Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 18, 2020

What We’re Reading


Watchdog says Israel’s West Bank settlements surged in 2019,

“Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank surged ahead in 2019, a watchdog group said in a report Tuesday, maintaining a rapid pace that has drawn strength from the friendly policies of the Trump administration. Peace Now, a monitoring group that opposes the settlements, said that Israel’s average annual construction rate has risen 25% since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Perhaps more significantly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government last year approved plans to build thousands of new homes, laying the groundwork for a sharp spike in construction in the coming years. That included an explosion in plans for new settlement projects approved early this year. ‘In my opinion, they’re trying to take advantage of the window of opportunity that they have under the Trump administration, knowing that it might change in a few months,’ said Hagit Ofran, a researcher for the group. ‘There was no such supportive administration for the settlements previously, ever.’”

Full Peace Now report is available here.

Israeli Domestic Politics

Blue and White-led bloc demands Knesset reopen,

“Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn has presented Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with a letter signed by 61 MKs demanding that he open the plenum, according to Hebrew language media reports. The demand comes after Edelstein shut down the Knesset saying he would only re-open it after giving unity talks a chance. The letter demands that Edelstein open the Knesset so the Knesset can vote on an Arrangements Committee, which will then allow it to staff various committees to begin parliamentary work. The move will essentially place the Likud-led right-religious bloc in the opposition and may see Edelstein himself replaced. By law, such a letter from 61 MKs is supposed to force the opening of the Knesset.” Update: Gantz says Blue and White to fight Knesset closure in the High Court of Justice

Renegade MK files breakaway request from Labor-Meretz after U-turn on Joint List,

“Gesher party chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis filed a request to the Knesset on Tuesday to be identified as an individual, one-lawmaker faction in parliament, effectively ending her partnership with the left-leaning Labor and Meretz with whom she had merged ahead of last month’s election. The move comes a week after she split with fellow faction members in a dramatic about face, declaring that she would not support a minority government led by Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz backed from outside by the mainly Arab Joint List. She wrote in a Facebook post then that she was not beholden to her agreement with the Meretz party, which had been ‘forced’ on her and Labor chairman Amir Peretz. Twelve days before the election she had written that she had “no problem whatsoever” with joining a government supported from the outside by the Joint List, including its ultra-nationalist Balad faction.”

Another Blue and White MK opposes minority government,

“MK Omer Yankelevitch, a member of the Blue and White faction on behalf of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, opposes the establishment of a left-wing minority government that will rely on the votes of the members of the Arab Joint List party. According to a report on Tuesday on Channel 12 News, Yankelevitch announced her position to Gantz, joining MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who are members of the Blue and White faction on behalf of Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party. However, according to the report, officials in Blue and White believe that, unlike Hauser and Hendel, Yankelevitch will vote according to faction discipline on this matter.”

Activists distribute flyers urging MKs: 'Don't enable an anti-Zionist government!',

“Approximately 50,000 door hangers and flyers were distributed over the past few days in neighborhoods of lawmakers from the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties, calling on them to oppose a government that is backed and reliant on the Joint Arab List. The initiative, carried out by the Zionist organization Im Tirtzu, focused on Blue and White MKs Zvi Hauser, Yoaz Hendel, Gabi Ashkenazi and Hili Tropper, and on Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer…”

What’s Happening Here Is a Transfer of Citizenship,

“…The right to determine the composition of the government is a basic right of every citizen in a democratic state. One way of exercising this right is by participating in an election. Another way is by citizens voting for their representatives in the legislature. Hanna Arendt talked about citizenship as ‘having the right to have rights,’ the right from which all other rights emanate. Arendt believed that universal human rights were important, but that these rights were meaningless without the ability to exercise these as part of being citizens in a state. The position taken by the prime minister and these Knesset members denies Arab citizens a significant part of their right to have rights. It is equivalent to a transfer of their citizenship.”

Israeli MP presents bills to annex Jordan Valley, impose death penalty on Palestinians,

“A right-wing Israeli parliamentarian submitted two bills to the Knesset on Wednesday seeking to permanently annex the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea and the Hebron desert in the occupied West Bank to Israel, as well as impose the death penalty on Palestinian political prisoners. Miki Zohar, the head of the Likud faction in the Knesset, said that the two bills he submitted would ‘embarrass’ former army general Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu.”


Netanyahu Exploits Coronavirus Fears to Consolidate Authoritarian Hold on Power,

“…In the past 48 hours alone, Netanyahu has capitalized on his country’s fear by postponing his own trial, assuming, correctly, that people fear coronavirus more than the criminal. He compelled Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to subvert the outcome of this month’s elections by preventing the newly constituted Knesset from nominating a new speaker in his stead. And he opened Israel’s door to a totalitarian state by deploying the Shin Bet’s formidable surveillance apparatus on Israeli citizens, with no external or parliamentary oversight.” Also see: Al-Monitor – Netanyahu’s coronavirus strategy erodes Israel’s democracy and New York Times – Netanyahu’s Bold Moves: Fighting a Virus or Risking Democracy?

