Top News from Israel & Palestine: May 1, 2020

What We’re Reading

U.S. Politics

Redacted FBI document hints at Israeli efforts to help Trump in 2016 campaign,

“Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump who was convicted last year in Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, was in contact with one or more apparently well-connected Israelis at the height of the 2016 US presidential campaign, one of whom warned Stone that Trump was ‘going to be defeated unless we intervene’ and promised ‘we have critical intell[sic].’ The exchange between Stone and this Jerusalem-based contact appears in FBI documents made public on Tuesday. The documents — FBI affidavits submitted to obtain search warrants in the criminal investigation into Stone — were released following a court case brought by The Associated Press and other media organizations.”

US: Congress members urge Trump to restore aid to Palestinians,

“Members of Congress have urged the Trump administration to restore aid to Palestinians as they tackle the spread of the coronavirus in the occupied territories, reported Wafa news agency. In a letter addressed to Kelly Craft, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, 59 members of Congress called for urgent assistance to help fight the disease in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and neighbouring Arab countries that host Palestinian refugees. ‘As Covid-19 pandemic numbers continue to rise, we write to seek your assistance in the effort to restart US humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, including UNRWA,’ Tuesday’s letter stated.” [Dingell letter is here].

Israel, Palestine & the ICC

Chief prosecutor insists ICC has jurisdiction to probe war crimes in ‘Palestine’,

“The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Thursday reiterated her position that Palestine is a state for the purposes of transferring criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague. Dismissing the legal opinions of several states and dozens of international law scholars, Fatou Bensouda’s view, laid out in great detail in a 60-page document, could pave the way for an investigation of alleged war crimes committed in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. ‘The Prosecution has carefully considered the observations of the participants and remains of the view that the Court has jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territory,’ she wrote.” [Original 60-page document is here; observation from analyst Ben White via Twitter: “In a quirk of timing, as the Israeli gov’t gears up for annexation of West Bank territory – and as a number of settler activists & right-wing advocacy groups mobilise to justify it – the OTP has provided a concise demolition of the pro-annexation right’s pet ‘legal’ theories.”].

ICC Prosecutor doubles down that Palestine is a state,

“International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Thursday doubled down on her position that ‘Palestine’ is a state, bringing closer an alleged war-crimes legal battle with Israel.Rather than expressing a toned-down approach to the ongoing battle following dozens of legal briefs being filed in favor of Israel by key European countries and others, Bensouda appeared to brush off the opposing views and embraced the dozens of briefs filed in favor of the Palestinians. Regarding objections that her war-crimes probe would harm the peace process, Bensouda implied that the process is presently nonfunctional, and in any event, such an issue would only come up later when the ICC Pretrial Chamber considers whether the case is consistent with pursuing the ‘interests of justice.’ How the three ICC Pretrial Chamber judges rule, now that Bensouda has filed her highly influential position, will have fateful consequences for Israel on a legal, diplomatic and public-relations level.” [Also see: Arutz Sheva – ‘International Criminal Court has invented a Palestinian state’, Arutz Sheva — PA welcomes ICC chief prosecutor’s report]

Annexation on the Agenda

West Bank annexation not contingent on Palestinian state, US officials emphasize,

“Amid reports intimating that the White House is conditioning its support for Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank on Palestinian statehood, US officials said Friday that this is emphatically not the case. Rather, the administration continues to back Israel’s plans to apply sovereignty over all settlements and the Jordan Valley, as long as it’s done in the framework of the peace plan President Donald Trump presented on January 28, the officials said. ‘Our position has not changed,’ a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel on Friday. ‘As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the [Trump peace plan] foresees as being part of the State of Israel.’

11 European ambassadors warn Israel against West Bank annexation,

“Eleven European ambassadors to Israel on Thursday warned Jerusalem of severe consequences if it moves ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank as part of a government coalition deal. The envoys from the UK, Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and the EU issued a formal objection to the Foreign Ministry against the move, Channel 13 reported. The ambassadors made the protest during a video conference with the Foreign Ministry’s Europe deputy, Anna Azari.”

Israeli annexation plans would lead to “cascade of bad human rights consequences”, says UN expert,

“‘Israel’s decision to unilaterally march ahead with the planned annexation on July 1 undermines human rights in the region, and would be a severe body blow to the rules-based international order,’ said Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. It would also further undermine any remaining prospect for a just and negotiated settlement, he said. ‘If Israel’s annexation plans proceed, what would be left of the West Bank would become a Palestinian Bantustan, an archipelago of disconnected islands of territory, completely surrounded and divided up by Israel and unconnected to the outside world,’ the Special Rapporteur said. ‘The plan would crystalize a 21st century apartheid, leaving in its wake the demise of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Legally, morally, politically, this is entirely unacceptable.’”

