Top News from Israel & Palestine: April 8, 2021

What We’re Reading

U.S. Policy

The United States Restores Assistance for the Palestinians,

“The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart U.S. economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.  This includes $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).  We are also resuming vital security assistance programs.  All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law.”


State Department Spokesman Ned Price on the resumption of aid: “U.S. foreign assistance for the Palestinians serves important U.S. interests and values, including providing critical relief to those in need, fostering economic development, and supporting Israeli-Palestinian understanding, as well as security and stability in a volatile region.  It aligns with the values and the interests of the United States as well as those of our allies and partners.  The United States is committed to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term, which is important in its own right, of course, but also as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution. The United States encourages other donors to support programs and activities that work toward a common goal of stability and progress for Israelis and Palestinians alike….

And I just want to underscore that all of this aid is absolutely consistent with relevant U.S. law, including those two statutes. As we do around the world, we provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground, and it’s these partners who distribute directly to people in need, not through government or de facto government authorities. Our development partners in the West Bank and Gaza have aggressive risk mitigation systems in place aimed at ensuring just that – namely, that U.S. taxpayer-funded assistance is reaching those for whom it is intended: the women, the men, the children in need of lifesaving assistance.”


After restoring aid to Palestinians, Biden endorses two-state solution,

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday promised to press for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he restored aid to the Palestinians. In a call with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a longstanding US ally who recently faced down dissent within the royal family, Biden “affirmed that the United States supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” a White House statement said…

In a statement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the resumption of aid, as well as Biden’s “commitment to the two-state solution as a basis for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” The Palestinian leadership hoped that the aid would mark the start of a concerted effort by Biden to pressure Israel, including on stopping settlements in the  West Bank. “We are eagerly awaiting the resumption not only of financial assistance but of political relations with the United States to allow the Palestinian people to achieve their legitimate rights for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” said Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister.”

Key Commentary & Analysis on the Restoration of U.S. Aid to Palestinians,

  • FMEP’s Lara Friedman (@LaraFriedmanDC) writes on Twitter: “Just to emphasize: ALL this funding was appropriated by Congress for these purposes, in laws passed by GOP-controlled Senate, signed by Trump. Biden Admin’s is today acting 100% consistent with law & & clear intent of Congress. Anyone who says otherwise is misinformed or lying.”
  • Joel Braunold (@braunold)  writes on Twitter: “Today the Administration restarted various lines of assistance to the Palestinian People. There is a lot of confusion even amongst those who follow this closely of what this was, and what laws they follow.”
  • CSIS’s Ilan Goldenberg (@ilangoldenberg) writes on Twitter: “As I understand it, in the months ahead the State Department and UNRWA will be negotiating an understanding of the terms of their relationship going forward. This understanding will be publicly available.”

Bipartisan House members reintroduce Palestinian education bill,

“A bipartisan group of House legislators reintroduced a bill on Monday calling for a State Department assessment of lesson plans created by the Palestinian Authority and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The legislation comes as UNRWA faces criticism for including material that encourages violence and intolerance in its curricula. The bill was first introduced in late 2019, during the previous congressional session, and was reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee without opposition, but failed to reach the House floor before the end of session. The Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act was reintroduced this week by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Brian Mast (R-FL) and David Trone (D-MD).”

Israel slams Biden's resumption of UNRWA funding for Palestinians,

“Israel warned the Biden administration that its decision Wednesday to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) would only help perpetuate the conflict. “Israel’s position is that the organization in its current form perpetuates the conflict and does not contribute to its resolution,” the Foreign Ministry stated.”

Settlements, Annexation, Occupation & Human Rights

In 1st since Biden inauguration, Israel advances 540 new East Jerusalem homes,

“An Israeli planning commission advanced 540 new units in a controversial East Jerusalem neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon, in the first Jewish construction in the city’s majority-Palestinian eastern part since the inauguration of US President Joe Biden. The new housing was approved in Har Homa, a neighborhood near the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher and the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The area — known as Har Homa East — would greatly extend the boundaries of the Jewish neighborhood. Construction in Har Homa East has been long-promised but long-delayed. The most recent push to build more units in Har Homa began in last February, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on the eve of March 2020 elections that he had lifted restrictions on construction there, sparking controversy.”

