Political Update Monday 20 April 2020

General Highlights

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update:

PA appeals to the Islamic Bank for Development to support small businesses: Prime Minister Shtayeh met through videoconference with the head of the Islamic Bank to appeal for a soft loans that would be provided to support the small business sector in Palestine which was impacted greatly in the past two months because of the lockdown. PA officials said that the head of the Iambic Bank requested a detailed a proposal including details of the losses and the approach the PA is suggesting to provide fanatical assistance to this sector.

The PA cabinet to discuss easing lockdown measures: following more than two weeks of debate, the PA cabinet will discuss easing lockdown measures including reopening some of the economic sectors including the construction sector, restaurants, sweet shops, some government ministries etc. PA officials told Horizon Center that this move is becoming critical with the passage of time given the fact that the PA is not in a financial positon to compensate the small business, local workers and other sectors impacted by this measure.

PA officials said that the PA Monterey Authority agreed to lower the Banks Reserve Deposit by two percent only should there be a need to provide cash flow into the local economy. The PA officials said that a large portion of this fund, reserve fund, is invested in official Jordanian Government Bonds and therefore there is no more than 2% availability. This issue was raised by PM Shtayeh during meetings with the PA Monetary Authority who initially resisted the proposal to liquidate any of the bank deposits and reserved given the longer term negative impact on the economy. However, after back and forth, the Monetary Authority accepted releasing two percent of this reserve pending a final decision should there be a need upon the government instructions. In addition, PA officials said the Monterey Authority had invested a large portion of this fund in official Jordanian government bonds that are bound by a time limit for liquidation.

Hamas – Fatah relations debated in public statements: Haniyeh told the Arabi TV that should the coronavirus enter into Gaza this will lead to a disaster given the crowded nature of the Gaza strip. He said that Gaza has taken several steps to prevent the infectious virus from entering the Gaza strip through the strict quarantine measures taken for all who wish to reenter the Gaza strip. He stressed that close coordination is underway with the Egyptian authorities in terms of operating the Rafah crossing and all issues related to COVID19 pandemic.  He said that with politics aside, Hamas initiated contacts with the PA. He said that our brother sin Ramallah continue to deal with Gaza according to political considerations. He said that we requested ventilators, medicines and testing kits and equipment. He said that we told our brothers in Ramallah that this is the high time to hold reconciliation and end the vision once and for all. He said that the Israeli occupation bears full responsibility for the Gaza siege. He stressed that there is no coordination underway between the Gaza authority and the Israelis. He highlighted Hamas’s position vis-à-vis the prisoners. He said that Hamas takes the release of prisoners in Israeli jails as top priority and a national commitment. He reiterated support to Sinwar’s proposal for a prisoners swap deal with Israel. However, Haniyeh said that should Israel demonstrate seriousness to address this file, Hamas will move forward with this proposal. He said that some mediators have contacted Hamas and we provided them with our proposal. He said we are optimistic that we will achieve what we seek to release the prisoners. He said we demanded the release of the elderly, ill prisoners. Women and minors as well as those who were rearrested following the Shalit deal, in order to be in a position to start a round of negotiations to hold a prisoners swap deal. He said that there are currently 560 prisoners who are sentenced for life and the PA committed a strategic mistake when signed Oslo accords without releasing all the prisoners. He slammed the PA for failing to reinstall the salaries of (Hamas) affiliated prisoners. Haniyeh noted that Hamas accept receiving a PLO delegation in Gaza and had accept holding general elections in a consecutive manner. He added that Hamas is willing to resume contacts with the PA / Fatah in order to reach an agreement that would end the political division. He said that Hamas accepts any approach whether to hold general elections, holding a meeting of the PLO Palestine National Council, forming a national unity government or holding a meeting of the interim leadership framework. He said that Hamas offered to the PA to coordinate efforts in the West Bank, but we were surprised that Fatah confirmed the emergency committees without any coordination with the factious including Hamas.

