Top News from Israel & Palestine: May 8, 2020

What We’re Reading

New Israeli Govt Imminent

Benjamin Netanyahu gets mandate from Rivlin to form 5th government,

“Prescient Reuven Rivlin officially granted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a two-week mandate on Thursday night to form his fifth straight government, which would keep him in power until November 13, 2021. ‘I hope Israel will soon have a government that will deal successfully with the complex challenges that stand before us,’ Rivlin said, noting the dual crises of the political stalemate and the impact of the coronavirus.”

High Court Ruling Gives Netanyahu Super-status, Irreversibly Harming Equality,

“Allowing the prime minister to remain in power despite the corruption charges against him means those who have dared to stand against him will keep coming under attack – including the court itself.”

Netanyahu, Gantz agree: New government to be sworn in on May 13,

“Israel will swear in a national unity government on May 13, agreed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, late on Wednesday. The parliamentary process for legislating the new government is expected to be completed by Thursday afternoon at the latest. Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu and Gantz met in Jerusalem to discuss the changes that could be introduced to their coalition agreement. On the table are senior appointments, the so-called ‘Norwegian Law’  (allowing ministers or deputy ministers to resign from the Knesset but remain minister, with their Knesset seat being taken by the next person on the party’s list), the Health Ministry portfolio and the possibility of extending the next government’s term to four and a half years, to be split evenly between Likud and Blue and White.”

Yamina official: 'Netanyahu wants us outside the government',

“A Yamina official told Yediot Aharonot that the party believes it is headed towards the opposition. The source said that the party’s demands from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu included the two of either Health, Education, or Transportation ministries, as well as chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, law, and Justice Committee.”

Israel minister to oppose any prisoner exchange deal with Hamas,

“Israeli Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced on Wednesday that he would oppose any prisoner swap deal with the Islamic resistance movement Hamas ‘at all costs’. Speaking to Israel’s Ynet news site, Smotrich expressed that there are other ways to return the bodies of the four Israeli soldiers and Israeli citizens detained by Hamas, adding that the release of Palestinian prisoners in any deal is a ‘red line that cannot be crossed.’”

Annexation on the Agenda

The High Court didn’t stop Netanyahu. It won’t stop annexation either,

“The center-left camp hoped the High Court would put an end to Netanyahu’s rule. Now that it’s given him the green light to remain in office and advance annexation, opponents need to find new ways to resist.”

Palestinians take battle against annexation to UN Security Council,

“Seeking to prevent Israel from annexing the large settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley as early as this summer, the Palestinians have turned to the UN Security Council, demanding it stops the Jewish state from moving ahead with its plans. Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour said the Palestinians were seeking a ‘wide and powerful front in the UN to prevent Israel from annexing parts of the West Bank’ and will bring the matter before the Security Council at its next meeting, set for May 20.” Also see: Jerusalem Post – Palestinians stiffen battle against annexation at UN Security Council

Set for new term, Netanyahu eyes tricky annexation plan,

“Palestinian objections aside, applying Israeli law to Judea and Samaria could trigger harsh international censure and jeopardize Israel’s recent progress in normalizing ties with the Arab world, especially Persian Gulf states.”

PA threatens lawsuits against US for supporting sovereignty,

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) ‘justice minister’ announced that the PA intends to file lawsuits against the United States for supporting Israel’s plans to apply sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria. ‘We are looking for legal mechanisms to hold the US government accountable in committing war crimes against the Palestinians together with Israel,’ the official, Mohammed al-Shalaldeh, told the Xinhua news agency. The US support for Israel’s plan to annex ‘Palestinian lands in the West Bank’ is one of these crimes, he noted.‘Recognizing the occupier’s sovereignty on the occupied lands is a war crime in itself, and according to the international law, no state has the right to recognize the sovereignty of any occupying state on others’ land,’ al-Shalaldeh said. He also announced that lawsuits will be filed against international companies that operate in ‘Israeli settlements’.”

PA asks UN chief to exert efforts to undermine Israel’s annexation plan,

“Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour yesterday asked the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to halt Israel’s plan to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported. The London-based newspaper reported that the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) slammed the Israeli annexation plan as a ‘flagrant violation of international law’. Mansour spoke with Guterres asking him to exert all efforts to prevent Israel from carrying out its plan.”

