Israel’s annexations plans stoke fears of fresh Gaza conflict

Some kind of military confrontation is likely, analysts tell MEE, but Hamas is content to take a back seat and let the PA make the first moves

By Adam Khalil in Gaza City, besieged Gaza Strip

The prospect that Israel will annex areas of the occupied West Bank has stoked fears across the region of impending unrest, with Jordan’s king going so far as to warn of “massive conflict”.

Though eyes will naturally be drawn to the West Bank, where Israel has identified illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley as areas it could unilaterally claim as its own, fears of escalation with the besieged Gaza Strip are becoming more profound.

Various groups in Gaza, such as the Hamas movement that rules the coastal enclave, have issued statements rejecting the annexation plan, without explicitly predicting a confrontation with Israel once the move comes into effect.

Deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, Saleh al-Arouri, said in an interview with Al-Aqsa TV that the Israeli move will likely result in some form of military escalation, but that confrontation is not on the immediate agenda of Palestinian factions.

He said, however, that confrontation requires a “comprehensive national plan to be agreed upon among the factions in order to confront the Israeli plan”.

Likewise, political analysts in Gaza argue that it is unlikely annexation will result in a real escalation in the besieged strip, unless furious popular reactions in the West Bank have a domino effect on Gaza’s residents.

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said Hamas perceives annexation as a failure of the political project of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which dominates the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas believes the solution in dealing with Israel is using “the language of force”, he added.

“Hamas will not initiate a comprehensive confrontation with Israel because of the issue of annexation. Hamas does not believe that the Palestinian Authority is ready or serious about canceling the Oslo Accords, and thinks that the PA will not allow military action in the West Bank,” Abu Saada told Middle East Eye.

He added that Hamas requires that “the confrontation, in the event, that it takes place, be within a plan agreed upon among the factions”, such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Conflict concern
The Israeli military, for one, seems concerned that a conflict with Gaza is on the horizon.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed three major military confrontations with Israel in recent years, during which thousands of Palestinians were killed and wounded.

Israeli media has reported security officials voicing concern a fourth could be possible, or at least a deadly flare-up as has happened multiple times in recent years.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad will find it difficult not to respond from Gaza and to create a security escalation, and the launch of balloons may be a beginning of tension,” the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

“The firing of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip is a show of strength and ability, with the aim of signaling to Israel dissatisfaction in Gaza.”

Tensions on the Israel-Gaza frontier are already escalating.

In recent days a number of incendiary balloons have been launched from the enclave towards Israeli towns, as well as a missile. That has stoked calls within Israel for retaliation.

However, political writer Hani Habib does not believe that this turn of events really has anything to do with the annexation plan, despite various statements, and that the Palestinian action and Israeli reaction was “normal”.

Yet Hamas, other Gaza factions, and Israel are currently coexisting under a series of ceasefire understandings that have brought calm and stability for several months, he noted. Habib suggests it would be difficult to tear up these agreements because of their positive impact on people’s daily lives, in relation to electricity, securing Qatari funds and other important resources.

“Based on past experiences, the situation in Gaza will remain under control,” Habib told MEE.

“Gaza may be more enthusiastic, but in the end, the Palestinian situation can no longer tolerate unaccounted-for confrontations. We may witness some breakthroughs here and there.”

Hamas’ options

Hamas is the largest military force in the Gaza Strip, but the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad possesses significant capabilities as well.

‘Hamas is happy with the failure of the peace settlement project’

– Hussam Dajani, commentator

The al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, has taken different positions than Hamas in previous situations and attacked Israel alone, prompting retaliation on its positions only. However, Israel repeatedly insists that it holds Hamas ultimately responsible for any attacks from Gazan soil.

Abu Saada, the political scientist, believes that Hamas is not interested in an escalation with Israel at the current stage, but it is possible that the Islamic Jihad or other factions have another position.

“An escalation is possible by the Islamic Jihad and other factions, because Hamas thinks that the PA is responsible for taking the first step,” he said.

Hussam al-Dajani, a political writer close to Hamas, believes the movement is content to wait and see, rather than take the initiative in facing down Israel.

“Hamas is happy with the failure of the peace settlement project, and that its first engineer Mahmoud Abbas retracted it,” Dajani told MEE, referring to the PA president, adding that the movement feels like its approach to the occupation has been vindicated.

According to Dajani, Hamas has three options: waiting and anticipating, which is the more likely; support and assistance; or leaving Abbas to face his fate and bear the results alone.

