Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 12, 2020

What We’re Reading


Israeli Research Center to Announce It Developed Coronavirus Vaccine, Sources Say,

“Scientists at Israel’s Institute for Biological Research are expected to announce in the coming days that they have completed development of a vaccine for the new coronavirus COVID-19. According to medical sources, the scientists have recently had a significant breakthrough in understanding the biological mechanism and qualities of the virus, including better diagnostic capability, production of antibodies for those who already have the virus and development of a vaccine. The development process requires a series of tests and experiments that may last many months before the vaccination is deemed effective or safe to use.”

As virus cases mount, Israel bans gatherings of more than 100 people,

“The ban includes synagogue prayer and weddings, the Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov elaborated. Schools are staying open for now, but officials may require institutes of higher education to teach remotely.”

West Bank lockdowns didn’t start with the coronavirus pandemic,

Lior Amihai writes, “Palestinians living in the West Bank are already living under a year-round military closure, and the vast majority of them are prohibited from entering Israel. Ordinarily, there are some Palestinian ‘exceptions’ who hold temporary permits enabling them to enter Israel to work. However, even those with entry permits have been prohibited from entering Israel over the past few days due to the Purim holiday — which, as with every major Jewish holiday, has led to Israel completely sealing off the West Bank. And those Israeli settlers celebrating Purim in Hebron rejoiced on the very same streets that have been closed to Palestinians for a quarter of a century. It seems that the same principles that have guided Israeli governments during 52 years of occupation — with its distancing, concealing, and dehumanization of Palestinians — continue to guide Benjamin Netanyahu’s government during a game-changing pandemic. Yet in contrast to these guiding principles, it has become even clearer that the space in which we live is a human web that cannot be artificially separated. This epidemic can be our opportunity to prove that we have not forgotten how to be human. And perhaps, in the shadow of the coronavirus, the residents of Bethlehem and other cities under military enclosure will be free from nightly raids, surprise checkpoints, arbitrary arrest, military expeditions, and daily encounters with the occupying power.”

Israel’s War Footing Against the Coronavirus,

“Israel has taken some of the farthest-reaching measures of any country in the world to slow the advance of the new coronavirus, but health officials believe Israelis remain vulnerable due to funding shortages and other issues. In some ways, the Israeli response has resembled a tactic favored by its military: preemptive actions, disproportionate in scale.”

U.S. Politics

In change, U.S. describes East Jerusalem Palestinians as 'Arab residents',

“The U.S. State Department changed its standard description of East Jerusalem Palestinians from ‘Palestinian residents’ of the city to ‘Arab residents’ or “non-Israeli citizens” in an annual global human rights report released on Wednesday. The overwhelming majority of East Jerusalem’s more than 340,000 Palestinians identify as such…The change in U.S. terminology comes amid increased wrangling over the contested city following the release of President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, which says Jerusalem should ‘remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel’ under any Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. State Department reports on human rights practices from 2018 and 2019 referred to East Jerusalem Palestinians as “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem” in sections on civil judicial procedures, discrimination and freedom of movement.”

PA lambastes US for calling East Jerusalem Palestinians ‘Arab residents’,

“’Any attempt at falsifying history or truth will not give legitimacy to anyone and will not change the history of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem,’ Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, said on Wednesday in a statement carried by the official PA news site Wafa…Abu Rudeineh also slammed the State Department report as ‘another abortive attempt by the American administration to implement the so-called dead deal of the century, which is rejected by Palestinians, Arabs and the international community.’”

J Street urges DNC to adopt anti-occupation language in their platform,

“The liberal advocacy group J Street is pressuring the Democratic Party to include anti-occupation language in its party platform before their convention this summer. 230 Jewish clergy and other community members have signed a J Street letter calling on political parties to update their platforms to ‘make clear what a comprehensive Israel/Palestine foreign policy looks like under a future administration, which includes a commitment to security, democracy, and human rights.’…[Dr. James] Zogby said that he welcomed the J Street letter, but pointed out that it doesn’t go nearly far enough: ‘I’m glad that J Street is pushing back, but two thoughts come to mind: settlements and occupation & even annexation ought to be no brainers. The issue is what are we willing to do to stop Israeli land grabs, displacement of Palestinians, and violations of their rights. What should be debated are sanctions and withholding or diverting aid.’”

