Top News from Israel & Palestine: January 8, 2020

What We’re Reading

Occupation & US Policy/Politics

US Amb Friedman: Jerusalem, the Golan - and now Judea & Samaria,

“The Pompeo Doctrine does not resolve the conflict over Judea and Samaria. But it does move the goalposts back onto the field. It does not obfuscate the very real issue that 2 million or more Palestinians reside in Judea and Samaria, and we all wish that they live in dignity, in peace, and with independence, pride and opportunity. We are committed to find a way to make that happen. The Pompeo Doctrine says clearly that Israelis have a right to live in Judea and Samaria. But it doesn’t say that Palestinians don’t….it calls for a practical negotiated resolution of the conflict that improves lives on both sides.”

Pompeo 'disavows' Carter-era anti-settlement policy,

“Pompeo said the US is ‘disavowing the deeply flawed’ the Carter-era memorandum, written by then-State Department Legal Adviser Herbert Hansell, which called all Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines to be illegal. ‘…We are recognizing that settlements do not inherently violate international law.’ As such, he added, the US is returning to a more ‘balanced’ policy, ‘advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.’” [see link for video of Pompeo address]

Thanks to Israel travel, privately sponsored Congressional trips hit 13-year high,

“More than $2.7 million of last year’s total expenses came from just 169 trips to Israel – the most private money spent on congressional travel to a single foreign country since at least 2000, and a full $1 million more than the cost of all privately sponsored domestic travel in 2019. The American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group, made up most of that, spending $2.3 million on 129 trips…It’s possible that members and staff will disclose more 2019 travel in the coming weeks.”

Settlements/Occupation/Human Rights

Netanyahu: I won’t let settlements be uprooted in any diplomatic plan,

“Settlements will not be evacuated in any peace plan while I am prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday amid talk that the Trump administration may present its peace plan within weeks. ‘I will not let any settlements be uprooted in any diplomatic plan. This idea of ethnic cleansing… It won’t happen,’ Netanyahu said at the Kohelet Forum’s conference on the US decision that settlements are not illegal. Netanyahu’s remarks come as diplomatic sources say the Trump administration is strongly considering releasing its plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians in the coming weeks, before the March 2 Knesset election. ‘There is a window of opportunity; it opened, but it could close,’ Netanyahu added, warning of ‘weak leadership’ that will ‘hit rewind,’ in an apparent reference to his election rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

Bennett: Area C of West Bank belongs to Israel, we’re waging a war for it,

“Israel is waging a ‘real war’ for Area C of the West Bank, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday, as he swore to prevent the Palestinian Authority from creating facts on the ground that would place a Palestinian state there. ‘I declare officially that the ‘C territory’ belongs to Israel,’ Bennett said. He has long advocated Israeli application of sovereignty to all of the territory… ‘A month ago, I convened a meeting and I explained the directive, that the State of Israel will do everything to ensure that these territories [Area C] will be part of the State of Israel,’ Bennett said.”

Defense minister visits Jordan Valley after annexation committee meets,

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett promised to demolish all illegally built Palestinian structures and increase settlement construction as he toured the Jordan Valley on Monday, a day after the Sovereignty Committee met. ‘I am not at the United Nations,’ Bennett said in an apparent dig at the UN’s persistent declaration that Israel settlement activity is illegal under Israeli law. Israel and the US have rejected such claims.”

Israel's Defense Chief Wants Gazans Jailed as Bargaining Chips in Potential Prisoner Exchange Deal,

“Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has recently informed defense establishment officials that he intends to treat Gazans who cross into Israel as ‘illegal combatants,’ and thereby increase the number of Gazans incarcerated in Israel. Bennett seeks to use them in the event of future negotiations over the return of Israeli prisoners or dead soldiers. If the defense establishment accepts Bennett’s demand, such infiltrators will be held under the same procedures that apply to administrative detainees – those detained without charges – who are arrested in exceptional circumstances. However, in contrast to these, Gazan detainees held as illegal combatants can be imprisoned indefinitely. Officials in the defense establishment were shocked by Bennett’s demand, arguing that such a decision would have major significance, not just in terms of international law.”