Before even considering support for the Palestinian Authority, he said, Hamas is demanding the PA stops pursuing and arresting its members and allows the armed resistance to operate freely in the West Bank.

“If Hamas finds that President Abbas is serious about implementing these steps, the opportunities for support and an alliance with him will be strong,” Dajani said.

(Source / 18.06.2020)

Israeli annexation of West Bank cannot be justified: legislator

JAKARTA, PALESTINOW.COM – Aziz Syamsuddin, Deputy Speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR), has opined that Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank cannot be justified at all.

“Indonesia supports the Palestinian people in their fight for their rights to establish a sovereign state,” Aziz Syamsuddin said in a statement on Saturday (14/06).

Israel’s plan to annex a third of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank is illegal, because it is against UN Security Council resolutions and international laws.

The unlawful plan also has the potential to increase tensions between Palestine and Israel, hence it is opposed by the international community, especially by the Middle East countries.

International laws are pillars that must be obeyed and implemented for the sake of humanity and peace.

Hence, any unilateral move that violates international agreements and norms must be stopped immediately, the Golkar Party politician remarked.

The one third of the area planned to be annexed by Israel covers part of the Hebron and the southern West Bank.

In the area there is the Mosque of the Prophet Ibrahim, which has been registered as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2017, and the tomb of Ibrahim, which is an important site for Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

“We certainly deeply regret the Israeli government plan, particularly as the world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this condition, the world demands increased cooperation, solidarity and mutual help, not provocation, let alone annexation that can worsen the situation of global security, “Aziz said.

The DPR fully supports the steps of Indonesia, which currently serves as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, to encourage the international community to work together to uphold commitments to international law and agreements that have been mutually agreed upon.

“Regarding this matter, we welcome the prompt response that has been made by the Indonesian government by strongly condemning the Israeli plan and also sending letters to 30 friendly countries to reject Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank region,” he said.

According to Aziz, this step is in accordance with the Indonesia’s foreign policy which states that independence is the right of every nation, and therefore, colonialism over the world must be abolished because it is against humanity and justice.

The Indonesia government has always supported the Palestinian government and people and pushed for peace in Jerusalem.

“Indonesia does not want to be hostile to any country, but we cannot justify injustice in any form against a country” Aziz added.

(Source / 18.06.2020)

Sheikh Sabri urges Palestinians to participate in Fajr prayer campaign

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, PALESTINOW.COM – Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, head of the Higher Islamic Council in Occupied Jerusalem, has called on all Palestinians who could reach the Aqsa Mosque to necessarily participate in the Great Fajr prayer campaign as of next Friday to protect it against Judaization attempts and to protest the West Bank annexation plans.

In a press release, Sheikh Sabri urged, in particular, the Jerusalem residents to fulfill their duty as protectors of the Aqsa Mosque through intensifying their presence in its courtyards and buildings.

He noted that the intensive presence of Muslim worshipers at the Mosque would fortify it and force the occupation state to retreat from its plots against it.

(Source / 17.06.2020)

Israeli army targets Hamas infrastructure after rocket fire

GAZA CITY, PALESTINOW.COM – Israel retaliated by air and tank fire Monday against Hamas positions after rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the army said.

The tensions came after Gaza rulers Hamas called for unity among Palestinians and “resistance” against Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army said that a rocket had been fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip “into Israel”, the first such act in more than a month.

“Airplanes targeted Hamas infrastructure” in southern Gaza and “tanks targeted (its) military posts,” the army said.

Palestinian security sources confirmed that Hamas targets had been hit.

Earlier Monday, senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil told a news conference “we call for the annexation project to be confronted with resistance in all forms”.

“We call on our people to transform this hardship into an opportunity to get the Palestinian project back on track,” Bardawil said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aims to begin a process of annexing West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley from July 1, as part of a US peace initiative.

Deep divisions remain between Islamist movement Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, but Bardawil called for a “union of the political class”.

“It is the duty of each free Palestinian citizen to rise up against this flagrant aggression on our land,” he said.

Bardawil called for a meeting between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which includes various other Palestinian groups.

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, after ousting forces of president Mahmoud Abbas in a near civil war among the Palestinians.

Both the PA and Hamas stand opposed to annexation in the West Bank, which forms part of a controversial peace plan unveiled in January by US President Donald Trump.

The initiative paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but on reduced territory and without key Palestinian demands such as a capital in east Jerusalem.

Israel’s intention to press ahead with annexation has been met with warnings from the United Nations that such a move would likely spark violence.

