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Palestinian elections raise hopes for two-State solution

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Al-Walaja, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Photo: UNRWA/Marwan Baghdadi

The holding of free and fair elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory will help “clear the path” for restoring a legitimate political horizon to realize a long sought two-State solution, the leading UN diplomat for the region told the Security Council on Friday.

“The depth of the task is daunting, but not insurmountable”, said Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General. “We must seize emerging opportunities.” 

With the upcoming elections offering just such an occasion, he pointed to the “extraordinarily high” registration rate among Palestinians as a “resoundingly positive” response. 

The elections will provide a crucial step towards re-establishing Palestinian national unity – and renewing the legitimacy of national institutions, including a democratically elected Legislative Council and Government in Palestine, he assured.

Palestinian Progress

He said Palestinian factions are making progress towards holding legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council elections.  Earlier this month, they met in Cairo, reaching agreement on several outstanding issues and emphasizing that elections must be held throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, without exception.

Meanwhile, on 17 February, the Central Elections Commission announced 421,000 new registrants during the period, he said, raising the total registered voters to over 2.6 million – 93 per cent of all eligible voters, according to estimates from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. “It is encouraging to see such strong public participation in the democratic process”, he said.

International support

For its part, the international community is focused on helping the parties return to the negotiating table, he said.  On 8 February the League of Arab States reiterated its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet – the Russian Federation, United States, European Union and United Nations – met virtually on 15 February to discuss the political developments, with all agreeing to meet on a regular basis. And a Chair’s summary of a 23 February virtual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee highlighted that the parties expressed renewed commitment to enhance cooperation.

For its part, the UN is working with the parties and international partners to address the pressing socioeconomic needs of Palestinians, including in the context of the pandemic.  It is also advancing the goal of ending the occupation and realizing a negotiated two-State solution based on UN resolutions, international law and prior agreements.

Vaccine Roll-out

On COVID vaccination prospects, he welcomed the announcement of the Palestinian vaccination strategy and the initial allocation to the Palestinian Ministry of Health of 37,440 doses of vaccines by the COVAX-AMC facility.  In February, 30,000 doses of vaccines were delivered to Palestinians, including in Gaza, by the Russian Federation and the United Arab Emirates. 

He said this is in addition to Israel’s earlier transfer of 5,200 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, vaccination of 5,000 Palestinian educational and health workers working in Israel, and efforts to vaccinate the population in East Jerusalem, which is 50 per cent complete.

Home demolitions

He went on to describe developments on the ground, expressing concern over Israel’s demolition or seizure of 170 Palestinian structures in Area C and 10 in East Jerusalem.  The demolitions were carried out due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Regional tensions simmer

Turning to the region as a whole, on the Golan, he said the ceasefire between Israel and Syria has been generally maintained. However, the security situation continues to be volatile, with continued violations of the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement by the parties.

In Lebanon, the population faces increasing hardship, due to deteriorating economic conditions and impact of COVID-19. In the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operations, incidents of weapons pointing between the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces across the Blue Line contributed to heightened tensions.

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Ensuring a More Inclusive Future for Indonesia through Digital Technologies

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While Indonesia has one of the fastest growing digital economies in South East Asia, action is needed to ensure that all Indonesians, especially the most vulnerable, can access various digital technologies and services and realize the benefits, according to a new World Bank report Beyond Unicorns: Harnessing Digital Technologies for Inclusion in Indonesia.

Although the accelerated adoption of internet-enabled services during the pandemic is likely to boost the growth of the digital economy, the benefits of such development could be unequal.

“There are a whole host of opportunities to use digital technologies for promoting better healthcare delivery, and improving access among the underserved but these need to be built on a base of reliable and interoperable data systems,” said Minister of Health of the Republic of Indonesia, Budi Gunadi Sadikin. “The pandemic has generated an unprecedented urgency to make this a reality and has also created a momentum to expedite adoption of digital technologies.

For Indonesia to leverage digital technologies for greater inclusion, the new report emphasizes three policy priorities. The first is to boost digital connectivity and universalize access to high quality internet through efforts such as improving clarity of regulations around the sharing of telecom infrastructure. The second priority is to ensure that the digital economy works for all. This can be supported by better logistics and greater investment in relevant skills for the digital era. The third priority is using digital technologies to provide better public services, improve the quality of citizen-and-state interactions, and build trust in the digital world.

Despite the progress in expanding internet over the past decade, the basic connectivity gap remains a major hurdle in Indonesia. Almost half of the adult population is still without access while the urban-rural connectivity divide has not narrowed. In 2019, 62 percent of Indonesian adults in urban areas were connected to the internet compared to 36 percent in rural areas, while it was 20 percent and 6 percent respectively in 2011. Indonesians in the top 10 percent of the income distribution were five times more likely to be connected than those in the bottom 10 percent.