IDF, going on war footing to fight virus, expects crisis could last up to a year,

“The Israel Defense Forces are going on a war footing to help Israel combat the coronavirus, believing that the crisis could last for several months and even up to one year, Channel 13 reported Tuesday.”

Police told to prepare for ‘inevitable’ nationwide lockdown,

“Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has instructed the Israel Police to prepare for a complete lockdown of the country, calling such a move ‘inevitable.’”

Jerusalem alliance fills gap in coronavirus awareness,

“The coronavirus has triggered a badly needed alliance in East Jerusalem. Al-Tajamu al-Maqdisi (the Jerusalem Alliance) was launched March 15 to confront the novel coronavirus by volunteers and Jerusalem-based nongovernmental organizations with the aim of raising awareness and providing emergency needs for the city’s 350,000 Palestinians. Ahmad Budeiri, the coordinator of the alliance, told Al-Monitor that the group is made up of 36 Jerusalem-based organizations and volunteers and is not a political entity. ‘We are dealing with the issue of the coronavirus strictly from a humanitarian point of view and we are basing all our efforts on sound advice from professionals, especially the World Health Organization [WHO], which is part of our alliance,’ he added. A number of international NGOs are part of the alliance.”

Officials step up Arabic-language virus news, though Hebrew info more detailed,

“The Health Ministry has stepped up its efforts to provide updates in Arabic about the novel coronavirus after coming under sharp criticism for largely failing to do so, but it still continues to share greater information in Hebrew. At the beginning of the virus outbreak in Israel, the ministry dragged its feet in posting information on most of its official platforms in Arabic. For example, even after authorities announced last Monday that everyone returning to Israel from abroad must quarantine themselves for two weeks, the ministry’s website in Arabic continued to feature outdated guidelines, stating that only people returning from a handful of countries needed to do so. Several lawmakers of the Arab-majority Joint List subsequently reached out to the ministry, demanding that it make vital information more accessible in Arabic. Shortly thereafter, the health ministry responded and updated its guidelines on its Arabic site.” Also see +972 – Israel didn’t publish coronavirus guidance in Arabic — so Palestinians stepped in

Coordinating with Abbas, Israel puts virus closure on PA-ruled West Bank areas,

“Israel closed off Palestinian-administered areas of the West Bank on Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus, an official said. ‘From today, a closure has taken place in the West Bank [not applying to settlements, of course],’ said Yotam Shefer, who heads the international department of COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He told journalists the decision had been made in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority government, based in Ramallah. The border crossing with the Gaza Strip has been closed in recent days and will remain so, Shefer added. The 70,000 Palestinians in the West Bank with permits to work in Israel, who cross back and forth daily, now have three days to either enter permanently for the next one to two months or remain in the West Bank, the PA government announced Tuesday night. Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank will still be allowed to cross over daily, Shefer said.”

PA puts Bethlehem-area village on lockdown after 3 more coronavirus cases,

“The Palestinian Authority’s Bethlehem governor, Kamel Hamid, on Tuesday ordered security forces to tell residents of the neighboring village of Beit Sahour to not enter public spaces, the official PA news site Wafa reported, after three people there tested positive for the coronavirus.” Also see: +972 – Coronavirus lockdown turns Bethlehem into a ghost town

Can blockade shield Gaza Strip from epidemic?,

“According to an Israeli defense source who talked to Al-Monitor, Israel is making a tremendous effort to transfer goods to Gaza via Kerem Shalom including basic foodstuffs, basic hygiene materials and equipment for factories and small businesses. But it is not clear whether Israel will continue to allow imports into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom border crossing a few weeks from now. If the current crisis continues and worsens over the coming months, then Israel will certainly disallow imports into Gaza. How sad it is that when Israel finally opened the border crossings to laborers and merchants, along came an enemy of different stripes that returned Gaza to the harsh days of lockdown. True, the closure is for Gazans’ protection, but a closure is a closure.” Also see: video report from Al Jazeera – Gaza prepares for potential coronavirus outbreak

Palestinian prisoners to protest as Israel not preventing coronavirus spread,

“Israeli prison administration are being accused of not taking the proper measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and treat those who may become sick, and are instead using the disease to continue their abuse of Palestinian prisoners, Wafa news agency reported. Fears of a coronavirus outbreak in prisons holding Palestinian detainees were compounded by reports that an inmate at the Ashkelon prison was removed as a precaution after being examined by an Israeli doctor who suspected him of being infected with COVID-19. Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian media reported that there were suspected cases of the virus in two other prisons: Ramleh prison in central Israel, and the Moscobiya detention centre in Jerusalem. Also see: Israel stops providing cleaning products to Palestine detainees