Top News from Israel & Palestine: October 21, 2020

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News on Normalization

Israel-Qatar ties warming amid joint efforts to ensure Gaza calm — Israeli TV,

“An Israeli delegation visited the Gulf sheikhdom in recent days and managed to guarantee $60 million will be given to Gaza by Doha before the end of 2020 to assist the Palestinian enclave, Channel 13 news reported…The report said Israel believed Qatar views its positive contacts with Jerusalem as a way of getting back in the good graces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Qatar is being blackballed by the other members of the GCC — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — due to its attempts to remain close to Iran.”

Israeli firm signs deal to pipe UAE oil to Europe,

“An oil pipeline running from the Red Sea resort of Eilat to the Mediterranean port city of Ashkelon will be extended to the United Arab Emirates, providing the UAE with a bridge to get fossil fuel directly to Europe, an Israeli company said Tuesday. It is seen as one of the most significant collaborations to have emerged since the countries established diplomatic ties. The memorandum of understanding is between the state-owned Europe-Asia Pipeline Co., formerly the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co., and a company called MED-RED Land Bridge, which is a joint venture between Israelis and Emiratis, according to an announcement.”

Emiratis Land in Israel, Firming New Ties and Angering Palestinians,

“Diplomats from the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday made their first official trip to Israel since the countries normalized relations in August, and the two sides signed pacts deepening their ties, including allowing their citizens to travel from one country to the other without visas — Israel’s first such waiver with an Arab state.”

Israel says UAE visit 'making history' - Palestinians call it 'shameful',

“Another U.S. official in attendance, International Development Finance Corporation head Adam Boehler, said the three countries would set up a fund, initially projected to raise $3 billion, to encourage private-sector investment and regional cooperation. He said he envisaged funding to enable the modernisation of Israeli-operated checkpoints for Palestinians. Israel says the checkpoints are vital for its security, while Palestinians complain that they hamper their ability to live and work.”

Israel and UAE to discuss influx of Gulf tourists to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque,

“An Israeli official said on Monday that Israel and the United Arab Emirates had set an agenda to discuss bringing thousands of visitors from the Gulf to the occupied Old City of East Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. “Jerusalem will host between 100,000 and 250,000 Muslim tourists a year; they dream of visiting Al-Aqsa,” Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told newspaper Israel Hayom. Hassan-Nahoum, who travelled to the Emirates last week, said that “just as we developed Christian tourism, we plan to work to develop Muslim tourism”. “There is a huge turnaround in the works.””

Does the US see UAE ties as a way to curb Chinese investments in Israel?,

“This week, foreign affairs Prof. Walter Russell Mead – who Politico called a “Trump whisperer” – wrote in his Wall Street Journal column, penned after conversations with US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba: “One suspects Washington would welcome having America’s Gulf allies displace China as an important source of foreign investment in Israel.” Less than an hour after the Abraham Fund was announced, Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank thought to be influential in the Trump administration – so much so that Iran sanctioned FDD and Dubowitz for its advocacy of sanctions against the Islamic Republic – tweeted: “Hopefully this will also help displace Chinese investment in Israeli critical infrastructure assuming the criteria allow for investment in enhancing Israeli economic resiliency.” Asked if these analysts who seem to have US President Donald Trump’s ear are right, and if discouraging Israel from relying on Chinese investments for its critical infrastructure was a consideration in the Abraham Fund’s founding, a State Department source said only: “Reducing dependence on the Chinese Communist Party is a good thing.” In recent years, the US has warned Israel against allowing Chinese involvement in critical infrastructure projects, such as desalination plants, ports and the planned Tel Aviv light rail. This year, the US ramped up pressure on this front around the world, and that is not expected to change regardless of who wins the presidential election next month.”


Israel Strikes Hamas Target After Gaza Rocket Intercepted,

“The Israel Air Force struck an underground Hamas infrastructure in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said Tuesday, adding that it came as a response to a rocket launched from the Strip at Israel earlier. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza on Tuesday, a few hours after the military said it had uncovered an offensive tunnel that runs from the Gaza Strip and into Israeli territory, adding that it is not known to which Gaza faction the tunnel belongs, but that it held Hamas responsible.”

