Top News from Israel & Palestine: February 14, 2020

What We’re Reading

Gaza/Palestinian Politics

Defense official: Hamas agreed to halt rockets, balloons; Israel ends sanctions,

Israel and the Hamas terror group appeared to reach a ceasefire agreement on Thursday night, following weeks of tension and unrest along the Gaza border. An Israeli defense official told reporters that Hamas had ‘sent messages to Israel that they’d decided unilaterally to stop launching balloons and rocket fire at Israel.’ In exchange, Israel would end the retaliatory sanctions it put in place against Palestinians in the Strip, specifically the revocation of some 500 permits allowing businessmen out of Gaza and a restriction of the fishing zone to 10 nautical miles from the usual 15.”

Hamas, Fatah push ahead on reconciliation to counter US peace plan,

“…the PA is seeking to end the Palestinian division and achieve reconciliation with Hamas. In this context, members of Fatah’s Central Committee Rouhi Fattouh and Ismail Jabr, who is also Abbas’ security affairs adviser, arrived in Gaza Feb. 7. They are scheduled to meet with Palestinian factions and Hamas during their stay in Gaza in order to prepare for a visit by a delegation from the PLO to Gaza, according to a senior Fatah source in the Gaza Strip. A PLO leader and member of the delegation to visit Gaza told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity the delegation will visit Gaza this week should no emergency prevent it. He noted that announcing the deal of the century has created a unified stance among Palestinian factions, all of which rejected it and stressed the need to work according to a national strategy to address it on the basis of ending the internal division to create a united internal front.”

PA officials hacked by advanced spyware originating in Gaza,

“According to Cybereason, spyware was inserted into phones in order to surveil the official’s movements, retrieve sensitive files from the smartphones and monitor conversations….it is not inconceivable that there were more advanced cyber elements behind the attack, who wanted to understand the situation within the Palestinian leadership and were simply hiding behind a Hamas-affiliated cover. Such advanced capabilities could be found at the disposal of state actors such as Russia, China, the U.S. and Israel.”

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

Jews Fighting Jerusalem Arab Project Will Soon Find They're on the Losing Side,

“In Jerusalem, which is notorious for environmental and social battles, hardly a week passes without some new struggle erupting against construction plans, new roads, or public transportation. Yet, none have been as successful as the struggle by some residents of the East Jerusalem Israeli settlement of Har Homa against an employment and services center that was supposed to arise between their neighborhood and the Palestinian one of Umm Tuba. Not a week passed since the plan’s presentation to the public, yet the municipality and the Jerusalem ministry, which lay behind the plan and view it as their flagship, have decided to shelve it. The combination of blatant, covert racism and local politicians who promoted the fight for a third national election have led Mayor Moshe Leon and Jerusalem Minister Zeev Elkin to fold faster than the residents had even expected. However, the people of Har Homa may discover their victory is a Pyrrhic one – first of all because of the damage to their quality of life, and Second, because Jerusalem is going in exactly the other direction.”

New Jerusalem Promenade Offers Best View of a Powder Keg,

“When you stroll down the walkway behind the top of the wall, you get a different look at the city, at its ancient history, at the complexity, at life in Jerusalem both inside and outside the walls. And when I visited the day ‘the deal of the century’ was announced in Washington, it was clear that there’s no connection between the authors of the plan and the reality…The last part of Elkin’s remarks, about the cable car, is the most questionable. If the Ramparts Walk project proves anything, it’s that there’s no need for this grandiose cable car planned to pass right near the southern part of the wall. The Old City needs people who will experience it from up close without intermediaries. These visitors will enjoy contact with the local people, walk in the marketplace, go down from the wall at the Damascus Gate and get something to eat at the nearby plaza. And they’ll end up at the Ramparts Walk at the Lions Gate and return to the Jaffa Gate via the alleyways. The last thing Jerusalem needs is another observe-from-a-distance experience, this one from a cable car enclosed in protective glass. The Ramparts Walk is a good example of a minimalistic project that doesn’t interfere with the landscape. The cable car is exactly the opposite.”