International Accountability

Israeli AG’s objection to ICC jurisdiction in Palestine divorced from reality,

“This morning, B’Tselem published a position paper refuting the conclusion of Attorney General Dr. Avichai Mandelblit – the highest legal authority in Israel’s executive branch, whose legal opinion represents the government – that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to investigate suspected war crimes by Israel. B’Tselem’s analysis of the AG’s main arguments and the sources for them found the AG had relied on partial quotes taken out of context, flouted the provisions of international law regarding occupation, overlooked the international community’s positions on Israel’s policy in the Occupied Territories for more than fifty years, and absurdly misrepresented reality.”

The Benefits (and Drawbacks) of the UN Database on Businesses Contributing to Israeli Settlements,

“In this post I suggest that these controversies — and how the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has responded to them — point not solely to the database’s limitations, but also highlight its significance. While the report itself is an encouraging development for human rights regulations of business, I also identify one significant limitation of the report: that it does not analyze or explain the targeted businesses’ responsibilities to provide remedies to Palestinians harmed by their operations.”

Annexation/"Deal of the Century" Watch

Erekat: West Bank E1 road start of annexation and apartheid,

“PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat warned that Israeli plans for a new West Bank road between the E1 area and Jerusalem were the start of Israel’s ‘annexation and apartheid plan.’ He tweeted Tuesday about the road project, which Defense Minister Naftali Bennett advanced earlier this week, to help enable the construction project of 3,500 apartment units in an unbuilt area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement known as E1.”

Is Israel's 'Sovereignty Road' project step toward annexation?,

“These steps are part of the Netanyahu government’s efforts to establish facts on the ground. that will serve as an impediment for any future government considering territorial concessions to the Palestinians. They are effectively partial implementation of the Trump plan.”

Israeli Elections

Gantz's Party Changes Course as Efforts to Form a Minority Government Face Hurdles,

“Having failed so far to secure a Knesset majority for a prospective government, Benny Gantz’s party intends to focus in the coming days on replacing Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party with a Kahol Lavan lawmaker. Replacing Edelstein could let Kahol Lavan push through legislation to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government while under indictment. Netanyahu’s trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three graft cases is set to begin on Tuesday.”

Israel’s right engaged in wild anti-Arab incitement,

“’This time, the incitement is more serious and dangerous than the incitement that preceded [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s murder,’ Ofer Cassif told Al-Monitor. “The concern is that one of us may already be a target on someone’s sights.’ Cassif said the ones facing real danger are Blue and White Chairman Gantz and Joint List senior official Ahmad Tibi; the latter was verbally targeted in the past year by Netanyahu’s delegitimization campaign, ‘Tibi or Bibi’ (either you vote for Netanyahu or you’ll find yourselves ruled by the Joint List). Netanyahu’s campaign people turned Tibi into a red flag, a code name for all the dangers that Israel faces. Cassif said, ‘There is no doubt that the person behind the incitement campaign, who guides the speakers to wild incitement, is Benjamin Netanyahu. When Netanyahu says in a speech to his crowd of supporters in a Petach Tikva assembly that ‘We and millions of citizens will not let this happen’ — how, exactly, will he ‘not let it happen’? The elections are over. The decision was made in the voting booth. What Netanyahu means now is calling for people to go out to the streets [to demonstrate].’ Cassif said the subtext of Netanyahu’s words is an explicit call for violence aimed at people identified with the left — Knesset members, media people and the legal system. ‘He has fired the first shot toward a civil war; there is no other way to explain it,’ Cassif said.”

Support for Joint List increased in all Druze villages but one, results show,

“Arik Rudnitzky, an expert on Arab Israeli politics the Israel Democracy Institute, said that the results showed that the Joint List’s campaign messaging against the Jewish nation-state law and Kaminitz amendment to the Building and Planning law resonated with some Druze who had previously voted for Zionist parties. ‘Its opposition to these laws caught ears in the Druze community,’ Rudnitzky said in a phone call. ‘You cannot disregard that more than 40% of Druze voters supported Blue and White, but it is clear that more and more Druze are looking critically at the government and what [Blue and White chief Benny] Gantz may do with the nation-state and Kaminitz laws.’”