Netanyahu’s office said blocking construction of 2,000 new homes in Har Homa*,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is blocking attempts to promote the construction of some 2,000 new homes in Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, the Kan public broadcaster reported Tuesday. The Jerusalem Municipality has sought to advance the approval of the plan with the backing of Mayor Moshe Lion, the report said, but the Prime Minister’s Office has rejected it due to ‘diplomatic difficulties.’ The PMO did not deny the report, Kan said. An unnamed diplomatic source was quoted as saying in response: ‘Israel has built in Jerusalem, is building in Jerusalem and will continue building in Jerusalem — while exercising judgment.’” *[Twitter thread from Jerusalem expert Danny Seideman: “The construction potential at Har Homa has been exhausted, and it’s not possible to build anything near 2000 units. So what are they talking about? Something is clearly going on… ‘

Military court convicts Palestinian terrorist for 2018 murder of Ari Fuld,

“A West Bank military court convicted a Palestinian teenager of murdering Israeli-American Ari Fuld in a 2018 stabbing attack at the West Bank’s Gush Etzion Junction…Fuld’s family lauded the court’s ruling and called for Jabarin to be given the maximum punishment. But apparently recognizing that the court would not hand down a sentence harsher than life in prison, the family said the only way to prevent future terror attacks is to give the death penalty to all perpetrators…Last January, Israeli security forces demolished Jabarin’s home in Yatta, near Hebron, carrying out the controversial policy that the IDF says helps deter future terror attacks. In Jabarin’s case, it appeared as though his family had attempted to prevent him from carrying out the attack. The IDF said Jabarin’s mother had gone to the Meitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank and warned soldiers, at approximately the same time the stabbing took place, that her son planned to commit an attack.”

Settlers are seizing ‘empty’ land. The Palestinian owners are fighting back,

“When Israel took over Ahmad Qaddoura’s land in the 1980s, it rejected his petition to stop the expropriation. Now, a nearby settlement is using the land to build a factory.”

Palestinians in Gaza are bringing their stories of siege to Israelis [by telling them in Hebrew],

“The most important thing is that they understand that we are not terrorists and we do not want to kill Israelis. Gazans don’t hate Israelis, and we certainly don’t hate Jews. It’s a terrible mistake to think this way. We have nothing against Israelis. We are very opposed to your government’s racist apartheid policies, which violate so many of our rights. We need to end this conflict already, and fast. We’re so exhausted.’”

Israel’s New Condition for Palestinians Hoping to Work Their Land: A Pop Quiz in Map Reading,

“The army confiscated dozens of crossing permits of farmers whose plots are beyond the separation barrier. While they labor to retrieve them, their land remains untended.”

Police arrest 6 Muslim worshipers after clashes at Temple Mount,

“Police officers on Tuesday evening arrested six Muslim visitors at the Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem after they disrupted public order and shouted ‘nationalist chants’ at them, officials said…According to religious site Srugim, several dozen Jews visited the compound throughout the day to mark the Tenth of Tevet, a fast day to mark the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon that led to the destruction of the First Temple.”

IDF soldier slips snake inside Palestinian car during search,

“Nidal Sayid, of Bayt Dajan near Nablus, was driving with his family in his taxi when a routine IDF search at a checkpoint turned into something a little different. During a routine search of the vehicle at Beit Furik Junction in the West Bank, a soldier in the Givati Brigade who was guarding the junction stopped Sayid’s taxi and, unbeknownst to Sayid, slipped a snake inside a bottle into the vehicle. After passing the search and continuing on their journey, Sayid suddenly heard the cries of his family that a snake had been found and to stop the vehicle, which he duly did. A brief search of the vehicle was conducted to make sure there were no other unwanted intruders before Sayid reported the incident to the Palestinian Authorities who contacted the IDF.After an investigation the soldier was sentenced to 18 days detention.”

U.S. Free Speech Under Attack

Anti-BDS Effort Buoyed by New Executive Order,

“The most important BDS-related development last month was an announcement by the Trump administration of an Executive Order expanding protections to Jewish and other students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities that receive Federal funding.

[complaints filed since the EO targeting campus free speech critical of Israel: Columbia University (1)Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs); Georgetown University; Duke University; Georgia Tech; Columbia University (2).]

Court lifts injunction that prevented Arizona from denying contracts to companies that boycott Israel,

“…the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals did not address whether it was legal in 2016 for lawmakers to require companies to sign agreements that they will not engage in boycott of Israel as a condition of getting government contracts. That is what a trial judge had concluded in 2018. Instead, the judges said the Legislature has since amended the law so the requirement applies only to companies with 10 or more employees and the contract is worth at least $100,000. And what that meant is Flagstaff lawyer Mik Jordahl, who successfully challenged the law, was no longer affected by its terms and therefore lacked standing to sue. And that makes the case moot. Monday’s ruling does not mean the revised law is any more legal than the 2016 version. But the law remains in effect unless or until there is a new challenge.”

