Political Update Friday 17 April 2020

General Highlights

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: At midnight, the PA government spokesman announced a new case in Yatta / Hebron. He announced the case is of a worker in Israel. It turned out that this individual refused to hand himself over to medical quarantine. The man identified as Sliman Makhamreh is said to be wanted by PA police for criminal activities and sentenced to serve time in jail. The PA ministry of health released his name to the public and asked all those who had been in contact with him to report to the PA ministry of health immediately for quarantine and other medical measures. The PA government spokesman had announced a new case of coronavirus infection yesterday evening. The confirmed case is of a worker from Bani Naim village / Hebron. The total number of cases stands at 296. Unofficial information indicated that there are 81 cases in East Jerusalem.

US Ambassador announces $5 million to hospitals in the West Bank/ reactions: the US ambassador David Freidman announced that as part of the US global response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the US will pay $5 million to the Palestinians. While no official PA reaction was made as of this morning, the Palestinian National Initiative headed by Mustafa Al Bargouthi issued a statement dismissing the US Ambassador Friedman announcement of $ 5 million to hospitals and households in the West Bank. For more relevant comments and reactions, please see under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

PM Shtayeh held a meeting with PA governors: For more on this item, please see under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

Waqf council and depart announced Aqsa remains closed during Ramadan: For more on this item, please see under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

A large medical supplies shipment will arrive in two weeks from Turkey: For more on this item, please see under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

Marking Prisoners Day/ President Abbas statement: President Abbas on the occasion of the Palestinian Prisoner Day said that the issue of the Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention remains a top priority for the people and leadership of Palestine. More on this item under Public Statements/ Reports.

Hamas denies progress in prisoners swap deal talks: Senior Hamas official Mousa Dudeen categorically denied that a delegation from Hamas headed to Cairo. More on this item under Public Statements/ Reports.

Slamming the PA for arresting Hamas members: More on this item under Public Statements/Reports.

No new cases in Gaza/ all those who return to Gaza are quarantined for 21 days: More on this item under Gaza Related Reports.

Other Developments/ Security Incidents

The Israeli police summoned Palestine TV correspondent in Jerusalem, More on this item under Other Developments/ Security Incidents.

Detailed Reports below

Relevant Political and other Dynamics

US Ambassador announces $5 million to hospitals in the West Bank/ reactions: the US ambassador David Freidman announced that as part of the US global response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the US will pay $5 million to the Palestinians. He said in a tweet “I’m very pleased the USA is providing $5M for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19. The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis.” While no official PA relation was made as of this morning, the Palestinian National Initiative headed by Mustafa Al Bargouthi issued a statement dismissing the US Ambassador Friedman announcement of $ 5 million to hospitals and households in the West Bank. The statement indicated that the US which had cut funding to East Jerusalem hospitals and UNRWA is working to provide support to civil society organizations. The statement noted that this contribution comes with the condition that recipient of aid sign the anti-terrorism act which was rejected before. Comment: Senior PA officials told Horizon Center that the US had approached the PA through sensitive channels two weeks ago to discuss the possibility of providing financial aid to the health sector. The PA officials said that initially the plan was to send the money through the World Health Organization. The PA officials said that with the US President decision to cut funding to WHO, the US intends to pass these funds through civil society organizations working in the health sector. The PA officials explained that none of these funds will come to the PA Ministry of Finance/ PA government. In addition, the PA officials said that it was the US and not the PA that stopped provision of assistance to the PA due to the sharp political disagreements since the Jerusalem Proclamation was made in late 2017. The PA officials thus said that this the PA officially does not have a negative position against the provision of humanitarian assistance so long the PA is not to compromise its political stands. In addition, the PA officials explained that the legal experts noted that provision of humanitarian and emergency aid through civil society organizations working in the health sector does not create legal problems for the PA under the US Anti-Terrorism Act which was amended last year. The amendment made to the Act states explicitly that provision of US financial assistance to Palestinian civil society organizations does not have bearing to the terms and conditions set in the Act versus assistance provided to the PA/ PLO directly. The PA officials noted that when the PA was asked to provide a letter to the US administration seeking medical assistance, the PA refused to do so. The PA’s positon was that officially the PA will not be a party to this process nor an obstacle.

PM Shtayeh held a meeting with PA governors: in the presence of General Ismael Jaber, PM Shtayeh held a meeting with all PA governors in Ramallah yesterday. During the meeting, PM Shtayeh told the governors that there is pressure on the government to reopen economic activities in light of the ongoing crisis. He however stressed that health and safety are the top priority of the government and as such pressure to change the PA’s lockdown response does not have an impact on the PA policy in this regard. He stressed that careful balance must always be struck between health concerns and the resumption of economic activities.

