Palestinians Eager For Statehood, But Doubt UN Can Solve Their Problems

In the towns of the West Bank, Palestinian residents are cautiously optimistic about negotiations at the UN, which could recognize Palestine as an independent state. But even if the vote does go their way, will things actually change? “Will the Israelis l

Serge Dumont

RAMALLAH – "Do you want a flag?" young street vendors ask passersby. The campaign for independent statehood is in full swing in Ramallah and in other big Palestinian cities of the West Bank. At the crossroads, teams of T-shirt wearing youth distribute pennants and stickers to drivers. In various squares, giant boards claim this is "a historic moment" for the country. Palestine, the signs optimistically suggest, "is finally going to be recognized internationally."

The campaign symbol is a blue velvet armchair on the back of which the name "Palestine" has been embroidered in silver letters. Activists carry it around from one meeting to another, hoping it will raise public awareness about the current state of things. "Independence is within our reach," declares Hussein Nusseibeh, one of the leaders of the street protests. "According to the polls, 92% of Palestinians think our independence request to the UN will succeed. People understand that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is about to acquire a new position."

Upon meeting people, however, we understand fast enough that Palestinians don't really know what's going on in New York. Nor do they expect a radical change in their lifestyle.

In Kalkilyah, a small agricultural town located 500 meters away from Israel, but on the wrong side of the separation barrier, farmers who are forced to go through various Israeli military checkpoints to access their plantations don't feel particularly enthusiastic.

"Mahmud Abbas tells us that Palestine entering the UN is a step towards complete independence. But after the vote, will the Israelis leave our territory?" asks Abu Baher, a farmer who "doesn't believe in the end of the occupation." Baher points towards the settlement of Alfei Menashe. "Look over there," he says. "While those gentlemen in the government chatter at the UN, buildings are appearing all over the place. If the Jews are settling down, they're not going to move away any time soon."

In the souk of Kalkilyah where Hamas has a strong hold, many complain also about the increase in the cost of living, about the persistent unemployment and the outrageous price of real estate. "It won't get better if we enter the UN," says a storekeeper. "This story, it's just smoke and mirrors to help Fatah win the next legislative elections."

Hussein Al Sheikh, a Fatah leader who was also one of the leaders of the second intifada in the West Bank, counters that the UN vote is just a start -- and will help reignite the peace process, and spur economic development. "No one said everything will suddenly be fine in a few hours," he says.

Intifada or diplomacy?

Another Fatah official insists Israel should thank them for their maneuverings in the UN. "The choice was a simple one," says the man. "The fact that negotiations with Israel were frozen left us with two choices: either we were to launch a new bloody intifada to make things happen or we were to try for a peaceful approach at the UN. We chose the second option."

In the suburb of Nablus, the small village of Kusra has become a favorite target of young extremist Israeli settlers who often raid the place to burn cars, sack farms and desecrate mosques. For the people living there, the ongoing process at the UN seems unreal. "All this far away chit-chat is going to last for weeks, even for months, but we, the people, are attacked every day," says the muktar (village chief). "Here, just as anywhere else, there is definitely a consensus when it comes to encouraging the the initiative at the UN. But if in the end we do not get concrete solutions out of it, people will feel like they were tricked. Tempers will flare for sure. "

About 40 miles south, at the entrance of the Casbah in Hebron, the small flag factory run by Abu Ismail has been working at full capacity for nearly two months. While listening to the calls to prayer from the neighboring mosque, four women wearing hijab are sewing together the Palestinian colors under a weak neon light. On the wall is a faded picture of Yasser Arafat. Just next to it is one of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader who was killed by an Israeli rocket on March, 22, 2004.

"Look at those flags, they're all hand stitched," says the storekeeper. "We sell them everywhere, even in Israel." Leaning over the tables, the female workers don't raise their heads. They also refuse to answer questions about Palestine's possible entrance in the UN.

"Here, everyone wants the independence of Palestine, but we're afraid to believe in it," says Ismail. "A year ago, Barack Obama himself promised that the State of Palestine would be proclaimed in September 2011. Yet, it was all forgotten. That's why we remain so cautious. We are afraid of being disappointed."

Read the original article in French

Photo - gregor.schlatte

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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