Top News from Palestine/Israel: November 18, 2020

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New from FMEP

[Podcast] “Pompeo in Psagot” ft. Fadi Quran, Dror Etkes, & Lara Friedman,

“The topic today is Israeli settlements, with our focus on Psagot — a settlement located deep inside the West Bank that according to news reports will enjoy a history-making visit soon from US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. To discuss this visit and Psagot settlement, this episode features Dror Etkes, settlement expert and founder of the organization Kerem Navot, together with Fadi Quran, Campaigns Director at Avaaz, whose family’s land was confiscated for Psagot, and Lara Friedman, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.”

The Palestinian Scene

Palestinian Authority to resume coordination with Israel,

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) will resume coordination with Israel that it suspended in May in response to an Israeli plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a senior Palestinian official has said. Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA’s civil affairs minister and close aide to President Mahmoud Abbas, tweeted on Tuesday that “the relationship with Israel will return to how it was” following “official written and oral letters we received” confirming Israel’s commitment to past agreements. Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the decision puts in jeopardy some of the PA’s efforts towards reconciliation with other Palestinian factions. “[Palestinian group] Hamas and others have criticised this move, saying that it is going back to cooperating with [an] occupying power,” Fawcett said. “The talk of possible reconciliation, possible elections on the Palestinian side now appears less likely.””

Reassured by Biden Win, Palestinians Will Resume Cooperation With Israel,

“The Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that it was resuming its cooperation with Israel, ending six months of financial hardship for tens of thousands of West Bank residents and signaling relief over the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. It was one of the first clear signs that anticipation of a new administration in Washington is having an effect on international relations…Tuesday’s reversal, similarly, highlighted the Palestinians’ severely weakened position with two months remaining in a Trump administration that has pounded away at them relentlessly.”

Palestinian Authority says it's resuming security coordination with Israel,

“”In the light of Mahmud Abbas’s international contacts, and given the written and verbal commitments we have received from the Israelis, we will resume relations where they were before May 19, 2020,” the PA’s Civil Affairs Minister said…The decision came, Shtayyeh said, after receipt of a letter from the Israeli authorities indicating “that Israel is ready to commit itself to the signed agreements with us.” “This is for us a very important step in the right direction,” he added, saying that the development followed intervention by the United States, the European Union and “other countries.” Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group, condemned the decision, saying it was compromising joint Palestinian efforts to resist US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.”

Palestinian Authority to restore security, financial coordination with Israel,

“The Palestinian Authority plans to restore ties with Israel, ending a six-month boycott that has had devastating effects on its economy, according to the head of the PA General Authority for Civil Affairs. Hussein al-Sheikh, who is in charge of coordination between the PA and Israel, said on Tuesday that President Mahmoud Abbas was ready to restore relations that had been cut in May over Israel’s now-postponed plans to annex large swaths of the occupied West Bank. In a post to Twitter, Sheikh, a close aide to Abbas, said “the relationship with Israel will return to how it was” following “official written and oral letters we received” confirming Israel’s commitment to past agreements.”

On the U.S. Front: Outgoing and Incoming Administrations at Work

Pompeo expected to visit Israeli settlement in parting gift,

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expected tour of a West Bank winery this week will be the first time a top American diplomat has visited an Israeli settlement, a parting gift from an administration that has taken unprecedented steps to support Israel’s claims to war-won territory. The Psagot winery, established in part on land the Palestinians say was stolen from local residents, is part of a sprawling network of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that most of the international community views as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace. Pompeo’s expected visit, reported by Israeli media but not officially confirmed, would mark a radical departure from past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, which frequently scolded Israel over settlement construction — to little effect.

Pompeo Heads to Israel as Netanyahu Calls Biden ‘President-elect’,

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Israel today as he continues his whistle-stop tour of U.S. allies. Before he heads to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, he is planning on making history. Pompeo will visit two Israeli settlements both considered in violation of international law, one in the Golan Heights and one in the West Bank. By doing so, he becomes the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit either site. His de facto endorsement of the Israeli occupation stands in contrast to the outgoing Obama administration’s moves in 2016, allowing passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory illegal by abstaining from (rather than vetoing) the vote.”