Occupation Continues

Palestinian Shepherd Injured in Alleged Assault Near Evicted West Bank Settlement,

“A Palestinian shepherd was hospitalized in serious condition on Wednesday after allegedly being attacked on Wednesday by a group of settlers in the West Bank. Harbi Mohammed Ali Abdo, a man in his fifties from the village of Burqa, east of Ramallah, said he was attacked by a group of about 10 people while herding his flock near Homesh, a former settlement that had been evacuated as part of the 2004 disengagement from Gaza, which included withdrawal from several West Bank settlements. The group approached and hurled rocks at Abdo and his nephew, Hamudi, who was with him in the field, he said. The two said they identified their assailants as settlers because they spoke amongst themselves in Hebrew.” Also see: Middle East Eye – Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians increase under coronavirus lockdown

Israel announces plan to build 7,000 homes in Efrat,

“Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday announced the approval of a plan to build some 7,000 new housing units in the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion. The town, which lies southwest of Jerusalem and about halfway between the capital and Hebron, is currently home to more than 11,500 people, many American immigrants. An additional 7,000 homes could potentially more than triple its population.”

Border Police vehicle burnt down by firebombs near Jerusalem,

According to police, the forces were attacked by locals during an operation near the West Bank Separation Fence. No casualties were reported by law enforcement. Border Police forces are currently searching for the attackers. Border Police reported the officers that were in the armored vehicle acted swiftly, recovering the essential equipment from the burning vehicle and securing the area prior to the arrival of emergency services. The unit emphasized activity in the area will be ‘significantly expanded’ until the perpetrators of the attack are captured and charged.”

Amnesty slams PA, Hamas for jailing critics, one of whom held call with Israelis,

“Amnesty International on Thursday censured Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over their detention of critics and opponents for expressing their views. The London-based human rights group said five people were arrested in March and April, including a peace activist for holding a video call with Israelis and a writer who criticized authorities in Gaza for a deadly market fire. Amnesty called the detentions a ‘pattern of arbitrary arrests’ of Palestinians for voicing their opinions. ‘The authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip have violated the right to freedom of expression by arbitrarily detaining individuals solely for peacefully sharing their views on social media. This must immediately stop,’ said Saleh Higazi, deputy Middle East director at Amnesty International.”

Gaza man charged with funneling money to Hamas in West Bank,

“A Gaza resident was indicted Thursday for allegedly funneling money to fund Hamas terror activity in the West Bank. Zuhair Arafat, 43, is accused of conspiring with Gaza-based members of the Palestinian terror group and with a terror convict in Israel’s Ketziot Prison, making use of his permit to enter Israel, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The charge sheet, filed with the Beersheba District Court, says Arafat transferred some NIS 100,000 ($28,500) from the Strip to the West Bank for Hamas, knowing it was intended for terror activity.”

Palestinian Finances In the Crosshairs

PA banks heed PMW warning and start closing terrorist bank accounts,

“Banks operating in the Palestinian Authority are heeding the warning of Palestinian Media Watch and have started closing bank accounts of Palestinian terrorist prisoners. PMW’s recent letter warned bank officials that failing to close the accounts could result in potential criminal and civil action for aiding and abetting the payment of the PA’s terror rewards to terrorist prisoners when Israeli legislation regarding this procedure is applied in two days. In recent days different Arab media outlets have reported that some banks active in the PA are already rushing to close the accounts of terrorist prisoners and released prisoners before the new law takes effect.”

Israel returning money deducted to stop Palestinian terrorists’ salaries,

“Israel plans to effectively return the tax and tariff funds deducted due to the Palestinian Authority’s continued monthly payments to terrorists and their salaries, in the form of an NIS 800 million loan on Sunday.A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon confirmed on Friday that he will sign an agreement with his Palestinian counterpart on Sunday. A report in Israel Hayom cited court documents in which Kahlon stated that, with approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in coordination with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel will grant the loan over the coming months. The loan is essentially an advance on tax funds Israel collects and transfers to the PA under the terms of the Oslo Accords.The loan is meant to help the PA overcome its current economic crisis, which was deepened due to what has been nicknamed the ‘Pay for Slay Law’ that went into effect at the start of 2019, by which Israel deducts the funds the Palestinian Authority pays terrorists and their families each month from their taxes and tariffs.”

PA: We will continue to assist terrorists in prison,

“Ibrahim Milhem, the official spokesman for the Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet, said on Thursday that PA cabinet leader Mohammad Shtayyeh has ordered the establishment of a committee that will examine the significance of Israel’s threat to act against Palestinian Arab banks which provide service to family members of ‘shaheeds’ (martyrs -ed.) and to make recommendations on which action to take. Milhem noted that the PA government is opposed to surrendering to Israeli pressures and will continue to be loyal to the prisoners and the ‘martyrs’ and defend their rights in any scenario.

