Top News from Israel & Palestine: December 2, 2019

What We’re Reading

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

Israel Plans to 'Double' Jewish Settlement in Battleground City of Hebron,

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has instructed the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank to inform the Hebron municipality that a new Jewish neighborhood is planned for the area of the Hebron fruit and vegetable market, which has stood empty for 25 years. According to the plan, the market’s existing buildings, which belong to Hebron’s municipality, will be demolished to make way for new shops and residential buildings. According to Bennett, the neighborhood ‘will create a territorial continuation from the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, and double the number of Jewish residents in the city’.”

Israel Begins Work on What Will Become Largest Settlement in East Jerusalem,

“Work has begun on the expansion of the Nof Tzion settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber, which upon completion will make it the largest Jewish settlement within a Palestinian neighborhood in the city. Nof Tzion was established by Jewish investors in the early 2000s and the residents moved in eight years ago, with currently 96 families living in two compounds. The neighborhood is considered relatively well off and the apartments face the Old City, however, it is surrounded on all sides by the large Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber. The area slated for expansion was the subject of a lengthy legal dispute; about 10 years ago, a Palestinian businessman, Bashar al-Masri, tried unsuccessfully to purchase the land to prevent the Jewish neighborhood’s buildout.”

Israeli Cabinet Approves $11.5m in Funding for Security in W. Bank Settlements,

“The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved an allocation of 40 million shekels ($11.5 million) for West Bank settlements. Most of the sum — 34.5 million shekels — is a one-time grant for security needs of Jewish communities in the territory. The remaining 5.5 million shekels is earmarked for the construction of first aid stations. An announcement of the intended allocation was issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements. At the end of the meeting, the council issued a statement ‘express[ing] support for the prime minister and appreciation for his leadership of the country at present’.”

Archaeologists, architects petition High Court to stop Old City cable car plan,

“A group of archaeologists, architects and researchers petitioned the High Court of Justice alongside the Emek Shaveh organization in an attempt to stop a controversial plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. The petitioners argued that the transitional government is not permitted to sign off on such a project and that projections of the visual impact of the cable car are not realistic, the Haaretz daily reported.”

Bennett orders IDF to conduct feasibility study on artificial Gaza island plan,

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has thrown his support behind an initiative to construct an artificial island port off the coast of Gaza, ordering the IDF to conduct a feasibility study into the project, Channel 12 reported on Saturday. The concept, which was proposed by then-transportation and intelligence minister Israel Katz in 2017, envisions the establishment of an eight-square-kilometer (three-square-mile) artificial island linked to Gaza by a five-kilometer (three-mile) causeway that could, if necessary, be severed from the mainland by means of a drawbridge. The plan seeks to alleviate conditions in the Strip while maintaining Israel’s security control.”

The Systematic Torture of Palestinians in Israeli Detention,

“Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency has been torturing Palestinians. Al-Shabaka Senior Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argues that the use of torture in Israeli detention is systematic and legitimized through domestic law, and outlines steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations. “

New Israeli Bypass Will Bring Settlement Closer to Jerusalem and Hurt Palestinian Farmers,

“’It’s not just the land they took from us for the road itself that’s gone,’ said Adel Abu Rayan, a man in his 50s. ‘Everything around it will go too. We won’t be able to get to our land on the other side of the road. We won’t be able to plant, sow and work it.’ He was speaking based on experience with other roads that Israel has built in the West Bank in the heart of agricultural areas to link the settlements to each other and to Israel. Over time, prohibitions, restrictions and roadblocks spring up, and it becomes harder and harder to access the land and work it. And because construction is forbidden in any case, this will essentially become absent or theoretical land. ‘They’re building a highway here,’ said 35-year-old Maher (not his real name) as he joined the conversation. ‘Their engineer, who was walking around here a few days ago, told me it will have six lanes – two in each direction plus an emergency service lane on each side – and a concrete barrier along the sides’.”

