Top News from Israel & Palestine: February 20, 2020

What We’re Reading

Annexation/The "Deal of the Century" Watch

PM says he’s lifted freeze to build Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday that he had lifted restrictions against the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood. The significance of Netanyahu’s approval was not immediately clear, given that the final authorization for construction in Givat Hamatos had been given by his office six years ago. The plan for construction in Givat Hamatos was first brought forward in 2012, earning widespread condemnation in the international community over its cutting off of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Beit Safafa and Sharafat from the West Bank, in a manner that critics said placed a nail in the coffin of a two-state solution based roughly on the pre-1967 lines.” See also: “Netanyahu announces 2,200 new housing units in Jerusalem’s Har Homa” (Ynet)

Gisha’s statement on the Middle East Peace Plan,

“The ‘peace plan’ presented in Washington D.C. aims to make permanent a reality of fragmentation, isolation and division in the occupied Palestinian territory. Further entrenching the dispossession of Palestinians and perpetuating the occupation are a recipe for ongoing conflict, not peace…Nods to bridges and tunnels are not enough given that the only vision presented in this plan is for enclaves, disturbingly reminiscent of Bantustans, whose residents will be deprived of rights and of control over their own fate.”

How Trump’s ‘peace plan’ destabilizes Jordan,

“Jordan also has valid concerns about the Palestinian refugee crisis. Trump’s plan gives Israel the green light to proceed with annexing West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley. With over two million registered Palestinian refugees in the country, such an annexation raises the possibility of a significant influx of Palestinians seeking asylum in the kingdom. Additionally, annexing the Jordan Valley would complicate the geographical connection between Jordan and Palestine, impact the kingdom’s economy, and present a potential threat to Amman’s national security…Jordanians have loudly rejected Trump’s plan as several protests against it erupted since it was released. The Jordanian tribes, who are considered one of the state’s pillars, are also never going to accept the vision as they have their own concerns too, such as becoming a minority in their own country due to more Palestinians migrating to the kingdom. It’s also possible the annexations envisioned in Trump’s plan would lead Jordanians to increasingly demand the cancelation of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, known as “Wadi Araba,” and the Jordan-Israel gas deal that was struck in 2016. That is because on top of the fact that these agreements were never popular amongst the citizens, they will see the move as an attempt to settle the conflict on the kingdom’s expense.”

Occupation & Human Rights

Attorney general orders prominent anti-occupation activist released from custody,

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Wednesday that he was staying criminal proceedings against three anti-occupation activists, including prominent activist Jonathan Pollak, who has been in Israeli custody for nearly two months. The decision came a week after Atty. Gaby Lasky, who is representing the three activists, filed a petition with the High Court demanding Mandelblit respond to a request for a stay of proceedings that she had filed six months ago. Mandelblit’s decision to stay the proceedings means the case against Pollak, who has sat in jail for both refusing to attend hearings and recognize the authority of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, will effectively be closed.”

Israel, Palestinian Authority appear to reach arrangement to end trade war,

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Thursday appeared to have come to an agreement to end a major trade dispute in which both sides placed sweeping restrictions on some of each other’s goods. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel would be lifting a ban on Palestinian exports, while a Palestinian official said the PA would remove limitations on Israeli imports to Palestinian markets. The Palestinian Authority’s economy and agriculture ministries said that Israel agreed to allow the Palestinians to directly import cattle from abroad and set up quarantine stations for it. Meanwhile, Bennett said that the PA consented to lifting its boycott of cattle for slaughter from Israel. A Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Palestinians would be prioritizing importing cattle from abroad but would turn to Israeli cattle farmers to make up for demand that they are unable to meet through the international market. Last September, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced that the Palestinians would prevent cattle from Israel from being imported into areas under their control. At the time, he said that the move was a part of an effort to make the Palestinian economy less dependent on the Jewish state.”

High Court approves demolitions of homes of killers of Rina Shnerb,

“The High Court of Justice on Thursday approved the IDF’s demolition orders of the houses of Rina Shnerb’s killers, despite the impact it will have on uninvolved family members and their neighbors. Bian Hanatasha, Halmi Hamdan and Sana’a Majams, family members of Shnerb’s killers, had all petitioned the High Court to block the IDF demolition orders.” See also: Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir, “Punitive home demolitions are war crimes. It is among the most elementary principles of law that one person should not be punished for another’s crime. A body that so easily discards basic legal principles isn’t a court, but a rubber stamp for rights abuse.”

Israeli soldiers fire back at Palestinian snipers on the Gaza border,

“Snipers from the Islamic Jihad terror group fired at Israeli soldiers on the other side of the Gaza border, and the Israelis retaliated. No Israelis were reported injured in the exchange in southern Israel, the Israeli army said. There were no immediate reports of Palestinian casualties, The Times of Israel reported.”

Hamas said to warn of rockets on Tel Aviv if Israel kills terror group’s leaders,

“Hamas sources told the pro-Hezbollah paper that it notified Israel, via intermediaries, that if the military carried out targeted killings of its leaders or took any ‘physical measures,’ the group would immediately launch missiles at the central Israeli city, the second most populous in the country.”

