Top News from Israel & Palestine: May 6, 2020

What We’re Reading

Annexation/"Deal of the Century" Watch

'Applying Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is Israel's decision',

“The United States is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria in the coming weeks, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Israel Hayom Tuesday in a special interview held on the occasion of the two-year anniversary to the relocation of the American Mission in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Friedman explained that several processes must be completed prior to this move, saying the timetable for those dependents mainly on Israel, but made it clear that Washington does not plan to impose any new conditions for the move.” See Also: “US ambassador says Washington ‘ready to recognize annexation’ within weeks” (TOI); “Friedman to ‘Post’: To annex, Netanyahu must tell Abbas he’ll negotiate state” (Jerusalem Post) 

The Dark Side of Annexing the Jordan Valley: Whitewashing Land Theft,

“Behind the ideological fervor and the alleged security motive, lies a plot to launder stolen land. Imposing Israeli law on Area C (the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under Israeli control), including the Jordan Valley, will effectively transfer vast areas legally registered in the names of a great many Palestinians to the State of Israel. The Palestinian owners of these lands were expelled or fled to Jordan during the Six-Day War and were settled in refugee camps. Many of the displaced, whose numbers are estimated from 100,000 to almost 300,000 people, were refugees from 1948 who left behind houses and lands in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem. Imposing Israeli law on Area C will immediately turn their property into “abandoned property,” or in other words, it would become the property of the occupying-annexing state.”

Shikaki: Annexation pressures Abbas to end Oslo, security coordination,

“‘The PA president “normally uses threats as ways to convince others to abort what they are trying to do. In most cases when they call his bluff, he does nothing. So we do not know if he will do it this time,’ he said. ‘If his threat is simply a bluff, he loses the public. If he goes ahead, the consequences for the entire PA and the entire Palestinian public will be extremely serious,’ the professor said.”

The day after annexation: Israel, Palestine and the one-state reality,

“To the chagrin of settlers, however, successive Israeli governments have avoided extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank until now – with the exception of East Jerusalem which was annexed in 1980. The reasons for such reluctance are multiple and complex – but stem in large part from Israel’s desire to preserve a degree of ambiguity concerning the status of the West Bank so as to avoid trapping itself in a binational state where Jews would be on demographic parity with Palestinians. Thanks to a combination of domestic politics and concerted pressure from the Trump administration, Israel is now finally on the verge of making this formal shift from de facto to de jure annexation…Without this convenient fig-leaf, the naked one-state reality of open-ended occupation and unequal rights for Palestinians would be visible for all to see. The disappearance of this fig-leaf, courtesy of the settler movement, will bring into stark relief the reality of apartheid that exists on the ground today. “

Can Jordan stop Israeli annexation?,

“Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies, told Al-Monitor that the treaty with Israel is a very sensitive issue for Jordan, saying, ‘It is one of the hardest questions that they will have to answer.’ Rantawi agrees that for Jordan, the issue of annexing the Jordan Valley is existential to the idea of a Palestinian state. ‘The problem is that this question is coming up at a very difficult time for Jordan economically because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ he added. Jordan was swift to lock down the country, a move that saved lives but has left the economy in tatters.”

Occupation Continues...

Israel approves thousands of housing units in West Bank,

“The cabinet announced a plan for thousands of new settlement homes in the West Bank on Wednesday as Washington voiced readiness to back de facto Israeli annexations there…Fresh construction for the settlement of Efrat was approved on land that could accommodate ‘around 7,000 housing units’, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement. ‘The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second,’ tweeted Bennett.”