Jordan ends historic arrangement with Israel as West Bank annexation tensions rise,

“Israeli farmers will no longer be allowed to work their fields in an enclave of southern Jordan, ending a more than 25-year arrangement meant to shore up a historic peace agreement, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry announced Thursday. The announcement reflects the poor relations between the two countries, which have been underscored by Jordan’s vocal opposition to Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Under their landmark 1994 peace deal, Jordan granted Israel a 25-year lease on two small areas along their border, Baqura and Ghamr. Last year, Jordan said it would not renew the leases, but agreed to allow Israeli farmers to continue to harvest their crops in Ghamr, known to Israelis as Tsofar, for one more season. It required the farmers, however, to obtain visas and enter the country through official border crossings, instead of the former system of allowing them to enter the areas freely. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ambassador Dhaifallah Al-Fayez, said the additional harvesting period ‘will end this evening.’” [Also see: YNet – Jordan halts Israeli farmers’ access to border enclave; YNet – As Israel returns land to Jordan, farmers are left with nothing; ToI – Last Israeli farmers leave enclave after Jordan deal ends

Arab League: Israeli annexation of West Bank would be a ‘new war crime’,

The Arab League said Thursday that Israel’s controversial proposal to annex part of the West Bank constituted a ‘new war crime’ against the Palestinians, during a virtual conference chaired in Cairo. ‘The implementation of plans to annex any part of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including the Jordan Valley… and the lands on which Israeli settlements are standing represents a new war crime… against the Palestinian people,’ Arab foreign ministers said in a joint statement. “

Lots of bark, some actual bite? How the world will react to West Bank annexation,

“The international community fiercely opposes the move, but what would it do about it? In this time of pandemic, ‘there will be little patience with Israel,’ ex-Mossad chief warns.”

Netanyahu's annexation plan can't be stopped,

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley is not just a far-right wish, but the fulfillment of long-standing Israeli security objectives. Further, despite alarms by Netanyahu’s critics in the United States and elsewhere about the plan, there is actually widespread agreement among Israelis about the strategic importance of the valley. ‪That’s why Blue and White leader Benny Gantz could sign off on the deal to form an emergency government…”

Israel doesn’t need ‘advice’ against annexation — it needs consequences,

“Half a century of occupation is ample time for powerful states like Germany to learn that rhetoric without action simply reinforces Israeli impunity.”

Top PLO official urges world action, not words, to block West Bank annexation,

“The senior Palestinian official leading Ramallah’s diplomatic effort to thwart Israel’s annexation plans is calling on world leaders to go beyond rebuke and demonstrate to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there will be real-world repercussions if he moves forward with the measure. ‘What we’re telling them is that Netanyahu can survive statements of condemnation, but he needs to hear that there will be backlash and consequences as well,’ said Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.”

Occupation/Settlements/Human Rights

Coronavirus: Amid lockdown, Israel delivers demolition orders to Palestinian village,

“When Ibrahim Issa and his neighbors saw an Israeli military vehicle driving through Qarawat Bani Hassan on Tuesday, they suspected it was just another ordinary patrol through the Palestinian village, which is surrounded by a number of illegal Israeli settlements. ‘But then we saw the car stopping at houses and posting things on doors, and we knew something was wrong,’ Issa told Middle East Eye. In a matter of hours, authorities from Israel’s Civil Administration, the military body that enforces Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank, had posted 22 demolition and stop-work orders on Palestinian properties in the village.”

Temple Mount closed to both Jews, Muslims over coronavirus,

“As a result of the coronavirus, one of the greatest sources of friction in the Middle East has found itself engulfed in a rare state of tranquility. The entire Temple Mount has been shut down to visitors, worshippers and tourists alike, and now that it is empty, the clashes that constantly plagued the sacred site have all but disappeared.”

Israeli Domestic Scene

AG who indicted Netanyahu says no legal impediment to him forming next coalition,

“There is no legal obstacle to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming and leading the next government despite the criminal charges against him, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit wrote Thursday in an opinion submitted to the High Court of Justice. The opinion was a response to a petition filed to the High Court that will be heard Sunday in front of an expanded panel of 11 judges. ‘Despite the significant difficulties that arise in this matter, they do not constitute grounds for judicial intervention,’ Mandelblit wrote with regard to the bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges that he himself in January filed against Netanyahu in three cases.”

