Top News from Israel & Palestine: May 20, 2020

What We’re Reading

Palestinians vs. Annexation

Palestinian leader Abbas announces end to agreements with Israel and US,

“Speaking after an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, the 85-year-old leader said Israeli annexation of any parts of the occupied West Bank would ruin chances for a two-state solution. ‘The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine, with all its consequences and repercussions,’ said Abbas.”

See Also:

  • “Palestinian President Abbas Declares End to Agreements With Israel, U.S” (Haaretz)
  • “Abbas: PA no longer bound by accords with Israel and US, including on security” (The Times of Israel)
  • “President Abbas declares end to agreements with Israel, US; turns over responsibility on occupied lands to Israel” (WAFA)
  • “Abbas Says Security Cooperation Will End, Raising Stakes for Israeli Annexation” (New York Times)

Palestinians doubt Abbas's threats will stop Israeli settlement annexation,

“’We are still hopeful that the Israeli government and the US administration will get the message and change their policies and measures,’ the official told The Jerusalem Post. ‘President Abbas made an announcement last night, and we are waiting to see how the world is going to react. In any case, we won’t take any real measures before the Israeli government officially announces the annexation of parts of the West Bank.’ A Fatah official said that he and many Palestinians don’t believe Abbas’s threat would make an impression on anyone.”

Germany, Palestinian Authority Release Joint Statement Against Israeli Annexation Plan,

“The statement, which follows similar warnings from other European countries and the European Union, was released after a virtual meeting chaired by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas took place.”

Occupation & Human Rights

This is Jerusalem: Violence and Dispossession in al-‘Esawiyah,

“The ongoing, violent police operation in al-‘Esawiyah throws into relief what Israel has already made clear regarding the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem: as occupier, it sees the people who live there as no more than subjects who can be treated as it wishes. Israel’s policy regarding these neighborhoods is driven by its goal to take over as much land as possible and expand its control as far as it can – utterly ignoring the harsh consequences for residents, which include extreme poverty, unbearably crowded living conditions and planning chaos. Since annexing East Jerusalem, Israel has viewed the Palestinians who live there as an unwanted addition. The policy it implements in these neighborhoods – which is particularly blatant in al-‘Esawiyah – is aimed at incessantly pressuring the residents. In the short term, this is meant to oppress Palestinians in the city, control them and keep them poor, underprivileged and in a state of constant anxiety. Given Israel’s declared intention to ensure a Jewish demographic supremacy in Jerusalem, the long-term goal of this cruel policy appears to be to drive Palestinians to breaking point, so that they “choose” to desert their homes and leave the city.”

Multiple Demolitions in Al-Walajeh Area Marked for a National Park “Touristic Settlement”,

“On May 18, Israeli forces demolished at least three homes and three agricultural structures in Al-Walajeh on the southern edge of East Jerusalem. All of the demolitions took place on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier in an area of roughly 1,200 dunams of Al-Walajeh land declared by Israel as the Nahal Rephaim National Park and touted as being ‘for the welfare of Jerusalem residents’. The demolitions were carried out despite the fact that currently no demolitions are taking place in East Jerusalem in accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s declaration from March 18 that demolitions of residential structures  will not take place during the COVID19 emergency situation. Furthermore, the home owners were not aware that any demolition orders were issued for their buildings. It is likely that the demolitions were carried out as part of the preparations taking place for the opening of the Nahal Rephaim National Park to Israeli visitors, seeing as the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) has been conducting extensive work on the site over the last couple of months.”

In first, direct commercial flight from UAE lands in Tel Aviv,

“United Arab Emirates-based Etihad Airways made history on Tuesday, flying a plane loaded with virus aid for Palestinians on a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, marking the first known direct commercial flight between Israel and the UAE…An Israeli official said the flight was delivering humanitarian aid provided by the UAE to the Palestinians through the World Food Program, and that the cargo flight was coordinated with the Israeli government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.”