More Coverage

Settler Group Takes Over Three East Jerusalem Buildings, Expanding Jewish Enclave,

“Dozens of Israeli settlers moved into three building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in the early morning on Thursday, the latest move in settler group Ateret Cohanim’s years-long campaign to expand Jewish presence in that part of the city. Ateret Cohanim activists, accompanied by large Israeli police force, moved into the buildings, which contain at least 16 apartments, at around 2 A.M. Fifteen Jewish families already lived in Betan al-Hawa, or the Yemenite quarter. The buildings taken over on Thursday were sold by their Palestinian owners, in one of the largest purchases on East Jerusalem property by settlers in several years.”

JNF to Vote on West Bank Land Purchases – Even at Isolated Settlements,

“The management of the Jewish National Fund will vote Sunday on the controversial proposal that would allow it to buy land in the West Bank, even in areas of remote Jewish settlements. In February the JNF approved a policy change allowing such purchases, which could potentially expand settlements, but said further debate was necessary on the areas where acquisitions might be made. Preferred areas have been chosen, though land will not be bought in the northern West Bank near the cities Nablus and Jenin, where settlements are few.” Also See – “KKL-JNF said set to okay purchase of West Bank land for isolated settlements” (The Times of Israel)

Israeli Settler Assaults Left-wing Activist After Dispute on West Bank Grazing Land,

“An Israeli settler assaulted prominent left-wing activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman on Tuesday near the unauthorized Ma’aleh Ahuvia outpost in the West Bank, following a dispute over grazing land. The assault was videotaped by Gil Hamerschlag, another activist who was there at the time of the incident. Ascherman said he had arrived at the scene, north of Ramallah, after Palestinian shepherds reported that settlers were grazing their sheep in private Palestinian fields. He added he had notified the police and the Israeli army, but they failed to act on the report. A few minutes later, a masked settler arrived began hitting Ascherman with a club. Ascherman filed a complaint with the local police station, who opened an investigation. The perpetrator has yet to be identified. The activist said that since the outpost was built three months ago in memory of Ahuvia Sandak, a settler who died during a police chase, there have been recurring clashes between settlers and Palestinians in the area over grazing lands.”

Adalah: Establishment of a new Israeli police undercover unit exclusively for Arab communities is racist,

“Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel described the establishment of a new Israeli police undercover unit intended to operate exclusively within Arab localities inside the borders of the Israeli state as being racist, illegal, and unprecedented in democracies around the world. Adalah said in a press release that it sent a letter yesterday calling on senior Israeli police and political officials to halt the creation of the new unit revealed by the Israeli media.”

Two Palestinian prisoners remain on hunger-strike against detention without charge,

“Two Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails have been on hunger strike for four days and 22 days respectively in protest of their unfair detention without charge or trial, today said the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS). Sa’ed Abu Ebeid, 41, a resident of Jenin city in the occupied West Bank, was detained by the Israeli occupation army on November 30, 2020, and was sentenced to four and a half months in prison…In the meantime, Palestinian administrative detainee Emad Ibrahim Sawarkeh, from the occupied West Bank city of Jericho, is also on his 22nd day of hunger strike against detention without charge or trial.”

Israeli repression units raid sections of Palestinian detainees in Rimon,

“Israeli repression units raided today secions 3 and 7 in the Israeli prison of Rimon, in the Naqab desert, where Palestinian political detainees are incarcerated, and brutally assaulted and clashed with them, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS). The PPS said in a statement that clashes erupted between the Palestinian prisoners and the attacking repression units, but said no further details were available concerning the situation of the prisoners at the moment.”


