Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 13, 2020

What We’re Reading

Israeli Elex - The Never-Ending Saga

Israel Faces a Defining Question: How Much Democracy Should Arabs Get?,

“Israelis eager to end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s career won a slim majority in last week’s election. But one thing has kept them from uniting to send him packing: A sizable chunk of the anti-Netanyahu majority consists of Arab lawmakers, and the Jewish ones cannot agree on whether to consider them partners or the enemy…The roiling debate, which has set back the effort to depose Mr. Netanyahu and could force Israel to hold a record fourth election, turns on a question at the heart of the country’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state: Are the votes of Arab citizens worth as much as those of Jews?”

Israelis would like to avoid minority government, poll finds,

“Some 55% of Israelis do not approve of Blue and White pursuing a narrow government with the support of Arab MKs, while 31% supported the move. A third of the public thinks it’s time for a broad national unity government, and 47% believe Benjamin Netanyahu is best suited for the role of prime minister.”

Will Orly Levy-Abekasis recommend Netanyahu?,

“The chairwoman of the Gesher party, MK Orly Levy-Abekasis, on Thursday contacted President Reuven Rivlin and asked him to allow her to independently recommend one of the candidates to head the next government. Levy-Abekasis made it clear to Rivlin that she is not part of the Labor-Meretz list, which is expected to recommend Benny Gantz for Prime Minister, and it is believed that she may recommend Binyamin Netanyahu as her preferred candidate to lead the next government…A senior official close to Levy-Abekasis explained that the intention to ‘form a minority government at any cost that relies on the Joint List, including Balad, is contrary to Levy-Abekasis’ worldview, as well as the view of many of the supporters of Blue and White and the Labor party who oppose it.’”

Netanyahu, Gantz, mull emergency government amid coronavirus crisis,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, spoke by phone late Thursday night amid earlier mutual calls to form an emergency unity government to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The prime minister told Gantz that now was the time for bold leadership in light of the spread of the virus in Israel and abroad. Netanyahu invited Gantz to meet immediately with the purpose of creating a national emergency government. Netanyahu also emphasized that the Joint Arab List will not be invited into such a government – not in normal times nor in an emergency. ‘The prime minister is waiting for Gantz’s positive response,’ an official in Netanyahu’s Likud party said.” Also see: PM calls for emergency government with Gantz to tackle coronavirus

Gantz: Ready to Discuss Forming Unity Gov't With Netanyahu Amid Coronavirus Crisis,

“Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz has convened Thursday the senior members of his party in order to decide whether they should accept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal for a national unity government meant to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus in Israel, as the number of diagnosed cases rose to 109.”

Netanyahu Says 'No Terror Supporters' in Gov't After Gantz Calls for Unity With 'All Parts of House',

“…In light of the situation, Gantz said, ‘we would be willing to discuss establishing a national emergency government that would include representation of all parts of the house.’ According to a statement from Netanyahu’s bureau on Friday morning, the premier stressed to Gantz during their nighttime meeting that ‘terror supporters’ cannot be part of said government, neither in normal circumstances nor in emergency. The comment seems to be implicitly refering to members of the Arab-majority Joint List, the third largest party in the Knesset, which Netanyahu heavily vilified during Israel’s numerous election campaigns over the last year.” Also see: Netanyahu to Gantz: Supporters of terrorism will not be part of the government

Israeli Politics in the Time of the Coronavirus: A Moment of Moral Clarity or Cynical Politics,

“It took a global pandemic for Israel’s leading centrist politician to obliquely admit that the political representatives of the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are Arab should at least have a place in an emergency government. But in one short statement, Gantz has challenged the country’s oldest political taboo.”

Sowing Fear Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak, Netanyahu Is in His Element,

“With a flimsy tissue, video images of an inflamed nose dispersing microscopic nasal discharge and an apocalyptic tone of voice, Benjamin Netanyahu is squeezing every ounce of political and propaganda benefit out of the coronavirus at a time of uncertainty and anxiety about the future. This is his big moment. He is managing matters with a confident hand while everyone else is consumed with petty politics and talking with ‘supporters of terror.”

Palestinians' electoral success in Israel can't be denied,

“Israel’s March elections, the third in less than a year, have altered the country’s political landscape. The record number of Knesset seats representing Palestinian citizens appears to be just enough to help create a blocking majority that could push the right-wing, corruption-indicted Israeli prime minister from office. Such success will not go unnoticed.”