Biden speaks with Netanyahu and Rivlin, assures Israeli leaders ties will remain ‘close’,

“Biden’s conversation with Netanyahu and a separate one the same day with President Reuven Rivlin consolidated international recognition that Biden is the next U.S. president, contrary to President Donald Trump’s continued insistence that he won the Nov. 3 election despite all evidence to the contrary. Netanyahu, one of Trump’s closest allies, had previously congratulated Biden, but the tweet Tuesday was the first time he referred to Biden as “president-elect” — a title for the former vice president that Trump adamantly rejects. All but a handful of foreign leaders have already called Biden the president-elect. The statements also were significant because Biden appeared to be going out of his way following the election to reassure Netanyahu that the relationship would remain close. Some Democrats, including a number of Biden’s rivals during the primaries, have called for distancing from Netanyahu’s government as it drifts to the right, at one point considering annexation of parts of the West Bank…In both statements describing the calls with Netanyahu and Rivlin, Biden also emphasized his support for “Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state,” a reference to Biden’s oft-stated support for a two-state outcome and his opposition to any further Israeli encroachment on areas claimed by Palestinians.” “Two weeks after U.S. elections, Netanyahu and Rivlin speak to Biden” (Ynet)

US congressman leads 40 democrats demanding condemnation of Israeli demolitions,

“US Congressman Mark Pocan led a letter of 40 Democrats to Secretary of State Mark Pompeo, urging him to communicate with the Israeli government immediately to condemn the demolitions of 76 structures in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Homsa al-Baquia (Khierbet Humsah), in the Jordan Valley, and to secure a commitment ending future displacement efforts. “These acts are a serious violation of international law that destroyed homes and displaced 73 people, including 41 children,” stated the letter.”

Occupation, Annexation, & Human Rights

District Committee to Discuss Plan for 570 HU in Har Homa E Next Week,

On Monday, November 23, the District Planning Committee is slated to discuss for a second time the detailed outline plan (TPS 285411) for 570 housing units in the northwestern part of Har Homa E (also known as Har Homa West). The plan’s location is situated close to the plot of land in Givat Hamatos designated in the tender for 1257 housing units, which opened on Sunday, November 15. TPS 285411 was previously discussed at the District Committee on September 22, where the committee expressed support for depositing the plan on the condition that a number of amendments would be made. Next week’s scheduled discussion is likely for the purpose of examining these modifications and thereafter approving the plan for deposit. The rapid advancement of this plan is indicative of the Israeli government’s intent to accelerate as many settlement construction projects as possible in East Jerusalem and its vicinity in the waning days of the Trump administration.”

Netanyahu facing pressure to okay West Bank outposts before Trump leaves office,

“With just eight weeks remaining until US President Donald Trump is replaced in the White House by Democrat Joe Biden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure to to take advantage of the outgoing administration’s goodwill toward settlements to authorize a slew of illegal West Bank outposts. Knesset members from the Land of Israel Caucus group, a cross-party lobby within parliament made up of right-wing lawmakers, are currently collecting signatures on a petition calling on the prime minister to legalize some 70 wildcat settlements home to around 20,000 people.”

Israeli forces, settlers storm archeological site near Nablus,

“Israeli forces and settlers Wednesday morning stormed Sebastia town, to the north of the Nablus city, before closing off the town’s archeological site to Palestinians. Sebastia mayor Mohammad Azzem told WAFA that large units of Israeli forces raided the town before proceeding to close off the archeological site to Palestinians to make room for settlers. Located 11 kilometers to the northwest of Nablus, Sebastia is a small historical town located on a hill with panoramic views across the West Bank and has a population of some 3,000 Palestinians. A prominent settlement during the Iron Age as well as the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the town embraces a Roman amphitheater, temples, a Byzantine and a crusader churches, dedicated to Saint John the Forerunner, who baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, besides to a mosque built in honor of the saint. Christians and Muslims believe the town to be the burial place of the saint.”

Israeli forces close off agricultural roads south of Hebron,

“Israeli military bulldozers today closed off  several agricultural roads to the east of Yatta  town, south of Hebron city, according to local sources. Coordinator of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Popular Committees, Rateb al-Jbour, told WAFA that Israeli military bulldozers sealed off a number of agricultural roads leading to a cluster of hamlets adjacent to the settler-only bypass Road 60 as well as the road leading to Bani Na‘im town, northeast of Hebron, with earth mounds and rocks. He added that closing the road aims at preventing Palestinian farmers from accessing their lands and seizing them in favor of colonial settlement expansion.”

Twice refugees: Palestinians in Jerusalem at imminent risk of losing their homes to Israeli settlers,

“In a white envelope, Muhammed al-Sabbagh has the stack of documents he submitted to an Israeli court to appeal against the decision to evict him from his home in the Karm al-Jaouni neighbourhood of Occupied East Jerusalem. The 71-year-old refugee, who has been living in his home in the Sheikh Jarrah district for more than 64 years, first inhabited the house in 1956, nearly eight years after he had been expelled with his family from Jaffa during the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. Seventy-two years after the Nakba, Sabbagh knew that he would be expelled from his home again when he received an eviction order at the beginning of 2019. Although his lawyers could freeze the decision until last September, he and 31 of his family members are threatened with becoming homeless this winter.”