“Addressing the digital divide goes beyond efforts to reduce the connectivity gap,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste.“It will be crucial to help citizens develop the skills to maximize digital opportunities, especially for better jobs. At the same time, it is equally important for the government to address the challenges related to regulations and business environment to enable firms to innovate and compete effectively.”

The proportion of Indonesian adults with access to the internet has increased from 13 percent in 2011 to 51 percent in 2019. Indonesians who are connected to the internet are among the most engaged populations in the world spending as many as six hours a day online. In addition, a large segment of this population is ready to intensify their digital interactions with the government. However, fragmentation of data and an untapped potential of building a comprehensive digital ID framework off the existing ID system are some of the key challenges holding back the government from a broader digital transformation.

Digitally engaged Indonesians are now experiencing how technologies reshape their lives and commercial activities contributing to better consumer experience. However, the opportunities are often limited to a particular demographic group with relatively higher level of skills. Digital gig work is more remunerative than other forms of informal work but is concentrated among urban male workers predominantly in the transportation, storage, and communications sector.

The report recommends the development of a national digital ID framework to enable Indonesians to prove their identity securely online, including a law on personal data protection that is backed by an independent oversight body. It calls for a reorientation from a narrow focus on e-government to a more comprehensive national digital transformation agenda.

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Moscow is in the Top7 Intelligent Communities in the world

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For the second time since 2017, Moscow made it to the final stage of the Intelligent Community Awards rating. It involves the cities that show best practices in the development of communications, experts training, the use of innovation, digital inclusion, the involvement of residents in city management, and the maintenance of sustainability principles. The prestigious international rating is issued annually by the Intelligent Community Forum.

The first stage, which took place in February this year, 21 cities from eight countries were selected. At the second stage, an international group of independent experts selected seven finalists. Alongside with to Moscow, there are cities from Canada, Australia, Vietnam and Brazil.

The experts noted the capital’s achievements in the development and use of communications, the residents’ involvement in the city government, the training of IT-specialists, enhancing digital literacy, as well as the support and implementation of innovations.

“To participate in the prestigious international rating, our team in cooperation with the specialists of the Moscow Innovation Agency prepared a detailed description of the most significant implemented digital projects in the field of communication development and use, resident participation in the city management, training IT-specialists, improving digital literacy, supporting and implementing innovations, as well as responsible consumption and protection of natural resources. Due to continuous development of the city’s digital technologies over the past four years, Moscow is among the Smart21 cities for the third time and for the second time is among top seven Smart Communities, which certainly shows that our work is highly appreciated by foreign specialists,” said Eduard Lysenko, the head of the Moscow Department of Information Technologies. 

The jury assessed not only how developed the urban infrastructure is, but also how effectively it is adapted to new economic challenges. In the field of broadband Internet access development, Moscow presented the project of the city Wi-Fi network. It includes more than 21 thousand points of access to free Internet, as well as 5G pilot zones launched jointly with telecom operators to estimate the use of fifth-generation communication technologies.

In the field of highly qualified personnel training in Moscow, the educational projects of the Moscow Government were noted. These projects are devoted to pre-vocational education, namely arranging industry specific training in Moscow schools, as well as to the voluntary qualification examination. It is organized jointly with the corporate partners to assess and select students according to employers’ requirements.

The project “My Career” by Moscow employment center was also presented among the important initiatives. Residents can get assistance in finding suitable vacancies, a professional career counselling, psychological support, as well as take part in employment-related trainings and webinars. The center focuses on the most vulnerable categories in the labor market: mothers of young children, youth, applicants of pre-retirement specialists, people with disabilities, low-income families.

The “Innovation” section presented “Moscow Accelerator” – the flagship project of the Moscow Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Development, aimed at scaling innovative solutions in promising industries in partnership with major corporations – market leaders. Another project in this area is the Moscow Innovation Cluster. It was created for the development of innovative organizations, projects and cooperation between the city and large companies, industry, small and medium-sized businesses, educational and scientific organizations. The online platform “i.moscow” provides opportunities for interaction between cluster participants.

“The Moscow innovation ecosystem” is also in the rating. The program allows the developers to test their technologies at urban and commercial sites before they are released on the market, and the authorities and potential customers can evaluate their effectiveness.

The project “Moscow Longevity” represents the field of inclusion development, creation of intellectual communities and improvement of people’s access to digital technologies. The project is aimed at creating a network of free leisure for the older generation of Muscovites and expanding the opportunities for their participation in cultural, educational, physical fitness, health and other activities was noted.

The Smart City hall offers a visual demonstration of new technologies for residents of all ages. This is a permanent exhibition of Smart City technologies located on the territory of VDNKh. You can visit the hall for free, and guided tours are offered several times a day.

