Political Update Tuesday 20 August 2019

General highlights

A standoff between the PA MOF and the Jerusalem electricity company: Senior PA officials told Horizon Center that the Jerusalem electricity company debts to the Israeli regional electricity company estimated at roughly NIS 300 – 350 million stand in the way of implementing a tentative agreement with Israel over the fuel / blue tax. For more details, please see under Political dynamics.

President Abbas decision terminating the services of his advisors: Reliable and senior PA officials explained to Horizon Center that President Abbas decision yesterday to relieve presidential advisors of their “advisory duties and entitlements” is not about dismissing his senior advisors. More details on this item, under Political Dynamics below.

Abbas order on salaries paid to former PM and Ministers: President Abbas issued an order obliging former PM (Hamdallah) and former ministers of his cabinet to return the money they had received during the period prior to his decision regarding their salaries and benefits. More on this item, under political dynamics below.

Abbas to undergo medical examination in Germany: for more details, please see under Political Dynamics below.

Political factions succeed in cancelling a US embassy event in Ramallah: the National and Islamic Forces in Ramallah announced yesterday that the US embassy failed in organizing an event in Ramallah set to take place on 21 August.  For more details on this item, please see under political dynamics.

Erekat calls to accelerate investigation/ de politicize humanitarian assistance: in a letter published publicly, PLO official Saeb Erekat called upon the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to accelerate the ongoing investigation into suspicions of corruption in the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). For more details on this item, please see under public statements.

PA harsh reaction to Erdan statements on HAS/TM: On Sunday, the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community and the Arab and Islamic world to take urgent action to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque from the conspiracy targeting it, led by Israel.  More details on this item, under public statements.

Reactions to Israeli report on facilitating immigration of Gazans: for more details, please see under Gaza related reports.

Reading into attacks across the Gaza borders / firing rockets: for more details, please see under Gaza related reports.

PA police warns against holding gay parade activities in the West Bank: please see more under Other developments below.

PA slams possible US support to land annexation in the West Bank. Please see full statement under public statements below.

Political dynamics

A standoff between the PA MOF and the Jerusalem electricity company: Senior PA officials told Horizon Center that the Jerusalem electricity company debts to the Israeli regional electricity company estimated at roughly NIS 300 – 350 million stand in the way of implementing a tentative agreement with Israel over the fuel / blue tax. The officials said that the tentative agreement which was reached with Israel before Eid al Adha vacation would provide the PA with at least 1.4 billion NIS.  The sum was accumulated and is agreed to be paid in a retroactive manner i.e. since February 2019. However the officials said that the implementation of this agreement is contingent upon resolving an internal affair between the Jerusalem Company and the PA ministry of finance. The officials said that Israel had conditioned the implementation of the blue tax agreement reimbursing the PA the sum of NIS 1.4 billion on settling outstanding dues / debts owed by the Jerusalem electivity company which are estimated at NIS 300-350 million.  The PA officials said that the issue had not been resolved yet as the Jerusalem Electricity Company refuses to pay the debt directly and demands the PA to cover the sum instead. The officials said that the PA MOF dismisses the Jerusalem Electricity Company claims that the PA owes the company large sums against unpaid bills of West Bank refugee camps electricity consumption. The officials told Horizon Center that the Israeli press reports on threats made by the Israeli electricity company to cut and or limit flow of power current are real. The officials said that the PA will only cover the debts of the Jerusalem electricity company in the event the latter would accept being subjected to a thorough reform and restructure. The officials described the Jerusalem electricity company which provides electricity in the central area of the West Bank as being inefficient and broke. The officials finally said that the agreement on fuel/ blue tax will not be implemented before an agreement is reached or a solution is found to the standoff between the Jerusalem electricity company and the PA ministry of finance.

President Abbas decision terminating the services of his advisors: Reliable and senior PA officials explained to Horizon Center that President Abbas decision yesterday to relieve presidential advisors of their “advisory duties and entitlements” is not about dismissing his senior advisors. The senior officials explained that President Abbas took the decision to stop payment of allowances to all presidential advisors “especially” those who are not active in assuming such a role. The officials said that President Abbas has dozens of advisors, many of whom take benefits and provide little services. In addition the senior officials explained that President Abbas thus ordered a full review of all advisory positions in his office as part of an austerity measure to reduce expenses. The senior officials explained that President Abbas will decide once the review is completed who would remain serving in an advisory position and who would be relieved of his duties as an advisor. The officials stressed that this step is not a political one in nature but is meant to be in line with the PA harsh fiscal situation and to set a model to other government ministries and offices on employing austerity measures. The senior officials dismissed circulating rumors that advisors in the Presidency have been relieved of their duties in an abrupt manner. 