IDF says pinpointed terrorist tunnel from Gaza into Israel,

“Israel Defense Forces (IDF) located a terrorist tunnel connecting the Gaza Strip with Israel, the military announced Tuesday. The tunnel in southern Gaza, which originated in Khan Yunis and crossed a few dozen meters into Israeli territory, failed to breach the underground security barrier, the IDF said in a statement. The tunnel, dug several dozen meters beneath the ground, did not represent a threat to the local Israeli communities, the statement added.”

Israel’s Anti-tunnel Barrier Pays Off, but Gaza Groups Are Working on Alternatives,

“The discovery of a tunnel along the border of the Gaza Strip seems to send Israel and Hamas back in time, to the days when military tension between them was far greater. But conditions today – the coronavirus, Hamas’ desperate need for financial aid for Gaza and Israel’s desire to secure a deal for the return of its missing and captive soldiers and civilians – are completely different. Consequently, there’s a reasonable chance that despite the important military asset the Palestinians have lost, the tunnel’s discovery won’t lead to a violent escalation…For now, however, Israeli intelligence thinks that most of Hamas’ military efforts are aimed at building up its forces – that is, preparing them for a future conflict – rather than a near-term escalation with Israel. As 2020 draws to a close, it seems that at least for the near future, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has made a strategic choice. He wants to improve the desperate situation of Gaza’s residents, and he’s focused on doing so through economic means.”


Israeli Cop Who Shot Dead Autistic Palestinian Faces Trial: 'He Posed No Danger',

“A border policeman who killed an autistic Palestinian in May could stand trial for reckless homicide pending a hearing, the Justice Ministry announced Wednesday. Eyad al-Hallaq, a 32-year-old resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, was shot dead on his way to the special needs school that he attended and worked at. A case against the border policeman’s commanding officer was closed out of lack of guilt.”

Settler Violence Against Palestinian Farmers Only Grows During Harvest Time,

“Not even the coronavirus pandemic, which has derailed the entire world, managed to stop the seasonal outbreak of settler violence during the olive harvest, or the odor of collaboration by Israeli law enforcement agencies that always accompanies it….According to Yesh Din’s figures, only nine percent of investigations into cases in which Israelis assaulted Palestinians or damaged their property in the West Bank from 2005 to 2019 ended in charges being filed against the suspects. Fully 82 percent of these cases were closed for reasons that attest to the police’s failure to investigate. And when it comes to investigations into vandalizing trees, the percentage of cases in which anyone is indicted is even lower…These pogroms are taking place in the name of Israel as a whole, and Israel as a whole bears responsibility for them. The law enforcement agencies, and especially the Judea and Samaria District police, treat Palestinian complainants with abysmal contempt and fail to prosecute violent settlers even when their actions and their identities have been fully documented. In effect, the state is telling the lawbreakers that they can continue to commit crimes without let or hindrance. Israel has thereby revealed its great and hidden goal – pushing the Palestinians out of the occupied territories.”

For the fourth time in two years, Israel demolishes Palestinian house, seizes building equipment in Bethlehem,

“Israeli forces today demolished a Palestinian-owned house and seized construction equipment in the town of al-Khader, to the south of the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, according to the house owner who confirmed that this is the fourth time in two years Israeli forces demolish his house for alleged construction without a permit….Israel prevents Palestinian development in that area and in all of Area C, which makes more than 60 percent of the area of the occupied West Bank, in favor of expanding or building illegal settlements.”

In overnight raids, at least 14 Palestinians detained by Israel in the occupied territories,

“Four were detained in occupied East Jerusalem, it said, one of them 15 years old from Silwan and the other three, including a 15-year-old minor, from Issawiyeh neighborhood. In the north of Jerusalem, the army detained two Palestinians from Qalandia refugee camp. Soldiers also detained four people from Bethlehem, including a 42-year-old man, and two others from the Hebron district, in the south of the West Bank. In the north of the West Bank, soldiers detained a youth from Kufr Qaddoum village near Qalqilya, and another, who is a former prisoner, from Kufr Qalil village near Nablus.”