In the hall there is a 5G democenter, which is part of the capital’s pilot innovation testing program. Several technological projects involving the fifth-generation communication networks are already being tested at this site. This is wireless optical communication in 5G standard, VR and AR in architecture and construction, virtual reality training via 5G, computer vision for drones and access control with remote temperature measurement.

The involvement of citizens in improving the quality of life is achieved through the digital ecosystem of interaction between the city and residents. The Active Citizen project allows every resident to take part in voting on topical issues of city development, the Our City portal allows you to report a problem in housing services and amenities, and the City of Ideas enables you to offer your ideas for crowdsourcing.

The city also presented social projects. Among them are the charity service on the mos.ru portal, which helps residents make donations to verified Moscow non-profit organizations and foundations, and the “Search for Lost and Found Animals” service which helps find a lost pet. A number of projects are aimed at environmental sustainability. Namely a set of services aimed at reducing water consumption in Moscow (a service for transmitting readings of water meters, an interactive test and the project “The Price of Water” based on AR-technology), as well as the portal “MosEcoMonitoring”. It allows residents to monitor the condition and quality of air in their city or district online in real time.

Intelligent Community Forum is a non-governmental organization headquartered in New York. ICF rating has been issued since 2005. The current leader of the Intelligent Community Awards is Tallinn. The new leader will be announced in autumn.

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DNA to rediscover a forgotten immigration

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The project “Le Vie Aleramiche, Normanno-Sveve”, with the support of the Euro-Mediterranean Federation, after having deepened the linguistic, toponymic and cultural aspects, will make use of the important demo-genetic research, already expressed in a pioneering form in 2016, which has the declared purpose of uncovering traces, more less hidden, of an almost forgotten migration, which started, starting from the 11th century AD, from districts not better circumscribed in northern Italy towards what will later be understood as “Lombard of Sicily”.

This is a survey that involves, on different but strictly interdependent fronts, the three universities of Palermo, Messina, and Bologna, with the coordination of Prof. Luca Sineo, the Professor of Anthropology at the University of Palermo and current President of the ‘AAI (Italian Anthropological Association), and the action on the field by dr. Marco Nania, responsible for the sampling phase. This research, which fascinates the communities involved so much, acts by a comparative analysis of specific DNA segments deriving from biological samples taken from a group of selected subjects from the population currently residing in the Sicilian localities of interest, so qualified as possible receptacles of traces, even significant ones, of the passage and rooting of the “Lombard” colonizers.

With the method of “active” sampling, we will deliberately and hopefully proceed towards a close collaboration and widespread participation of local communities. They will feel as promoters of the survey themselves and, even more, creators of the re-determination, on a genetic basis, of their own history. A fundamental aspect of the pre-sample anthropological analysis is then based on the onomastic study of surnames, first names and nicknames, which say so much about culture and family and social relationships within a given community. The identification of endemic surnames and others of the suspicious and ancient high-Italic matrix, in combination with the reconstruction, up to the third parental generation (that of the great-grandparents), of genealogies purely embodied in the socio-demographic context of reference, will be the guides discriminating factors that will lead to establishing the perimeter within which to include the subjects of greatest interest.

It will be a question of demonstrating, in a definitive way, an indisputable ancestral link between the people of some strips of Sicily, where the progeny of Nordic migrants would be stationed, and the descendants of the sedentary stocks of the Ligurian, Piedmonts, and more generally “Lombard” ancestors. This should consolidate, with real scientific data, the narrative of that “reverse immigration”, now almost forgotten, which saw families and perhaps entire communities of Northern Italy follow the Aleramici, linked to the Norman-Swabian dynasty, in their transfer to the South and, in particular, towards Sicily.

An aspect of the research that before the pandemic had already seen the interest of the University of Bologna and of the Anthropologist Prof. Davide Pettener, interviewed by Fabrizio Di Salvo.

Sampling will take place, in stages and in successive periods, in the localities of San Fratello, Aidone, Piazza Armerina, Corleone, and Fondachelli Fantina. Thanks to the intermediation of Calogero Ridulfo, Filadelfio Crivillaro, Lavinia Garsia, Marco Incalcaterra, Franca Ciantia, Serena Raffiotta, Rosa Maria Restivo and Tiziana Laversa and coordinated by Anna Maria Di Rosa Placa, and Fabrizio Di Salvo of the Euro-Mediterranean Federation on the ancient Medieval Migrations, following the instructions already communicated by the experts in a videoconference.

In the case of Fondachelli-Fantina, however, it was the entire municipal administration, led by the mayor Dr. Marco Pettinato, to have raised awareness and to have promoted and supported, thanks also to the active collaboration of the councillor Gioconda Grasso and the cultural center “Le Miniere”, all the phases that will lead to the imminent sampling.

This is an opportunity to break down, through the science and study of DNA, prejudices and parochialisms that are firmly rooted and that do not allow us to look, with a broad breath, at the numerous pages of the history of mankind that speak of peoples in constant migration and relocation.

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