if people can get clean water, are becoming more frequent and extreme, and these trends are predicted to rise as the climate continues to change. This will undermine the already precarious access to water for billions around the world.

Climate change acts as a huge threat multiplier, worsening existing barriers to these services and rolling back progress already made.

As people living in climate-vulnerable areas experience changing weather patterns, less predictable rainfall, salt water intrusion and increased exposure to disease, water and sanitation become a critical line of defence.

If your water supply comes from a shallow aquifer that fills with sea water, then you can no longer drink it. But if the person designing your water supply has thought of this threat and factored it in, perhaps by drawing on deeper aquifers, then you can carry on living in your neighbourhood.

If your toilets and sanitation systems are constructed to withstand flooding, then your community does not suffer the same level of contamination after flooding as if human waste had been spread by the high waters.

The water and sanitation sector could become a leader in climate adaptation

But we currently lack the level of public and private sector investment and innovation required to deliver the sustainable water services that would benefit poverty reduction, industry and economic development.

This is a huge blind spot for business leaders and politicians, and a missed opportunity for creating a more sustainable future.

Rather than lagging behind, the water and sanitation sector could become a leader in delivering the kind of green infrastructure, services and jobs urgently required to enable adaptation to the worst impacts of climate change.

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid UK, speaking with Hassan Nasir Jamy, Secretary Ministry of Climate Change, at Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change in Islamabad, Pakistan. Credit: WaterAid/ Sibtain Haider

Water, sanitation and hygiene are core to a sustainable future

Leaving Davos last year, I was frustrated. I felt that too few understood or discussed the impact climate change would have on the already grave state of the world’s water and sanitation, and the devastating consequences for education, health, productivity and development.

This year, I sensed a greater understanding of the interlinked challenges we face, and with that an air of urgency and proactivity. Businesses are looking for solutions – not just raising concerns.

That is why WaterAid will be one of the organisations working closely with HRH the Prince of Wales as part of his 2020 year of action.

In March, in London, we will bring together the public, private and philanthropic sectors for a high-level summit that will position water, sanitation and hygiene at the forefront of the fight against climate, and work on the solutions that will ensure a sustainable future for all.

And we will continue that work across the WaterAid federation throughout the year, including at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June, and at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, in Glasgow in November, to help build momentum for decisive action.

In this way we hope WaterAid can play its part in shifting the global trajectory in the coming decade, resulting in a fairer world for the poorest and most marginalised people.

Read our guide Water and resilient business: the critical role of water, sanitation and hygiene in a changing climate to learn more about how businesses can take action.

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US Mideast Peace Plan: Israelis Offered the Cheese & Palestinians the Holes

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Credit: Palestine Campaign.Org

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2020 (IPS) – The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has described the much-ballyhooed US Middle East peace plan as “more like Swiss cheese– with the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians”.


“There are many ways to end the occupation, but the only legitimate options are those based on equality and human rights for all,” said the Jerusalem-based B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

“This is why the current plan which legitimizes, entrenches and even expands the scope of Israel’s human rights abuses, perpetuated now for over 52 years, is utterly unacceptable”, it said.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, based in Johannesburg, drew a parallel between Israel and apartheid South Africa of a bygone era.

“We concur with our Israeli comrades, and we painfully recall how Apartheid South Africa tried to impose its own plan during the 1980s where white people would own South Africa and the indigenous Black South Africans needed to be happy with small enclaves called Bantustans.”

“We rejected this then in Apartheid South Africa, and we, today, join those in rejecting it in Palestine-Israel,” said BDS in a statement released here.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor Jadaliyya, an ezine focusing on the Middle East and produced by the Arab Studies Institute (ASI), told IPS the Trump Plan is not a peace initiative, that seeks to lay the basis for meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the core issues of the conflict.

Rather, it seeks to unilaterally implement a permanent status reality that is tantamount to the extreme reaches of the Israeli political spectrum, with the imprimatur of US recognition and legitimacy, he said.

