Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 29, 2021

What We’re Reading

Israeli Elections

Rivlin to task PM candidate next Wednesday,

“President invites party leaders to round of consultations starting next Monday which will be broadcast live; Shas leader backs Netanyahu while Gantz calls for four-way meeting with Lapid, Bennett and Saar.”

Lapid meets with Gantz as he continues to muster support; Yamina lashes out,

“Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid met with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz on Sunday night as he continued his attempts to muster support for the bloc of parties opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following Tuesday’s election. As Lapid forged ahead, the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties held talks and Yamina lashed out at Yesh Atid, saying the opposition leader was not looking for “reconciliation.””

Liberman indicates he will recommend Lapid form next government,

“Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman on Sunday indicated he will support Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to form a new government following last week’s election. Liberman did not explicitly say he will recommend Lapid get first crack at assembling a governing coalition, but pledged to back the leader of the largest party in the “change bloc” of factions opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yesh Atid, with 17 seats, is the largest party in the bloc.”

Lapid and Abbas hold talks on forming government, say will continue discussions,

“Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met Sunday with Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist Ra’am party has emerged as a potential kingmaker after the fourth inconclusive elections in two years. The meeting took place at Lapid’s home in Tel Aviv and according to the Kan public broadcaster, was facilitated by Taibe mayor Shuaa Masarwa Mansour, who is close to both party leaders.”

With Netanyahu lacking majority, Likud MK gives Islamist Ra’am a kosher stamp,

“Netanyahu repeatedly ruled out relying on Ra’am to form a government in the run-up to the March 23 elections, calling the party anti-Zionist. However, some Likud lawmakers have entertained partnering with Ra’am following this week’s elections, which saw the premier and his right-wing religious allies again fall short of a majority.”

Occupation, COVID, Settlements, & UNRWA

Gaza coronavirus numbers on the rise as new daily cases exceed the 800 mark,

“The number of new coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip continued to rise today and reach 815 patients and five deaths recorded in the last 24 hours, while 156 patients have recovered, today said Health Minister Mai Alkaila.”

Palestinians Protested the Theft of Their Land. An Israeli Army Officer Shot One of Them in the Head,

“Palestinians from Beit Dajan started holding weekly protests when a settler armed with a machine gun set up an outpost on their land; the Israeli army responded with tear gas, stun grenades and bullets”

‘Split in half’: Gaza mother's years-long wait to reunite with her children in West Bank,

“Niveen Gharqoud has only seen one of her five children in the past four years. She has been cut off from the others since sending them to live with their father, roughly 100 kilometers away in Qalqilya, a city in the occupied West Bank. Gharqoud, 39, who lives with her parents and youngest son in the Juhr al-Deek village, in the central Gaza Strip, has submitted five separate exit permit requests to Israeli authorities since 2018 in the hope of joining her husband and children in the West Bank. None have been approved.”

UNRWA calls for support to help Palestine refugees,

“In 2021, UNRWA requires US$ 318 million to secure emergency humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees affected by the conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan through its Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal. Palestine refugees in Syria and those who fled the conflict to Jordan and Lebanon rely entirely on the Agency’s services to survive their continued displacement, added the release. “As most Palestine refugees from Syria are today at least twice displaced, UNRWA calls on the international community to continue to include them in all humanitarian plans and responses around the Syria crisis,” said the release.”

Palestinian official warns of Israeli colonial settlers forming terrorist cells in the occupied West Bank,

“Israeli colonial settlers are forming terrorist cells in the occupied West Bank ready to carry out terrorist acts against Palestinian civilians, making special reference to Price Tag terror group, today said a Palestinian official. Ghassan Daghlas, an official in the settlement resistance commission in the northern West Bank, warned that Israeli terrorist cell members of Price Tag are currently operating in the Salfit governorate, mainly in several towns west of the governorate such as Kufr al-Dik, Deir Ballut, Broqin, and Bidya. On Sunday afternoon, he said, a Kufr al-Dik resident was attacked by settlers who are trying to control areas north of the town, and two others were injured by settlers’ bullets while they were on their land in Khallet Hassan, west of Bidya, several months ago.”