[Press Release] Order the army to stop the use of violent measures against Gaza fishermen...,

“In recent weeks, the Israeli navy has increasingly used violent enforcement measures at sea, with incidents of fire on fishermen off the coast of Gaza rising by 70 percent in April compared to January-March 2020. The use of live fire threatens fishermen’s lives and causes severe damage to boats and equipment. All this against the backdrop of great economic uncertainty and increased concern for the well-being and food security of Gaza’s civilian population given the measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Human rights organizations Gisha, Adalah and Gaza-based Al Mezan sent an urgent letter to Israel’s Attorney General and Military Advocate General, demanding they order the army to put an immediate end to the harassment of fishermen and investigate past incidents…In the letter sent on behalf of the three organizations, Gisha lawyer Muna Haddad stated that ‘the policy of using potentially lethal force against fishermen and causing severe, irreversible harm to their property is illegal and disproportionate.’ According to fishermen’s testimonies, the navy uses violent measures even when fishing vessels are located within the permitted fishing zone. Adv. Haddad emphasized that ‘in any case, sailing outside of the fishing zone does not, in itself, pose a security threat that justifies use of force ostensibly intended to enforce security restrictions.'”

Few Palestinians in Jerusalem covet Israeli citizenship,

“Only 15% of Palestinians living in Jerusalem would choose Israeli over Palestinian citizenship, compared to 52% in 2015, according to an opinion poll by the Washington Institute for Middle East Studies. The poll was supervised by David Pollock, who presented the poll during a virtual lecture hosted by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research on May 9. The poll, conducted over 2018, 2019 and the first two months of 2020, revealed significant changes in opinions among the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, compared to previous surveys in 2010, 2011 and 2015.”

Jerusalem Day march to be replaced with 700-person chain around Old City,

“Police and organizers came to an agreement Wednesday on holding a smaller, more coronavirus-friendly Jerusalem Day march on Thursday, to mark the anniversary of Israel taking control of the Temple Mount compound and the eastern parts of the city during the 1967 Six Day War. The day is usually marked by a right-wing march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter ending at the Western Wall, and has in the past been blamed for increased tensions between Jews and Arabs. According to the agreement reached with the Israel Police, instead of a march through the Old City’s narrow warren of streets, 700 people will be allowed to form a human chain, with two meters between links, around many of the Old City gates, organizers said in a statement.”

Annexation Watch

Annexation is not just about stealing land — it’s about expelling Palestinians,

“So why, after more than fifty years of this “permanent temporariness,” is Israel deciding to make this reality official? And what should the response from Palestinians be? The answer lies in what Israel may be preparing to announce: not only the absorption of the settlements and surrounding land, which are already under its control, but also the final cleansing of the Palestinians who remain in those areas. That plan has been unfolding for years in places like the Jordan Valley, E1, and the South Hebron Hills, but it could be pursued more swiftly once formal annexation is declared.”

Israel’s annexation of Palestinian land will be the result of U.S. policy, not a betrayal of it,

“Concern about Israel’s impending annexation of the West Bank is rightly placed, but we should be honest about how we got here. Formal annexation is the predictable outcome of decades of unequivocal support for Israeli policies and is simply a rubber stamp for Israel’s de facto annexation of Palestinian lands, as well as its current administration of a separate-and-unequal apartheid regime.”

Land grab and deportation: A leading Israeli lawyer's annexation prediction,

“In an interview held last week, Sfard warned that annexation will have disastrous implications for the Palestinians residents in the annexed territories and their property. Yet at the same time, he claimed that if annexation is stopped this time, it will be off the table ‘for a hundred years’.”

How Israeli Annexation Talk Is Already Reshaping the Middle East,

“Looking to push back against Israel, Abbas would likely allow demonstrations and even some small-scale violence against Israel to coalesce. Under that scenario, Palestinian security forces would no longer halt protesters before they reached the sensitive seam zones between Israeli and Palestinian control. There is even a chance that Abbas would mobilize the members of his Fatah party’s long-dormant popular militia, the Tanzim, to take to the streets—a situation that multiple Israeli security officials have described to Foreign Policy as a game-changer. Eviatar predicted that Abbas would not allow Palestinians to stage armed attacks nor let members of his security forces turn their guns on Israel. ‘So long as Abbas doesn’t release everything completely’ there is still a chance, however remote, that the escalation could be controlled, if not calibrated, he said. But an escalation was likely. As Eviatar put it, from the Palestinian perspective it may be a case of, ‘If not now, then when?’”

How Israel’s Likud Party played the long game toward annexation of the West Bank,

“As a political group, Likud has been committed to annexation for decades…’The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable, and is linked with the right to security and peace,’ the platform’s first paragraph said. ‘Therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the Jordan there will be only Israel sovereignty.’ The document added that once in power, Likud would encourage young Israelis ‘to settle and help every group and individual in the task of inhabiting and cultivating the wasteland, while taking care not to displace anyone.’ The West Bank was not a ‘wasteland,’ but acting as if it were provided cover for keeping it in Israeli hands…Likud has never repudiated the goals stated in that 1977 platform. It was a Labor Party government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, not Likud, that entered into the Oslo Accords of 1993, which aimed at setting the Palestinians on a path to ‘self-determination.’”