Abbas order on salaries paid to former PM and Ministers: President Abbas issued an order obliging former PM (Hamdallah) and former ministers of his cabinet to return the money they had received during the period prior to his decision regarding their salaries and benefits. The order instructed the former PM and minsters to pay back those dues in one lump sum. He also decided to consider the amounts they subsequently received after his decision as benefits. In the same context, the President decided to retrieve all the money received by the former PM and ministers as house rental allowances if they did not prove their rental status during that period. Comment: PA officials told Horizon center that the payments made to the former PM and ministers were made in line with a presidential directive at the time raising salaries from 3000-5000 USD a month. In addition, a number of ministers were paid rental allowances of 1200 a month.  The officials explained that since the issue became a public opinion affair during the past few weeks, the president issued the directive to retrieve the money IF it is proven that house rentals were not warranted. The officials also said that President Abbas had approved the ministers’ salaries increase in 2017. However, an investigation will be conducted to verify if the former PM or any of his minister did receive the payment before the president approval. The PA officials explained that these steps come in line with the PA’s current fiscal situation and the President’s desire to set an example for the PA government ministries. The officials said that winning the trust of public opinion during these harsh times is critical to the PA integrity and popularity.

Political factions succeed in cancelling a US embassy event in Ramallah: the National and Islamic Forces in Ramallah announced yesterday that the US embassy failed in organizing an event in Ramallah set to take place on 21 August.  The factions issued a statement yesterday dismissing the US administration, embassy and the so called Unit of Palestinian Affairs. The factions said that the US Administration is an accomplice to Israeli crimes including normalizing and legalizing settlements activities, having proclaimed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, shutting down the PLO office in Washington, and stopping assistance programs including funding to UNRWA. The statement released by the factions which include Fatah warned all Palestinian participants against engaging with the US Palestinian Affairs Unit saying that this undermines Palestinian rights and goes against the national consensus of the Palestinian leadership and political factions. Comment: PA sources said that a group of activists arrived at the Grand Park hotel yesterday and threated the hotel management against holding the event which was supported to take place on August 21. The Palestinian Affairs Unit of the US embassy had invited alumni of MEPI and other US programs to attend an event meant to promote cultural and educational relations between Palestinians and the US embassy. The hotel management informed the activists that contacts were made with the US embassy to cancel the event. The hotel management informed the activists at a later stage that the event was indeed cancelled.

Abbas to undergo medical examination in Germany: senior PA officials told Horizon Center that President Abbas will leave Ramallah this Thursday and will undergo medical examination in Germany next week. The officials also said that President Abbas will meet with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German President during the visit to Germany on 29 August. The PA officials said that President Abbas had underwent medical checkups in Germany few months ago. The officials said that President Abbas enjoys good health but noted that it is imperative to maintain routine checks ups.

Public statements/ reports

PA slams possible US support to land annexation in the West Bank: Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh slammed possible future US declaration ahead of the Israeli elections in September backing Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.  Abu Rudeineh stressed that any decision that affects Palestinian national rights and the resolutions of international law shall be considered illegitimate. He made his remarks responding to media reports indicating that Israeli PM Netanyahu is seeking a public declaration from US President Trump recognizing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank. Abu Rudeineh warned that such a move would have “serious implications” particularly that it would follow the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ongoing Israeli settlers’ intrusions into Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the US position on the issue of Palestinian refugees and the stipends of the families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed by Israeli forces. “This step, if taken, would constitute ongoing playing with fire,” he added, and stressed that stability and security are indivisible and that “peace would not be made at any price”. “Neither this step would establish any right] to Israel, nor it will create a viable false reality,” he added. In conclusion, Abu Rudeineh reiterated that the Palestinian people would defend its national rights, history, heritage and holy sites, no matter how long it takes, and expressed his hopes that justice and Palestinian legitimacy will ultimately prevail.