Occupation & the International Arena

ICC probe won’t deter Israel from expanding settlements, Netanyahu vows,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said the decision of the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to launch an investigation of war crimes allegedly committed in the West Bank, including the building of settlements there, will not prevent Israel from further expanding those Israeli towns. ‘This will not deter us — not in the slightest,’ he said, referring to Fatou Bensouda’s December 20 announcement that she found ‘reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine.’”

Multibillion-dollar lawsuit in Israel against Arab Bank,

“The Jordan-based Arab Bank was served with a precedent-setting, 20-billion-shekel ($5.75 billion) lawsuit Dec. 29 in Jerusalem’s District Court. Behind the suit were 1,132 victims and casualties of terrorism and their families, who are accusing the bank of cooperating, supporting, abetting, funding and encouraging terrorist activities, which resulted in thousands of casualties. The plaintiffs claim that the bank was involved in funding terrorist attacks in Israel carried out by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other terrorist organizations. Among other things, this lawsuit is based on a similar, successful lawsuit against the Arab Bank in the United States in 2004.”

Israel Expands Attorney General's Authority Ahead of Possible International War Crimes Case,

“The Justice Ministry and the Israeli military expanded the attorney general’s authority to overturn the military advocate general’s decisions last year, a move that would help the government contend with possible prosecutions by the International Criminal Court. This change allows the attorney general to examine more appeals against the military advocate general’s decisions not to criminally investigate complaints alleging a violation of the international rules of war.”

In possible hint at new international bid, Abbas vows to use ‘soft diplomacy’,

“In a possible reference to a new effort to join international organizations and agreements, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed on Monday to employ ‘soft diplomacy.’ He made the comment at an Orthodox Christmas Eve dinner in Bethlehem, which was attended by Christian leaders and Palestinian officials, after expressing frustration about recent Israeli government decisions. ‘We will not use force, violence or terrorism but rather soft diplomacy as we have done for more than the past decade,’ Abbas said, according to the official PA news site Wafa. ‘We are able to use it to achieve our goals but it may have difficult consequences — we will endure them because we no longer can endure what Israel is doing,’ the PA news site quoted him as saying.”

UN panel has no authority to declare Israel apartheid state, US says,

“The US questioned the legitimacy of a UN committee on racism’s plan to probe a Palestinian claim that Israel is an apartheid state.The remarks came two weeks after the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) accepted an inter-state communication from the ‘State of Palestine’ against Israel. While the text of the Palestinian complaint has not been released, an Israeli diplomatic source said it calls Israel an apartheid state and claims its treatment of the Palestinians is a form of racism.”


Iran will suffer ‘crushing blow’ if it attacks Israel, Netanyahu warns,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday warned Iran against attacking Israel in response to the American killing last week of senior military commander Qassem Soleimani. ‘We’re standing steadfast against those who seek our lives. We’re standing with determination and with force. Whoever tries to attack us will receive a crushing blow in return,’ he declared at a conference in Jerusalem.”

Report: Hezbollah will attack Israel if US responds to Iran attack,

“Hezbollah will attack Israel if the United States responds to missile attacks carried out by the Iranian [sic] Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Tuesday night, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency. ‘We in no way consider the Zionist regime (of Israel) to be separate from the criminal US regime in these crimes’ the IRGC warned in a statement. ‘We warn the Great Satan, the bloodthirsty and arrogant regime of the US, that any new wicked act or further aggression (against Iran) will bring about more painful and crushing responses,’ stressed the IRGC.The IRGC warned on their Telegram channel that they would attack Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Haifa in Israel if Iranian soil is targeted, according to CNN.”

Security expert — Iran and Hezbollah may ‘shut Israel down’ in next war,

“Echoing comments made late last month by Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kochavi, the US-born Freilich said, “I don’t think most people in Israel, let alone the international community, understand the level of destruction that the Israeli homefront is going to experience in the next war with Hezbollah.”