'Feels like prison': Palestinian family cut off from West Bank village by Israeli barrier,

“Omar Hajajla may have a private gateway to his home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but it is hardly a sign of luxury: it runs beneath an Israeli barrier that cuts him and his family off from the rest of their nearby Palestinian village. Israel began building its West Bank barrier in 2002 at the height of a Palestinian uprising, saying it aimed to stop attacks by bombers and gunmen in its cities. But the barrier’s circuitous route along and through the West Bank – Palestinians call it a land grab – slices through some Palestinian communities. In Hajajla’s case, it boxed him off from his village of Al-Walaja, near Bethlehem, part of West Bank territory Israel captured in a 1967 war. ‘Prison may be better than this, because even though I am at home, it feels like prison,’ said Hajajla, 53, who lives in the house with his wife and three children. After appealing to Israel’s Supreme Court, Hajajla in 2013 reached a settlement under which the Israeli Defense Ministry built a tunnel and a remote-operated gate under the barrier, he said, giving his family access to their village. That underground bypass road, strewn with graffiti, is now the sole entrance to Hajajla’s home. The family needs permission from Israel’s military to use their remote control to open the gate and take their children to school or go to the grocery store, Hajajla says.”

Palestinian territories stable after Trump plan, but for how long?,

“Wassef Erekat, a former PLO artillery unit commander, told Al-Monitor, ‘If the deal of the century is implemented, things will be turned upside down, and the Palestinians will have no choice but an uprising. It may be an intifada or a massive revolution.’ According to Erekat, Trump’s deal would result in the dissolution of the PA and isolate Palestinians from one another, thus representing a threat to all Palestinians. As for whether a popular nonviolent uprising or an armed rebellion might be more likely, Erekat said, ‘It could be a mix between the two or uncharted modern methods. For example, young people in Gaza use balloons, a method that had not been adopted by Palestinians before, and thus there might be new means of confrontation. The people have a lot of experience in confronting the occupation’.”

Israeli Politics

Netanyahu Stumps for Arab Votes With Promises of Flights to Mecca and to Nix Trump Land Swap,

“Dogged by polls predicting yet another electoral stalemate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched an effort to seek votes from Arab citizens for his Likud party. In recent days he’s been interviewed by Arab media and has posted in Arabic on his Facebook page in an attempt to ease concerns about a proposed territorial swap with the Palestinians. This swap would see some Israeli Arab towns becoming part of a Palestinian state as envisaged by Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’…In another such attempt to woo Arab voters, Netanyahu also posted a verse from the Quran on his official Facebook page. The post initially included an explanation about the importance of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, but it was later removed. It was then replaced with a different post that featured the verse from the Quran and a line from a Likud campaign targeting the Jewish Israeli public: ‘The Joint List has done nothing, we are the ones that act for the Arab public’.” See also: “Netanyahu vows not to ‘transfer’ any Arab citizens to a future Palestinian state” (i24 News) 

Gantz's Party Gains Two-seat Lead Over Netanyahu's in Latest Election Poll,

“According to the survey, the country’s third election in a year on March 2 could again be inconclusive, with the parties that Netanyahu previously managed to get on board to try and form a coalition getting a combined 56 seats – five short of a majority.”

Gantz Refuses Netanyahu's Call for Televised Debate: 'It's One Big Spin',

“‘This whole event is one big media spin,’ Gantz said at a press conference Wednesday. ‘I don’t work for this spin, and I don’t work for him.’…A Kahol Lavan source accused Netanyahu after he issued the invitation for a debate of trying to detract public attention from his official corruption trial, which is set to begin on March 17. ‘Netanyahu has refused a debate for ten years, and now he’s reminded, on the evening that he takes flack for a trial date?’ the source charged. After Gantz’s refusal Wednesday, Netanyahu tweeted that his rival ‘is afraid of a debate, and he knows why.’ Netanyahu asked: ‘If Gantz is scared to debate the prime minister, how is he going to handle the great challenges facing Israel?'”

Israeli PM’s rival denies wrongdoing amid probe reports,

“Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz denied wrongdoing on Thursday after media reports said an investigation would be launched into an allegedly shady deal between a company he once headed and Israeli police. The reports say Gantz is not a suspect in the affair. But the development comes less than two weeks before national elections and during a campaign by Gantz’ Blue and White party that has tried to focus attention on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption charges. ‘It all sounds like political pressure to get this thing on the public’s agenda,’ Gantz told Israel’s Army Radio. ‘I am totally at ease. This was checked in the past and no criminal suspicion was found’.”

U.S. Politics

Meet the AIPAC leaders bankrolling the Bernie Sanders attack ads,

“Still, the bulk of the political action committee’s funding comes from a group of high-profile political donors affiliated with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The influential lobbying group has historically prided itself on bipartisanship. But its pushback against Sanders, coupled with its social media ads targeting congressional Democrats last month, reflects its growing concern over the pro-Palestinian faction within the Democratic party.”