(Source / 17.06.2020)

Palestinian Authority faces unprecedented cash crunch

RAMALLAH, PALESTINOW.COM – Insufficient revenues have left the Palestinian Authority (PA) unable to pay the May salaries for around 133,000 government employees.

On Sunday, government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem told a press conference that there was no date to pay the due salaries as the Finance Ministry was unable to allocate the required funds

The severe decline in revenues is attributed to the PA’s refusal to receive tax money from Israel for May after the Ramallah-based authority decided to terminate agreements and understandings with the Israeli government over Tel Aviv’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

On May 20, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the termination of all agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the US over the Israeli annexation plan.

The tax revenues — known in Palestine and Israel as maqasa — are collected by the Israeli government on behalf of the PA on Palestinian imports and exports. Israel in return earns a commission of 3% of collected revenues.

The tax revenues are estimated at $200 million each month, where Israel deducts around $40 million for services on Palestinian exports and imports and the electricity bill.

These taxes represent 63% of the PA’s public revenues.

But even if the PA received the tax revenues in full, it would still suffer a severe decrease in revenues due to the lockdown of economic activities over the coronavirus outbreak for the past three months.

Data from the Finance Ministry shows a 60% drop in local tax revenues in May, collecting only $40 million of the locally collected monthly average estimated at $110 million.

The given figures show that the May revenues have dropped by some 90% compared to January and February of the same year.

On the other hand, the PA received only $28 million in foreign aid in May, which means that all the revenues that the authority received over the past month did not exceed $68 million, covering only about one-fifth of the monthly public expenditures, amounting to about $300 million.

This is not the first economic crisis facing the PA, as Israel held tax revenues over 10 times since the PA was established in 1994, in a move decried by the Palestinians as an Israeli blackmail for political purposes.

In previous crises, the Palestinian government resorted to taking loans from local banks to be able to pay part of its obligations, especially the salaries of employees but this time it seems that its ability to borrow is running low.

A manager of one of the foreign banks operating in the Palestinian territories told Anadolu Agency that this crisis came after revenues fell sharply as a result of coronavirus.

The bank manager who preferred anonymity due to his bank’s policy said that the Palestinian Finance Ministry exceeded the limit of its borrowing from banks.

“The [PA] was unable to secure a loan of $400 million requested to overcome the consequences of coronavirus and managed to receive only $30 million,” he said.

As of the end of May, the PA’s debt to local banks amounted to $1.627 billion, in addition to $1.1 billion in external debt, half of which was for a fund managed by the Islamic Development Bank.

(Source / 15.06.2020)

Gazans resume flying incendiary balloons to Israel

incendiary balloons from Gaza Strip towards Israeli settlements.

Abu Yassir, one of the activists, told Anadolu Agency that he and a number of Palestinian youths, members of the so-called “Descendants of Nasser Salah al-Din”, began launching batches of “incendiary balloons” from Gaza towards Israeli settlements near Gaza’s borders.

READ: Indonesia urges int’l action against Israeli annexation

Abu Yassir, who refused to share his real name due to security concerns, said: “The resumption of firing balloons came in response to Israeli violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the decision to annex parts of the West Bank.”

He also said firing balloons will continue until 6 p.m. local time (1500GMT).

For the last year, Palestinian activists have been flying burning kites and balloons into Israeli territory as part of ongoing anti-occupation demonstrations along the fraught Gaza-Israel buffer zone.

READ: Indonesia BKSAP Urges Government to Boycott Israel Internationally

Since 2019, Egypt, the UN and Qatar have been leading consultations to reach a truce between the Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel, based on easing the blockade imposed on the Strip, in exchange for stopping Palestinian protests near the border with Israel.

More than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza are suffering poor conditions, due to the ongoing Israeli blockade on the Strip since Hamas won the legislative elections in the summer of 2006.

(Source / 14.06.2020)

IOA orders Palestinian family to demolish their home in Jerusalem

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, PALESTINOW.COM – Israeli occupation authorities (IOA) on Saturday forced a Palestinian family to demolish their own home in Sur Baher town southeast of Jerusalem.

The Rebaiya family said that the IOA weeks ago handed them an order to demolish their home. Otherwise, Israel’s Jerusalem municipality would carry out the demolition and force them to pay an 80,000 NIS fine.

The IOA claimed the house was built without an Israeli license.

The Rebaiya family said that when they received the order, they followed all possible legal procedures to freeze the demolition but nothing changed.

