Top News from Israel & Palestine: February 4, 2020

What We’re Reading

The Trump Plan: Analysis & Commentary

Jared Kushner does not see the brutal occupation I helped carry out,

Yehuda Shaul writes, “I would urge Kushner to follow his own guidance and take a closer look at the ‘reality’ he claims to see…In the 181 pages that comprise Trump’s plan, no room was made, not even once, for the word that describes the true nature of the situation the plan is supposed to address: “occupation.”  This term, though dry and legal at its core, encapsulates the past 52 years for every Palestinian whose futures Kushner and Trump are now trying to dictate.This is the reality that prevails on the ground in 2020. Yet despite Kushner’s claim that he sees the world as it is, this reality, which every Palestinian resident and Israeli soldier in the West Bank knows, is somehow invisible to him.The Trump plan now hopes to make this reality a permanent fact of life. By annexing a considerable portion of the West Bank to Israel, and calling the remaining fragmented pieces ‘the State of Palestine,’ the plan is trying to obtain the international community’s stamp of approval for establishing modern-day Bantustans. The White House even made a pitiful attempt to conceal the fragmentation of this ‘state,’ as shown on its conceptual map, by drawing a series of prospective tunnels and bridges to connect its splintered lands.”

Gaza, Where Trump's Mideast Peace Plan Goes to Die,

“These conditions are clear proof that the Trump plan has descended from the White House disconnected from on-the-ground reality. In negotiating with Hamas, not even Israel has used such sweeping conditionality. Current Israeli-Hamas ceasefire ‘understandings’ – like those in the past – inhabit, instead, a middle ground: Hamas actively prevents other armed groups from attacking Israel in return for easing the Israeli blockade…Disarming Hamas is not a panacea. Its collection of primitive arms is the only enforcement mechanism for ceasefires with Israel – as a way to intimidate other armed groups in Gaza to keep the peace. Should Hamas agree to disarm before Palestinian statehood (yes, we’re in fantasy territory already) the ensuing chaos would be unstoppable; not only would other armed groups in Gaza try to take Hamas’ place, but the movement’s own members would decamp to the opposition en masse.”

Can the Netanyahu Government Annex Parts of the West Bank?,

“At the outset, I should highlight that, if one subscribes to the position of the vast majority of international lawyers, the answer to the question of whether the annexation is legal under international law is an unequivocal ‘no.’ Acquisition of territory by conquest or unilateral annexation is prohibited under international law. But domestic law is just as—if not more—significant in determining the trajectory of developments on the ground in this situation. Therefore, it is worth exploring what Israeli constitutional law has to say. And the law is far from clear. Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney general, has implied that he might not rule an annexation unconstitutional at this time.”

Why Trump’s ‘Peace Plan’ Generated Arab Popular Rejection and Official Incoherence,

“The explanation for why many Arab governments are bending themselves into diplomatic pretzels is the profound dilemma they have created for themselves over decades in four realms that matter to them, and that have reared their head in a mighty clash this week. The four are: their countries’ historical support for the Palestinians, occasional and recently warming government ties with Israel, their perception of the U.S. as a reliable ally and a credible peace mediator, and — most importantly perhaps — their autocratic tendency often to ignore their own people’s wishes and rely on foreign powers instead for their security, incumbency, and perhaps even their own validity…There is no possible way — in the worlds of politics or physics — that Arab leaders can reconcile these contradictory forces. So instead they make vague expressions of appreciation and support, acquiescence, and opposition to the Trump initiative. The confused messages they send only further damage their already vulnerable credibility.”

Jared Kushner’s incompetence is surpassed only by his arrogance,

“Odds are the peace plan will be forgotten in a couple of weeks — but its legacy could linger if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu carries out his threat to annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank with Trump’s blessing. That will be a permanent obstacle to a two-state solution that the Kushner plan claims to endorse while actually undermining. So now Kushner can move on to his next excellent adventure while dodging responsibility for his reckless actions and leaving others to deal with the wreckage he leaves behind.”

For settlers like me, the Trump plan is a losing proposition,

“Some mistakenly take some consolation in the thought that the plan lists only 15 small towns to be isolated and cut off from Israel. A closer look at the Trump map reveals that another 40 larger Israeli towns, including my own, share a very similar fate. They will find themselves like isolated outposts connected to the rest of Israel by very narrow corridors, surrounded by Palestinian controlled space.”