Waqf council and depart announced Aqsa remains closed during Ramadan: The Waqf department along with the Waqf council announced that following careful consideration of the health hazards surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, al Aqsa mosque will remain closed during the month of Ramadan and no rituals will be held on site. The statement noted however that all mosque attendants, employees and security guards will continue to attend to the mosque and “Calls for Prayers” Azan will be held on all times. In the meantime, the Israeli police summoned Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, director of the Aqsa Mosque, for questioning at the Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem. Al Kiswani was released subsequently and was reportedly asked specific questions on the Waqf plans for the month of Ramadan. Comment: The Israeli police had pressed Waqf to shut down the site throughout the Coronavirus crisis. The Israeli police reportedly wanted to ensure that Waqf will keep the site closed during the month of Ramadan.

A large medical supplies shipment will arrive in two weeks: Senior PA officials said that an agreement has been signed yesterday in Ankara between the PA and the Turkish government. The agreement states that Turkey will provide a large supply of medical materials including coronavirus test kits, and protective gear to the PA. The PA officials said that the shipment will arrive in nearly two weeks. The agreement states that half of the supplies are detonated for Gaza and the other half for The West Bank.

Public Statements/ Reports

Marking Prisoners Day/ President Abbas statement: President Abbas on the occasion of the Palestinian Prisoner Day said that the issue of the Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention remains a top priority for the people and leadership of Palestine. He noted that “this is to preserve the just, inalienable rights of our people”. President Abbas reiterated the firm position of the leadership that no peace agreement will be signed with Israel until all the Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails are released. He praised the prisoners as freedom fighters who have “lost years of their lives for the cause of their people, for their legitimate rights to freedom and independence and the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.” The President called on the international community and all human rights advocates to pressure Israel to abide by the principles of the international law regarding the protection of prisoners and their health wellbeing, especially during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He concluded his statement by saying “we will not give in to any pressure exerted on us to abandon our heroic prisoners and their families, and we will continue to do everything necessary to provide them with a decent life.” Comment: due to the threat to public health, the Prisoners Club and other prisoners support groups announced that virtual media campaign will be initiated instead of public gatherings to mark the Prisoners Day which falls today 17 April.

Hamas denies progress in prisoners swap deal talks: Senior Hamas official Mousa Dudeen categorically denied that a delegation from Hamas headed to Cairo to hold talks with Egyptian officials about an intended prisoner swap deal with the Israeli side, calling news reports in this regard as “untrue.” In press remarks yesterday, Dudeen affirmed that the news reports that talked about such visit by a Hamas delegation to Cairo and achieving a breakthrough in alleged talks about a swap deal were fabrications. Israel’s Channel 12 claimed on Wednesday that a delegation from Hamas, including a military official, traveled to Cairo to start talks with Egyptian mediators about a prisoner swap deal with the Israeli government.

Slamming the PA for arresting Hamas members: Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem denounced the arrest of Palestinian figures in the West Bank by PASF as a “continuation of the PA’s suppressive policies and implementation of the requirements of security coordination policy.” In a press release, Qasem explained that such behavior “contradicts with all national calls to reinforce the home front” to face off the coronavirus pandemic. The statement indicated that the Preventive Security Service detained 44-year-old Hamas official Eyad Nasser, who was previously imprisoned in Israeli jails, after raiding his home in Tulkarm.

Gaza Related Reports

No new cases in Gaza/ all those who return to Gaza are quarantined for 21 days: Hamas health officials in Gaza announced that more than 840 individuals returned to Gaza in the past three days through Rafah crossing. The officials indicated that Hamas had finished the construction of 1,000 quarantine units and handed them over to the the competent authorities in Gaza as part of its effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. In a press release, Hamas had indicated that the 500 quarantine were established in the northern area of Gaza and another 500 in the south. The health ministry in Gaza use the quarantine units for the citizens who return from abroad through the Rafah border crossing in the south and the Beit Hanoun (Erez) border crossing in the north.

Other Developments/ Security Incidents\

GI distributes medical supplies to UNRWA clinics: The PA General Intelligence Service distributed a large quantity of medical supplies and protective gear to the UNRWA clinics in refugee camps in the West Bank. The medical supplies were delivered through the local camp committees in Qalandia, Shufat camp, Tulkarem and Nur Shams, al Faraa, Aroub and Fawwar and other UNRWA clinics in the West Bank. The West Bank Refugees Camp committees extended a thank note to the chief of the General Intelligence for the constitution.

The Israeli police summoned Palestine TV correspondent in Jerusalem, Christine Rinawi, for interrogation at the Russian Compound police station in Jerusalem. According to press reports, the Israeli Shen Bet called Rinawi and ordered her to appear at the Russian compound police station in the evening. The Israeli police had shut down Palestine TV office in Jerusalem on 6 December 2019, seized all cameras and equipment and barred its employees from doing any work for the TV.

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