Netanyahu Goes to Trial

Court Denies Netanyahu's Request to Skip First Session of His Corruption Trial,

“The Jerusalem District Court rejected on Wednesday a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be absent during the first session of his corruption trial, set for Sunday. The three-judge panel ruled that the reasoning behind Netanyahu’s request did not justify such a deviation from the norm, which requires the presence of the accused at the opening of his or her trial. ‘This is how it is in every criminal proceeding, and this is how it will be in current criminal proceeding,’ the judges wrote in their ruling.”

Netanyahu lawyers slam demand for him to appear at trial opener,

“Attorneys for Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday lashed out at the State Prosecutor’s Office after it expressed its opposition to the prime minister being absent at the opening session of his criminal trial next week. Netanyahu’s lawyers Amit Haddad and Micha Fetman claimed the state is participating in a media campaign launched by his opponents who would like to see him in the position of the accused. The trial was due to begin in March but was postponed after interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana declared emergency measures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Netanyahu submitted a request to Jerusalem District Court to be excused from the reading of criminal charges against him on Sunday, claiming the proceedings would be no more than a technicality.”

U.S. Politics & Free Speech vs. Israel

Joe Biden: Israeli Threat of Annexation, Settlement Activity 'Will Choke Off Hope of Peace',

“Former Vice President and presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he opposes Israeli annexation of the West Bank, as part of his general opposition to ‘unilateral steps’ that would ‘undercut the prospects for peace.’ Biden, speaking at a virtual fundraiser with Jewish supporters, explained that he opposes calls by other Democratic politicians, most notably Senator Bernie Sanders, to conditions military aid to Israel over changing its policy towards the Palestinians, calling the idea ‘irresponsible.’ Biden also said during the call that the Palestinians must acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, ‘flat out,’ and that while Israel should stop settlement activity, “we also shouldn’t let the Palestinians off the hook” for issues like incitement and support for terrorism.”

Intel: Biden warns against West Bank annexation as Israel lobbies Trump for green light,

“Former Vice President Joe Biden told campaign donors today that any Israeli annexation of the West Bank would ‘choke off any hope for peace,’ according to a transcript of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s remarks seen by Al-Monitor. ‘We also have to make clear I do not support annexation,’ the presumptive Democratic nominee said at a virtual fundraiser with Jewish Democrats. ‘Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace. Today neither [Israel’s] present government or the Palestinians want to take steps thanks to President Trump’s unilateralism.’

Biden Calls Out ‘Anti-Semitism’ on the Left and Criticizes Israeli Policies,

“’Criticism of Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitism,’ Mr. Biden said. ‘But too often that criticism from the left morphs into anti-Semitism’…The remarks came as Mr. Biden works to unite the Democratic Party and appeal to progressives, especially younger ones, who viewed him with suspicion during the primary race. A cohort of younger progressives have been outspoken in opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, particularly under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Biden did not cite any specific examples of anti-Semitic comments on the left or specifically identify individuals or groups that he was concerned about….Mr. Biden was asked directly by one of the hosts about how to respond to anti-Semitism on the left, according to a transcript provided by a person on the call. ‘We have to condemn it, and I’ve gotten in trouble for doing that,’ the former vice president replied. ‘Whatever the source, right, left or center.’ A day before the fund-raiser, Mr. Biden had written a letter to a group, Democratic Majority for Israel, that opposed his leading rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, during the primaries. ‘I am grateful for and humbled by your statement of support for this campaign,’ Mr. Biden wrote. The letter was read aloud during an online meeting by Antony J. Blinken, a senior Biden adviser.”

GW University under fire for appointing BDS activist to head international affairs school,

“Administrators at The George Washington University are facing growing pressure from national Jewish groups over the appointment of a BDS activist as temporary head of the college’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Dr. Ilana Feldman was one of the leaders of an unsuccessful 2016 campaign in the American Anthropological Association to adopt a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions. She has been a professor at the university since 2007, serving for the last year as vice dean. Feldman was appointed as the school’s interim dean on May 4 — while administrators search for a permanent replacement — following Reuben Brigety II’s announcement that he would be stepping down from the post.”