Program for rehabilitating ‘hilltop youth’ sees them as dropouts, not criminals,

“They make headlines for ‘price tag’ hate crimes against Palestinians or for clashing with Israeli troops at outpost evacuations. In fact, the so-called ‘hilltop youth’ — who seek to settle every corner of the biblical land of Israel — have long been identified as a national security threat placed under the jurisdiction of the highest levels of law enforcement. But in recent years, some government officials have begun shifting their approach, considering the root causes that have led hundreds of teenagers to abandon their homes for the West Bank hilltops and recognizing that tackling the phenomenon also requires an education-based approach. One of the Education Ministry-backed programs quietly trailblazing this line of thinking is Etgar Beit El, founded in 2015.”

Steven Spielberg’s film company acquires rights to novel about Israeli-Palestinian conflict,

“Steven Spielberg’s film production company has acquired the rights to a soon-to-be published novel about the unlikely friendship between an Israeli father and a Palestinian father who each lost a daughter to the Arab-Israeli conflict. ‘Apeirogon’ by Colum McCann, will be published by Random House on Feb. 25. Its acquisition by Amblin Partners was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, which did not say what the company paid for the rights. The novel, which tells the story of how the fathers turned their grief into activism, has been named a most anticipated book of 2020 by The New York Times.”

Palestinian architect turns conservation of heritage into resistance,

“For nearly three decades, Palestinian architect Nadia Habash has sought to preserve her country’s architectural heritage through eco-friendly renovations and rehabilitation of traditional buildings that serve the needs of the day. “Palestinian architecture, an integral part of our cultural heritage and national identity, is subjected to systematic destruction by the Israeli occupation, which aims to eliminate evidence of the existence of our ancestors on this land,” wrote the award-winning architect in an article titled ‘Architecture of Resistance.’ ‘ Preserving our cultural and natural heritage, keeping it alive, and reflecting it in our new designs is part of our national struggle,’ Habash, director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University, wrote in the article published in 2018.”

International Community

Siding With Israel, Germany Says ICC Has No Jurisdiction in Palestinian Territories,

“Germany filed a petition Friday with the International Criminal Court requesting to be “a friend of the court” (amicus curiae) in deliberations that will examine if the court has jurisdiction to rule whether Israel committed war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. In its petition, Germany backed Israel’s argument that the court’s jurisdiction does not extend to occupied Palestinian territories, as Palestine is not a state that fulfills all the criteria under general international law, although it has joined the ICC’s Rome Statute. Germany is one of the main member states of the Hague Tribunal and its position on the issue is expected to play a significant role in the hearings.”

Peace with the region is not a peace plan,

“Trump’s plan to encourage Arab engagement with Israel, actively promoted by Netanyahu and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, has little to do with peace. The effort to reach out to the Arab Gulf States has much more to do with consolidating a pro-US alliance between Israel and what Israelis like to call their ‘moderate Sunni neighbors’ to confront Iran. The plan explicitly acknowledges this, arguing that the ‘threats posed by Iran’s radical regime has led to a new reality where the State of Israel and its Arab neighbors now share increasingly similar perceptions of the threats to their security.’Building on these shared threat perceptions, the plan suggests that ‘integrating Israel into the region will allow it to assist across a wide range of economic challenges as well as counter the threats of Iran’.”

How Netanyahu is Using Morocco and Sudan to Hold Power and Strengthen Ties with Trump,

The precedent such a decision would set goes well beyond Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. It would strike at the heart of international principles, sending the message that the most fundamental principle in the United Nations charter — the prohibition against acquiring territory by force — is no longer relevant. In a world where borders have become more important than ever, reverting to an era where they held little meaning in the face of military might promises a great deal of conflict. This matters little to Netanyahu. As with Sudan, his image as a statesman who can expand Israel’s relationships without concessions to the Palestinians would reap electoral benefits. It would appeal to both right-wing and center-right audiences. For Netanyahu, like his counterpart in the White House, the potential stress on Sudan’s aspirations of democracy and the rights of the people of Western Sahara simply pale in importance next to his own personal and political interest.”