Hamas Orders Lockdown in Gaza as COVID Infections Spike,

“The Hamas government has declared a total lockdown in the Gaza Strip, starting Wednesday evening, due to the sharp rise in the number of new coronavirus infections. Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bazem said that security forces would strictly enforce the lockdown and clamp down on any infringement. The lockdown is scheduled to begin at 9 P.M. Wednesday, ending at 6 A.M. on Friday of next week. The lockdown will be total and only essential businesses will remain open, including pharmacies and bakeries, as well as stores selling food. All government services will be suspended, with a total closure of all educational institutions, from preschools to universities, until further notice.” Also See – “Coronavirus rages in Gaza, with record tally of new daily cases” (Ynet)

Gaza’s second wave: 35% of coronavirus tests positive, mass vaccination far off,

“Even as Israel heads toward herd immunity, the Gaza Strip is seeing coronavirus infections reach record heights, with only enough vaccines for some two percent of the population. “We began to enter this wave of coronavirus during March. Right now, we’re still seeing a rise in infections and in serious cases, and we expect that number to continue to rise,” said Rami al-Abadleh, one of the officials charged with overseeing the anti-coronavirus effort in the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.”

[Webinar] “Medical Apartheid”: COVID Vaccinations Under Occupation,

Israel’s program of vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19 has been touted worldwide as a great success. Yet, Israel has rejected any responsibility for providing or even facilitating vaccines for the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, despite the fact that from1967 through the present day Israel exercises overarching control over these areas (and despite the fact that Israel has provided vaccines for its own citizens living in illegal West Bank settlements). The results speak for themselves. Israel today is reopening its economy, schools, and airport. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, facing all the obstacles that Israeli occupation entails, continues to struggle to obtain vaccines and to roll out a vaccination program of its own, while the West Bank is undergoing yet another lockdown and the Gaza Strip is being ravaged by a second COVID wave. Experts are aptly describing the situation as “medical apartheid.”

Pfizer reportedly halts shipment of 700,000 COVID vaccine doses to Israel after it fails to pay,

“Pfizer halted a shipment of 700,000 COVID vaccine doses to Israel, alleging that the country has not paid for a previous shipment of 2.5 million doses. The Jerusalem Post reported Monday that the shipment was supposed to arrive this past Sunday but was indefinitely delayed pending payment. Israel paid for its first 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine soon after they were made available, helping the country earn the world’s highest vaccination rate. But when its supplies began to dwindle in February, Israel secured a deal with Pfizer for additional doses. Israel has spent 2.6 billion shekels, or nearly $700 million, on vaccines so far, according to the Post.”

Amnesty pans Israeli ‘discrimination’ in not vaccinating Palestinians,

“Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Israel of “institutionalized discrimination” for vaccinating its own citizens but not inoculating the five million Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “This move flagrantly violated Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law,” the rights group said in a statement.”

The Palestinian Scene

"Today, after three and a half years of arbitrary prosecution for exercising my right to freedom of speech, I was found not guilty by the Palestinian court.",

“I was arrested and jailed by the Palestinian Preventative Security over Facebook posts critical of the authorities, only released after a week of hunger strike and international outcry and attention. I was since indicted under the draconian Electronic Crimes Act and 1960 Jordanian penal code still in effect in the West Bank with charges of “insulting higher authorities,” “causing public strife” and disturbing “public order” related to my social media posts. After years of campaigning and international solidarity, I was found not guilty on all charges. Thank you to all who supported me and to the Palestinians and internationals who stood with me in court. I will continue my work without fear.”

Hamas boosts military capabilities amid preparations for Palestinian elections,

“As Hamas and Fatah continue to hold talks on the upcoming Palestinian general elections, Israeli statements and reports have circulated about Hamas’ growing military capabilities. Meanwhile, Israel launched airstrikes against military targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of March 24, in response to a rocket fired from the enclave toward the city of Beersheba. No injuries have been reported. The Israeli reports on Hamas’ military capabilities have coincided with the movement’s preparations to run in the elections in a few months and its ongoing political talks with Fatah. This has raised questions on any potential contradictions between the military and political paths Hamas has opted for recently. A close associate of President Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The national dialogues between Fatah and Hamas are currently focused on the general elections. The talks on problematic issues, such as the arms [used] and attacks against Israel, were postponed to a later time. Such a positive atmosphere in the Palestinian arena requires that Hamas focuses on unifying the domestic front, away from any regional ties with countries that seek political influence in the Palestinian territories, even if through military support.”

