Top News from Israel & Palestine: May 14, 2020

What We’re Reading

Annexation Watch / The Many Interpretations of Sec. Pompeo's Trip to Israel

Pompeo didn’t fly ‘halfway around the world to talk annexation’ – US official,

“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not make a lightning trip to Israel just to speak about West Bank annexation, an unnamed senior US official said Wednesday, following the top American envoy’s whirlwind visit to Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic. Two US State Department officials, speaking anonymously during a press briefing, said the the issue of annexation was not ‘the top line in Pompeo’s talks. We should dispel the notion that we flew halfway around the world to talk about annexation,’ one official said when asked about the issue.”

On Annexation, a Green Light Turns Yellow, Pompeo’s Visit to Israel Signals,

“Although Mr. Pompeo took pains to avoid publicly addressing annexation, analysts suggested that a goal of the trip was to caution Israel’s leadership against moving too quickly. Mr. Pompeo met first with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had campaigned on a promise to push ahead with annexation as soon as possible, and later with Benny Gantz, alternate prime minister in the new government, who had campaigned against unilateral annexation. Without explicitly suggesting that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz slow the process, Mr. Pompeo seemed to signal as much, telling Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper, that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz “will have to find the way forward together.’…A senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Mr. Pompeo that ‘it’s going to take a while’ for the Israeli government ‘to come together with what they’re going to do’ on the administration’s peace plan. The State Department official also said that Israel was well aware of the concerns that annexation had raised with neighboring Arab states, and was dealing with them in a ‘savvy’ way. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity due to department protocols.”

Secretary Pompeo, in Israel, Discusses Annexation Amid Coronavirus Lockdown,

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a rare diplomatic foray to Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic to advance the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that allows Israel to annex swaths of the West Bank, a key plank that if implemented could stir tensions within Israel and among key partners.”

Netanyahu leaves annexation on back burner in talks with Pompeo,

“Pompeo’s refusal to openly endorse the annexation plan was surely the reason Netanyahu did not mention the issue when speaking to the press. The Israeli prime minister needs American support for the launching of his new government. Insisting annexation now would serve nothing, as Netanyahu can in any case bring such a proposal for a vote no earlier than July 1, as the April 20 unity deal with Blue and White stipulates.”

Pompeo calls on Israel to consider 'all factors' when annexing occupied West Bank,

“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Israeli leaders to consider ‘all the factors’ in a proposed de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank, so that it aligns with Washington’s plan for the region. Pompeo made the remarks during a one-day visit to Israel on Wednesday, when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Benny Gantz. Washington’s chief diplomat did not meet with any Palestinian leaders. Pompeo said he discussed the issue of annexation with the two leaders, ‘but also many other issues related to it – how to deal with all the factors involved, and how to make sure the move is done properly to bring about an outcome in accordance with the vision of peace,’ according to the Israel Hayom newspaper.”

Israel’s new government may have Netanyahu at the top but still mark a change,

“’I think the general tenor is going to more moderate and more cautious’  Freilich said. The exception, he said, was the possible annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. That issue is baked into the coalition agreement, which permits Netanyahu to bring the issue to a vote in either the cabinet or the Knesset after July 1. But the scope of annexation, which was envisaged in the Trump peace plan, has yet to be determined. It is unclear whether Gantz, who says he supports annexation if enacted as part of the entire plan that also provides for a Palestinian state, will try to reduce the scale of an action that could spark violence in the territories and roil diplomacy in the region.”

Israeli Politics

Netanyahu informs Rivlin he has formed a government,

“Israel will finally have a new government late Thursday night ending nearly 18 months of political chaos after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally wrote President Reuven Rivlin and outgoing Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on Wednesday night informing them that he had built a governing coalition. A special session of the Knesset plenum will start at 6pm on Thursday evening. There will be a vote for Netanyahu’s confidant, outgoing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, as the new Knesset speaker at 10pm, 48 hours after Gantz’s resignation will take effect.”

As government set to be sworn in, Gantz doles out 8 ministries,

“In meetings throughout the day, Gantz confirmed Ashkenazi as foreign minister for the next 18 months before he assumes defense, and MK Avi Nissenkorn as justice minister. He tapped MK Pnina Tamano-Shata as immigration absorption minister, making her the first Ethiopia-born immigrant in Israel’s history to join the cabinet. MK Izhar Shai, an electrical engineer, was appointed science and technology minister, while party lawmaker Chili Tropper will head the Culture and Sports Ministry. MK Alon Shuster will lead the Agriculture Ministry.”

Yamina’s Peretz splits party to join government, will become Jerusalem minister,

“Yamina MK Rafi Peretz on Thursday walked away from the right-wing alliance to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, accepting the premier’s offer to be appointed Jerusalem affairs and national projects minister. The move by the outgoing education minister and former IDF chief rabbi was met with anger among some of his Yamina allies, who were shunted to the opposition after failing to cut a deal with Netanyahu’s Likud on ministerial portfolios.” Also See: “Bennett Heads to the Opposition With Qualms as Ally Splits From Right-wing Slate” (Haaretz)

Netanyahu said to offer Miri Regev Foreign Ministry when Gantz takes premiership,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly offered Likud’s Miri Regev to be appointed foreign minister in 18 months, when Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz takes over as premier in the rotation government between the two parties. According to a Channel 12 news report Wednesday, under Netanyahu’s offer Regev will begin as transportation minister in the new government, before moving to the Foreign Ministry when Gantz becomes prime minister on November 14, 2021.”