Humanitarianism Hebron Style,

“The plan to make the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque accessible is not merely a matter of a minor building addition. The Civil Administration intends to put up a structure at the cost of at least 5.5 million NIS, including an lift, a sleeve to connect the lift shaft to the structure of the tomb and leveling the ground so as to enable worshippers to pass through. Additionally, the administration will need to expropriate land that at present belongs to the Islamic Waqf. In other words, in terms of the scope of the work, making the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque accessible to persons with disabilities involves a significant change in the structure…Going ahead with the plan, in effect, constitutes an annulment of the agreement that stipulates the Palestinians are responsible for the site and a reversal of the implicit recognition of the site as a Palestinian heritage site. Israel indeed has the power to trample the Palestinians and it does so in various ways on a daily basis, but the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque is not just a holy site but also a symbol in the national struggle.  Israel’s decision to seize responsibility for the site from the Hebron municipality and the Palestinians sends a clear political message that Israel is reneging on agreements that were signed with the Palestinians in Hebron.  Beyond the precedent that will enable the settlers in the future to demand additional changes at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, this is also a precedent that could play out at other sites under the responsibility of the Islamic Waqf. Experience has shown us that what begins in Hebron percolates into other places including Jerusalem.”

COVID-19 & Palestine/Israel

Palestinians fear outbreak in Jerusalem’s ‘no man’s land’,

“As the coronavirus pandemic gathered strength last month, community leaders in a Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem tried to impose lockdown and quarantine measures to protect residents. The problem: there were no police to enforce the measures. Kufr Aqab is within the Israeli-drawn municipal boundary of Jerusalem, which Israel views as its unified capital. It is therefore off-limits to the Palestinian Authority, which is headquartered in the nearby city of Ramallah and governs parts of the occupied West Bank. But the neighborhood is on the opposite side of the separation barrier Israel built in the mid-2000s, so the Israeli police don’t go there either.”

UNRWA operating month to month under COVID-19, as funding crisis persists,

“The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has only enough funds to operate month by month as it struggles to service 5.6 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Right now we have funding to pay our 30,000 health care workers until the end of this month,’ Elizabeth Campbell, UNRWA’s Washington-based director told reporters during a Zoom call on Tuesday.”

Arab mayors in Israel strike against unfair distribution of pandemic funding,

“Arab Israeli local councils began a one-day strike this morning against the government’s failure to allocate enough funds to compensate for their losses due to the novel coronavirus crisis. A committee of Arab Israeli council heads condemned the government’s distribution of compensation to local governance for the loss of property tax payments from business owners who were forced to their close doors by coronavirus restrictions. They say that the compensation was distributed disproportionately, discriminating against the Arab localities.”

Coronavirus crisis highlights Druze discrimination in Israel,

“While Israel is completely absorbed by the coronavirus outbreak, the Druze and Circassian communities have reached a new pressure point. On May 3, the Druze community responded by launching what they call a ‘month of rage’ to protest their dire circumstances. The protest includes a strike until further notice in all Druze villages, including in schools and other educational institutions. On May 5, dozens of activists blocked a highway in the north of the country, as a sign of protest. Leading this general strike is the ‘Forum of Mayors of Druze and Circassian Local Authorities.’ On May 3, they gathered in Jerusalem, in front of the prime minister’s office, carrying signs with slogans like, ‘Did you betray me, brother?’ and ‘We will not be the next Southern Lebanon Army.'”

Gaza farmers destroyed flowers amid lockdown,

“Ghazi Hijazi’s farm in Rafah, in the northern Gaza Strip, is the last standing rose farm in the besieged enclave. The farm is struggling to survive since local sales have dried up. The Hamas-ruled government in Gaza has imposed a lockdown as part of precautionary measures announced March 22 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  Flower businesses and other enterprises in Gaza have struggled under Israel’s yearslong blockade.”

Western Wall reopens to worshipers after coronavirus restrictions relaxed,

“The reopening comes after the government relaxed some of its coronavirus restrictions, including canceling the restriction on joining outdoor prayer services only within 500 meters from a person’s home. For the last few weeks, only 10 and then 19 worshipers could be at the Western Wall at any time, and only those who live in the Old City. The plaza in front of the Western Wall will be divided into as many prayer areas as possible in accordance with government social distancing regulations, The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which operates the holy site, said in a statement.”