Coronavirus in the Middle East and North Africa: What is the latest?,

“The coronavirus continues to spread across the Middle East and North Africa as the number of new cases in the region surpassed 11,000 people on Thursday…Nearly every single country in the MENA region, except Libya, Mauritania, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, have confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far and how countries across the region have reacted to the coronavirus.”

Palestine declares state of emergency to tackle coronavirus outbreak,

“Four new cases of the coronavirus have been detected in the occupied West Bank bringing the total number of infections to 35 and forcing the government to declare a 30-day state of emergency yesterday.”

UK donates $100,000 to help Palestinians tackle coronavirus outbreak,

“The United Kingdom has granted Palestine $100,000 to help combat the novel coronavirus as the number of those affected by the disease continues to climb, reported Wafa news agency. The money would go to the World Health Organisation’s operations in the occupied Palestinian territories “to accelerate its response to coronavirus in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to ensure early detection and case management of suspected Covid19 cases,” said UK Consulate General in Jerusalem.”

Without Even a Single Coronavirus Case, Nablus Is Glum and Subdued,

“The Palestinian Authority has imposed strict rules on what can remain open, but nobody wants to think about what would happen if the virus were to spread through Palestinian towns.”

Coronavirus Is a Death Sentence for Palestinians Caged in Gaza,

“…If you’re locked in a cage, you are protected – but, simultaneously, you are also at much greater risk of being acutely affected. If the people of Gaza become unwell, will anyone care, any more than to the minimal degree they have in the past? Will anything change for them, or will it simply become much worse?At the time of writing, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip. But it only takes one person to change the course of things for the worse – that infamous Patient Zero, to which many of the world’s wealthiest and most medically advanced countries can attest as they grapple with spiking contagion rates…The people of Gaza are on the brink of a humanitarian disaster and systemic collapse. The world is facing a COVID-19 pandemic, but a good case can be made for Gaza being the site of one of the world’s most at risk populations. Two million people living an already precarious existence are dependent on whether the world outside will judge their humanity, or behave with inhumanity. Gaza’s people never chose to live in a cage. They shouldn’t be sentenced to die in one, either.”

Israel dreads coronavirus outbreak in Gaza,

“A senior political source told Al-Monitor that a pandemic in Gaza is Israel’s greatest nightmare. In fact, worries that some sort of health emergency might take place have been raised over the years in regular assessment meetings. ‘Before this, the concern was of some kind of plague erupting in Gaza, killing thousands of people and more because of poor sanitation. But this is different. Gaza is isolated, and as a result, is protected, but if we seal it off hermetically, we would cause civil unrest. Images of tens of thousands of Gazans along the border fence with Israel could send us into a downward tailspin. It is a short path from that to an outbreak of violence and maybe even a third intifada. People will have nothing to lose. At this stage, hundreds of thousands of Gazans still go to work in the morning, and hundreds of thousands of children go to school. As soon as all that falls apart, we will be facing a whole new situation,’ said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

Coronavirus: Saudi Umrah ban costs Palestinians millions, with fears Hajj is next,

“Palestinian travel agents in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank have lost millions of dollars after Saudi Arabia suspended Umrah pilgrimages in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Middle East Eye has learned. Now they fear that Hajj, set to take place in July, could be cancelled, compounding losses and stopping Palestinians from undertaking the pilgrimage expected of all Muslims once in their lifetimes…Jordan’s decision on Tuesday to close its border with the West Bank and Israel to combat coronavirus has placed further doubts over plans for Umrah season and the holy month of Ramadan, which runs from around 23 April to 23 May. The Israeli military has locked down the West Bank, too. ‘The West Bank is closed, and Jordan is closed and Saudi Arabia is closed, and it is impossible to travel anywhere.’”

Occupation News

B’Tselem: Israeli objection to ICC on ‘Palestine’ divorced from reality,

“A report published by B’Tselem on Thursday attacked Israel’s claims that the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in ‘Palestine’  as relying ‘on intentional misquotation, disregard for international law and an absurd misrepresentation of reality.’”

Local NGO B'Tselem urges ICC probe into alleged Israeli 'war crimes',

“B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad: Israel’s attempt to clutch at formalistic straws to evade the ICC’s jurisdiction is shameful… Palestine is not a ‘sovereign state’ precisely because it is under Israeli occupation, whose crimes the ICC has the jurisdiction – and responsibility – to investigate.”

B’tselem Position Paper: Israeli AG’s objection to ICC jurisdiction in Palestine divorced from reality,

“B’Tselem’s analysis finds AG’s claims, that the ICC has no jurisdiction in Palestine, rely on intentional misquotation, disregard for international law and an absurd misrepresentation of reality. Contrary to the AG’s position, the ICC has jurisdiction to carry out the necessary investigation of the situation in Palestine.” Full position paper is here.