Erekat calls to accelerate investigation/ de politicize humanitarian assistance: in a letter published publicly, PLO official Saeb Erekat called upon the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to accelerate the ongoing investigation into suspicions of corruption in the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In the meantime, Erekat sent identical letters to the foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland in which he expressed his regret over these countries’ decisions to halt aid to the UNRWA based on unconfirmed reports of corruption in the UN agency. He called for not politicizing humanitarian assistance to the UNRWA, which he said would drag the region into further tension and instability. “Half a million Palestinian children who depend on your regular contributions cannot suspend their classes until the results of the investigation”. He also said that “while you have announced your suspension of assistance to the UNRWA because of the leaked reports, you have not yet announced any accountability measures regarding the continued and systematic Israeli violations of UN resolutions and international law, and you still allow Israeli settlement goods to enter your markets.” Erekat added “we expect that you and all peace-loving states to take concrete measures of accountability to promote the realization of the long-awaited inalienable rights of the people of Palestine, particularly the right to self-determination.” Earlier this month, the United Nations said it has started an investigation into reports leaked to the UN Ethics Committee suggesting long-term corruption at the UNRWA.

PA reaction to Erdan statements on HAS/TM: On Sunday, the PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community and the Arab and Islamic world to take urgent action to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque from the conspiracy targeting it, led by Israel.  In a press release, the ministry called on the international community and the relevant UN organizations, especially UNESCO, to raise their voices in the face of the violations and crimes of the occupation.  The release said that the Israeli occupation seeks to provide an arena for the establishment of settler Talmudic rituals, as a first step towards the full occupation of Al Aqsa, and then to demolish it. The official position of the Palestinian government is now that Israel is attempting to destroy Al Aqsa and presumably the Dome of the Rock. On his part, Chief religious justice Mahmoud Habbash expressed outrage over Erdan’s “racist and disgusting” remarks.” Habbash warned that the Palestinians “will never allow the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque to be harmed” and will resist any attempt to change the status quo at the holy site. The Israeli minister of public security Erdan had stated that he believes the status quo at the Temple Mount should be changed to allow Jewish worshippers to pray at the site. “I think there is an injustice in the status quo there that has been in place since 1967, and we need to act to change it so that Jews in the future can pray on the Temple Mount.”  

Other developments/ security incidents

PA police warns against holding gay parade activities in the West Bank: the PA police spokesman released a statement over the weekend warning against holding gay pride activities anywhere in the west bank. The police statement noted that the police will protect the civil peace and religious values of the Palestinian society.  While a few voices expressed concern over the police statement being dismissive and suppressive of individual freedoms, the news about the possibility of holding such activities particularly in Nablus caused a popular outrage mainly on social media. A Haifa based NGO named al Qaws had announced on its Facebook that an activity had been held earlier this month in Nablus and announced that a public activity of gay parade will be held in Nablus next week. On social media, angry voices threatened to burn those who participate in such activities alive. Comment: PA police officials told Horizon Center that the PA police is obliged to protect the civil peace under all circumstances. The police cannot stand idle knowing beforehand that such activities in the West Bank will be met with anger and violence against the participants. 

At least 15 Palestinian were wounded last night in Nablus: PA security officials reported that at least 15 Palestinian were wounded during clashes with IDF soldiers in Nablus last night. The IDF had escorted settlers to pray at Joseph Tomb near Balata camp/ Nablus.

Gaza related reports

Reading into attacks across the Gaza borders / firing rockets:  over the weekend, several attacks took place in the Gaza strip including firing three rockets towards Israel, in addition to attempted infiltration across the borders (see Whatsapp reports in real time earlier this week). PA officials told Horizon Center that Hamas passed through third party to Israel that Hamas continues to commit to the ceasefire arrangements and understandings.  Hamas vowed to take more measures to secure the borders. The officials also said that Hamas had deployed a larger number of security services in friction areas. In addition, the PA security officials said that the three gunmen who were killed earlier this week in northern Gaza were not politically affiliated with any of the main factions. The officials said that those individuals had been in the past affiliated with Fatah, Hamas and PIJ. Yet, the officials said that they had been working closely with Jihadi Salafists and not with any of the main Gaza based factions. The PA officials also said that firing rockets sporadically into Israel from Gaza is carried out by splinter Hamas groups including Salafists.

Reactions to Israeli report on facilitating immigration of Gazans: In reaction to unnamed Israeli officials telling Haaretz newspaper that Israel is working to facilitate immigration of Gazans should there be third countries willing to absorb them.  Mahmoud al Awad of Gaza based people party said in reaction that there is real problem of immigration in Gaza. He said that the difficult living conditions in Gaza compel Gazans to leave if opportunities avail itself. Al Awad attributed the motivation for immigration in Gaza to the harsh economic and living conditions, in addition to the suppressive regime ruling Gaza. On the other hand, Mahmoud al Aloul of Fatah told the media this morning that this Israel plan will fail. He said that such Israeli policies of pushing Gazans to immigrate will be only limited and will not succeed in vacating Gaza from its population.

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