(Source / 14.06.2020)

Israeli government to approve ‘Trump Settlement’ in Golan

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, PALESTINOW.COM – The Israeli government is set to approve on Sunday a new settlement in the Golan Heights named after US President Donald Trump one year after announcing plans to establish it.

Israel’s Walla website reported that the new settlement will be built in appreciation of Trump’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and his support for Israel, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Last year’s announcement did not include a specific plan on how to fund the new settlement or establish it. On Sunday, a more specific plan will be presented to the government, according to Walla.

The move comes two days after Trump announced sanctions on the International Criminal Court over war crimes probes.

(Source / 14.06.2020)

OIC adopts resolution as Indonesia calls for ‘massive mobilization’ against Israeli aggression

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi speaks virtually at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday evening. Indonesia called for OIC states to launch a “massive mobilization” to oppose the Israeli plan to annex a large part of the occupied West Bank

JAKARTA, PALESTINOW.COM – Indonesia has called on the Muslim world and its allies to join hands in a “massive mobilization” against Israel’s plan to illegally annex a large part of the West Bank, issuing the call as top diplomats from Muslim and Muslim-majority countries convened to reiterate their support for Palestinian sovereignty and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi said that the member countries should work together to mobilize support for Palestine and hedge against any internal divisions over the contentious issue.

READ: Indonesia urges other nations to reject Israel’s West Bank plan

“Our voice should be solid to prevent the formal annexation from happening,” Retno said in her speech, a transcript of which was made available to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The OIC, which was established in response to the 1969 arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, has regularly issued statements and resolutions condemning Israeli aggression on Palestine.

However, individual member states have offered varying responses to Israel’s annexation plan depending on their diplomatic relations with the United States, which has been a strong supporter of Israel with US President Donald Trump espousing the plan.

Retno noted that while all countries in the world were scrambling to tackle the coronavirus pandemic over the past few months, Israel had used the opportunity to annex the West Bank.

READ: What West Bank annexation really means

After successfully forming a coalition government following repeated failure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to extend sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank – Palestinian territory that Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Netanyahu’s new government is due to discuss the annexation plan beginning July 1, reports Reuters.

Retno alleged that Israel had violated international law and various United Nations resolutions while undermining international parameters and consensus on the question of Palestine, including the two-state solution.

“The current ‘de facto’ annexation is unacceptable. The planned ‘formal’ annexation is even more unacceptable,” she stressed during Wednesday’s virtual meeting.

READ: Indonesia Reaffirms Support for Palestine as Israel Reveals Plan to Annex West Bank

The minister urged OIC states that maintained formal relations with Israel to take diplomatic measures in accordance with OIC resolutions if Israel proceeded with its plan to formally annex the disputed territory.

A staunch ally of Palestine, Indonesia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

The OIC adopted a resolution at Wednesday’s extraordinary meeting that “warns against the dangerous intention of Israel, the occupying power, to annex parts of occupied Palestinian territory” as representing “a serious escalation of its colonial policies and measures, flagrant aggression on the historical, legal and political rights of the Palestinian people, and a blatant violation of the principles and standards of international law, the UN Charter and relevant UN resolutions”.

Retno also stressed that OIC states must be actively denounced Israel’s move at international and multilateral forums, including the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council (UNSC), and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

READ: Jordan warns Israel of consequences over the annexation

OIC member states Indonesia, Tunisia and Niger currently serve as nonpermanent UNSC members. Fifteen OIC states, including Indonesia, sit on the UNHRC.

“The OIC must also begin to lobby other groupings and other international organizations,” the minister said, and that the collective movement should aim “to support the resumption of credible multilateral negotiations guided by internationally agreed parameters with the aim to achieve the two-state solution”.

Retno added that she had sent letters clarifying Indonesia’s position to her counterparts in the Non-Aligned Movement, the G-77, and the European Union, as well as all members of the UN Security Council. The letter also asked for their support in rejecting Israel’s annexation plan.

In a joint announcement with Netanyahu in late January, Trump released his long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian “peace plan”, which laid out a vision for establishing an independent Palestinian state while also formalizing Israeli sovereignty over settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

READ: As annexation looms, will Palestinian Authority diminish?

The heavily biased plan received different responses from individual countries, with Indonesia pointing out that the US plan did not adhere to “internationally agreed parameters”, including those on illegal Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and the fate of some 5 million Palestinian refugees.

In February, the OIC issued a resolution that categorically rejects Trump’s plan, saying that it “does not meet the minimum aspirations and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and contradicts the terms of reference of the peace process”.