PA's Abbas in 'good health' after medical check in Germany,

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in “good health” following a “routine” medical exam in Germany, his office said Wednesday. “President Mahmoud Abbas has completed his previously scheduled medical examinations in Germany,” the Palestinian presidency said. “The president is in good health and will return to the homeland on Thursday.” He is expected to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel while in Berlin. The 85-year-old Abbas is a heavy smoker and has had several health scares, including prostate cancer. In February 2018, he traveled to Baltimore for a biopsy and other health checks at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. That same year he was hospitalized for pneumonia. Amid the speculation over Abbas’ health, Palestinians are gearing up for their first national elections in 15 years. Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem are slated to head to the polls for legislative elections May 22 and to cast their votes for president July 31.”

The Israeli Scene

Israel responds to ICC, says it lacks jurisdiction,

“The Israeli government told the International Criminal Court that it did not recognize its authority to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes, Israeli news outlets reported on Thursday. This comes just days before a deadline to respond to the court’s decision to investigate both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, despite Israel not being a signatory to the Rome Statute that governs the court and even though the PA is not recognized as a full-fledged state. Recommendations submitted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Defense and Foreign ministries, and the military were debated well into this week before a decision was made. The ICC announced in March that it had formally notified Israel and the Palestinian Authority of its upcoming probe into alleged war crimes in their conduct in the 2014 Gaza war and thereafter. The move gave the two parties a one-month period to apply for deferring the case, with the court noting that a party must prove that it is capable of investigating the matter on its own. The notifications were sent to all signatories of the Rome Statute, the court’s founding charter, as well as Israel and Palestinians, on March 9, with Israel’s Channel 13 confirming that Jerusalem received it and is yet to respond. Under Article 16 of the Statute, an ICC investigation or prosecution can be deferred for up to a year on a request from the UN Security Council, which must first approve the appropriate resolution. Israel, however, is not a party to the Rome Statute and has vociferously protested the court’s decision, adding that it is capable of conducting its own investigations.” Also See – “Israel to tell ICC: You don’t have authority to investigate us” (The Times of Israel)

Smotrich threatens to expel Arab MK, other Muslims who don’t accept Jewish rule,

“MK Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, on Wednesday warned he would “make sure” a prominent Arab lawmaker and other Muslims would not remain in Israel if they did not recognize that the land belongs to the Jews. MK Ahmad Tibi, a senior member of the Joint List, a predominantly Arab Israeli party, responded by calling Smotrich a racist in German.”

Israel's president openly reluctant on Netanyahu forming government,

“Political sources told Al-Monitor that Rivlin, 82, considered resigning to avoid tapping Netanyahu for the job for the fourth time in two years despite his criminal indictment and failure to form a stable government after four stalemated elections.”

U.S. Conservatives Gave the Israeli Right Huge Political Power. When Will the Left Do the Same?,

“As Yonatan Levi and I have previously written in Haaretz, liberal foundations involved in Israel pursue a very different course of action compared to their right-wing counterparts. They are mostly looking to support “do-gooders” – or, as they put it, to “strengthen the social cohesion in Israel” and “create a vibrant Israeli democracy.” That is to say, invest in projects aimed at empowering marginalized groups and promoting civic activism. Noble causes, to be sure, but apolitical ones. Conversely, the institutions built by the new right and its American funders, especially in the last decade, are committed to movement building and political influence. True, the responsibility for changing that lies mainly with us on the Israeli left. However, after a decade in which the new right and its U.S. funders have built an effective ideological and organizational machine, with no parallel on the left, it’s time for our partners abroad to reconsider their influence strategies here in Israel.”

