Top News from Israel & Palestine: November 20, 2019

What We’re Reading

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

On West Bank, No One Rests Easy, No Matter What U. S. Says About Settlements,

“While experts debated whether the announcement gave Israel a green light to annex parts of the West Bank or flouted established international law, the only practical effect in the West Bank on Tuesday was a subtle shift in morale: It left Israeli settlers feeling slightly more confident and Palestinians slightly more depressed.”

After US settlement shift, PM said backing push to quickly annex Jordan Valley,

“Haskel confirmed Tuesday morning in a tweet that Netanyahu backs her proposal. She said the US announcement was ‘an opportunity to promote my law for sovereignty in the [Jordan] Valley.’ She added: ‘I have filed a request to hold a vote on the law already next week, with the prime minister’s backing. I hope that parties who have spoken of sovereignty [in the Jordan Valley] will stick to their word’.”

Secular Israelis Flock to West Bank Settlements in Search of Good, Cheap Life,

“According to Zvi Fuchs, CEO and co-owner of Z.F. Building Company, which has been operating in the territories for over 25 years, the Israeli banking system – which in the past made it difficult to obtain mortgages for properties across the Green Line, claiming that the communities were insecure and that the properties could not be registered in the official land registry – have also begun to fall in line with the current trend. ‘A decade ago, some of the larger banks were unwilling to take the risks associated with construction in these settlements, but in major settlements there is no longer a problem,’ says Fuchs. ‘In fact, the trend has changed, with banks chasing people moving to these areas, who are considered well-educated and reliable.’ One also cannot ignore, in this context, the legitimization the government has given to some settlements by means of its promotion of the Mechir Lemishtaken program. This lottery-based scheme has offered an incentive for banks to give mortgages for purchasing the apartments that it markets, and they have attracted a lot of interest among new families who’ve decided to move over the Green Line.”

UN Security Council to Convene After U.S. Policy Shift on Israeli Settlements,

“The UN Security Council will convene on Wednesday to discuss the situation in the Middle East for the first time since the U.S. decided to no longer consider West Bank settlements as illegal. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, will make a media announcement before the session. Earlier, he said that ‘our rights in the Land of Israel are anchored not just in our historical rights but in the rules of justice as defined by international law. We welcome the U.S. administration’s announcement. I intend to call on all ambassadors to the UN to examine the content of the American announcement and its legal basis in an unbiased manner.’ Another Israeli participant scheduled to take part in this session is Tanya Hary, the Executive Director of Gisha, a human rights group devoted to protecting the freedom of movement of Palestinians. She was invited to speak before the Security Council by Britain’s ambassador, who is now the council’s president.

U.S. Policy

US officials to Israeli TV: New settlement policy not green light for annexation,

“The new US policy to no longer considers settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal ‘should not be seen as a green light for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank or start unrestrained building in settlements,’ US officials told an Israeli news network Tuesday…Administration officials told Channel 13 news that the main motive for changing the policy, as announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, was the Trump administration’s desire to reverse decisions and policy changes made by the Obama administration. The officials also said US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was the driving force behind Washington’s announcement.”

The Problem With Settlements Is Not That They Are Illegal. It’s That They Are Immoral,

Peter Beinart writes, “But the core problem with Jim Crow was not that it violated international legal norms, nor that it posed an obstacle to settling conflicts between whites and blacks. The core problem was that it violated the principle of human equality. ‘If giving some people liberty while denying it to others because of their race, ethnicity or religion was wrong in the segregated South, why isn’t it wrong in the West Bank?’ No American television network should interview Benjamin Netanyahu, Ron Dermer, David Friedman or Mike Pompeo without asking some version of that question. Every American politician who defends settlements should be required to explain why he isn’t a modern-day George Wallace. The word that’s missing from most mainstream American discussion of settlements is ‘bigotry.’ People who care about freedom must make it impossible to avoid.”

Democrats plan legislative response to Trump’s new Israeli settlement policy,

“House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Al-Monitor today that he expects to put the resolution on the floor ‘before the end of the year.’ Hoyer’s announcement comes the day after the State Department scratched a 1978 legal opinion deeming Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal under international law. The majority leader noted that both Republican and Democratic presidents have previously maintained ‘that settlements, whatever the legal argument is, are an impediment to a resolution to the differences between the Palestinians and Israelis, and therefore the settlements should not go forward. That is still our policy, should be our policy, and as a strong supporter of Israel, I have urged that the settlement movement stop, and very frankly be reversed,’ Hoyer told Al-Monitor.”

Behind the scenes of Trump's shift on Israeli settlements,

“Friedman, the key driver behind the major policy shift announced yesterday, raised the issue again when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in. This time he got a ‘green light,’ U.S. officials tell me. The discussions inside the State Department on the legal status of the Israeli settlements lasted a year.”

Pompeo Buries The Two-State Solution With New U.S. Policy On Israeli Settlements,

Mitchell Plitnick writes, “Ultimately, this new American policy affirms that there is no longer any realistic possibility for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. If Israel hasn’t buried it, the United States will. But if settlement growth continues with even less restraint than there is now, the consequences for existing Palestinian towns, villages, and cities will be devastating, as the settlements will choke off travel, commerce, and water and other resources even more than they already do. It won’t lead to a single state, or any other stable future, even an oppressive one. It cannot lead to anything but violence.”

Israeli Politics

Four Scenarios: What Happens Next if Benny Gantz Fails to Form a Government,

“If no progress is made in the talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and if Avigdor Lieberman remains adamant in his refusal to join a government supported by the Arab-majority Joint List alliance, Gantz will lose his mandate – and the power to decide will move to the Knesset. What could happen next?”

Rivlin raps Netanyahu for branding Israel's Arabs an existential threat,

“Netanyahu has in recent days lashed out at Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for what he said were efforts to form a minority government with external support from the predominantly Arab Joint List faction. Such a move, Netanyahu said, would be a gift to Israel’s enemies Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. But Rivlin on Tuesday made clear that he found such comments unacceptable. ‘The characterization of all Arab elected officials as a ‘threat’ to the existence of the State of Israel and as a ‘fifth column’ must be emphatically denounced,’ he said in a statement released following a meeting with the prime minister at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem. ‘We who live as sovereigns in our country, the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, must ensure equality of rights and respectful and meaningful discourse with all Israelis’.”