Top News from Israel & Palestine: December 23, 2020

What We’re Reading

Israeli Elections, Round 4

Israeli Government Collapses, Forcing 4th Election in 2 Years,

“Israel’s government collapsed Tuesday, pushing the country into yet another early election — the fourth in two years. The Israeli Parliament dissolved itself at midnight on Tuesday. The move forced a new election after weeks of infighting and paralysis in the so-called unity government, an uneasy coalition sworn in just seven months ago that paired Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party with his main rival-turned-partner, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz blamed each other for the crisis.”

Amir Peretz announces he’s stepping aside as Labor leader,

“Labor chairman Amir Peretz on Wednesday said he was stepping aside as leader of the dovish party, after driving Labor to its lowest-ever showing in the past election and later breaking his campaign promise not to join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu…“Out of a sense of responsibility, I am announcing that in the upcoming elections, I won’t lead the Labor party and I won’t head the party in the Knesset. At this time, the Labor party needs renewal and must choose a new chairman and leadership,” Peretz wrote on Facebook. Peretz — the longest-serving MK in Knesset — said he turned down an offer of a senior spot on the Blue and White list, but stopped short of announcing his full resignation from political life. Peretz is seeking to be nominated president after Reuven Rivlin steps down in the summer.”

Sharren Haskel is latest Likud MK to defect to Sa’ar’s new party,

“Likud MK Sharen Haskel announced Wednesday that she was resigning from the Knesset and joining the recently established New Hope party set up by another Likud rebel, former MK Gideon Sa’ar. In doing so, she became the third Likud lawmaker to defect to Sa’ar’s fledgling party, which current polls suggest would be the second-largest in the Knesset after the March 2021 elections.”

Naftali Bennett to launch Yamina's election campaign tonight,

“Until just a few weeks ago, Bennett was riding high in the polls, with some surveys suggesting that he could win over 20 seats in a future election and propel Yamina into becoming the second-largest party in the Knesset. However, Gideon Sa’ar’s defection from the Likud party seems to have cast a severe blow at Yamina’s electoral chances, with one recent poll placing it in fourth place at 13 seats, behind Yesh Atid (16), New Hope (18), and Likud with 29 seats. In addition, another poll conducted for the Kan News broadcaster revealed that only 23% of respondents would like to see Bennett as prime minister, as opposed to 39% who favor Netanyahu and 36% who would prefer Gideon Sa’ar.” Also See – “Yamina MK Matan Kahana: Our main objective is to replace Netanyahu” (Arutz Sheva)

Poll: 'Never Netanyahu' bloc gets majority in the Knesset,

“The new poll, which was published by Radio 103FM Wednesday morning, was conducted by Panels Politics with data collected by Panel4All Tuesday night, and included a sample of 514 respondents. The survey found that if new elections were held today, the right-wing – religious bloc, including parties which have not ruled out a coalition government with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, would win 58 seats, the same number the rightist bloc won in the March 2020 election. The left-wing – Arab bloc, by contrast, would plummet from its 55 seats to just 37 mandates.”


Palestine records high daily Covid-19 infections,

“Palestine today recorded 2,110 new Covid-19 cases and 31 deaths, according to Health Minister Mai al-Kaileh. Al-Kaileh announced that 2,110 Palestinians tested positive for the virus and 31 others died of it in the occupied territories. Among the 2,110 new cases, 1,243 cases were recorded in the West Bank, including Jerusalem governorate, and 867 others in the besieged Gaza Strip.”

Israel Bars Entry of Foreigners as COVID Cases Surge,

“Israel’s new guidelines drastically limiting the entry of foreign citizens into the country went into effect on Wednesday, after the government had previously made numerous exceptions to its official policy to bar the entry of non-Israelis to the country over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. According to updated Interior Ministry regulations, some foreign citizens, who had previously been permitted to apply for entry, are now completely forbidden to enter the country until January 4.”

Coronavirus czar says third lockdown 'inevitable' as cabinet meets,

“Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash said Wednesday that a third, nationwide coronavirus lockdown is “inevitable,” as the government met on the terms of such a closure. Ministers were discussing a new lockdown from next week, including full shutdown of all trade and the education system, as the country saw daily infections soar to more than 3,000 and a 5.7% positivity rate for tests on Tuesday”

Occupants of Jerusalem COVID hotel fear it’s a breeding ground for UK strain,

“The main quarantine facility set up to block the new British COVID-19 strain from entering Israel could become a breeding ground for the virus due to mismanagement and poor hygiene standards, residents say. Israel has compelled hundreds of its citizens returning from the United Kingdom, Denmark and South Africa to self-isolate in state-run facilities over fears of the new variant, which is thought to be far more infectious. On Wednesday night, that policy will be dramatically widened to include all returning citizens entering the country.”