The Trump Plan & The International Community

UN Security Council agrees to meet with Kushner on Mideast peace plan,

“The United States has requested a closed door UN Security Council meeting Thursday for US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to present the administration’s new Mideast peace plan, diplomatic sources told AFP Monday. Kushner intends to set forth the plan that Washington unveiled last week and to listen to the positions of the council’s other 14 members, the sources said. The meeting would take place a few days before Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas comes to the United Nations — he is expected February 11 — to express opposition to the US plan and to demand adherence to international law.”

EU: Israeli Steps Toward West Bank Annexation Would 'Not Pass Unchallenged',

“‘In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied since 1967,’ said Josep Borrell in response to promises by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push for applying Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank before the country’s third election in less than a year, on March 2.  ‘Steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged,’ the statement said. Moreover, the EU urged both Israel and the Palestinians ‘to refrain from any unilateral actions contrary to international law that could exacerbate tensions. We are especially concerned by statements on the prospect of annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank’.”

Ireland's biggest parties vow to ban goods made in illegal Israeli settlements,

“Two of Ireland’s biggest political parties have said that if they win Saturday’s general election they will implement a ban on the purchase of goods and services from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail have both indicated in their manifestos that they wish to see the Occupied Territories Bill enacted. The legislation, first tabled in 2018, would prohibit imports from territories where there is a clear international legal consensus on the status of the occupation. As it stands, only the occupied Palestinian territories have been confirmed as occupied by the International Court of Justice. According to its manifesto, Sinn Fein has said it will ‘ban goods from Israel’s illegal colonial settlements in Palestine from entering the Irish market by implementing the Occupied Territories Bill’. Meanwhile, Fianna Fail has said it would ‘progress the Occupied Territories Bill’ in government. If passed, the law would make Ireland the first European Union country to criminalise commercial activity in the settlements.”

Israeli and Sudanese leaders meet in secret, agree to start normalising ties,

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in secret with the chairman of Sudan’s ruling council on Monday, and the two leaders agreed to start the process of normalising ties, the PM‘s office said in a statement. Netanyahu met with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan at the residence of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Entebbe, a meeting that was only made public when the prime minister tweeted about it. ‘We agreed to begin cooperation that will lead to the normalisation of relations between the two countries,’ Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew. ‘History!'”

Palestinians say Sudan-Israel normalization meeting is a ‘stab in the back’,

“’This meeting is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and a blatant departure from the Arab Peace Initiative at a time when the administration of [US] President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause,’ said Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a statement carried on official news agency WAFA.”

The Trump Plan & Israeli Domestic Politics

Report: Netanyahu suggested to US that Arab Israeli towns be placed in Palestine,

“The controversial suggestion in the US peace plan of redrawing Israel’s borders to see multiple Arab towns included in the future Palestinian state was proposed to Washington by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a report Tuesday. The Haaretz news site reported that Netanyahu first raised the issue in 2017 during one of senior White House adviser Jared Kushner’s first official visits to Israel. It cited Israeli and American officials involved in contacts over the proposal. They said Netanyahu framed the idea as territorial compensation to the Palestinians for the annexation of Israeli settlements under the plan. The Trump plan suggestion does not advocate the physical relocation of Triangle residents. Instead, it would change the status of their communities, making them a Palestinian enclave, cut off from the neighboring West Bank by an Israeli barrier erected during the bloody Second Intifada in the early 2000s.”

Netanyahu sought deal with US, Morocco to allow normalization of ties — report,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly attempted to arrange a three-way agreement by which the United States would recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara territory, in exchange for Morocco taking steps to normalize relations with Israel. Netanyahu made several overtures to Washington over the past year to promote such a deal, but former national security adviser John Bolton was strongly opposed, according to a Channel 13 news report Monday…Following Bolton’s departure in September, Netanyahu reportedly raised the matter again with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but the White House has not agreed to the trade-off.”