Israel takes its attacks on UNRWA schools to the United Nations,

“Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, has claimed that textbooks used by schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugess in the Near East (UNRWA) contained inciteful content…For over 70 years, UNRWA has played an integral part in the lives of Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territories and neighbouring countries by providing essential services such as education, health care and employment. In response to Erdan, Lazzarini said that UNRWA was working on developing a programme that would examine the content of curricula taught in Palestinian schools and would submit its findings and recommendations to the heads of the agency.”

The Israeli Scene

Benny Gantz to leave for Washington to meet with Secretary of Defense,

“Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz will take off for Washington on Wednesday to meet with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and other US security officials. Gantz is expected to return from his trip on Friday. Wednesday’s trip comes one month after Gantz’s previous meeting with Esper, where he discussed Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), procurement, international policy regarding Iran, including halting Tehran’s military aspirations in the region, and Israel-US security cooperation. It is not clear what the conversation will be about this time around. Esper, however, addressed the recent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain on Tuesday, saying that they could help deter Iran.”

Uproar as Knesset speaker overturns vote for probe into submarine deals,

“Backed by Joint List deputy speaker, Levin justifies cancellation on grounds of confusion over format of voting; second vote, boycotted by opposition lawmakers, wins no support as 44 oppose; Meretz bill sponsor demands full review”

Also See – “Knesset vote to probe Netanyahu on Submarine Affair canceled” (Jerusalem Post)

In rare unity display, Likud, Blue and White said to agree to torpedo inquiries,

“Likud will vote against a proposal to investigate the justice system, and Blue and White will vote against the establishment of a commission on the so-called submarine affair that involves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Walla news site reported, without citing sources.”

Netanyahu ally admits political considerations behind failure to pass budget,

“Coalition whip Miki Zohar, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, openly admitted Tuesday that there were political considerations behind the foot-dragging in preparing the state budget, seeming to confirm widespread suspicions that the ruling Likud party is not passing the 2020 and 2021 budgets in order to thwart Benny Gantz’s scheduled replacement of Netanyahu late next year…“Of course political considerations also exist here,” he said when asked if the budget was being deliberately held up to prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister.”

Israel’s Bennett in dilemma over his growing popularity,

“Bennett’s dilemma, if and when, will be a cruel one. If he forms a government without the Likud, he would be marking the end of the Netanyahu era and sinking all hopes of mobilizing the firm Likud base that he covets. Bennett’s true dream is to inherit Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud…Bennett’s main task at this point is to turn the short-term “parking lot” he opened at the center of the political map into a long-term lot and eventually into a warm electoral home. This is an almost impossible mission. The coronavirus pandemic and the deep disappointment with the greatest hope of the past three elections — Blue and White leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz — have nudged many center-left voters toward Bennett’s intrinsically right-wing party. To preserve their support, Bennett will have to cut himself off from Knesset members such as the ultra-right Bezalel Smotrich and the party’s radical rabbis, veer to the center and create an agenda that is palatable to this new constituency. Bennett’s latest pronouncements hint at such a strategy. Such moves could scare off the deep right constituency valued at an estimated three to five Knesset seats. Presumably, Bennett’s wing span is not sufficiently broad to cover all these bases.”

Also See – “Bennett says his support for gay rights doesn’t mean he’ll back laws for them” (The Times of Israel)


Critical Vote on Right-wing Takeover of World Zionist Congress Delayed,

“Faced with opposition from key Jewish organizations in the Diaspora, leaders of the World Zionist Congress resolved on Tuesday to postpone a vote on a controversial agreement that would effectively have handed over control of key institutions to right-wing and rigidly Orthodox parties. The vote on the so-called “coalition agreement” was scheduled for Tuesday, the opening day of the proceedings of the congress. The agreement, drafted over the weekend by right-wing and Orthodox parties holding a majority of seats in the congress (among delegations with voting rights), would strip non-Orthodox movements and Zionist center-left parties of any real influence in the World Zionist Organization and its affiliate organizations – the Jewish Agency for Israel, United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod), and the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael).”

Hadassah and other groups block right-wing takeover of top World Zionist Congress positions,

“The top positions have until now been filled in consultation with all constituent bodies, allowing liberal groups a say on spending related to religious pluralism in Israel, minority communities in the country and settlement activity in the West Bank. The right-wing coalition believed it had a chance to take sole control of WZO spending because of its strong showing in this year’s election of the U.S. portion of the World Zionist Congress.”