Trump administration prods Indonesia to recognize Israel with promise of perhaps $2 billion more in aid,

“Adam Boehler, the CEO of the U.S. International Development Finance Corp., told Bloomberg that Indonesia could get $1 billion to $2 billion more in development aid if it joins the rush being organized by the Trump administration in its final days to have Arab and Muslim countries openly recognize Israel. “We’re talking to them about it,” Boehler said. “If they’re ready, they’re ready, and if they are then we’ll be happy to even support more financially than what we do.”…A congressional aide with ties to the Democratic leadership told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Indonesians should be wary of the proposal weeks ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration.” Also See – “Israel hopes for rapprochement with 5th Muslim country before Trump exit” (Ynet)

Israel and Lebanon are ‘far apart’ on maritime border deal, Mike Pompeo says,

“Israel, Lebanon and the United States launched talks in October on delineating a maritime border, the first nonmilitary talks between the two countries in 30 years. Each side emphasized that the talks do not signal normalization, but the fact that they are sitting down to hash out an agreement was seen as historic. Three months later, the sides appear to be at an impasse, at least according to the tone of the statement released by Pompeo.”

The Hidden Cost Of The Abrahamic Accords,

“A new saying is making the rounds in the Middle East: Bush destroyed Iraq, Obama destroyed Syria, and now Trump is destroying what’s left. His celebrated so-called Abraham Accords is a part of that…This year Washington expanded its Israel-first approach to reward authoritarian Arab states which engaged the Netanyahu government. Under political siege in Jerusalem—and facing trial on corruption charges—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs every political advantage he can get, especially with another election looming this spring. The Middle East needs peace. However, that requires a commitment by all nations, including Israel, to treat other nations and peoples with respect. Instead of seeking to build a better and more just regional order, U.S. policy has enhanced Israel’s dominance and maintained the subjugation of millions of Palestinians, ensuring future unrest, violence, and instability. The final insult has been to sacrifice multiple American policy objectives for Israel’s benefit. Washington is strengthening repression in Bahrain, underwriting aggression by UAE, sacrificing the Sahrawi people, undermining reform in Sudan, and even abandoning justice for Americans harmed by Sudan. The administration calls this an “America first” policy?”

Annexation, Occupation, Gaza

Netanyahu planning to legalize Bedouin settlements in Negev,

“According to several unnamed senior government officials, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is pushing for regularization of illegal Bedouin settlements in the Negev as part of a deal arranged between him and the head of the Raam party, MK Mansour Abbas. In return, the officials told Arutz Sheva on Wednesday, Netanyahu is said to be requiring that Raam either recommend him to form the next government after elections in the coming March, or at the very least, to refrain from recommending anyone else to form a government. Netanyahu, apparently, expects ministers from the Blue & White party to accede to the regularization of Bedouin communities around the time of the coming elections, and is planning to pass the decision during the tenure of the interim government, the sources said, adding that Netanyahu may even raise the topic during today’s government session. For his part, Defense Minister Benny Gantz intends to discuss the regularization of “young settlements” in today’s government session, and to announce that in return for regularizing the status of Bedouin communities, he is willing to consider providing assistance to outposts in providing them with electricity, water, and other humanitarian needs. This news, if it is true, is likely to outrage settlement leaders who have been pushing for the regularization of dozens of “young settlements” – with no success – for some time already. It also comes close on the heels of an official report issued this week on the subject of regularization of illegal Arab construction, which noted that around 180,000 housing units have been granted legal status by the current government over the past two years alone.”

In a bid to prevent Palestinian movement, Israeli occupation set up metal gates on a Jordan Valley road,

“In their bid to prevent Palestinian movement, Israeli occupation forces today set up two metal gates on a road near Ein al-Sakout village in the northern Jordan Valley, said a local source. Aref Daraghme, a human rights activist, told WAFA that Israeli forces set up the metal gates or a road near the Palestinian-Jordanian borders, expressing fears that this could later lead to isolating this area and preventing Palestinians from accessing it.”

Who Will Prevent the Next War in Gaza, Now That Mladenov's Gone?,

“The next time Israel and Hamas come to blows and need someone to hold them in check, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, will no longer be there to help as he has often done since being appointed in 2015. Mladenov was one of the most successful international envoys to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gaining the respect and trust of both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as of regional actors and the international community. Mladenov repeatedly managed to prevent escalation between Israel and Hamas, clearly spelled out the obstacles preventing resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and provided consistent and meaningful support to pro-peace Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations.”

Free Speech & the Weaponization of Antisemitism

The IHRA censors Palestinians by design, not by accident,

“Last month, Palestinian and Arab scholars expressed profound concern at how a working definition of antisemitism (WDA) adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is being “applied, interpreted and deployed in several countries of Europe and North America”. Specifically, the signatories drew attention to what they argued is the use of the working definition to “delegitimise the Palestinian cause and silence defenders of Palestinian rights”. Others have expressed similar criticism; Americans for Peace Now recently rejected the IHRA citing its “imprecise, overreaching wording”, and in light of “how it is already being abused, indeed weaponized, to quash legitimate criticism and activism directed at Israeli government policies”. Foundation for Middle East Peace president Lara Friedman, meanwhile, sees the US government’s targeting of civil society groups as “an inevitable consequence…of the effort to enforce the IHRA’s politicised definition of antisemitism”, while the UK-based Pears Institute’s David Feldman has also warned of its“chilling impact” on campus free speech.”