Rawhi Fatouh statements

The head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, said the movement will not abandon Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel or Arab countries, calling on Arab officials and popular organizations to shoulder their responsibilities towards them. Haniyeh made the remarks during two telephone calls with the President of the Arab and International Forum for Justice for Palestine, Maan Bashour, and the General Coordinator of the National-Islamic Congress, Khaled Al-Sufyani, during which he discussed a number of issues including the conditions of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Haniyeh also discussed the latest developments in the Palestine file including the Israel’s Judaization and settlement plans in Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories, especially after the announcement of the US’ “deal of the century”. Haniyeh also addressed the conditions of the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip especially after the outbreak of the coronavirus as well as Hamas’ efforts to confront the pandemic. He stressed Hamas’ keenness to end the division, unify the Palestinian ranks and activate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The Palestinian Hamas group stressed Friday its determination to set free Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Anadolu Agency reports. The group continues its efforts to defend the rights of Palestinians in Israeli prisons through political and legal means, Maher Salah, the head of Hamas in the Palestinian diaspora, said in a written statement on the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.

More on this item under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

More on this item under Public Statements/ Reports

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More on this item under Other Developments/ Security Incidents

Detailed Reports below

Relevant Political and other Dynamics

Public Statements/ Reports

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in its daily report of the coronavirus (COVID-19) among Palestinian expatriates abroad that the number of coronavirus cases among diaspora Palestinians rose to 830. It said the number of recoveries among Palestinian expatriates reached 209, while deaths stood at 39. In the United State, 14 new cases were reported in the states of Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey, bringing the total of cases in the country to 575. The number of deaths stood at 29.

Israel demolished, seized or dismantled 18 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the occupied West Bank in the first two weeks of April citing the lack of building permits despite large scale appeals to stop this policy in light of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories. It said in its biweekly report on Protection of Civilians in the occupied territories covering the period between 31 March and 13 April that of particular concern was the ongoing demolition of water and hygiene-related structures, which could undermine efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus disease, COVID-19. “Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Israeli authorities have largely halted the demolition of inhabited homes, but continued targeting livelihood and service-related structures,” said OCHA. During the reporting period, the Israeli authorities requisitioned two mobile latrines and damaged two water tanks in the herding community of al Taybe in the Hebron district in the south of the West Bank, and demolished three water cisterns in Kafr Nimeh village near Ramallah. During the latter incident, Israeli forces also uprooted about 1,200 trees, on grounds that the land was declared ‘state land’. OCHA also said the during the reporting period, eight Palestinians were injured and extensive property, including more than 670 trees, was vandalized by assailants believed to be Israeli settlers. The injuries occurred in three incidents: in the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron city, where two men, one of whom is mentally disabled, were pepper-sprayed; near Kobar village in the Ramallah district, where three farmers were beaten with rifles while working their land; and in the Ramat Eshkol settlement of East Jerusalem, where three Palestinian workers were physically assaulted, including one stabbed and severely injured. Another four incidents entailed the uprooting or vandalizing of over 670 olive saplings and trees in al Tuwani in Hebron district, Turmus Ayya in Ramallah district and al Khader in Bethlehem district. In the latter village, since the beginning of the year around 1,450 trees belonging to farmers from al Khader village have been vandalized. Residents from Umm al Kheir herding community reported that settlers poisoned over 20 almond trees. In Ein Qiniya village near Ramallah, settlers ran with motorbikes over land planted with cucumbers, while in Yanun in the Nablus area and al-Jaba in the Bethlehem district, they herded sheep on, and damaged, cultivated land. In another two incidents, settlers raided the outskirts of Qusra village in Nablus district and al Mazra al Qibliya village in Ramallah district and vandalized property. Since the beginning of March, the weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian injuries or damage to their property increased by 80 per cent and reached nine incidents compared with an average during January-February of five incidents, said OCHA. It said that Israeli forces carried out 53 search and arrest operations across the West Bank and arrested 45 Palestinians. Half of these operations and around 60 per cent of arrests were registered in East Jerusalem, 10 in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron city (H2) and nine in the Ramallah governorate. This represents an over 50 per cent decline compared to the bi-weekly average of such operations in the first quarter of the year. In the Gaza Strip, said OCHA, on 6 April Israeli airplanes sprayed herbicides on agricultural land near the border fence, east of Gaza city, the third such incident reported this year, resulting in damage to crops.