Israel’s partisan divide finds a bridge on the death of Soleimani,

“..while like the U.S., Israel has not been immune to bitter partisan disputes, evidenced by the ongoing government stalemate that has led to an unprecedented third election in less than a year that is scheduled for March. Nearly all mainstream political leaders in Israel from the left and right tend to exhibit unity concerning national security, especially when it comes to Iran, which is viewed as an existential threat to the Jewish state. Such collaboration was displayed during the lead-up to the Iranian nuclear deal spearheaded by the Obama administration. Most Israeli leaders, including the opposition at the time, joined Netanyahu in condemning the agreement.”

If US leaves the region, Israel will eventually go to war with Iran,

“Should the United States withdraw its forces and Iran continue on its path through Iraq and Syria, Israel will eventually find itself in a war along its entire northern border, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ilan Lavi has warned.’The United States is the main breaks in the region and its withdrawal would lead to an escalation, since the Iranians will continue to apply gas’ to their aspirations of regional hegemony, Lavi said during a conference held by the Alma Research and Education Center in Northern Israel.”

Iran Unlikely to Act Against Israel Over Soleimani Assassination, Defense Officials Tell Ministers,

“Israeli defense officials told security cabinet ministers Monday that the likelihood of an Iranian response on Israel is low as of now. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also told ministers during the cabinet meeting that the Friday killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was an American event, and should be left as such, urging them to focus on supporting the American argument of self-defense. Another security cabinet assessment meeting of the situation is set to take place Wednesday.”

Top Israeli think tank warns: Potential for war with Iran is growing,

“There is a growing risk of large-scale war along Israel’s northern borders in the coming year, in large part due to Iran’s increasing ‘determination and daring,’ one of Israel’s leading national security think tanks warned Monday. Each year, the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies prepares a ‘strategic assessment’ of the threats facing the State of Israel and the steps it believes the country should take to protect against them. The think tank, which is largely made up of former senior defense and diplomatic officials, presents those findings to the president. On Monday, INSS director Amos Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence, provided President Reuven Rivlin with the institute’s assessments for 2020, including a warning that there is a ‘rise in the likelihood of war’ in light of a variety of security, political and diplomatic factors.”

US embassy in Israel warns of rocket attacks after Soleimani slaying,

“The United States embassy in Israel released a travel advisory Monday to its nationals in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, warning of the possibility of sudden rocket fire at the country. The advisory came as Iran was expected to target US sites in the Middle East in retaliation for a drone strike on Friday that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. ‘Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning,’ the embassy said.”

Israelis Hailing Trump for Killing Soleimani Forget the Destructive Consequences of Past Assassinations,

“in the collective memory of Israel, the link between cause and effect has been severed. Targeted assassinations – whether they decreased terror attacks, as was the case after the 2004 killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, or increased terror attacks, as was the case during the so-called “Black March” that followed the 2002 assassination of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander Raed Karmi, in which 130 Israelis were killed, or even anointed Hassan Nasrallah as Hezbollah leader after predecessor Abbas al-Musawi was killed in 1992 – are deemed, almost by definition, not only as eminently justified but as uniquely effective, no matter what. This is why the assassination of Qassem Soleimani has not only elicited nearly universal and otherwise understandable support – the man was a sophisticated and implacable foe of Israel – but also collective condemnation from anyone who dared point out the operation’s potentially destructive consequences.”

For Israel, Iran strike could be back on the table,

“Iran’s dramatic announcement that it no longer intends to honor its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers could soon revive discussions in Israel over a possible military strike on Iranian targets. While Israel has kept a low profile since the US killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani last Friday, it will be difficult to remain on the sidelines if Iran follows through on its pledge to step away from the nuclear accord. Israel, a fierce critic of the agreement, accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon and has repeatedly said it will not allow that to happen, even if that requires a risky military strike.”

Palestinian Domestic Scene

Abbas: No Election Decree Unless Jerusalem Issue Is Resolved,

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he would not issue a presidential decree for the elections before guaranteeing that they would be held in Jerusalem. Israel has so far disregarded a Palestinian request to hold the general elections in Jerusalem.”

After Soleimani Killing, Hamas Caught Between Gaza Calm and Iranian Support,

“‘The dilemma is not simple for one main reason,’ one of Haaretz’s sources said. “Hamas defines itself as a popular resistance organization. It can’t do without Iran and Hezbollah from a military-strategic perspective. Bit for over a decade, Hamas bears responsibility for more than two million civilians, and Egypt is an anchor without which Hamas could not be in control.” The sources further said that Hamas’ inclination is to ‘tread carefully while keeping a careful and delicate balance. Attesting to this is the fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad expressed their anger and condemnation of this assassination, but no one is thinking of any military response.’”