For Gaza’s youth, Palestinian national identity is under siege,

“Gaza society, Nour discovered, is deeply divided along political-ideological lines that have come to supersede the Palestinian struggle writ large. For the younger generation in particular — and 50 percent of Gaza’s population is younger than 15 — divisions based on political affiliation have distorted their Palestinian identity. Loyalty to a political party, whether it is Fatah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, takes precedence over their Palestinian identity and their commitment to the struggle for Palestinian freedom writ large. The result is that most of the young people in Gaza now base their national identity on politics and the military struggle against Israel. Those who seek an identity not linked to partisan politics are now looking abroad.”

Why the West Bank went silent when Israel attacked Gaza,

“Mahmoud Mardawi, a member of Hamas’ National Relations Office, told Al-Monitor, ‘Criticism of West Bank inhabitants should [actually] target the PA, which bans shows of solidarity with Gaza through its security measures. These prevent West Bankers from performing their national duty by constraining them and legally pursuing anyone who shows solidarity with Gaza. The recent round of escalation curbed the West Bank’s solidarity with Gaza because of the confusing nature of the confrontation and the absence of factional consensus about its management.’ A Palestinian official close to Abbas who spoke to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity remarked, ‘Tackling this issue is not allowed because it divides Palestinians socially, in addition to the political division they are already facing. We stand in solidarity with Gaza in ways we see fit. We are not a tool for any faction for exporting Gaza crises to the West Bank’.”

Israeli Politics

Rivlin to Ask Attorney General if Netanyahu Can Form a Government After Indictment,

“President Reuven Rivlin is preparing for the possibility that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will receive be reccommended by the Knesset to form a government, and plans on asking Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit for his legal opinion on whether a prime minister can be given the mandate while under indictment…Ten days remain until the Knesset’s mandate to form a government expires. Any Knesset member that is able to collect 61 signatures will receive a 14-day mandate from the president to attempt to form a government. If the Knesset does not present a candidate in the next ten days, the Knesset will be dissolved and the country will head to a third election. Negotiation teams for Kahol Lavan and Likud met on Sunday, and said that “significant differences” remain between the two parties.”

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu readying compromises on unity,

“Netanyahu already compromised by dropping his insistence on serving as prime minister the first two years in a unity government to one year, and then relaying to Gantz that he would settle for ‘less than six months without tricks and shticks.’ Sources close to Gantz said he was willing to accept the offer and stand up to Blue and White’s second and third candidates, MKs Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, who warned him that it is a trap. The sources said Gantz will tell them that they can sit out of the government while Netanyahu is prime minister and then join for his two years at the helm.”

Left-wing parties said in merger talks as prospects of 3rd election grow,

“Two of the Knesset’s two left-leaning parties, Labor and Democratic Camp, have launched preliminary negotiations for a merger in the event that a new election, the third in less than a year, is called, Channel 13 reported Friday. The possibility of a joint left-wing slate was raised during a meeting between Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Democratic Camp head Nitzan Horowitz earlier this week. Officials in both parties reportedly said that they feel they need to merge due to an increased likelihood that one, or both of the parties, may not cross the electoral threshold in another national vote.”

Netanyahu charges re-delivered to Knesset, starting clock on immunity request,

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit released a new version of the indictment against Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, designating the Jerusalem District Court as the bench that may hold the first ever trial of a sitting Israeli prime minister and naming 333 witnesses that the state may call. Presenting the charge sheet (Hebrew) to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Mandelblit clarified that the 30-day period for Netanyahu to request to be granted parliamentary immunity by the Knesset has now officially begun.”

Netanyahu wants to stay in office only to annex Jordan Valley, Likud claims,

“According to a report in the Israel Hayom daily on Monday, a rotational deal offered by Likud would allow Netanyahu to remain in office for six months in order to push through the annexation of Jordan Valley, after which he would step aside to fight bribery and fraud charges…Blue and White has said it was willing to form a government with Likud, but only if Netanyahu steps down as leader. The party reportedly fears Netanyahu would use his time as premier in a rotational government to push through an immunity package and avoid criminal prosecution.”