The Israeli Army's Plunder in the Service of the Occupation,

“Soldiers seized tens of thousands of shekels in a West Bank village last week. One man had to cancel his wedding and another lost the payment for a machine he’d sold. Little matter that they had proper documentation.”

Israel exploiting coronavirus for settlement expansion, says Palestinian official,

“A senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) launched a scathing attack on the Israeli authorities’ response to the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, accusing it of exploiting the lockdown in the West Bank to accelerate the annexation of Palestinian land while protecting Israeli settlers’ attacks against Palestinian civilians. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, cited Wednesday’s raid on a sit-in held by Palestinian residents of Beita to defend the nearby Mount Al-Arma from being seized by settlers. The incident saw Israeli forces firing live rounds at protesters, killing 15-year-old Mohammed Hamayel.”

Israel releases senior Hamas leader in West Bank,

“Israeli authorities on Wednesday released a senior member of Hamas Mazen Jamal Al-Natsheh to his home in the occupied city of Hebron after he spent three months in administrative detention. Hamas’ Prisoners’ Information Office said in a statement that occupation forces arrested Al-Natsheh in December and transferred him to Ofer Prison. He has previously been detained and had been released four months earlier.”


Gaza terrorist groups on high alert amid fears of Israeli attack - report,

“Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip are on high alert amid fears that the current calm could deteriorate, reported Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on Friday. Checkpoints have been set up throughout the Strip where security forces are inspecting passing cars in measures that have only been used twice in Gaza: once after the head of Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades was assassinated and again after the failed Khan Younis operation. Even though the situation is currently relatively calm, the terrorist groups believe that Israel intends to surprise Gaza. The groups are considering a number of different scenarios, according to Al Araby. Training exercises in the Strip have also increased recently.”

PA: Israel’s racism is the main obstacle to peace,

“The Palestinian Authority condemned on Wednesday the culture of hate and racism within Israel, mainly among the right-wing parties, Al Sabeel newspaper has reported. Such racism in Israel, said the PA, is the ‘main obstacle’ to peace. ‘Racism and hate,’ said the Foreign Ministry in Ramallah, ‘are reflected daily in the stances and remarks of right-wing officials in Israel and the practices of the Jewish settlers against the Palestinians.’ The PA believes that this is a ‘real danger’ and ‘threat’ to stability and security in the region and, indeed, the world. ‘It is a systematic attempt to undermine peace opportunities and human rights. When will the international community intervene in order to stop the dangerous Israeli hate and racism? Is not it seeing the settlers’ attacks on the Palestinians and their homes and lands?’ The PA also condemned the remarks of Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, who described Palestinian members of the Knesset (parliament) as ‘terrorists in suits’, as well as the stated position of Orly Levy-Abekasis MK, who is adamant that she will not sit in a government that is supported by Palestinian MKs.”


Netanyahu, Likud Spread Hate of Arab Israelis, U.S. State Department Report Says,

“The U.S. State Department accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party of promoting hatred against Israel’s Arab citizens in its annual human rights report, published on Wednesday. The report also criticized Likud for placing cameras at polling stations in Arab towns and neighborhoods during the general election in April 2019.”

Israel condemns Russia for hosting Islamic Jihad leader in Moscow,

“Israel lodged an official protest on Thursday after Russia’s foreign minister held talks in Moscow with senior Islamic Jihad (PIJ) officials, including the group’s leader. The Russian embassy tweeted photos of the meeting on Wednesday, including an image with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Al-Nakhala shaking hands. The photo was deleted shortly afterwards. The Russian foreign ministry said that the two sides focused on Middle East peace efforts and the current situation in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They also discussed restoring Palestinian national unity under the platform of the PLO “as a necessary condition for establishing sustainable direct negotiations with Israel”, the Russian foreign ministry’s website said. Russia also reiterated its commitment to a two-state solution.”

Palestine advocate barred from Germany over anti-Semitism claims,

“Palestinian-Canadian journalist Khaled Barakat has been barred from entering Germany for four years over concerns his Palestinian advocacy is anti-Semitic…In a 24-page statement, German police said Barakat ‘constitutes a security risk’ because ‘his beliefs and continuous talking about liberating Palestine from the river to the sea… working on a strategy to liberate Palestine’ and ‘insisting that ‘Israel’ has no right to exist’ is anti-Semitic.”