Top News from Israel & Palestine: November 2, 2020

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Trump Administration Delivers on Annexation Promise

US Amb. to Israel David Friedman: Mideast is ‘exploding with good opportunities’ under Trump,

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with JNS at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Friedman identified the key differences between the Trump and Obama administrations on Israel and the Middle East, and how bringing new thought processes to longstanding conflicts have yielded new results.

Netanyahu gets one more — perhaps last — gift from Trump,

For the first time, funding for research and development will be made available to universities and other institutes of higher learning in Judea and Samaria, effectively lifting the US academic boycott of the region…. Netanyahu should be able to use the event in Ariel as a shield against the ideological hard right and the settlers, many of whom have become so angry at him that they switched their allegiance to Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett. In fact, some of them were so furious that they made a point of boycotting the ceremony in Ariel in protest. The fact that Trump is changing priorities to benefit the settlers up until the very last minute should help Netanyahu electorally, even if Trump is not elected. He will be able to bring it up to the voters on the right who abandoned him to show what he has been able to achieve in just four years. It also would help make the argument that he should be the Israeli leader elected to deal with the US president, regardless of whether the office is held by a Republican or a Democrat.

Settlers pray for Trump re-election at biblical tomb,

Rabbi at Cave of Patriarchs cites Republican president’s ‘commitment to the preservation and strengthening of the people of Israel, the State of Israel and the land of Israel’ after his administration softened U.S. disapproval of Israeli settlements project.

Settlements/Occupation/De Facto Annexation/Apartheid/Human Rights

Will government implement plan to regulate both Israeli and Palestinian land in Area C?,

The IDF’s Civil Administration, which operates under the auspices of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has recommended a process of regulation of land ownership in Judea and Samaria that would replace the unwieldy and lengthy process currently in use. A land survey would be conducted after which land belonging to Israel would be officially declared as such.

Palestinian Authority to resume accepting tax money collected by Israel,

The Palestinian Authority will begin accepting tax revenue collected by Israel after months of boycotting the funds over Jerusalem’s now-defunct annexation plans and deductions made to prisoner salaries. The change in policy will likely come at the end of the month without concessions from the PA. But Secretary-General of the Palestinian Council of Ministers, Amjad Ghanem, later denied the shift in position, insisting the PA will continue to refuse the funds until Israel agrees to its demands such as easing restrictions on the movement of goods and people between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel to sanction Palestinian banks serving prisoners’ families,

Israel will impose sanctions and penalties on Palestinian banks which process payments from the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the families of Palestinians who have spent time in Israeli jails, lsraeli media reported. Last February, Israeli Defence Minister at the time, Naftali Bennett, signed a military decree which states that any person or body handing financial aid with the purpose of facilitating, advancing, funding or rewarding “terror-related offenses”, is committing a crime that carries a punishment of up to ten years in prison and a fine. Israeli public broadcaster Kan said the military law has been frozen several times by the current Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, for fear of provoking protests in the occupied West Bank. Last year, Israel deducted part of the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA under the pretext that the amounts are used to pay the families of Palestinian prisoners and martyrs. The Israeli action has added to the financial crisis suffered by the PA, which in turn refused to receive any of the tax revenues.

Number of Palestinians made homeless by Israeli demolitions hits four-year high despite pandemic,

The number of Palestinians made homeless by Israeli house demolitions has reached a four-year high, despite Israel’s promises of a freeze amid concerns over the dangers posed to public health in the coronavirus pandemic. At least 741 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem were made homeless between January and 30 September this year because of demolitions, according to data compiled by Israeli rights group B’Tselem.This is the highest number since 2016, which according to B’Tselem’s number was a record year, when 1496 Palestinians were left with nowhere to live. The true totals for 2020 are thought to be higher as demolitions, that are largely deemed illegal under international law, continued in October according to the OCHA, the United Nations’s humanitarian office.

IDF razes home of Palestinian accused in deadly Petah Tikva stabbing,

Israeli forces destroyed the West Bank home of a Palestinian man accused of stabbing an Israeli rabbi to death in a terror attack near Tel Aviv in late August, the military said.

Palestine's olive harvest marred by rising Israeli settler violence,

The annual olive harvest in the West Bank kicked off at the beginning of this month with the usual hardships brought about by the Israeli occupation and its many policies to impede Palestinian farmers from reaching their lands. Dozens of Palestinians have also been attacked, while hundreds of their crops and olive trees have been destroyed by radical Israeli settlers across the occupied West Bank, especially in the areas of Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and Salfit….This year’s olive harvest is experiencing a particularly aggressive campaign as, Palestinians say, settlers and the Israeli army are using coronavirus lockdown measures to further push land theft and sabotage. One related problem is that Covid-19 travel restrictions have hindered the mobility of solidarity groups and activists and their ability to escort Palestinian farmers. With little international presence to monitor and document events on the ground, more incidents of settler violence are likely to occur undeterred.