U.S. Politics

Palestinians lobby for tweaks to anti-terror bill,

“Although both the Deutch and Lankford bills purport to ‘fix’ the law, critics say they both fall short. ‘In the name of finding justice for American victims of terror, both ‘fixes’ are predicated on the view that, in order for the aid issue to be resolved, some other hook must be found or created to ensure that [the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act’s] fundamental objective is still served: Enabling the PLO and PA to be sued out of existence in US courts,’ said Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”

Washington's Right-Wing Consensus on Israel Faces a Reckoning in Three New York Congressional Races,

“If the members lose their seats, Democratic leadership will likely appoint other pro-Israel Democrats as their replacements to head powerful committees like Foreign Affairs and Appropriations. Still, because of the influence Engel, Nadler, and Lowey wield on congressional Israel policy, their exit from Congress would give the Palestinian rights movement a bigger opportunity to press its agenda on Capitol Hill, particularly around conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel to ensure that aid does not get used by Israel’s military to commit human rights abuses, and to beat back attacks on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or BDS, the nonviolent movement to pressure Israel to end its human rights violations against Palestinians.”

Lawfare & Labeling

The Deportation of Omar Shakir: The Israeli Supreme Court and the BDS Movement,

“Ultimately, however, the court’s distinction between Shakir and HRW remains unpersuasive. As noted, the law pursues preventive rather than punitive aims—and past activity is therefore insufficient to warrant deportation. If actively promoting HRW’s stance on settlements is enough to demonstrate ongoing promotion of boycotts, any new employee could face similar consequences. Israeli employees of HRW, too, could face civil or administrative ramifications simply for implementing HRW’s stated policy of calling on businesses ‘to stop operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of their duty to avoid complicity in human rights abuses.’ Indeed, HRW has announced that Shakir will remain its Israel-Palestine director, operating from a neighboring country. ‘There’s no point in replacing Omar, because our next researcher would have the same problem,’ HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth explained.”

On labeling settlement goods, the European Union is far from united,

“Some governments adamantly declare that the labeling requirement is just and necessary, and must be implemented and enforced. Others are less enthusiastic. And some don’t want to comment on it all. The bloc of 28 states usually strives to speak with one voice about foreign policy matters, and so far has more or less agreed on a common position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state and opposition to Israeli settlements are considered consensus positions.”

The Trump Administration Is Using Accusations Of Anti-Semitism To Silence Criticism Of Israel,

“But even if this rebuttal helps UNC, the letter had done its job, standing as a chilling warning to every university whose Middle East programs receive Title VI funding and to the much larger number who aspire to receive it in the future. The letter provided a vivid illustration of how extreme Israel advocacy groups, whose influence is strong within the Trump Administration, seek to stifle public discussion of issues pertaining to Israel and the Palestinians. It was of a piece with Marcus’s appointment. Marcus, who did not respond to a request for comment, has a long record of opposing open discussion of Israel-Palestine issues on college campuses and of making accusations of anti-Semitism to achieve that objective. He was one of the drafters of an amended version of a definition of anti-Semitism posted temporarily on the website of a now defunct EU agency that emphasized how likely it was for criticism of Israel or of Israel supporters to be anti-Semitic.”

FMEP Resource

Legislative Round-Up: November 27, 2019,

“(WE STAND WITH ISRAEL IN BOMBING GAZA) H. Res. 727: Introduced 11/21 by Gottheimer (D-NJ) and having 15 bipartisan cosponsors, “Affirming United States support for the State of Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Gottheimer issued a press release on the measure on 11/22, and another on 11/25; also see press releases from Lee (D-NV)Van Drew (D-NJ). NOTE: On 11/14, Israel dropped a bomb on a house filled with civilians in Gaza, killing 9 members of the same family, including children. Israel subsequently said the house was targeted in error. H. Res. 727, unsurprisingly, says nothing about this.”