Israelis Protest Femicide After Uptick in Violence Against Women During Coronavirus Lockdown,

“Protesters gathered in cities around Israel to rally against femicide and domestic violence after the Social Services Ministry announced that five women had been killed in domestic violence related incidents during the coronavirus lockdown…Feminist organizer Anat Nir said: ‘We are taking to the streets over the murder of five women in seven weeks, but that’s just the tip of the phenomenon. We are the invisible victims of the coronavirus. The exit from the coronavirus crisis is being managed on the backs and over the heads of women. We constitute most of those who have been laid off. We bear the burden of taking care of children and the sick. We are the social workers and teachers, and staff most of the nursing and [medical] treatment positions.'”


Rocket fired from Gaza into Israel; IDF tanks respond, hitting 3 Hamas positions,

“There has been a lull in violence in recent weeks, with both Israel and the Palestinians focused on combating the outbreak of the coronavirus. Israel and the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, have also been negotiating a possible prisoner swap.” See Also: “IDF hits targets in Gaza Strip after rocket fired into Israeli territory” (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli Politics

Netanyahu and Gantz's Parties Amend Coalition Deal After High Court Hearing,

“Likud and Kahol Lavan informed the High Court of Justice on Tuesday in response to petitions against the coalition agreement that they had shortened the period of a planned freeze in senior government appointments to 100 days after the next government is sworn in, rather than the six months mentioned in their agreement. The parties also said they would give priority to legislation related to the coronavirus crisis for six months after the government is sworn in, but other legislation would not be prohibited…The High Court is to hand down its decision on the petitions by Wednesday at midnight.”

Knesset set to begin anchoring coalition deal in law as High Court ruling looms,

“Bills on the changes to pave the way for the coalition deal were brought to the Knesset on Tuesday. They face about 1,000 amendment requests from opponents, which are set to be voted on and quashed during a marathon session on Wednesday before a final vote on the new laws Thursday morning. Thursday will also see the High Court rule on a number of petitions seeking to have Netanyahu disqualified or have specific provisions of the deal struck down.”

Bennett eyes health portfolio, coveted by Blue and White in emerging coalition,

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett signaled interest on Tuesday in the health portfolio, as Likud and Blue and White negotiators tussled over which party would hold the office in the emerging unity government. ‘If Prime Minister Netanyahu offers me the Health Ministry and to manage the coronavirus campaign, I’ll rise to the mission,’ Bennett, who is currently interim defense minister, wrote on Twitter. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu will extend such an offer to his former right-wing ally Bennett. Blue and White is seeking to have the office under its control in the next government, but is unwilling to agree to Likud’s current demands that it drop two other major portfolios in exchange, according to Hebrew media reports on Tuesday…According to the Globes business daily, Blue and White was willing to relinquish ‘minor’ portfolios, such as the Science Ministry, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, or the Strategic Affairs Ministry in exchange for the health portfolio. But Likud was seeking the Communications Ministry and Culture and Sports Ministry, which Blue and White was refusing to drop, the report said. Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the head of the Netanyahu-allied United Torah Judaism party, has headed the ministry for a decade but has decided to resign to move on the Housing Ministry. Yamina was initially expected to stay out of the ‘national emergency’ government being formed between Likud and Blue and White, with Bennett and fellow party member Ayelet Shaked angry at Netanyahu over certain concessions he had made as part of the deal.”

Justice minister seeks to recuse Supreme Court judge from state attorney debate,

“Justice Minister Amir Ohana on Wednesday filed an appeal with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut against Justice Menachem Mazuz’s refusal to recuse himself from hearings on the extension of the acting state prosecutor’s tenure. Ohana said Mazuz should not take part in any hearings concerning the authority of the justice minister versus that of the attorney general, based on comments the justice had made in the past, and that not barring him from doing so would inflict ‘significant damage on the integrity of the judicial process.’ He said that in the past, Mazuz made ‘public and unusual’ statements regarding the justice minister’s role vis-a-vis the attorney general, and argued that this ‘prevents him from handling the petition in an objective and independent manner.'”