Political Update Thursday 16 April 2020

General Highlights

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: The PA government spokesman announced late last night three new cases of infection in Bethlehem area. This raises the total number of infected cases as of this morning up to 293. The number of active infected cases is 230 as 61 cases have recovered. (Note: there is minor discrepancies between the official PA ministry of health website www.corona.ps and the official statements released by the government spokesman due to late updating of information). The PA spokesman also announced that at least 81 cases are reported in East Jerusalem based on unofficial information. According to these reports, three cases were confirmed in Jabal al Mukaber area. The PA government spokesman issued a statement late last night saying that a lady from Bet Sahour who had recovered in the past few weeks, tested positive again for the virus. The two other cases in Bethlehem are of nurses who work in Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.

PA financial issues explained by the PA Minster of Finance/ imminent agreement with Israel: the PA Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara appeared in the daily press conference held by the PA government spokesman yesterday. More under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

Britain, Japan and Norway reiterated rejection to Israel’s annexation plan: More under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

Qatar provides $ 5 million to support the PA: The PA civil affairs minister Hussein al Sheikh announced that Qatar provided financial support for the PA to help it face the coronavirus pandemic. More under Relevant Political and other Dynamics.

Likening Palestinians to Coronavirus dismissed by Hamas, Fatah and other factions: More on this item under Public Statements/ Reports.

At least 760 confirmed coronavirus cases and 37 deaths: More on this item under Public Statements/ Reports.

UNRWA on Israeli restrictions in East Jerusalem: More on this item under Public Statements/ Reports.

Reports on a possible prisoners’ swap deal: Israeli media reported that contacts are renewed through third party meditators to discuss a possible prisoners swap deal between Israel and Hamas. More on this item under Gaza Related Reports.

COGAT announced opening of crossings: More on this item under Gaza Related Reports.

Israeli plated cars are not allowed to enter / leave Ramallah: More on this item under Other Developments/ Security Incidents.

Mufti of Palestine and Religious Chief Justice announced restrictions during Ramadan: More on this item under Other Developments/ Security Incidents.

Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian shepherd east of Yatta, south of Hebron. More on this item under Other Developments/ Security Incidents

Detailed Reports below

Relevant Political and other Dynamics

PA financial issues explained by the PA Minster of Finance/ imminent agreement with Israel: the PA Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara appeared in the daily press conference held by the PA government spokesman yesterday. The Minister said he is optimistic that an agreement will be reached soon with Israel on providing the “complete” sum of NIS 500 million a month regardless of the projected sharp decline in PA’s tax revenues due to the slow pace economic activities and drop in imports. He said we expect the monthly tax revenues to drop by %40 but we are hopeful that an agreement will be reached with Israel to provide the regular/ full amount of NIS 500 million a month until the end of the crisis. He said that the contacts are taking a serious turn next week. He said this is being done in full coordination with President Abbas and the PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al Sheikh. The Minster reiterated statements made earlier on the PA’s financial and fiscal challenges while facing the outbreak of coronavirus. Minister Bishara said that the PA will borrow the sum of $400 million over the next six months from local banks. He explained that the PA government had maintained the level of loans from banks under $1.4 billion over the past seven years. He said that “we had top borrow $200 million last year during the tax revenues crisis. He noted however that under the current plan the borrowing will not exceed $1.6 billion which is an acceptable level according to all sound economic criteria. He also reiterated the PA’s financial priorities during the next six months including emergency-based austerity expenditure, meeting all the financial needs of the AP ministry of health and PASF, proving safety financial network to the moist vulnerable segments (needy and special hardships cases). The Minister reassured the public sector employees that payments of salaries is another key priority economic priority explaining that salaries paid to 209,000 employees support %25 of the population in the West Bank and Gaza. Comment: Senior PA officials told Horizon Center that the agreement on Israel paying the full amount of NIS 500 million shekels has been reached. However, the officials said that the implementation of this agreement should be made next week. The PA officials said that for the next six months Israel will party the full amount of the tax revenues regardless of the sharp decline in imports and other economic activities. The PA officials said that this agreement provide the PA with stable flow of cash under the current circumstances and will finance the emergency budget for the next six months. The PA officials explained that Israel owes the PA nearly NIS 1.4 billion of withheld tax revenues and outstanding unsettled dues. The officials said that clearly it is an Israeli and a Palestinian interest to move with this agreement since otherwise the PA will not be in a position to sustain services, payment of salaries during the next six months.

Britain, Japan and Norway reiterated rejection to Israel’s annexation plan: the PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat issued a statement saying that Britain, Japan and Norway all reiterated rejection to Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank. He said “during talks with international parties, Britain, Japan and Norway also affirmed their continued support to UNRWA”. In addition, Erekat said that his phone conversation with British Minister in the Foreign Office James Cleverly, Erekat tweeted: “Britain supports a rules-based world order, international law and, therefore, opposes annexation of occupied Palestine.” Erekat also said that he initiated calls with Japan’s Middle East Envoy ambassador Masaharu Kono and Norway’s Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process ambassador Tor Wennesland. Commenting on his phone call with Kono, Erekat said that the Japanese diplomat “expressed his country’s utter opposition to annexation of occupied Palestinian territory,” and that third phone conversation focused on Japan’s contribution to our government against COVID-19 and support to UNRWA. As for his call with Wennesland, Erekat said that the Norwegian diplomat “reaffirmed their support for International law and opposition to annexation of occupied Palestinian territory,” and noted his appreciation of Norway’s “principled support” for UN relief agency, the Palestinian government against COVID-19 as well as the AHLC preparations.