Iran FM phones Abbas to discuss US peace deal,

“Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Feb. 4 to encourage Palestinian internal reconciliation and express opposition to the so-called US deal of the century. The call marked a historic development in Iranian-Palestinian relations. The next day, Zarif contacted the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, to reassert Iran’s refusal of the US deal. He reiterated Iran’s position backing the Palestinians, and its willingness to exert diplomatic and political effort to support them. Although Zarif’s call to Haniyeh was typical of the strong relationship between Hamas and Iran, his call to Abbas was the first of its kind in many years. Relations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Iran are shaky and frozen, at best. Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, leads a current within the PA that advocates rapprochement with Iran. He viewed Zarif’s recent phone call as Iran expressing its concern over the dangers posed by the US deal.”

T’ruah FAQ on the U.N. Database of Businesses that Operate in Israeli Settlements,

“The U.N. released a database of 112 businesses currently operating in West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal according to international law. By both international and Israeli law, the West Bank is occupied territory, not officially part of the State of Israel. (More on this below). The mandate to develop and release this list came from the U.N. Human Rights Council. The release of this list was repeatedly delayed, but was required to be released this year.”

Pompeo says settlement blacklist shows UN’s ‘unrelenting anti-Israel bias,

“The top US diplomat expressed outrage Thursday at the UN rights chief’s publication of a blacklist of companies that do business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The list’s publication ‘only confirms the unrelenting anti-Israel bias so prevalent at the United Nations,’ Mike Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department.”

Israeli Domestic Politics

Settlers to Netanyahu: If you want our votes, apply sovereignty now,

“Settlers and right-wing activists warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would lose votes for the March 2 election unless he applied sovereignty to the West Bank settlements now. ‘”If you want the support of the Right – act like you are the leader of the Right,’ Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said as he addressed a rally of several thousand that was held on the street outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.”

Gantz's Party Maintains Lead Over Netanyahu's Likud, Election Poll Shows,

“Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party is projected to receive 35 Knesset seats, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is lagging slightly behind with 33 seats in the run-up to Israel’s March 2 general election, a poll released on Thursday by Channel 12 News showed. Nevertheless, 42 percent of those surveyed believe Netanyahu is more suitable to serve as Israel’s prime minister, while 36 percent thought Gantz should be at the helm of the country.”

Israel’s Gantz dismisses the Joint List, shooting self in foot, again,

“A novice in politics, Gantz lacks real experience in sophisticated political machinations. As a result, he has just lost his chance to form a government as well as to improve his position in negotiations to form a unity government. If there ever had been any chance of Gantz forming a minority government with the outside support of the Joint List, it is now dead and buried thanks to the tone-deaf remarks he made Feb. 11 at a political event in the Arab village of Bi’ina.”

U.S. Domestic Policy

‘They’ve incited hate’: The Democratic congresswoman taking on AIPAC,

“To see such a hate-filled personal attack was very shocking,” McCollum told +972 Magazine, in her first interview since the ads were published. ‘They’ve incited hate through their speech. And they’re trying, the best I can figure out, to intimidate and bully members of Congress from speaking out.’ About a week after the ads first came to light, McCollum moved from shock to action. The Congresswoman published a blistering statement on Wednesday, calling AIPAC a “hate group” and saying that AIPAC was ‘weaponizing anti-Semitism and hate to silence dissent,’ while in the process ‘taunting Democrats and mocking our core values.’ McCollum also rejected AIPAC’s attempt at damage control: a statement published on Saturday, in which they apologized for the ads and removed them. The group, however, insisted they remain concerned over a small number of Democrats who were ‘undermin[ing] the U.S.-Israel relationship.’ ‘Any kind of apology would have to be sincere, heartful, public, stating that they were wrong and that they would never do this again, and that they will refrain from using this type of speech towards anyone,’ McCollum told +972. McCollum’s tangle with AIPAC is an unprecedented clash between a Democrat and the Israel lobby giant. It now threatens to dog the organization as they prepare for their annual show of force, the AIPAC policy conference, typically attended by the most powerful Democrats in Congress.”