News & Commentary - U.S. Politics

US Congress approves $250m for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs in omnibus,

“The US Congress on Monday night approved $250 million in funding for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue programs and Palestinian business development, as part of a $2.3 trillion spending package that combines coronavirus relief with funding for the US government through the end of the fiscal year. The $250 million will establish the Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Fund, named after the retiring Democratic Congresswoman who championed the bipartisan initiative along with Republican Jeff Fortenberry in the House and Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Lindsey Graham in the Senate…The Middle East Partnership for Peace Fund also won the support of a broad array of pro-Israel groups that lobbied for its passage, including AIPAC, J Street and Democratic Majority for Israel.”

How “Pro-Israel” Orthodoxy Keeps US Foreign Policymaking White,

“The attacks on Warnock fit squarely within this half-century-long tradition of Black politicians being excoriated for challenging establishment discourse on foreign policy. Republicans are not only condemning Warnock’s views on Israel. They cite his statements on Israel as evidence of his transgression against the Western narrative, which sees both the US and the Jewish state as beyond reproach. Echoing the critics who called Andrew Young anti-American for claiming the US held political prisoners, the Loeffler ad that calls Warnock “anti-Israel” also describes him as “a proud defender of anti-American, anti-Semitic pastor Jeremiah Wright.” It then quotes Wright, in a sermon on racism and inequality, declaring, “Not God bless America, God damn America.” In an echo of the criticism of Jesse Jackson after he visited Cuba, another ad charges that Warnock “hosted a rally for communist dictator Fidel Castro.””

PODCAST: How Palestine advocates are gearing up for the post-Trump era,

“Yet Biden’s election was by no means welcomed by progressives as an unmitigated win. Beyond the unimaginable wreckage left behind by the Trump administration — damage that will likely outlast Biden’s presidency — those in the movement are also clear-eyed about the limitations of a centrist Democratic government. Nowhere does that assessment ring as true as in the Palestine movement, where, as Sandra Tamari, executive director of the Adalah Justice Project, tells the +972 Podcast, activists have to reckon with an administration that is “no friend of Palestine.””

Top Analysis/Commentary - Israel

The End of the Road for Bibi?,

“Netanyahu faces several challenges ahead of this fourth election since April 2019,including his legal troubles, a less supportive president in the White House as of nextmonth, and a deep recession due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Yet the Israeli leaderseemed to be projecting confidence…“The common wisdom is that Netanyahu is in trouble because of the current [poll]numbers and because of Saar,” Shalev said. “But as prime minister he has complete controlover the campaign agenda. And what happened this past year [with Gantz breaking hisvow to never sit with Netanyahu] should be a warning light” regarding the promises madeby Israeli politicians. “Here we go again,” Netanyahu said jokingly at the start of his remarks on Monday withKushner, referring to the prospect of yet another election. The Israeli public has found the dysfunction and turmoil of the last two years lessamusing, according to nearly every measure of trust in government. Pundits andopposition politicians have charged Israel’s longest-serving prime minister with,effectively, holding an entire country hostage to his political and personal whims. AsPlesner, from the Israel Democracy Institute, put it: “No political imagination is enough todescribe political reality.””

How Netanyahu’s malicious fear-mongering could backfire on him,

“Besides staying in power, one of Netanyahu’s perpetual goals has been to prevent a “land for peace” deal — giving up West Bank territory to create a Palestinian state at peace with Israel. Recent normalization accords with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — welcome in themselves — instrumentally serve both goals for Netanyahu…And yet, the agreements inject an awkward distinction into the universe of fear that Netanyahu has cultivated: Faraway Arabs are now considered friends, even as local Arabs continue to be painted a threat… Netanyahu has undercut his own political strategy even more with his public flirtation with Knesset member Mansour Abbas. Abbas leads the Islamist faction within the Arab-backed Joint List. In October, Abbas cooperated in a parliamentary move to block a new investigation of possible corruption by Netanyahu. He has hinted he might vote for a law giving Netanyahu criminal immunity, ending the prime minister’s trial before it begins. Netanyahu has since given Abbas special access to top officials. Abbas argues that by horse-trading with the prime minister, he can achieve budgets and other material gains for the Arab minority. Netanyahu’s motive is obvious: staying in power and out of jail. But Israel will again go to the polls in late March. Likud warnings against a government supported by Arabs in the Knesset might ring hollow. If, once again, the opposition wins a narrow majority, centrist parties might be less afraid of working with the Joint List. I might be too optimistic. But the only rule consistently followed in Israeli politics is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Netanyahu doesn’t intend to reduce distrust or racism. Maybe, in his desperation, he’s doing so anyway.”

Gideon Saar: The right-winger who could unseat Netanyahu and remake Israel,

“The main beneficiary of this chain of events is Gideon Saar, a Likud MP who quit the party two weeks ago and announced the formation of his New Hope party. Although the bad blood between Saar and Netanyahu is common knowledge, his exit from Likud and public commitment not to sit in a government under the premier was unexpected. Recent polling gives his party a probable 19 seats, meaning that if Saar keeps his promise not to serve with Netanyahu, the latter’s chances of forming a new government are exceedingly slim.”