At the Foothills of an Israeli Settlement, Palestinians Are Used to Weekends of Terror,

The settlers tore open the fence, and one of them entered the yard. A hail of stones was unleashed by the others. Ahmed had nowhere to escape and no way of protecting himself. One stone struck his skull, another his left shoulder and a third slammed into his thigh, smashing the mobile phone in his pocket. The settlers didn’t utter a word, he recalled, only threw stones….The settlers actually renewed their stone throwing when the soldiers showed up. Hiding behind the troops, they apparently felt safer, more protected. The soldiers didn’t lift a finger to stop them – they never do, Ahmed says.

Israel’s ‘Silicon Valley’ settlement plan to be built on the ruins of dozens of Palestinian businesses,

The Israeli occupation authorities today approved the destruction of dozens of Palestinian businesses in Wad al-Joz neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem as part of a plan to construct a new settlement on their ruins called “Silicon Valley,” a step that has raised concern and anger of the Palestinian businesses in the area, most of them have been there since before the Israeli occupation in 1967. The Israeli municipality of West Jerusalem has advanced the plan for the technology park, the Silicon Valley or Wadi Silicon, which would result in the confiscation of 2,000 dunums of Palestinian-owned land and the demolition of over 200 Palestinian shops, restaurants and facilities such as car repair and parts shops, in the neighborhood to make room for the construction of some 900 hotel rooms.

Israel: Statement by the Spokesperson on the detention and hunger strike of M. Al-Akhras,

The EU is closely following the rapidly deteriorating health condition of Mr. Mahar Al-Akhras as he continues the hunger strike since July to protest his administrative detention without formal charges in Israel. Regardless of the allegations against Mr. Al-Akhras, the European Union reiterates its long-standing concerns about the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention without formal charges. Around 350 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention. Detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention and be subject to a fair trial. The European Union calls on Israel to fully respect international humanitarian law as well as its human rights obligations towards all prisoners, also in light of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and to do all it can to preserve the health of Mr. Al-Akhras in the continued handling of this case.

Refusing to eat: How Maher al-Akhras is resisting Israel's administrative detention,

Like many hunger strikers before him, Akhras does not seek death, although he is evidently prepared to die. The hunger strike is his way of refusing to become a modern-day Sisyphus, completing one administrative detention only to begin another. Reclaiming his body from the hands of Israeli authorities, he now wields his own life as a card to make a straightforward and just demand: Put me on trial or release me….He has taken control of his body to resist administrative detention and, by extension, the colonial regime that deploys this form of imprisonment. He has, in the words of political theorist Banu Bargu, who studied hunger strikes in Turkish prisons, “weaponised his own life”, where his own self-destruction becomes a form of political resistance.

UN expert calls for accountability as Israel records highest rate of illegal settlement approvals,

The Israeli government’s recent announcement that it has approved construction of nearly 5,000 more settlement homes in the occupied Palestinian territory is a grave breach of international law, an independent human rights expert said today. “The international community must answer this grave breach of international law with more than mere criticism,” said Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Earlier this month, a defence ministry planning committee approved plans for 4,948 more homes. “As the Israeli settlements continue to devour the land that is meant for the independent Palestinian state, the international community observes, it sometimes objects, but it does not act,” said Lynk. “It is high time for accountability.”

Violent Clash With Gaza May Be Imminent, Israeli Officials Worry,

Defense officials are concerned about a possible escalation in tensions with the Gaza Strip in the near future, perhaps even as early as the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday, they told the security cabinet on Wednesday. The officials suggested one of the main factors behind their concerns centered on a group within the military wing of Islamic Jihad. They felt that these activists apparently want to mark the anniversary of the death of Islamic Jihad leader, Baha Abu al-Ata – who was killed by Israel in a targeted assassination last November 12 with a retaliatory attack. The killing of Abu al-Ata, which the army called “Operation Black Belt,” sparked two days of clashes with Islamic Jihad, during which time the militants fired 500 rockets at Gaza border communities.

Regional Normalization: Peace Deals or Arms Deals?

Intel: US, Sudan sign terror claims agreement,

Sudanese and US officials signed a long-awaited claims agreement in Washington on Friday involving Sudan’s settlement payment for the victims of al-Qaeda’s 1998 Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings. The deal formalizes an understanding reached earlier this year between the two governments in which the Trump administration has removed Sudan from the US state sponsors of terrorism list and Sudan’s sovereign immunity will be restored via an act of Congress in exchange for Sudan paying $335 million toward a court settlement for 1998 terror attacks. Last week, the Trump administration also extracted an additional last-minute concession from Sudan’s leaders — that they take steps to recognize Israel amid a White House push dubbed the Abraham Accords.