Israelis Want the Home From the American Dream, and Are Willing to Travel Far Away to Find It,

“Adi and Elad Lovitz, who moved to the settlement of Nokdim last summer, recount the real estate opportunities they found in the West Bank, and describe their choice to live on the other side of the 1967 border. “Living beyond the Green Line was never something we were looking for, but we weren’t deterred by the prospect. After living for seven years in Jerusalem, in the Katamonim neighborhood, we looked for a place to settle down. We looked for a community-based settlement with a mixed population, where we’d feel comfortable, at a price we could afford. We found it in Nokdim, 15 minutes from the center of Jerusalem. We bought it on paper, five rooms and a yard, for 1.7 million shekels. Until construction is finished, we’re renting here.””

The Palestinian Scene

No to Second Oslo: Al-Haq Condemns the Palestinian Authority Gas Agreement,

“Al-Haq warns that the Palestinian Authority, by entertaining this gas “sweetner” to facilitate regional and international business for Israel’s gas, is directly contributing to the permanent entrenchment of Israel’s colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and permanent closure of the Gaza Strip. The agreement amounts to corporate capture , whereby “economic elite undermine the realization of human rights and the environment by exerting undue influence over domestic and international decision-makers and public institutions”.”

Israel arrests Hamas leaders in West Bank,

“Israeli forces arrested three prominent Hamas leaders in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Friday morning, Palestinian news sources reported. The arrests come as Palestinian political factions are preparing for Palestinian Authority (PA) legislative elections on 22 May, in which the Hamas movement is expected to win a majority of seats in parliament amid splits inside the rival Fatah movement and PA leadership. Hatem Qafisha, 58, a Hamas leader and former member of Palestine’s Legislative Council (PLC), was arrested in his home in Hebron, according to official PA news agency Wafa. Israeli forces also arrested 55-year-old Issa al-Jabari – the former minister of local government in the short-lived Hamas-formed government after the 2006 elections – and Mazen al-Natsheh, 49, another prominent leader of Hamas in Hebron. Earlier this week, Israeli forces released two Hamas members after detaining them for interrogation from the Jalazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah, and detained formerly imprisoned Hamas members Bajes Nakhleh; Maher Dalaysheh; Abdul Aziz Muhieddin; Awab Mubarak; and Iyad Safi.”

Palestinian elections: What is happening?,

“The general Palestinian legislative elections due to take place May 22 has shaken up the still internal Palestinian waters. While different polls are predicting that the Fatah movement is getting slightly more votes than any other party, after 15 years without general elections and 1 million new voters, no poll can be truly trusted to reflect what will come out at the ballot boxes…For Fatah, feeling confident that they have guaranteed the speakership of the PLC and the presidency, sources told Al-Monitor that their candidates will be the more popular Palestinians and not necessarily members of the Fatah top brass. By nominating professionals and popular individuals they expect to be able to keep their movement as it has always wanted to be until a genuinely sovereign state is established — a movement for liberation and not a political party.”

Normalization & News from the Region

Jordan Keeps Israel's Border Secure. Netanyahu Aides Mock a Country 'In Decline',

“Senior officials told Haaretz that the Jordanian king’s policy keeps Israel’s eastern border quiet and secure against infiltration by terrorists or weapon smugglers. There are only three Israeli battalions deployed along Israel’s longest border, with Jordan deploying much larger forces along the 300-kilometer (186 miles) border, consisting of several brigades, expending vast efforts into preventing infiltration into Israel. Jordan’s assistance also allows Israel to save on investing resources in rehabilitating its border fence, after decades in which it has not been upgraded. In contrast, billions of shekels have gone into the fence along the borders with the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Netanyahu associates talk about Jordan with derision, usually in closed forums, describing it as a country in decline that is increasingly dependent on Israel. However, Israel’s relations with Egypt should attest to the need to maintain Jordan as a stable and friendly country.”

Also See – “Netanyahu, Don’t Endanger the Stability With Jordan” (Haaretz Editorial)

After days of struggle, salvage crews freed the giant container ship.,

“The mammoth cargo ship blocking one of the world’s most vital maritime arteries was wrenched from the shoreline and finally set free on Monday, raising hopes that traffic could soon resume in the Suez Canal and limit the economic fallout of the disruption. Salvage teams, working on land and water for six days and nights, were ultimately assisted by forces more powerful than any machine rushed to the scene: the moon and the tides.”