Netanyahu, Bennett fail to reach agreement for Yamina to join new coalition,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett failed to reach an agreement Wednesday on the latter’s entry into the incoming government, with the two sides continuing to quarrel over what positions Yamina lawmakers would receive in the coalition. Bennett and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet in person but ended up speaking by phone, with Yamina charging that the Prime Minister’s Office was ‘unwilling’ to schedule a face-to-face meeting.”

Ten Days Until Netanyahu’s Trial Begins: Everything You Need to Know,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will finally stand trial for suspected bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a Jerusalem courtroom on May 24. The opening of the premier’s trial follows years of investigations, deliberations and legal proceedings that eventually took place during the course of three election campaigns, capped by a last-minute delay due to the coronavirus crisis. Here is everything you need to know about the case:”

Occupation, & Human Rights

Palestinian Shot Dead After Suspected Car-ramming Attack in the West Bank,

“A Palestinian man was shot dead on Thursday by Israeli military forces in the West Bank after a suspected car-ramming attack. The Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson said the suspect was shot at the scene, near the settlement of Negohot, south-east of Hebron, adding the army is looking into the incident. Emergency medical teams reported a soldier in his early 20s was rushed to the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva in moderate to serious condition after being hit. The Israeli army spokesperson said in a statement that the suspect ‘drove quickly toward IDF soldiers next to a military post.’ The suspect then ‘hit one of the soldiers, and another soldier opened fire at the terrorist and neutralized him. The wounded man was sent for medical treatment in a hospital.'”

The abandoned harvests of 1948: Palestinian farmers remember the Nakba,

“For the three-quarters of Palestinians at the time living in rural areas in particular, the Nakba upended life as they knew it. The British retreat and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians coincided with the harvest season, the loss of which for farmers would have been a calamity in itself. Khadija al-Azza, 88, recalled the moment when Zionist militias attacked her village, Tell al-Safi. ‘It was mid-summer, and the farmers had already piled the wheat on the threshing floor when Jewish armed gangs attacked the village, killing many farmers,’ she said. ‘Terrified villagers fled and left the heaps of wheat unthreshed. We thought that we would return to thresh it’.”

Israel’s top court cancels bonus plan for artists performing in settlements,

“Israel’s High Court canceled May 13 the bonus system put in place by Culture Minister Miri Regev for artists performing in West Bank settlements…The 2-1 High Court ruling came in response to a petition filed in 2016 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The group contested rules put into place by Regev to offer preferential treatment and bonuses to artists and cultural institutions who performed in settlements. The justices rejected Regev’s claim that incentives to artists performing in settlements were part of a Culture Ministry plan to encourage cultural performances in the periphery. ‘The justification for the alleged inequality in incentives for performances in the West Bank is that the area is part of the ‘cultural periphery’ and that institutions perform there less frequently than in other areas of the periphery. I looked at the arguments and data presented, and I found no evidence to support that argument,’ wrote Justice Hanan Melcer.” Also See: “Agreeing to Perform in Settlements Can’t Be Criteria for Funding of Arts, Israel’s Top Court Rules” (Haaretz)

Israel expands settlement projects around Hebron’s mosque,

“Israel will expropriate land of a size yet to be determined in the vicinity of Ibrahimi Mosque, owned by the Islamic Waqf or religious endowment in Jerusalem. The measure is another step in Israel’s quest to take over the mosque, located in Area H2 in Hebron, which falls under Israel’s full control.”

COVID-19 & Palestine/Israel

Israel Tells Court Would Stop Forcing Palestinian Laborers to Give Access to Phone Data,

“More than 50,000 Palestinians downloaded an app that gives Israel access to files and data from their cell phones. Contrary to what Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories says, employers were required to have Palestinian laborers use the app. The Civil Administration said it would change the terms of use for the Al Munasiq (Arabic for “The Coordinator”) app that was criticized for being invasive, but so far it has not happened. The decision came in response to an inquiry by Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual. The Al Munasiq app was first launched by COGAT in February 2019, as a way to offer digital access to services for Palestinians, such as checking on the status of permit applications. But in downloading the app, the user is required to give very broad permission to access information on geographical location, access to the phone’s camera and to messages and files stored on the phone.”

For Medicinal Purposes The Israeli Military Sector and the Coronavirus Crisis,

“In this flash report, Who Profits will investigate the coronavirus-related activities of the Israeli military establishment and private enterprises, focusing on new initiatives reportedly launched by the three largest and most lucrative Israeli military corporations: the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the publicly traded Elbit Systems.”

How Palestinian citizens are putting Israel’s coronavirus powers in check,

“Among those at the forefront of the legal battle against these far-reaching measures is the legal center Adalah. A small, Haifa-based NGO that focuses on issues relating to Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians in the occupied territories, Adalah has filed a number of interventions to the Supreme Court against the new regulations.”

Farmers, shepherds face loss of livelihoods in occupied West Bank,

“In the occupied West Bank, farmers and shepherds are being hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A lockdown across the territory has slowed an economy that was already in crisis. They have been left without any markets to sell their produce and it could threaten their way of life.”


Israel at the ICC

Bipartisan lawmakers call on Pompeo to defend Israel against ICC probes,

“A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers sent separate letters Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for the U.S. to defend Israel against investigations by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The lawmakers argued moves by the ICC to investigate Israel for war crimes against Palestinians is a “politicization” and “misuse” of the court’s intended purposes. The Senate letter was led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and included 69 signatures. In the House, Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) led their letter of over 260 signatures.”