How Months of Miscalculation Led the U.S. and Iran to the Brink of War,

“What happened over the past several months, based on interviews with officials from the United States, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries as well as outside analysts, is a story of miscalculations by both sides and of violence that spilled into nations across the Middle East — from Syria to Saudi Arabia to Iraq. The Trump administration escalated a campaign of financial warfare — so-called maximum pressure — to suffocate Iran’s economy in hopes of forcing its government back into negotiations over its nuclear program and its military operations throughout the region. Instead, Iran lashed out with brazen attacks on oil installations in the Saudi desert, tankers docked off the Emirati coast and American forces in Iraq. The decision by President Trump to authorize the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander, might ultimately deter future Iranian aggression. Yet a recent C.I.A. analysis concluded that Iran, while struggling to continue funding its military activities under American sanctions, appears no closer to entering direct talks over its nuclear program, according to American officials familiar with the assessment. Israeli intelligence officials have also determined that the escalating tensions have made Iran only more determined to gain a nuclear weapon, and to take concrete steps toward amassing enough nuclear fuel to build one.”

Senate passes resolution to limit Trump’s power to order military action against Iran,

“The Senate passed a resolution Thursday to limit President Trump’s power to order military action against Iran without first seeking Congress’s permission, a bipartisan rebuke of his administration’s resistance to involving the legislative branch in decisions that some fear could lead to all-out war. Eight Republicans joined all Democrats in voting 55 to 45 for the measure, despite sharp warnings from Trump that challenging his war powers would ‘show weakness’ and send ‘a very bad signal’ to Tehran. Trump will almost certainly veto the measure once it passes the House, and neither chamber of Congress has the votes to override that veto, lawmakers say.”

How AIPAC is losing bipartisan support in Washington,

“But with President Donald Trump giving the right-wing Israeli government everything that it wants and then some, top Democrats have found it difficult to fully back the White House’s policies. In fact, many of them forcefully rejected the president’s AIPAC-backed plan to end the conflict, which would allow Israel to annex all of its settlements in the West Bank. Meanwhile, progressives’ criticism of Israel became more vocal. That has created a conundrum for AIPAC – how to favour the policies of one political party without alienating the other? ‘AIPAC is dealing with a fundamental contradiction. They are promoting a policy of no accountability for Israel – a carte blanche for whatever Israel does; and they want to be bipartisan,’ said Omar Baddar, deputy director of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group. ‘There’s a problem here. The reality of our political discourse is that no accountability for Israel is not a bipartisan issue’.”

Sanders' Adviser Tells Haaretz What His 'Progressive' Foreign Policy Means for Israel,

“When it comes to Israel, Sanders has the rare distinction of being both the only candidate to have actually lived in the country (spending several months on a kibbutz in northern Israel in 1963) and to be regularly accused of being anti-Israel. Sanders, who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a ‘racist’ in a televised Democratic debate last December, also listed Israel alongside Russia, India, Brazil and Hungary as countries where ‘we see the rise of a divisive and destructive form of politics. We see intolerant, authoritarian political leaders attacking the very foundations of democratic societies,’ he wrote in Jewish Currents last November. Speaking at the J Street conference in Washington last October, Sanders promised to use U.S. military aid as leverage to get Israel back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians, even suggesting to send some of that $3.8 billion annual aid to Gaza for humanitarian relief. Fellow presidential contenders Senator Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have left that option open as well. Duss notes, however, that if Sanders were to become president, he would make every effort to work with any Israeli government to advance shared interests.”