Palestinians say Israel targeting prisoners’ bank accounts,

“Palestinian officials said Friday that Israel is forcing banks in the occupied West Bank to close accounts held by the families of prisoners in Israeli jails to prevent the Palestinian Authority from providing stipends to them. Israel has long objected to the Palestinian Authority’s payments to the families of prisoners and those killed in the conflict, including militants, saying it rewards terrorism. The Palestinians view the payments as a social safety net for those living under decades of military occupation. The apparent move to target banks comes as the Palestinians face a potentially severe economic crisis after weeks of lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes as Israel vows to annex large parts of the West Bank in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan. Protesters shattered the windows of several bank branches and set fires outside some of them late Thursday and early Friday as word of the new regulations spread.” Also see: Times of Israel – Fearing Israel law, Palestinian bank blocks terrorists’ accounts & Haaretz –  Shots Fired at Palestinian Bank That Closed Accounts of Released Prisoners Under Israeli Pressure

EU says Palestinians affiliated with terror groups can still access funds,

“Palestinians affiliated with terrorist groups will still be eligible to participate in programs and activities funded by the European Union, EU representative for the West Bank and Gaza Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff stated in a letter last week. ‘While the entities and groups included in the EU restrictive lists cannot benefit from EU-funded activities, it is understood that a natural person affiliated to, sympathizing with, or supporting any of the groups mentioned in the EU restrictive lists is not excluded from benefiting from EU-funded activities, unless his/her exact name and surname… corresponds to any of the natural persons on the EU restrictive lists,’ the letter, dated March 30, states.” Also see: Times of Israel – Foreign Ministry rebukes EU ambassador over ‘support for terrorism’ & Israel fumes after EU says Palestinian terror supporters can still get funds  [FMEP’s Lara Friedman clarified on Twitter: “Note: this isn’t about being nice to terrorists. It’s about rejecting “6-degrees-of-terrorist-contamination”- style allegations used to attack NGOs that support Palestinians/challenge Israeli policies. Orgs NOBODY alleges actually support/incite/finance/engage in terror.”]

David Friedman in the Spotlight

'For Israel to give up Hebron and Beit El is like the US giving up the Statue of Liberty',

“US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman believes that applying Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria can take place in a matter of weeks. In a special interview, he dismisses the Left’s criticism, saying, ‘We have doubled areas A’ and B’ and reassures the Right it will only have to contend with a Palestinian state ‘If the Palestinians become Canadian.’”

Friedman to 'Post': We need to strengthen Israel-US ties with peace plan,

“If US President Donald Trump is reelected in November, David Friedman knows exactly which job he would like to take in the administration’s second term – the one he has now, ambassador to Israel.After three years in the role, Friedman still feels that there is a lot left to be done to reinforce and strengthen the US-Israel relationship, starting with the Trump peace plan and bringing America’s allies in the region together to be allies with one another. ‘We need to maximize mutual benefits of the relationship in ways I don’t think have happened before,’ Friedman told The Jerusalem Post this week. ‘The only limits are one’s imagination as to where we can go.’”

PLO slams US Ambassador for inciting crimes against Palestinians,

“The Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has condemned comments by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman urging the new Israeli government to expedite the annexation of the occupied West Bank. The PLO described Friedman’s words as ‘deliberate escalation and incitement to commit crimes’ against the Palestinians. Executive Committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi said that Friedman’s comments were ‘extremist and flawed’ as well as a direct encouragement to continue violating the rights of the Palestinian people, and stealing their land and properties. This reflects the US administration’s collusion with the extreme right in Israel and gives it the necessary financial, legal and military cover to ensure that the occupation state can act with impunity.”

Lawfare & related matters

Attacks From Pro-Israel Groups Threaten California’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum,

“A California statute passed in 2016 had mandated the creation of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), arguing that ethnic studies—a discipline traditionally consisting of histories and theories from African American, Native American, Chicanx and Latinx, and Asian American studies—would benefit all California students, helping them become ‘more academically engaged, increasing their performance on academic tests, improving their graduation rates,’ and allowing them to develop ‘a sense of self-efficacy and personal empowerment.’ But when the curriculum was finally presented to the public in the summer of 2019, it attracted a storm of controversy. Much of the backlash came from American Jewish Zionist groups who opposed the inclusion of Palestinian topics—including a mention of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement—within the Arab American studies portion of the Asian American module. Pro-Israel voices have attacked not only the inclusion of BDS in the curriculum, but also the California Department of Education (CDE)’s general vision for ethnic studies. In Kordestani’s op-ed, for example, he claimed that the curriculum was ‘a political statement masquerading as education’ that amounted to ‘advancing the interests of some ethnic groups over others.’”