Qatar provides $ 5 million to support the PA: The PA civil affairs minister Hussein al Sheikh announced that Qatar provided financial support for the PA to help it face the coronavirus pandemic. Minister al-Sheikh said that Qatar granted the PA five million dollars, adding that the grant was the second since the state of emergency was declared in Palestine. He expressed his thanks and appreciation to Qatar for its generous support. Last month, Qatar provided the PA with medical equipment worth 10 million dollars.

Public Statements/ Reports

The PA Foreign Affairs condemned Israel ban on PA activities in Jerusalem: In a statement echoing the comments made by the PA Minster of Health yesterday, the PA ministry condemned Israel’s blocking efforts by Palestinians in East Jerusalem to combat the coronavirus disease. The ministry warned that Israel’s measures endanger lives. It said in a statement that closure of a health center in Silwan to test for corona cases have raised serious concern among the city’s vulnerable Palestinian population. The ministry called on the World Health Organization and international human rights organizations to intervene and pressure Israel to stop its violations in the occupied city and allow Palestinians to manage the corona crisis there as well in light of Israel’s failure to care after the city’s 350,000 Palestinian population. The statement indicated that compared to Israel, the PA has succeeded in controlling the disease since early March. With less than 300 cases of coronavirus confirmed in the Palestinian areas and two deaths, Israel has over 12,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 124 deaths.

Likening Palestinians to Coronavirus dismissed by Hamas, Fatah and other factions: Hamas and Fatah and several other factions issued statements condemning al-Joumhouria Lebanese newspaper for publishing a caricature two days ago likening the Palestinians at the beginning of the Lebanese civil war to the image of coronavirus. In a statement, Hamas’s media office in Lebanon said that “such caricature fuels racist sentiments and conjures up the civil war, overstepping the consensus of the different Palestinian and Lebanese political spectra about the need to transcend that painful stage.” Hamas expressed its shock and dismay at “publishing this racist cartoon at a time when there is a high-level Lebanese-Palestinian coordination to defeat the coronavirus in Lebanon and prevent its spread.”.

UNRWA on Israeli restrictions in East Jerusalem: The Israeli authorities are impeding efforts by (UNRWA) to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease in Jerusalem and its refugee camp. UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha told the media that this restriction is a continuation of Israel’s two-year old restrictions imposed on UNRWA activities in the occupied city following the US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel and moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He said Israel launched a campaign to prevent provision of health services by UNRWA and the PA Ministry of Health in the Jerusalem’s old city and its neighborhoods and refugee camps of Shufat.

At least 760 confirmed coronavirus cases and 37 deaths: The PA Foreign Affairs announced there were 760 confirmed coronavirus cases and 37 deaths among Palestinians in the diaspora. The ministry said in a statement that the number of Palestinian expatriates infected with COVID19 increased to 760, including 505 cases in the United States, and the deaths due to the virus increased to 37, including 27 deaths in the US.

Gaza Related Reports

Reports on a possible prisoners’ swap deal: Israeli media reported that contacts are renewed through third party meditators to discuss a possible prisoners swap deal between Israel and Hamas. The report noted that a senior level Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo last week to discuss the issue. Hamas officials noted however that one key demand before moving into discussing the details of a possible swap deal is to release the Shalit deal prisoners who were rearrested by Israel since 2012. Israel had rearrested at least 58 Hamas officials were released in Shalit swap deal at the time. According to unnamed Hamas officials, those prisoners have been pressing Hamas leadership not to drop the key demand of releasing them before moving into a new swap deal. Comment: several senior Hamas officials have been on the record in the past week denying that progress has been made in the indirect contacts between the two sides. Hamas official Mahmoud Al Zahar said that Israeli intention to hold such a deal is being tested. Mousa Doudin and Mousa Abu Marzouq of Hamas indicated in public statements this week, that while indirect contacts are underway, there is so far no serious indications from the Israeli government.

COGAT announced opening of crossings: COGHAT announced last night that all crossings will be opened into Gaza following the two days closure because of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The statement noted that Kerem Shalom and Erez will go back operating as of this morning.

Other Developments/ Security Incidents

Israeli plated cars are not allowed to enter / leave Ramallah: The Ramallah governor Lyla Ghannam issued renewed instructions to prevent free movement of yellow plated cars from Ramallah into Jerusalem and vice versa. The Governor noted in a statement that this measure is not meant against East Jerusalem residents coming into or leaving Ramallah per se, but it is meant to protect the population both in Jerusalem and in Ramallah against the spread of the coronavirus. She noted that PA checkpoints at the entrance of Ramallah will not allow yellow plated i.e. Israeli plated cars from entering into Ramallah or leaving without a permit for exceptional cases. She also said that those wishing to enter Ramallah can do so but will not be allowed to return and vice versa until the end of the lockdown.

Mufti of Palestine and Religious Chief Justice announced restrictions during Ramadan: the two religious clergy issued separate statements announcing that mosques will remain closed during the month of Ramadan which is expected to fall next week on / around 24 April. The two officials said that Islamic Teachings dictate to avoid collective and individual harm and as such priorities public safety over religious rituals. The two officials announced that the mass Ramadan prayers known as Tarawih will be held at homes and not at mosques. Comment: in the past weeks PASF detained individuals who called or mass prayers and performed it in several parts of the West Bank on Fridays.

Israeli settlers attacked a Palestinian shepherd east of Yatta, south of Hebron. Local sources said that a number of Israeli settlers forced their way into farmlands in At-Tuwani east of Yatta, where they assaulted shepherds, injuring one of them. In a separate but related incident, Israeli settlers set up a mobile home in the northern West Bank village of Qaryout, south of Nablus.

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