Any analyst with even a passing acquaintance of this conflict can immediately recognize that it cannot possibly serve as a basis of negotiations, let alone a negotiated settlement, because it prejudges virtually every Palestinian right, claim, and interest, Rabbani argued.

“This is deliberate — the references to negotiations are no more than a diplomatic fig leaf to enable Israeli to proceed unilaterally with acts of territorial annexation, the liquidation of the refugee question, the transfer of Arab citizens of Israel to Palestinian jurisdiction (thus removing there status as Israeli citizens), and the like,” he added.

Credit: PalestineUN.Org

Ramzy Baroud, a syndicated columnist, editor of The Palestine Chronicle and a senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs in Istanbul, told IPS the Deal of the Century is a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for more than a decade.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, he pointed out, but an egregious act of bullying.

However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of “peace-making,” where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Tel Aviv accountable to its violations of previously signed treaties and international law, he noted.

“In truth, the Deal of the Century is not a ‘peace plan’, nor was it ever intended to be, despite what its chief architect and White House adviser Jared Kushner has been claiming”.

As expected, said Baroud, Trump has handed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu everything that he and Israel ever wanted.

He also pointed out that the Middle East Plan does not demand the uprooting of a single illegal Jewish settlement and recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital.

“It speaks of a conditioned and disfigured Palestinian state that can only be achieved based on vague conditions, rejects the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and doesn’t mention the word ‘occupation’ even once”, said Baroud, author of the newly-released book These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons.

According to Cable News Network (CNN), the Trump administration unveiled its much-anticipated Middle East plan, which it’s touting as a “realistic two-state solution.

But Palestinians definitely don’t see it that way. The plan caters to nearly every major Israeli demand, including the annexation of its settlements in the contested West Bank region, said CNN.

“A future Palestinian state, meanwhile, would get a capital in eastern Jerusalem, physically separated from the rest of the city. The plan doesn’t lay out what would happen to Palestinian refugees displaced by ongoing conflict”.

In a brutally frank comment, Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, was quoted as saying: “The message to the Palestinians, boiled down to its essence, is: You’ve lost, get over it.”

Rabbani said the peace plan is also not a framework for a two-state settlement.

“The potential Palestinian entity presented in the initiative, assuming it comes to pass, does not have any – I repeat, any – of the attributes of statehood as commonly understood.”

He said its objective is not the establishment of a Palestinian state but rather the permanent expansion of the Israeli state into occupied territory, less those areas heavily populated by Palestinians that Israel does not intend to annex.

The Palestinian entity, or rather the patchwork of Palestinian-populated regions within Israel according to this plan, are held together by some 15 bridges and tunnels, he noted.

“The purpose here is not Palestinian statehood, but rather achieving Israel’s long-term objective of maximum territory with minimum Arabs – an objective additionally furthered by the proposed transfer of Palestinian population centers within Israel to the jurisdiction of this entity”.

The broader purpose of this initiative, he argued, is to utilize the weakness, fragmentation, and polarisation of the Palestinians, and the Arab world more generally, to ram through a unilateral settlement of this conflict while the opportunity presents itself.

A second objective is to facilitate the formalisation of Israeli-Arab normalisation, though given the contours of this plan that is unlikely to be achieved.

In a word, the formalisation of Palestinian capitulation to not only Israel but a particularly extremist Israeli agenda, he declared.

More broadly, said Rabbani, it seeks to replace international law and the international consensus with the principle that might makes right and thus the law of the jungle in which power is the sole principle for the resolution of international disputes.

From the Trump administration’s perspective this therefore has much broader application than only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he declared.

Baroud said the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ has confirmed what many have argued for years: a just and peaceful future in Palestine and Israel cannot be achieved with Washington at the helm.

“So obviously only Israel benefits from the plan, as the Zionist discourse, predicated on maximum territorial gains with minimal Palestinian presence, has finally prevailed.”

