Top News from Israel & Palestine: January 29, 2021

What We’re Reading


Israel to give Palestinians vaccines for 1,000 medical workers — report,

“Israel is reportedly planning to provide vaccines for around 1,000 Palestinian healthcare workers in the West Bank, as international pressure mounts for the Jewish state to extend its ambitious vaccine drive beyond its own citizens. Citing Israeli military sources, the Walla news site said Thursday that the shots would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in two shipments “as soon as possible.””

Jordan presses Israel to vaccinate Palestinians,

“Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Thursday Israel’s failure to provide vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip was counterproductive for the Jewish state. “The Israelis have had a very successful rollout of the vaccine, however the Palestinians have not,” Abdullah told the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “You cannot vaccinate one part of your society and not the other and think that you are going to be safe,” he said via videoconference. “That is the number one lesson that COVID-19 taught us.””

Gov’t appears poised to extend lockdown as vote on raising fines set for Sunday,

“The government on Friday appeared set to extend the national lockdown, with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin announcing the Knesset would convene on Sunday afternoon to vote on a bill that will raise fines for rule violators — an issue that threatened to derail an extension to the closure. Levin said all coalition factions had agreed to vote on the bill to raise fines for those who violate virus restrictions. The Knesset plenum will convene at 2 p.m. Sunday.”

Occupation, Annexation, Apartheid, & "Peace"

An Israeli Hospital Discharged a Palestinian Who Was Shot at a Checkpoint. Soon After, He Was Dead,

“Abdel Nasser Halawa, a deaf man with mental disabilities, died of his wounds four months after being shot at a checkpoint. His brother accuses a Jerusalem hospital of releasing him despite his dire condition”

State-sanctioned Pogroms Ravage Palestinians After Settler Teen's Death,

“Far below the public’s radar, settlers have been carrying out a violent campaign of vengeance over the last five weeks in response to the death of one of their number, Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed in a car accident during a police chase. The victims of this revenge campaign, as usual, are Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who had nothing to do the settler’s death. According to information released by the B’Tselem organization on Thursday, over the last five weeks its researchers have documented 49 violent incidents, including 28 physical attacks on Palestinians that wounded 15 of them, including four children. Palestinian cars were torched, thugs invaded their homes, dogs were sicced on them and people were deliberately run over. In at least one case, an elderly man was beaten with a baton until he” ICYMI –  “All Foreseen and Not Prevented: Spike in settler violence backed and encouraged by state” (B’Tselem)

Palestinian workers entrance a tool for regional stability - analysis,

“As of Thursday, there were 4,450 active cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank – and a total of 126,786 cases since the outbreak of the virus in March. So far, there have been 1,473 deaths. The current percentage of positive tests in the West Bank is 11.2% – a figure considered to be high. By comparison, the current rate in Israel is 9.25%. Analyzing these details, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has to assess whether to allow the workers in. The income made by Palestinians working in Israel makes up around 30% of the Palestinian economy. Some 60,000 Palestinian hold permanent licenses to enter Israel for employment purposes. In light of the significance of this sector, and in order to assist the IDF efforts to keep the relatively calm situation, COGAT decided to allow the entrance of workers, under certain restrictions.”

Tensions growing between Israel, Jordan over al-Aqsa restoration work,

“An angry “protest note” from Jordan has demanded that Israel stop hindering restoration work at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site. Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah Alfayez said the note sent on Monday urged Israel to “refrain from such violations and provocations, and respect the mandate of Jordan in administering Muslim holy sites.””

Under new US leadership, UN chief sees ‘hope’ for Mideast peace progress,

“Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday “there are reasons to hope” for progress toward ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict after years of inaction. He said the United Nations will explore all initiatives to facilitate “a true peace process” based on the two-state solution. Clearly referring to the former US administration without naming then-president Donald Trump, the UN chief said “we were completely locked down in a situation in which there was no progress visible.””

Israeli Politics

Ultra-Orthodox unrest threatens Netanyahu reelection hopes,

“As he seeks reelection, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned to a straightforward strategy: Count on the rock-solid support of his ultra-Orthodox political allies and stamp out the coronavirus pandemic with one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination campaigns. But with ultra-Orthodox communities openly flouting safety guidelines and violently clashing with police trying to enforce them, this marriage of convenience is turning into a burden. Netanyahu has watched his political partners undermine the country’s war against the virus and spark a public backlash that threatens him at the ballot box.” Also See – “Ultra-Orthodox lockdown disobedience could cost Netanyahu” (Al-Monitor)

Lapid can build coalition, Netanyahu cannot,

“A Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and Ma’ariv found that Likud would clinch 30 seats if the election had been held this week, Yesh Atid 18, Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope 14 and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina 12.”

Arab Joint List in Israel set to split ahead of March election,

“The rift within the Arab Joint List, which won 15 seats in the Knesset in the last Israel election, first appeared in December, when Mansour stated in a Facebook post that, although he supported a two-state solution, in internal issues and religious matters he had little in common with leftists. “What have I to do with the left?” Abbas said. “In foreign policy, I am there of course, and we support the two-state solution. But in religious matters, I’m right-wing.””

Netanyahu’s new campaign against the Iran deal is a risky gambit,

“…Netanyahu needs to be careful. Picking a fight with a popular U.S. president so soon after the inauguration is risky. Joe Biden — preternaturally pro-Israel for decades — isn’t Barack Obama, who was an easier target to attack. And then there’s Netanyahu’s track record. His feud with Obama, which Biden experienced up close for eight years, cost Netanyahu support among Democrats who have not forgotten his treatment of the popular former president and who now constitute a majority in both houses of Congress. Netanyahu likely considers that his initial willingness to deal with Obama’s demand in 2009 for a settlement freeze was a mistake. Better to come out swinging and avoid unwelcome initiatives from Washington from the outset.”