Legislation cementing Netanyahu-Gantz power-sharing deal passes first vote,

“The Knesset on Thursday approved in its first reading a bill that seeks to enshrine in law a power-sharing deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, which would see the two rotate the premiership. The proposal, which still requires two more plenum votes, is part of a massive legislative overhaul by the two parties to entrench their unity government deal in legislation, and comes as the High Court of Justice weighs petitions on whether these parliamentary steps are constitutional. The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle with 72 lawmakers supporting it and 31 opposing.”

Israel's unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb,

“That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this ‘unity’ government. The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on ‘consensual’ issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision. Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.”

What happened to Israel’s Labor party?,

“The party used to dominate the country’s politics, but it has now lost its influence. Can a new Israeli left emerge in its wake?”

Hamas/Gaza Strip

Families of missing IDF soldiers call on government to push Hamas deal,

“Family members of Israel Defense Forces soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose bodies are held by Hamas, call on the government to push forward a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas. The Goldin family said April 29, ‘There is an opportunity to return our sons Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and civilians [Avera] Mengistu and [Hisham] al-Sayyad from the hands of Hamas. To miss the opportunity now would be a national irresponsibility.’”

Prisoner swap with Hamas gains momentum as hostage negotiator updates families,

“The possibility of a deal with the Hamas terror group to return two Israeli captives and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held in the Gaza Strip appeared to pick up momentum Wednesday, with the government’s chief negotiator for the release of Israelis held by the terror group updating families regarding the prisoner swap talks.”

Israel admits to contact with Hamas in preparation for prisoner exchange deal,

“The Israel Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday that the caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the first phone session of the ministerial committee for prisoners and missing persons affairs last week, regarding the ongoing contact with Hamas to carry out the exchange and return of the missing Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Israel Broadcasting Corporation described this as: ‘An acknowledgment of making indirect contact with Hamas about the deal.’”

Hamas leader condemns arrests by Palestinian Authority,

“Hamas has called on the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to end political detention completely because ‘it harms the unity of the Palestinian people’. Senior member Abdel Rahman Shadid asked in a statement: ‘In whose interest are these detentions and what is the goal behind them?’ He noted that political detentions are taking place at a time when the Palestinian people are facing the COVID-19 pandemic and after Israel announced its plan to annex the occupied West Bank.”

Is Hamas using coronavirus to gain support in West Bank? – analysis,

“The Palestinian Authority believes Hamas is using the coronavirus crisis to score points with Palestinians in the West Bank.In the past week, PA security forces arrested a number of Hamas activists after they were caught distributing food parcels and cash to needy families. One of those arrested by the PA security forces is Fadel Jabareen, head of the Islamic Charitable Society, a nonprofit organization in Hebron suspected of being affiliated with Hamas. Several other workers of the organization who were caught distributing food and money to families in the Hebron area have been summoned for interrogation by the PA Preventive Security Force.”


Publisher withdraws history textbook following complaint from pro-Israel lobby group,

“Publisher Hodder Education has caved in to pressure from a pro-Israel lobby group and withdrawn a GCSE history textbook containing details of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The book was intended for use with the Edexcel syllabus. Lobby group UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI), which was recently sued at the High Court of Justice in London for spreading misinformation, complained about what it called ‘misleading and confusing content’ in Conflict in the Middle East 1945-95. According to UKLFI, there was ‘a plethora of inaccurate and confusing content’ in the book, which ‘frequently refers to Jewish terrorists when their actions were against military targets.’ The group also took issue with the land being referred to as Palestine during the post-Roman era. The description of early 20th century Jewish immigrants to Palestine as ‘settlers’ was another bone of contention…Critics of Israel and its well-funded lobby groups are likely to view UKLFI’s complaints against the use of the term ‘Jewish terrorism’ particularly jarring. The pro-Israel group itself has gained notoriety for labelling pro-Palestinian groups as terrorists…Moreover, it is well-known that Jewish extremists were indeed responsible for some of the most heinous terrorist attacks during that period when Zionist extremists became British spies’ main enemy. In November 1944, for example, the Stern Gang assassinated the British Minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne.”

Banking restrictions on Interpal threaten to sever aid 'lifeline' for Palestinians,

“For almost a decade, Hani Salameh has received regular humanitarian aid provided by the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund, better known as Interpal, to support himself and his family of eight in the besieged Gaza Strip. But restrictions imposed on the British-based charity by financial institutions have left the 50-year-old anxious that the monthly payments and donations relied on by many Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the refugee camps of Jordan and Lebanon may not be sustainable…”