West Bank demolitions and displacement | October 2020,

“In October, the Israeli authorities targeted 47 Palestinian-owned structures, displacing 41 people and otherwise affecting the livelihoods or access to services of over 1,200 others. All structures, except for one sealed on punitive grounds, were targeted due to a lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. This month witnessed 16 consecutive days in which no demolition or seizure was recorded, resulting in a 24 per cent decline in the number of affected structures, compared with the monthly average in 2020 (62). Of the structures targeted in October, twelve had been provided as humanitarian aid, for a total cost of nearly 25,000 euros. A donor-funded water cistern serving a school in Ramallah was issued a demolition order…The continuous targeting of water and sanitation structures amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains of serious concern, with the vulnerability of affected people further compounded by the onset of winter.”

UAE and Israeli settlers find common ground in Jerusalem,

“Mr. Netanyahu’s inclination to back attempts by the UAE with Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, in the background, to muscle their way into the administration of the Haram ash-Sharif could complicate relations with Jordan and widen differences with the Palestine Authority. The UAE enhanced its ability to manoeuvre by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and rushing to forge closer ties to the country’s political, security and economic elites. In a twist of irony, the UAE finds common ground with the Israeli settler movement and the Jewish far-right in wanting to weaken Jordanian-Palestinian control of the Haram ash-Sharif and counter Turkish efforts to stoke Palestinian nationalist and religious sentiment. The settlers and the far-right are calling for internationalization of the administration of the Haram ash-Sharif, which plays into the UAE’s hands.”

Residents of East Jerusalem settlement skeptical of controversial expansion plan,

“The government’s plan to develop East Jerusalem settlement of Givat Hamatos may have sparked international condemnation this week, but its residents remain skeptical that the construction of more than 1,200 new housing units will actually come light. “We’ve heard this before,” says Daniel Levi, who has lived in the area for the past 30 years. “I am not optimistic.”

Palestinians protest Pompeo’s tour of West Bank settlement winery,

“Palestinians today organized a mass protest against US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expected tour of a colonial settlement winery on the outskirts of Jabal al-Tawil in al-Bireh city. Protestors waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans against Pompeo’s anticipated visit to the Psagot Winery, part of the Israeli colonial settlement of Psagot, established on stolen Palestinian land in Jabal al-Tawil, just outside the West Bank city of al-Bireh. They urged the international community to put an end to the Israeli occupation, including the colonial settlement construction, land grab and home demolitions.”

Regional News

Israel strikes widely in Syria, sending signal of aggressive post-Trump posture,

“Israel launched air raids against what it called a wide range of Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday, sending a signal that it will pursue its policy of striking across the border despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s election defeat. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said at least 10 people were killed. Syria’s state news agency reported three military personnel killed and one wounded. The Observatory said the dead included five Iranians from the elite Quds Force and at least two Lebanese or Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen. A commander of pro-Damascus forces denied Iranians or Lebanese were among the casualties.”

Israel Strikes Syria and Iranian Forces as Pompeo Flies In,

“Israeli forces struck Syria early Wednesday, a day after finding antipersonnel mines in Israeli-held territory along the boundary between the two countries and just hours before a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Bahraini counterpart to mark a new, U.S.-brokered normalization deal. Israel said the latest strikes were aimed at Syria and Iranian targets. They were part of a long-running campaign as Israel tries to thwart what it describes as a concerted effort by Iran to entrench itself on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that overlooks northern Israel.”

Jordanian king heads to UAE for trilateral summit with Emirati, Bahraini leaders,

“The meeting will come as two Bahraini ministers are expected to make the first official visit to Israel by ministers from the Gulf kingdom to take part in a trilateral meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli and US officials. The Wednesday meeting is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani…This will be the first official state visit by King Abdullah to the UAE since the Emirates decided to normalize ties with Israel in August. While the king has not opposed the normalization accords between Israel and Bahrain and between Israel and the UAE, the Jordanian government has yet to fully embrace them.”