The UN Chief Antonio Guterres has said that he asked the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, to remain in contact with Israeli officials to ensure the protection of the Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. In a letter to the Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, Guterres pointed out to ways of protecting the detainees, including reducing the number of detainees to improve public health conditions, reducing overcrowding in prisons and maintaining restrictions on family visitation and healthcare visits. Guterres also stressed the need to conduct the COVID-19 (coronavirus) tests to the sick prisoners and to keep them away from other prisoners, since they are highly vulnerable to the risk of infection. Guterres’s letter was in response to a letter sent by Erekat on March 30 in which he urged world leaders to pressure Israel, the occupying power, to protect the Palestinian detainees in its prisons and to release those who are highly vulnerable to the novel virus, including old people, women and sick prisoners.

Gaza Related Reports

Israeli navy and forces opened fire today at Palestinian fishermen sailing off the Gaza Strip and at farmers to the east of Khan Younis in two separate incidents, said local sources. Israeli naval boats opened fire on fishermen despite sailing within the unilaterally designated fishing zone offshore Gaza City, causing damage to at least one boat. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers stationed at military watchtowers along the Gaza perimeter fence to the east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, opened random fire toward Palestinian farmers as they were working in their own farms. No injuries were reported. Attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian fishermen and farmers in Gaza are almost a daily occurrence, and are rarely prosecuted by Israeli authorities.

Other Developments/ Security Incidents

Two Palestinian citizens were wounded on Saturday when Israeli settlers, escorted by armed forces, attacked Palestinian farmers in Masafer Yatta in the West Bank district of al-Khalil. Local sources said that hordes of settlers, accompanied by an army force, stormed al-Khrouba and Maghayer al-Obeid areas in Masafer Yatta and attacked Palestinian farmers and shepherds. The settlers tried to force the Palestinian farmers and shepherds out of the attacked areas with the help of Israeli soldiers, stole a donkey and assaulted two Palestinian citizens. One of the injured is activist Basel al-Adra, a member of Hemaya and Somoud Committee who was attacked while documenting the settler violations. Eyewitnesses said that al-Adra was violently beaten by the Israeli settlers who also seized his camera. A Palestinian citizen identified as Shehada Salama suffered injuries in the same attack.

At least three Palestinians were injured today by Israeli occupation forces as the latter raided the village of Kafr Qaddum in the northern West Bank, local sources said. Morad Shtewi, coordinator of the popular resistance in the village, told WAFA that Israeli soldiers raided the village, provoking clashes with protesters. The forces fired live bullets at the protesters injuring three of them. Other civilians also sustained suffocation from teargas fired by the forces. During previous years, the village of Kafr Qaddum has been a flashpoint of frequent clashes between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian civilians. The village’s residents are well-known for their activism in the popular resistance of the Israeli colonial settlement enterprise.

Israeli occupation forces ordered today the removal of several agricultural facilities in the villages of Jiftlik and Furush Beit Dajan, located in the northern Jordan Valley region in the occupied West Bank, said a local source. Aref Daraghmeh, who monitors Israeli occupation’s violations in the region, told WAFA that an Israeli army force broke into the two villages and handed the owners of the facilities a military order asking them to remove the structures within a short time. Israel is banning almost all kinds of agricultural, industrial and housing development for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley region, which makes up one third of the occupied West Bank, aiming to annex the region to its sovereignty on the long run.