He said every Israeli request has been met, to the last one. Meanwhile, Palestinians get nothing, aside from the promise of chasing another mirage of a Palestinian state that has no territorial continuity and no true sovereignty.

Not only will Trump’s plan fail to resolve the conflict, he argued, it will exasperate it as well; it will divide the region into blocs, with some Arabs normalization with Israel and others refusing to do so, especially while Palestinians continue to live in perpetual suffering.

As for the economic component of Trump’s plan, history has proven that there can be no economic prosperity under military occupation. Netanyahu and others before him tried such dubious methods, of ‘economic peace’ and such, and all have miserably failed.

“Time and again, the UN has made it clear that it follows a different political trajectory than that followed by Washington, and that all US decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem, the illegal settlements and the Golan Heights, are null and void; only international law matters, and none of Trump’s actions in recent years have succeeded in significantly altering international consensus on the rights of Palestinians”.

As for the status of and Palestinian rights in their occupied city, said Baroud, East Jerusalem, renaming a few neighborhoods – Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis – as al-Quds, or East Jerusalem is an old Israeli plan that failed in the past.

The late Yasser Arafat rejected it, and neither Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian official would dare compromise on the historic and legal Palestinian rights in the city.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Urbanization as a Path to Prosperity

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Population, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Chris Wellisz. Credit: Porter Gifford

WASHINGTON DC, Jan 29 2020 (IPS) – Growing up in New York City in the 1970s, Edward Glaeser saw a great metropolis in decline. Crime was soaring. Garbage piled up on sidewalks as striking sanitation workers walked off the job. The city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.


By the mid-1980s, it was clear that New York would bounce back. But it could still be a scary place; there was a triple homicide across the street from his school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Glaeser was nevertheless captivated by New York’s bustling street life and spent hours roaming its neighborhoods.

“It was both wonderful and terrifying, and it was hard not to be obsessed by it,” Glaeser recalls in an interview at his office at Harvard University.

Today, that sense of wonder still permeates Glaeser’s work as an urban economist. He deploys the economist’s theoretical tool kit to explore questions inspired by his youth in New York.

Why do some cities fail while others flourish? What accounts for sky-high housing costs in San Francisco? How does the growth of cities differ in rich and poor countries?

“I have always thought of myself as fundamentally a curious child,” Glaeser, 52, says. Rather than “pushing well-established literature forward,” he seeks to comprehend “something that I really don’t understand when I start out.”

While still a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Glaeser made his mark as a theorist of the benefits of agglomeration—the idea that dense and diverse cities are hothouses of innovation, energy, and creativity that fuel economic growth.

In the years since, his work has ranged across a breathtaking variety of subjects, from rent control and real estate bubbles to property rights, civil disobedience, and carbon emissions.

“For a couple decades now, Ed has been the leading thinker about the economics of place,” says Lawrence Summers, a Harvard professor who served as director of the National Economic Council under US President Barack Obama. “And the economics of urban areas are increasingly being seen as central to broad economic concerns.”

Glaeser and Summers are collaborating on a study of the hardening divide between well-educated, affluent coastal regions of the United States and islands of economic stagnation in what they call the “eastern heartland,” the interior states east of the Mississippi River.

There, in cities like Flint, Michigan, the proportion of prime-age men who aren’t working has been rising—along with rates of opioid addiction, disability, and mortality.

How can policy help? Traditionally, economists have been skeptical of the value of place-based policies like enterprise zones that offer tax breaks to investors, saying it is better to help people, not places.

People, they assumed, would move to where the jobs were. But labor mobility has declined in recent decades, partly because of high housing costs, partly because demand for relatively unskilled factory work has diminished.

Breaking with economic orthodoxy, Glaeser and Summers say that the federal government should tailor pro-employment measures, such as reducing the payroll tax or increasing tax credits to low earners, to fit the needs of economically distressed areas such as West Virginia. They also make the case for boosting investment in education.