Palestinian Politics

Abbas Tightens His Control Over the Palestinian Court System,

“Two out of three new presidential decrees issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas regarding the Palestinian Authority’s court system expand the executive branch’s involvement in the judiciary. They also make the judges dependent, as a matter of law, upon Palestinian politicians and indirectly – upon security agencies…The new presidential decrees, which have the force of law due to the absence of a functioning Palestinian parliament, were officially published on January 11 – just four days before Abbas ordered the holding of elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, the parliament. The close timing has buttressed suspicions among Palestinian jurists and human rights organizations that an intentional underhanded maneuver was at play, and that officials in the ruling Fatah party of the Palestinian Authority are not serious about the elections or their democratic character.”

Palestine elections: Marwan Barghouti eyes presidential run from behind Israeli bars,

“Palestinian political prisoner and veteran Fatah party leader Marwan Barghouti is reportedly mulling whether to run in the upcoming Palestinian Authority (PA) presidential elections, planned for July, from his prison cell, sources have told Middle East Eye. If his candidacy becomes official, Barghouti would be the first candidate in the history of the Israeli occupation to run for the highest post of the Palestinian leadership from behind bars. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for allegedly plotting attacks on Israeli targets during the Second Intifada.  Fatah officials familiar with talks of a Barghouti election run told MEE that he was considering whether to run for president. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said that negotiations were currently taking place within Fatah, the longstanding ruling party of the PA in the occupied West Bank.”

The Biden Administration - People & Policies

Biden breaks from predecessors by taking it slow on Israeli-Palestinian peace,

“But rather than falling into the ostensible honey-trap that allured his predecessors, the new US president has a different strategy. Instead of going for it all at once, the Biden administration prefers pushing incremental steps that can be taken by both parties while discouraging unilateral moves that would dissolve whatever confidence still remains between the sides.”

U.S. Names Iran Envoy in Battle of Wills With Tehran Over Nuclear Negotiations,

“President Biden has named Robert Malley, a veteran Middle East expert and former Obama administration official, to be his special envoy for Iran, two senior State Department officials said Thursday night. Mr. Malley will be responsible for trying to persuade Tehran to rein in its nuclear program — and stop enriching uranium beyond limits imposed by a 2015 deal with world powers — and agree to new negotiations before the United States lifts its bruising economic sanctions against Iran. It is far from clear if the strategy, as directed by Mr. Biden, will succeed. Iran has repeatedly said it will not come back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord until the United States eases its sanctions, setting up a high-stakes contest over which side will blink first.”

Also See

Restoring U.S. Aid to Palestinians Won't Violate Taylor Force Act, State Department Says,

“The Biden administration on Thursday rejected allegations from Republican lawmakers that resuming U.S. aid to the Palestinians would violate the Taylor Force act, legislation that limits U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists and their families. “In administering aid, the Biden-Harris administration will fully comply with U.S. law, including the Taylor Force Act,” a State Department spokesperson told Haaretz. Republican lawmakers told the Washington Free Beacon that the resumption of aid, first outlined earlier this week by a U.S. representative at the United Nations Security Council, would violate the Taylor Force Act, named for a Vanderbilt University graduate student and former U.S. Army officer stabbed to death in Jaffa by a Palestinian terrorist in 2016. “The resumption of any U.S foreign assistance that indirectly funds the Palestinian Authority’s pay-for-slay terrorist program would violate U.S. law, betray our Israeli partners, and put Americans living in or visiting Israel in harm’s way,” Sen. Tom Cotton said.” For background on the Taylor Force Act, see analysis by FMEP’s Lara Friedman here.

Biden turns the page on Trump's Israel-Palestine policies,

“According to the new policies, the U.S. will resume aid to the Palestinians and reopen the PLO office in Washington and the consulate in Jerusalem. The Biden administration will oppose annexation, settlement building and the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israel, and incitement and payments to terrorists by the Palestinians. One of the key players in drafting those policies, Hady Amr, will also have a key role in implementing them as the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Israel-Palestine. Amr is highly respected by Palestinian officials, who see him as a balanced actor.”

Palestinians welcome end of US pressure but doubt Biden will press Israel,

“Despite the public statement welcoming the US moves, Palestinians say it is unclear whether the Biden administration will reverse all decisions or whether there will be added conditions on the issue of the return of the Palestinian office in Washington and the US mission in East Jerusalem. Palestinian officials are worried about having to return to the earlier version in which the Washington office’s status will be reviewed every six months as part of anti-terrorism congressional legislation. Also, it is unclear how the East Jerusalem US mission will work while the Biden administration has stated it will not reverse Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Oraib Rantawi, director of Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, argued in his daily column in Ad-Dustour Jan. 28 that it is not wise to wager too much on the Biden administration. “Having wide expectations before we find out the position of the new administration on key issues will lead us to a trap of exaggerated expectations that the new administration will put enough pressure on Israel to accept the two-state solution,” Rantawi wrote.”

Bonus Read

A City Without a Country,

“…The meeting sets the tone for Mayor, which—unlike many representations of Palestinian life destined for an international audience—focuses not on experiences of spectacular violence, but on everyday matters of civic life. And yet, of course, these matters are themselves thoroughly colored by the occupation. The film explores this dissonance through the figure of Hadid, who struggles to make life for Ramallah’s citizens a little easier, and to connect Ramallah—the de facto capital of the West Bank, hemmed in by Israeli settlements—to the outside world. “