More Israelis support two-state solution via Trump plan than oppose it — survey,

“More Israelis think the country should agree to a Trump administration peace plan that includes recognition of a Palestinian state than those who oppose the creation of a state under the plan, according to a survey published Monday. The Israeli Voice Index poll was conducted before US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace proposal in Washington last week, but it asked respondents about willingness to recognize a Palestinian state on the assumption that such a condition would be included in the plan. While 45.3% would accept the condition of recognizing a Palestinian state, 38.1% said Israel should not agree, according to the poll, a monthly survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank in Jerusalem. Overall support among all Jewish respondents was at 45.5%, nearly the same as the 44% overall support among Arabs.”

Reports: Jared Kushner angers Netanyahu camp by slowing annexation moves,

“But other reports have been filled with unnamed complaints that it is Kushner who is thwarting Netanyahu’s plans to take maximum advantage of the long-awaited plan. Channel 13 reporter Nadav Eyal tweeted that people in Netanyahu’s circle accuse Kushner of ‘backstabbing’ the prime minister and warning that Trump’s evangelical voters ‘aren’t going to be happy.’ The schedule for annexation remains unclear, but the delay is already adding to the heartburn among Israel’s right wing, where the peace plan has been awaited as a moment of triumph and a political boost for Netanyahu, who is campaigning against the head winds of a multi-count corruption indictment.”

Ariel mayor quits settlement umbrella group over its opposition to Trump plan,

“The mayor of the northern West Bank Israeli city of Ariel announced on Monday that he was rescinding his membership in the Yesha Council over the umbrella organization of settler mayors’ opposition to the Trump peace plan. Eli Shaviro released a statement saying the Yesha Council was coming out in strong opposition to the proposal ‘which will bring fantastic news for the settlement movement,’ only because it also envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state…As a supporter of the Deal of the Century due [to its support of recognition of Israeli] sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the communities of Judea and Samaria, I feel that the council does not represent the views of many [West Bank mayors], my city and myself. Therefore I am announcing my resignation from the Yesha Council,’  Shaviro said.”

Israeli settlers stage tractor protest to demand annexation,

“Bearing Israeli flags and banners emblazoned with the words ‘we make history, we impose sovereignty,’ the procession was followed by cars blaring horns in support, an AFP journalist said. Some protesters wore white T-shirts that read “‘annexation now’.”

The Trump Plan & Palestinian Domestic Politics

Despite threat, Abbas indicates security ties with Israel, US still intact,

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to hint Monday that security ties with Israel and the United States were still intact, despite having earlier announced their cessation in response to US President Donald Trump’s peace plan. On Saturday, Abbas had said he was cutting all relations — including security ties — with Israel and the US over the initiative, which was released last week and has been angrily rejected by Palestinians…Abbas cut political relations with the Trump administration in December 2017 after the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. ‘There is one channel left and this channel should be cut off,’ Abbas added, seemingly referring to security coordination.”

[Proceeding As Normal] Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

The Israeli army is now using a ‘talking drone’ to disperse West Bank protests,

“The Israeli army is using a talking drone to urge Palestinians and Israelis at West Bank protests to stop demonstrating and disperse. The drone was first spotted during the weekly demonstration against the occupation in the village of Qaddum on January 17, during which it ordered Palestinian protesters to ‘go home’ in Arabic and Israeli protesters not to ‘stand with the enemy’ in Hebrew. According to protesters in Qaddum, this is the first time the army has used this kind of drone, which was likely designed by the Chinese company DJI and has a Mavic 2 Enterprise Speaker attached that allows it to play pre-recorded messages. Sharon Weiss, an Israeli activist who was at the demonstration, said the drone told her to “go home” and “don’t stand with the enemy” in Hebrew, before moving on to someone else. ‘There is almost always a drone at the protests, but this is the first time it spoke to us,’ said Weiss. ‘The goal is to make us understand that they are watching and following us’.”

East Jerusalem, lacking local leaders to face daily problems, continues on edge,

“The three incidents that took place over two days signal a clear problem. Israel’s efforts to deny Palestinians in Jerusalem their political rights to choose their local leaders has meant that people cling to their own religious leaders, while at the same time they don’t accept or trust the Israeli occupiers who are forcing themselves on the large Palestinian population. What makes this lack of trust even more worrisome is that Israel is not reining in Jewish extremists who torch mosques and are trying to take over Islam’s holy city. The mix of these elements produces a toxic atmosphere that turns a large city into a ticking bomb that could easily explode from a tiny spark. The leaderless 350,000 residents of East Jerusalem have become political orphans and they feel that they have to act alone to defend their existence and their rights in the city.”