Egypt reportedly simmers over Hamas chief’s trip to Iran,

“Egypt is displeased with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh over his participation in a funeral for slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the Arabic-language Dar al-Hayat news site reported, citing ‘trusted Egyptian sources.’ Haniyeh attended the Tehran funeral procession for Soleimani, who was killed in an American drone strike on Friday in Baghdad, and delivered a speech in which he called the Iranian general ‘the martyr of Jerusalem.’”

Malaysia appoints consuls in West Bank, Gaza,

“Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah announced Dec. 28 the appointment of honorary consuls for his country in Gaza and Ramallah. This follows an announcement by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at the Non-Aligned Summit in Azerbaijan on Oct. 25 that his country intends to open an embassy accredited to Palestine but located in Jordan.”

How Ramallah is resolving electricity crisis,

“Under the patronage of Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO) signed Dec. 29 with eight banks operating in the Palestinian territories a memorandum of understanding under which the banks shall buy JDECO’s entire debt to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), which amounts to 670 million shekels ($191.4 million). This is provided that the government pays the banks its financial dues to JDECO in the form of monthly installments.”

On Orthodox Christmas, Palestinians continue boycott of Jerusalem patriarch,

“As Eastern Christians celebrated Christmas on Tuesday, Palestinian demonstrators denounced the role played by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in the sale of church real estate to Israeli settler groups. ‘Traitor’ and ‘unworthy,’ Palestinian activists chanted on Monday in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem as Patriarch Theophilos III and an accompanying procession reached the Church of the Nativity ahead of the traditional Christmas midnight mass.”

Israeli Domestic Scene

Benny Gantz: 'Blue and White won't join other parties',

“Blue and White Chairman MK Benny Gantz on Wednesday said his party will not join with any other parties. ‘I met this morning with [Labor Chairman MK Amir] Peretz and [Meretz Chairman MK Nitzan] Horowitz, and I told both of them that Blue and White will continue to provide an alternative leadership in the center of the map, and that it will not join with other parties from the right or left,’ he said at a party meeting. ‘Blue and White is determined to lead a government of change, hope, reach a clear decision in the coming elections, and be the largest party in the Knesset. In order for that to happen, we need to work hard, and to our left there needs to be a unification of all the left-wing Zionist parties.’”

Center-left Labor asks centrist Blue and White to join forces, is turned down,

“Rather than join a party to its left, Blue and White is reportedly planning to lean rightward in the coming campaign, with party leaders sensing an opportunity to win over centrist Likud voters dismayed by Netanyahu’s corruption indictments.” Also see: Blue and White reportedly moving rightward ahead of March election

2 of 3 left-wing slates that make up Democratic Camp ink deal to stick together,

“The leaders of two of the three left-wing parties that ran together as the Democratic Camp alliance in the previous election inked an agreement on Tuesday to once again join forces for the upcoming March Knesset vote. Democratic Camp and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Democratic Choice chairman Yair Golan agreed to a joint run, in which the former will maintain his position as head of the left-wing alliance while Golan will remain in the third spot. In the previous election, Golan, a former deputy army chief of staff, ran as a candidate of ex-prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party.”

Annual poll: Most Israelis distrust leadership, say democracy ‘in grave danger’,

“With Israel heading into its third election in less than a year, and with two elections having failed to produce governments for the first time in the state’s history, a majority of Israelis believe the country’s democracy is in grave danger, according to an annual survey released on Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute. Fifty-four percent of respondents agreed with that assessment in the IDI’s 2019 Israeli Democracy Index, compared to 45.5% last year. On the left the sentiment was particularly prevalent, at 84.5%. In the center 68% expressed such concerns, while on the right it was shared by 29%. Israelis’ distrust in their leadership also grew in 2019, with 58% of the public believing their leaders are corrupt, a rise of 11% from 2018, according to the poll.”

Will Netanyahu's survival campaign tear up Israeli society?,

“An election campaign is “a realm of uncertainty,” wrote three Supreme Court justices on Jan. 2. The judges dismissed a petition by opposition parties that sought to disqualify a Knesset member charged with grievous offenses, i.e., interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from forming the country’s next government. The justices agreed with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who already declined to rule on the issue, saying it was theoretical given that elections would only take place on March 2. The justices, too, pointed out that a ruling would be premature given that no one can know who the elected lawmakers will recommend to President Reuven Rivlin as prime minister.”