As a Chicago-trained economist, Glaeser is a strong believer in the magic of free markets and opposes measures that distort incentives. “I have always been against spatial redistribution, taking from rich areas and giving to poor areas,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that you want the same policies everywhere.”

Urban economics seemed like a natural pursuit for Glaeser. His German-born father, Ludwig, was an architect who taught him how the built environment shapes people’s lives. His mother, Elizabeth, was an asset manager who introduced him to economics. Glaeser recalls how she used the example of competing cobblers to explain marginal cost pricing.

“I remember thinking what an amazing and fascinating thing it is to think about the impact of competition,” he says. He was 10 years old.

In high school, Glaeser excelled at history and mathematics. As a Princeton University undergraduate, he considered majoring in political science before choosing economics, seeing it as a path to Wall Street.

But dreams of a career in finance ended with the stock market crash of 1987, just as he started job interviews. So he opted for graduate school, because “it didn’t seem like I was cutting off many options,” he says.

“Then I got to Chicago, and that was when I really fell in love with economics.”

Glaeser keeps a framed photograph of himself with Gary Becker, the Chicago economist and Nobel prize laureate. Becker taught him that the discipline’s conceptual tools could be used to explore topics that had once been the domain of fields like sociology or anthropology—topics like racial discrimination, fertility, and the family.

“It was that sense of the creative side of economics that could work on a virtually unlimited canvas and try to make sense of any problem that you thought was important—that was the part that was so exciting to me,” Glaeser says.

At the time, Chicago economists Robert Lucas and Paul Romer were developing the so-called endogenous growth theory, which focused on the role of innovation and the exchange of ideas in economic development.

As Glaeser recalls it, Lucas pointed to cities as places where knowledge spillovers occur—meaning people can benefit from other people’s ideas without paying for them. Think of a city like Detroit early last century, where Henry Ford used his experience as chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company to start his automobile business.

That concept inspired a groundbreaking 1992 paper, “Growth in Cities.” Glaeser and three co-authors set out to use cities as a laboratory in which to test the new growth theories. Using 30 years of data covering 170 US cities, they found that local competition and diversity, rather than specialization, are the prime motors of urban growth.

The paper instantly made Glaeser a star and earned him a job offer from Harvard.

Glaeser “showed that urban variety, not specialization in one particular thing, was a big driver of employment growth,” says Joseph Gyourko, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a longtime collaborator. “It was Ed’s first really well-cited article, so it did start him on his path.”

Gyourko and Glaeser started working together in the early 2000s, when Glaeser took a year’s sabbatical at Penn. They wondered why some cities, such as Detroit, declined so slowly, and why so many people stayed instead of moving elsewhere. They hit upon a simple answer: housing is durable, and as cities slump, it becomes cheaper to live there.

That insight prompted a related question: Why is housing so much more expensive than the cost of construction in cities like New York and Boston? The answer: land-use restrictions limit density, curbing the supply of housing and driving up prices. It was basic economics, yet until then, urban economists hadn’t focused on the role of regulation.

Glaeser argues that excessive regulation is destructive of the very essence of urban life—density. Cities thrive on the creativity that occurs when people living cheek by jowl exchange ideas and know-how. Sunbelt cities like Houston have grown because an easy regulatory environment keeps housing inexpensive.

To economists like Glaeser, building and zoning regulations are a tax on development. Some level of tax makes economic sense, because construction imposes costs on residents in the form of noise, congestion, and pollution.

But overly stringent regulation, often pushed by residents who want to keep out newcomers and protect their property values, can make housing unaffordable for most people.

Glaeser is similarly skeptical of historic preservation rules, to the dismay of followers of Jane Jacobs, the legendary critic of urban-renewal projects who celebrated the lively street life of New York’s old ethnic neighborhoods.

Glaeser is a big Jacobs fan—he owns an autographed copy of her 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities—but argues that her efforts to oppose development in Greenwich Village were at odds with her support for low-income housing.