Palestinian prisoners protest against Israel's ill-treatment of minors and women,

“Palestinian prisoners in Israel refused to take their meals and locked down sections of their prisons on Monday, in protest against the ill-treatment and bad conditions minors and women are suffering at Damon prison. In a statement, Palestinian prisoners said that they would not ‘ignore what the occupation prison service is doing to our women and youth’. The action took place between 1-3pm, ahead of talks with the Israel Prison Service (IPS). Palestinians protested in Ofer, Naqab, Gilboa and Nafha prisons, according to Wafa news agency.”


Israeli ministry fighting BDS to see budget slashed by over half,

“Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs and public diplomacy is fighting for its budgetary life as the ministry of finance plans to cuts its funding by over half, Israel Hayom reports on Sunday. The paper reports that the finance ministry will shrink the strategic affairs’ budget by 60% over last year. Instead of 96 million shekels it received in 2019, it will receive only 39 million for 2020. Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who heads the ministry, sent an angry letter to the finance ministry blasting the slashing of his budget. The letter was obtained by Israel Hayom. ‘The office of strategic affairs led for the last four years the struggle against the campaign of delegitimization and boycotts against the State of Israel,’ he wrote. ‘The office succeeded to narrow and to shrink the activities of the boycott organizations and their financing, by means of exposing their terror ties and their anti-Semitic nature. Not for nothing delegitimization organizations themselves describe 2019 as one of their toughest years, and blame the office of strategic affairs as the one who stands at the front of the activities against them. The meaning of this budget (39 million shekels for the year 2020) is the cancellation of many activities’.”

U.S. Domestic Politics

Netanyahu’s Embrace of Trump Is Driving U.S. Jews Away From Israel, Survey Shows,

“The survey, commissioned by the U.S.-based Ruderman Family Foundation, included 2,500 respondents with a statistical deviation of 1.96 percent. The respondents were asked what they thought were ‘one of the most important reasons’ American Jews were feeling less connected to Israel. Thirty-nine percent listed Netanyahu’s support for Trump, while 33 percent listed the growing power of right-wing and religious forces in Israel. One out of four respondents cited the treatment of Palestinians and Israeli settlement policies as their top gripes, while one out of five listed policies that disenfranchise non-Orthodox Jews. Only 24 percent of American Jews voted for Donald Trump in 2016. American Jews have traditionally supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would include at least a partial dismantling of the West Bank settlements. Among the respondents, a greater share (39 percent) believed the relationship between American Jews and Israel had weakened in the past five years than strengthened (32 percent).”

‘I think it’s Israel’: How Orthodox Jews became Republicans,

“Good polling data on the Orthodox vote are hard to come by. But more than a dozen interviews with Orthodox leaders and experts on Jewish politics, plus a thorough review of the available data, reveal two main reasons why it changed…. in recent years, the Democratic Party has moved leftward on other social issues, alienating many Orthodox voters…Most critically, however, the national Republican Party began to move in lockstep with Israel’s government, bringing Orthodox voters with them. As the Democrats, in turn, have become increasingly critical of Israel, a majority of Orthodox Jews have started to feel more comfortable voting for Republican presidential candidates. ‘I think it’s Israel,’ said Mark Trencher, the founder of Nishma Research, a polling firm that has studied Orthodox political views. ‘Yes, there are other issues around school choice, around the economy doing well, but really Israel is so predominant. I think that’s what drives this’.”

‘Christian Birthright’ brings thousands of college students to Israel,

“The brainchild of Rivka Kidron, a former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Robert Nicholson, who runs a nonprofit promoting Christian engagement in the Middle East, Passages aims to strengthen Christians in their own faith while exposing a younger generation of Christians to the diversity of Israeli life. As many as 3,000 students a year have visited Israel through the program since its launch in 2016. Passages is on track to bring its 10,000th participant by the end of this year…The trip is frequently referred to as the Christian Birthright, but Kidron says the programs are different. While any Jewish young person can qualify to participate in Birthright, Passages participants must be recommended and go through a rigorous screening process that aims to identify leadership potential…Funded by a ‘diverse group’ of Jewish and Christian donors (Kidron declined to name them at their request), Passages is unabashedly pro-Israel, calling the country ‘a force for good in the region and in the world’ on its website.”