(Source / 11.06.2020)

What West Bank annexation really means

By Naim Mousa

July 1. That is the date by which Netanyahu has promised to complete the annexation of the West Bank. But what does that really mean? Most people think that means he will annex Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and the rest of the region. However, nothing can be farther from the truth.

This is due to one simple word that poses the greatest threat to Israel, more so than war with its neighbors or Iran: demographics.

Out of a total population of about 9.2 million, Israel has almost 7 million Jewish citizens; about 2 million Palestinians citizens comprise about 20% of its population. Despite the ethnic cleansing that occurred during the Nakba in 1948, a significant Palestinian population resisted Israeli forces. This group of Palestinians, known as 1948 Arabs, continued to live on their lands and in their homes after 1948, but had to endure years of brutal martial law and military rule until Israel finally granted them citizenship in the early 1950s due to international pressure.

Such a development proved to be one of the most consequential in the fight for Palestinian rights, as Palestinian citizens of Israel have become essential players in resisting and pushing back against discriminatory policies within Israel and against the occupation and human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza. This is due to the fact that they are able to participate in the Israeli government, albeit with many racist barriers and suppressive laws, allowing them to influence and challenge government policies from within Israel’s own system – which has proven to be significantly more effective than the efforts of the Palestinian Authority over the years.

Therefore, it is clear that Palestinian citizens of Israel are quite the source of irritation for the Israeli government. Moreover, as seen over the past year with the three rounds of elections held in the country, they hold immense political power and influence, which the Israeli government constantly acts upon to try to keep dormant.

Keep in mind that a minority that comprises only about 20% of the Israeli population is able to achieve all of this. So, can you imagine what would happen if the more than 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank were absorbed into the Israeli population? That would mean that nearly half of the Israeli population would be Palestinian, a prospect that rattles the very foundations of every Jewish party in Israel. Given the fact that, already, proposals for “land swaps” are being considered in order to decrease the Palestinian population in Israel, it is simply inconceivable that Israel would want to annex the entire West Bank.

What Netanyahu really means when he states he is annexing the West Bank is a notion far more dangerous. This is due to two factors; firstly, with an Israeli court ordering Netanyahu to appear at the opening of his corruption trial – becoming the first sitting prime minister in the country’s history to be charged with a crime – he is keen on carrying out all his inflammatory, racist, and hate-filled campaign promises in order to gain the support of the Israeli public; and so will be able to more easily delegitimize the trial, witnesses, and any verdict that does not go his way. Therefore, the prospects of him making do on his annexation promise are very high and should be taken very seriously.

The second factor as to why his promise of annexation is far more dangerous than perceived is because of what it will actually look like. As I explained, he won’t simply annex the entire West Bank, as that would be disastrous for Israel. Instead, annexation would almost certainly be in the form of applying full Israeli sovereignty to illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. While at the surface this seems to be better than annexing Jericho or Bethlehem, its implications are far more extreme.

Annexed illegal settlements would no longer be illegal settlements in the eyes of the world; they would simply be towns, villages, and communities in Israel – just like Haifa or Tel Aviv. And that is the problem. Israel will finally complete its annexation of the West Bank by simply building illegal settlements on stolen lands and incorporating them into its own territory. International bodies might try to continute to call them illegal settlements, but they would soon have the status of East Jerusalem, and Israel would have free rein over what happens in them, without fear of repercussions from bodies such as the EU or others. This is because in the past, the EU has always been cautious in its criticism of Israel – rarely going beyond a simple statement of condemnation.

Moreover, when Netanyahu decides to carry out annexation of illegal settlements, it will be under the pretense of them being Jewish communities, thus “justifying” such a move which would not be met with meaningful EU pushback. Though it must be said that there is a small upside: such a move will draw international condemnation and criticism, which will in turn shed light on the realities of the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, to the international public.

So you may be asking, “what about the Palestinians? How will this affect them?”

The unfortunate truth is that while the word “annexation” may sound like a move which will rock the region, the reality is that the West Bank is already annexed in all but name. Palestinians have no sovereignty, no control of vital resources such as electricity and water, and do not even have control over their own economy, as the Palestinian Authority’s budget is controlled by Israel and can be frozen at will by the Israeli government. That is what annexation looks like.

The only thing Netanyahu is doing is making annexation official in certain parts by annexing Palestinian lands without the Palestinians that live on them, and that for him is a dream scenario.

(Source / 08.06.2020)