Lawfare & Quashing Free Speech to Silence Criticism of Israel

Top Court Allows Minister to Withhold Israel Prize Over BDS Accusations,

“The Israeli High Court of Justice on Thursday accepted the education minister’s request to reconsider yet again a decision to award the Israel Prize to Prof. Oded Goldreich over his support for boycotting an Israeli university located in a West Bank settlement. The decision means that Goldreich, recommended for the award by the prize committee, will not receive the prize in mathematics and computer sciences during the annual ceremony held on Independence Day, which falls this year on April 15.”

These names are being talked about to be the US anti-Semitism monitor,

“Nancy Kaufman, the former CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said this week that she had been in touch with the Biden administration about becoming this country’s newly empowered anti-Semitism monitor. Kaufman revealed her contact in the Forward in a story about how progressive Jewish groups appear to be coalescing around her candidacy. She confirmed it on Wednesday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, saying that a number of people outside the administration urged her to apply for the job, so she made her interest known to people inside the Biden administration.”

Eyes on Jordan

Jordan king doubles down on sedition claims against brother,

“Jordan’s King Abdullah II addressed the unprecedented public rift within the royal family for the first time Wednesday, portraying it as an attempted sedition involving his half-brother that had been “nipped in the bud,” but caused him anger, pain and shock. The monarch appeared to be doubling down on the allegations against Prince Hamzah, a former crown prince, while at the same time trying to reassure Jordanians that the nation was returning to business as usual. But even if the current crisis is eventually defused, major challenges loom for the Western-allied monarchy as it confronts growing internal dissent. Wednesday’s statement, presented by a newsreader on Jordan TV, dealt with the internal crisis that erupted over the weekend when Hamzah was confined to his home and accused of being part of a plot to destabilize the kingdom. Hamzah has denied the allegations, saying he was simply calling out long-running corruption and mismanagement in the kingdom. The king said Wednesday that he was hurt by the recent events.”

Biden Speaks to Jordanian King, Affirms Strong U.S. Support,

“President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ strong support for Jordan and the leadership of King Abdullah in a call with the king on Wednesday, the White House said in a statement. “They discussed the strong bilateral ties between Jordan and the United States, Jordan’s important role in the region, and strengthening bilateral cooperation on multiple political, economic, and security issues,” the statement said. Biden also affirmed U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it said.”

U.S. prods Israel to provide more water to Jordan,

“Why it matters: Israeli-Jordanian relations have recently sunk into a new crisis after a period of slow improvement, and the water supply is another point of tension. The backstory: Israel has committed under past agreements to supply Jordan with water. Every year, Jordan asks for an additional amount, and Israel typically agrees right away. Driving the news: But when a joint water committee met last month and the Jordanians asked for additional water, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not immediately consent.”

Jordan's King Abdullah Has Bigger Concerns Than a Family Feud, and Israel Should Worry, Too,

“That week, 6,000 more people were infected with the coronavirus. The vaccination drive is proceeding sluggishly and only a few tens of thousands of people have received the first dose. The annual budget deficit, set at $2.89 billion, is already expected to come in higher. “Unemployment is this country’s greatest problem,” Jordanian Finance Minister Mohamad Al-Ississ reportedly told his American counterpart. The official figures put unemployment at 24 percent, 5 percentage points over last year. Among people with higher education, the figure is 28 percent. More than half the unemployed have high school or vocational school diplomas. Among younger people, joblessness tops 50 percent. Jordan’s engineers’ association reported in February that 35,000 of the country’s 174,000 registered engineers were unemployed. “Without investments in projects, and because of the coronavirus, the numbers could climb higher,” warns Tariq Almomani, head of training and recruitment at the engineers’ association.”

Bonus Listen

For This Palestinian Cook, The Kitchen Is A 'Powerful Place' — Not A 'Life Sentence',

“Growing up in East Jerusalem, Palestinian cookbook author Reem Kassis never expected to enter the food industry. For her, the kitchen represented a “life sentence” for women. Instead, Kassis moved to the U.S. when she was 17, first studying business at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and then at the London School of Economics. It wasn’t until she had a child that she began to see the kitchen as a “powerful place” where she could share important stories about food and culture with her daughter.”