Israeli Domestic Politics

Despite soaring poll numbers, Bennett appears unlikely to unseat Netanyahu,

“Israel is almost certainly headed to an election in the coming months. That’s not based on reading the tea leaves of Israeli coalition politics, nor on surreptitious leaks from campaign managers. It’s based on a simple, reliable assumption: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will do whatever it takes to hold on to his seat. If he doesn’t call elections soon — or if a legal challenge now before the High Court of Justice doesn’t revoke his rotation agreement with Defense Minister Benny Gantz — he’ll eventually have to hand Gantz the keys to the kingdom. And so, the spotlight is turning toward what is shaping up as the potential upset bid of the coming race, that of Naftali Bennett, whose right-wing opposition Yamina party won just six seats in the election last March but who has been polling above 20 for the past several months. Bennett has become one of the most vocal and effective critics of Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic at a time of deep disappointment with the government on that very issue. He has called openly for new elections and gone so far as to tell Netanyahu to exit the political stage.”

Netanyahu attacks Bennett: I don't know if he's left or right,

“When asked if Benny Ganz would be prime minister, Netanyahu replied, “Who knows? If they will give – they will receive. In the meantime, we have a government within a government. To a large extent, this will determine the continuation [of the government].” Netanyahu then launched a scathing attack on Yamina chairman Bennett. “I do not know if Bennett is right-wing or left-wing. It depends on what day you ask. There are two parties there. Bennett voted for Lapid for prime minister. He voted with the Joint List. Smotritz voted against this.” Later in the interview, Netanyahu clarified, “I will not rely on the joint list because they are supporters of terrorism. There is a struggle in Arab society between those who are Islamists who want to take us back to the Middle Ages and those who want to integrate.””

Top Commentary & Analysis

Biden may offer some key opportunities for Palestinians and their allies,

“The Biden administration may represent the traditional Democratic establishment that remains unconditionally loyal to Israel, but the establishment itself is under heightened scrutiny from within its party as well as among leftist political constellations that are credited with ensuring the Democrats’ electoral victory. Palestinian freedom is increasingly part of the moral and political compass of this progressive movement. The Biden administration offers different conditions for struggle, ones that have been foreclosed by Trump for the past four years. The onus is on Palestinians and their allies to turn time into a strategy for resistance and a Democratic internal struggle into a defining turning point. Ultimately, the path forward does not look for saviors in U.S. politicians but seeks strategic interventions within a broader set of tools, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and building solidarity with other social justice struggles.”

Netanyahu goes for broke in Trump's last two month,

“Netanyahu is hoping for some last-minute favors before the president leaves Washington relating to Israeli construction in the settlements, tightening relations with Arab Sunni states, additional sanctions on Iran and possibly some form of American military action against Iran’s expanding nuclear infrastructure in violation of its agreement with world powers. Trump’s reported consultation with his defense aides last week about a possible Iran strike was no whim. Quite a few people have raised this option with him quite recently, describing the threat Iran poses, with its consistent violations of the nuclear agreement and obtention of more fissile material than permitted under the deal….Israel’s current moves risk damaging its chances to turn a new page with Biden and the Democratic Party, which Netanyahu and his people have alienated in recent years while cozying up to Republicans. Netanyahu has chosen to focus on gains with his political base at the expense of a sound and sincere relationship with the new US administration.”

Dear Ambassador Friedman, Farewell, I’m Not Shedding a Tear,

“In my opinion you were the most political and least professional U.S. ambassador ever to serve here. You violated a glorious tradition of American ambassadors, all of whom – whether they were political appointments or came from the ranks of the State Department – respected the directives of all the articles of international law…Whereas you, from your first day as ambassador, never ceased taking a stand regarding internal affairs, even those that are the subject of a bitter national dispute. This is with reference mainly to the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, or the occupied territories – depending on whom you ask. The fact that there are multiple descriptions clearly points to the depth of the dispute among us…You took an active part in innumerable events and ceremonies held in the territories, our control of which is still considered illegal according to international law and the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. This as opposed to an absolute majority of foreign ambassadors serving in Israel, who are very careful not to act in contradiction to the binding international directives. You fully earned the title by which you came to be known: the settlers’ ambassador.”

With Trump on way out, Netanyahu nails together settlement legacy,

“According to a diplomatic source who talked to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Netanyahu allowed himself to dawdle over the plans so long as he knew that Trump was in office. According to the source, “The situation is different now. From the moment Biden enters the White House, this kind of construction will offend the new administration, which in turn could take revenge. Netanyahu is the first to be updated about Biden’s attitude toward building in the settlements and in east Jerusalem. What he’s doing now is to maximize his achievements until the last minutes of Trump’s presidency in the White House.””

By Renewing Cooperation With Israel, Palestinian Authority Leadership Admits Failure,

“The announcement by the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday that it was renewing civilian and security coordination with Israel is an admission that its policies of the past year have failed. It is another message to the Palestinian public and the international community that the Palestinian leadership has no clear strategy.”