Chances for Israeli alliance with Saudis against Iran fading,

“Thus, Jerusalem has several reasons to be concerned. First, with President Joe Biden, Israel is losing, at least partially, its privileged statues vis-a-vis the United States. Second, the country that is supposed to be Israel’s main ally in an anti-Iranian axis — Saudi Arabia — is also being distanced by the Biden administration. Third, the Biden administration keeps multiplying appeasing messages to Tehran. For instance, on March 26, an unnamed American official told Reuters that as far as the United States was concerned, who might take the first step to resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was not an issue. All this boils down to one thing — Israel desperately needs a Biden-bypassing alliance against Iran, with Saudi Arabia as the key to such an alliance.”

Israel’s Shadow War With Iran Moves Out to Sea,

“But the attack on the Shahr e Kord this month was just one of the latest salvos in a long-running covert conflict between Israel and Iran. An Israeli official said the attack was retaliation for an Iranian assault on an Israeli cargo ship last month. Since 2019, Israel has been attacking ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas, opening a new maritime front in a regional shadow war that had previously played out by land and in the air.”

New UAE ambassador tweets Passover greetings in Hebrew,

“The United Arab Emirates ambassador to Israel tweeted a Passover greeting Sunday night in which he called for celebrating the holiday’s themes of freedom and new beginnings. Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, who is not in the country, posted his message in both Hebrew and English.”

The U.S. Scene

FMEP Legislative Round-Up March 26, 2021,

US Law, TFA, and Aid to the Palestinians – Facts vs Fiction

On 3/25, Rep. Zeldin (R-NY) issued a press release attacking the Biden Administration for its announcement that it would be providing $15 million in COVID-related humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The press releases states, as background, that “In 2018, Congressman Zeldin played an integral role in ushering into law the Taylor Force Act, which prevents American foreign aid from funding the PA unless the Secretary of State certifies that the PA has taken credible steps to end acts of violence against United States and Israeli citizens. The State Department has been unable to certify the PA has met these requirements since the PA has not terminated its Pay-to-Slay program.”

Zeldin’s press release is just the latest in an ongoing campaign by some in Congress (like Senator Cruz, R-TX, and Lamborn, R-CO) some former Trump Administration officials (most notably ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo), and some hardline Greater Israel groups (like CUFI, Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and JusticeJINSA, and the “Jewish Policy Center”) to brazenly misrepresent both the letter of the Taylor Force Act and the Congressional intent behind it, apparently for the purposes of manufacturing a controversy over Biden plans to restart aid to the Palestinians and to exact a huge political cost for it doing so (by suggesting that such aid violates both the law and the will of Congress).

To be clear: all of these people/groups have every right to oppose and lobby against re-starting aid to the Palestinians — even if some might consider opposing humanitarian aid during a pandemic cruel, dehumanizing, immoral, and even evil. But if they are going to lie about what the Taylor Force Act says/does, and about congressional intent vis-a-vis aid to the Palestinians, then it becomes necessary to set the record straight.”

Pompeo, other Republican 2024 contenders enter Iowa, wary of Trump’s long shadow,

“Ambitious Republicans are starting to make moves in Iowa, long a proving ground for future presidents. Their first step is finding out whether activists there have gotten over the last one. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the first to confront that obstacle, portraying himself Friday to Iowa GOP activists as a loyal champion of former president Donald Trump’s agenda but in his own brand of plainspoken, Midwestern conservatism…Pompeo credited Trump with putting the United States’ interests first around the world, while noting his own role in executing the vision around the world. Pompeo made a point to remind his audience he oversaw the relocation of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, long a priority to Christian conservatives. “As an evangelical Christian, the importance of Israel cannot be overstated, this important place in the world for generations to come,” he said, sparking applause from the audience. “I was glad to be just a small part of it.”

An Alternative to the [Very Problematic] IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Opposing Zionism is not hate speech, new antisemitism definition asserts,

“More than 200 international scholars, including experts on Jewish and Holocaust history, have released a new declaration on antisemitism stating that opposing Zionism, criticising Israel’s policies and boycotting Israeli products are not inherently antisemitic acts. The document, dubbed the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA), comes as a clarifying response to the 2016 working definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which Palestinian rights advocates say curbs free speech when it comes to criticism of Israel…In contrast, the JDA offers 10 examples of antisemitism, as well as five examples of views and actions endorsed by Palestinian rights activists, against the Israeli government that it says are not antisemitic. “Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean,” reads one of the examples of criticisms of Israel that is not antisemitic. “It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants ‘between the river and the sea,’ whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.””