US signs deal to restore Sudan's sovereign immunity after decades on terror blacklist,

The United States has signed an agreement with Sudan to restore Khartoum‘s sovereign immunity after more than two decades spent on a terror blacklist. The move comes as part of a deal unveiled earlier this month allowing Sudan’s removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list, a designation that has since the ’90s exposed Khartoum to harmful sanctions and hefty lawsuits….”In exchange, the default judgments and claims against Sudan in US courts will be dismissed, and Sudan’s sovereign immunities under US law will be restored to those enjoyed by countries that have never been designated by the United States as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” the justice ministry said in a statement. Sudan’s removal from the terror blacklist comes in tandem with Khartoum’s agreement to normalise ties with Israel, also announced last week.

See also: Sudan, US sign agreement to restore sovereign immunity (Al Jazeera) 

Not a new dawn: Why the Israel-Sudan deal was a long time coming,

The normalization of relations between Israel and Sudan, publicly announced on Oct. 23, has been on the horizon for several years now. News reports from the past weeks have consistently portrayed the normalization deal as a story about a staunch enemy of Israel abandoning its old ways and turning into a friend….But the longer history of Israeli-Sudanese engagements is a more complex one — somewhat less transformative, and yet closely linked to the ongoing efforts of both states to manage their position vis-à-vis the Arab world.

Analysis | Is Trump Working on a Syria Deal That Includes Normalization With Israel?,

The very fact that these negotiations took place generated a series of guesses and assessments regarding Trump’s attitude toward with Syria. Arab commentators wondered whether Syria is “on the way to normalization of ties with Israel in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against it,” and whether “talks over the release of the American detainees is the first salvo in a larger ‘deal’ that Trump is planning.” The appointment of the Omani ambassador to Damascus could, some Syrian pundits say, attest that this move was welcomed by Saudi Arabia and was a continuation of the strengthening of ties between the UAE and Assad.

Lawfare/Stifling Dissent/Free Speech

Largest NGO of imams worldwide adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism,

The largest nongovernmental organization of imams in the world, the Global Imams Council (GIC), has adopted the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism….The council’s membership consists of more than 1,000 imams from all Islamic denominations and schools of thought, according to its website.

Commentary/Long Read

It's time to rethink the structure of Palestinian aid,

Since the Oslo I Accord was signed in 1993, more than $40bn has been spent by international donors as foreign aid for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip…That sum ($40bn+) has also consistently made Palestinians one of the highest per capita recipients of non-military aid in the world (though it is far less than the overall sum of aid Israelis receive). And yet, both peace and development remain elusive, as this aid has failed to achieve progress on three main objectives: a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis; effective, accountable and democratic Palestinian institutions; and sustainable social and economic development. Instead, Palestinians have been forced to live in an aid-development paradox. While large amounts of donor aid have entered the economy of the occupied territories, there has been a downward spiral in Palestinian economic and human development indicators. That has been accompanied by a hollowing out and de-development of the Palestinian economy…It is evident by now that the aid flow will never be effective for Palestinians or for a just and stable peace if it continues to be poured into these skewed and distorted political and economic frameworks. More money can lead to more harm when spent in an improper intervention, and technical solutions alone will always fall short of addressing the real problems Palestinians face if they avoid challenging the central political realities of “the conflict”.

See also: Is it Time to Reform International Aid to Palestine? (FMEP Webinar)

Are 95% of Jews Really Zionists?,

The Newport calculation is just one of several statistics that Jewish commentators frequently cite as evidence for pro-Israel consensus in the Jewish community. Yet as this case shows, many journalists, pundits, and even academics often misunderstand polling methodologies, resulting in serious miscommunication of these results to the public….Most surveys that ask American Jews about Israel/Palestine implicitly assume that a respondent’s relationship to Israel is generally positive and relatively uncomplicated, while also operating within the rapidly fading framework of a conventional two-state solution. At the same time, questions usually do not directly measure other values that American Jews might hold, such as concern for democracy or Palestinian human rights. Limitations and biases of existing polling—combined with miscommunication of results in the press—make it easy for Jewish leaders to dismiss those who dissent from the establishment consensus on Israel. In the process, the public is deprived of a more accurate snapshot of trends in American Jewish perspectives on the Jewish state.

Palestinian Americans are voting in droves. But why not from the West Bank?,

Disenchanted by U.S. politics and bureaucratic hurdles under occupation, Palestinian Americans in the West Bank struggle to mobilize for the election.