“I believe that many of our oldest buildings are treasures,” he says. “But don’t simultaneously pretend that that’s a route toward affordability. Affordability is created by mass-produced cheap housing or mass-produced cheap commercial space. And you might not like it aesthetically, but that is the affordable route.”

In 2000, Glaeser published “Consumer City,” a paper he wrote with Jed Kolko and Albert Saiz. In it, he took the concept of agglomeration a step further, arguing that people are drawn not only to the opportunities that cities offer, but also to amenities such as theaters, museums, and restaurants.

“We know that cities can attract the disproportionately young and innovative,” says Richard Florida, a professor of urban studies at the University of Toronto. “Ed was identifying the factors driving that, this whole idea that cities are not only places of production, but places of consumption.”

Glaeser laments policies such as the mortgage interest deduction, which encourages people to buy homes rather than rent apartments; highway subsidies, which make it easier to drive to the suburbs; and a school system that disadvantages inner-city students.

Such policies, he argues, not only are antiurban but also contribute to climate change, because city dwellers, who live in smaller homes and use mass transit, consume less electricity and gasoline than their suburban counterparts.

Surprisingly, he and his wife, Nancy, who have three children, decided to move to the suburbs of Boston several years ago. To Glaeser, it was a perfectly rational decision: the suburbs offer more living space, better schools, and a reasonably fast commute.

Already well known in academia, Glaeser started to reach a broader audience with the publication in 2011 of his bestselling book, Triumph of the City, a lively study of urbanization from ancient Baghdad to modern Bangalore.

His eloquence and enthusiasm make him a sought-after speaker at academic forums and TED Talks. Invariably, he is impeccably attired in well-pressed suits and preaches the gospel of urbanization in crisp, rapid-fire sentences.

Despite his celebrity, he takes teaching seriously. Rebecca Diamond, who attended his advising sessions as a graduate student, said he was generous with his time. “He taught me perspective and not to get too stuck in the weeds,” says Diamond, who now teaches at Stanford University and stays in touch with Glaeser.

Developing-world cities are his latest passion. True to form, he sees them as relatively uncharted territory, neglected both by urban economists, who focus on advanced-economy cities, and development economists, who concentrate on rural areas. They are also growing fast, and their physical and institutional infrastructure are works in progress, so economists’ policy advice can have an impact.

“The ability of economists to make a difference by getting engaged is just very large,” he says. “So, I think it is the new frontier.”

It also takes him to interesting places. His latest research project, with Nava Ashraf and Alexia Delfino of the London School of Economics, took him to the markets of Lusaka, Zambia, to study barriers to female entrepreneurship.

They found women are more likely to go into business if the rule of law is strong enough to help overcome inherently unequal relations with men.

Like Jane Jacobs, Glaeser is big believer in observing what he sees around him. “You don’t really understand a city until you’ve actually walked in the streets,” Glaeser says.

“That’s what makes Ed a first rate applied theorist,” says Gyourko. “You’ve got to get your hands messy in the data. Sometimes data is just walking around.”

While researching Triumph of the City, Glaeser explored places like Mumbai’s Dharavi quarter, which was a “completely magical experience.” Among the world’s most densely populated places, Dharavi hums with entrepreneurial energy, with potters, tailors, and other craftsmen working side by side in cramped, ill-lit quarters.

At the same time, unpaved streets, polluted air, and open sewers are reminders of the downsides of density. But Glaeser doesn’t bemoan the poverty of such places; on the contrary, he says cities attract the poor precisely because they offer opportunity. For the developing world, urbanization is the best path to prosperity.

“For all of their problems, amazing things are happening in India and sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America,” Glaeser says. “And things obviously don’t always go the right direction, but cities have been working miracles of collaboration for thousands of years, and whenever I go to a developing-world city, it is obvious to me that the age of miracles is not over.”

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.

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