News Roundup for June 20, 2017

June 20, 2017

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Top News and Analysis

70% Rise in Building Starts in West Bank Settlements During 2016-17, Haaretz

“There was a 70 percent increase in the number of building starts in the settlements in 2016-17 compared to the previous 12 months, according to data published Monday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. There were 2,758 building starts in West Bank settlements between April 2016 and March 2017, compared to 1,619 in the same period between 2015 and 2016. According to the data, since the beginning of this year there were 344 building starts in the West Bank. These follow the 839 homes started between October and December 2016; 478 units started between July and September 2016; and 1,097 units started between April and June 2016. Since the beginning of 2017, 403 housing units in the territories have been completed. By contrast, almost every district in Israel proper saw a drop in building starts for the comparable period (April 2016 to March 2017), the CBS said.”

Israel resists US push for opening Palestinian economy, Financial Times

John Reed reports, “The US is facing strong resistance as it presses Israel to ease its controls on the Palestinian economy as part of Washington’s efforts to revive the moribund peace process, according to Palestinian and US officials. Donald Trump’s top Middle East envoys — Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt — will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week. But in a sign of the challenges they face, the Israeli government has so far offered less than the White House has requested on issues that include the ability of Palestinians to build in the occupied West Bank, officials said…..Ahead of Mr Trump’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem last month, Israel did agree to relax building restrictions in Area C, improve some border crossings between Israel and the West Bank, and provide 24-hour service at Allenby Bridge, the main crossing used by Palestinians into Jordan. But officials said that many of these measures had already been promised by Israel before Mr Trump took office and never implemented. Some of Israel’s promises to relax building restrictions in Area C amount to an Israeli pledge not to destroy Palestinian buildings that are scheduled for demolition because they were constructed without permission. Another pledge by Mr Netanyahu’s government to allow the building of 14,000 new Palestinian homes in Qalqilya, one of the West Bank’s biggest cities, now faces an angry backlash from conservative politicians.”

UN Sees Spike in Meetings Between Israeli Army, Syrian Rebels, Warns of Escalation, Haaretz

“During the last seven months, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has noted a significant escalation in contact and interactions between Israeli armed forces and rebel organizations along Israel’s border with Syria, chiefly in the area of Mt. Hermon, says a report released in recent days by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the members of the UN Security Council. The report expressed Guterres’ concern, for the first time, that the interactions between the Israelis and the rebel organizations could lead to escalation, causing harm to UN observers….Israel contends that all the interactions with rebel representatives on the Syrian side were for humanitarian reasons, but in recent months the UN has started to view these interactions askance and began to warn they could lead to escalation. The report especially noted concern about the meetings around the Hermon, which the UN secretary-general defined as an area of strategic importance.”


A Massive Donation and a Sheldon Adelson Medical School: Israeli West Bank University to Double in Size, Haaretz

Ariel University is to double in size within the next five years, according to a plan now being promoted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Ten or twelve new buildings are to be added for new faculties in research and teaching at the university, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, as well as a new medical school, to be named after U.S. billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. The subcommittee on funding of the Council for Higher Education in Israel recently approved the plan, which will also lead to a major increase in the student body from its current figure of 11,000. The funding subcommittee estimated the cost of the expansion at about 400 million shekels ($113 million). Funding is to come from the university’s state-funded budget, from its income from tuition and from donations.

Israel Expected to Suspend Plan to Build Mixed-prayer Space at Western Wall, Haaretz

The Israeli government is expected to notify the Supreme Court on Sunday of its official decision to suspend implementation of the plan to create a special plaza for mixed-prayer services at the Western Wall. The plan, approved almost a year-and-a-half ago, has never been executed because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox members of the ruling coalition. In September, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, along with Women of the Wall – a multidenominational prayer group – petitioned the Supreme Court  to force the government to fulfill its commitment, or alternatively, re-divide the existing gender-segregated prayer plazas to make room for them. The state failed to meet past deadlines issued by the Supreme Court to respond to the petition, requesting numerous extensions, but has let it be known, through various channels, that it plans to meet the latest deadline, which falls on Sunday.

Trump very well-positioned for Mideast peace push, former US envoy says, Times of Israel

If it moves rapidly, the US administration is exceptionally well-placed to achieve substantive progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Monday. “I think they should move quickly. I believe the president is at the point of his maximum leverage right now,” Shapiro said during a conference call organized by The Israel Project. “It’s very difficult for any party in the region, after those early positive interactions, to say no to him. He has established friendly relations; each sides wants to do more to deepen those positive relations with him.”

Heads of national US teachers’ unions slam Israel’s proposed ban on political opinions in classrooms, JTA

“The heads of the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors jointly condemned a proposal by Israel’s education minister that would bar the expression of political views in classrooms. “The ‘code of ethics’ that the government of Israel is considering for the country’s academic institutions is a threat not only to academic freedom in Israel, but to Israel’s standing as a democracy,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten and AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum in a joint statement Monday. Both Weingarten and Fichtenbaum are Jewish. The proposed code of ethics for institutes of higher education, spearheaded by Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, has spurred a fierce debate in Israel about the role of politics in the classroom. An organization of Israel’s university chiefs has rejected the code as governmental overreach.”

Israeli Army Clears Out Extremist Settler Outpost, Haaretz

The army this month removed the residents of Baladim, a settlement outpost in the West Bank, near Kokhav Hashahar. The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that the head of the Central Command had signed an order in early June ordering the removal of dozens of lone settlers who were living in the community, located near the settlement of Kokhav Hashahar. Baladim was considered the headquarters of the most extreme Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Its mobile homes housed dozens of people at any given time. In recent weeks there had been incidents of serious violence in the area against left-wing activists and against soldiers at Baladim.

Gaza faced with 2 to 3 hours of power a day after Israel begins electricity cuts, Ma’an

Israel started to reduce electricity supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip on Monday, despite being urged by humanitarian organizations not to implement the decision, which came at the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Gaza’s electricity company, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation, said in a statement Monday that the Israeli grids supplying the Gaza Strip reduced their output from 120 to 112 megawatts.

Security chiefs ask settler rabbis to ‘calm’ hilltop youth, Times of Israel

Security chiefs have urged far-right rabbis to help restrain radical members of the so-called “hilltop youth” after a string of anti-Arab hate crimes in recent weeks. The unusual meeting was initiated by the Jewish division in the Shin Bet internal security services, Channel 2 News reported Sunday. attack — apparently by Jewish extremists — on a home in the Palestinian village of Duma, south of Nablus, in July 2015, which killed a couple and their 18-month-old child — security forces, fearful of further attacks on Palestinians, issued dozens of restraining orders intended to keep radicals away from the West Bank.

Netanyahu Tells Ministers to Stop Attacking Army Over Approval of Arab Construction in West Bank, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told fellow ministers Monday to stop attacking Israeli army officers over the decision to expand the Palestinian city of Qalqilyah in the West Bank, noting that army brass does not set policy. Speaking at the start of a Likud party meeting, Netanyahu said the Israel Defense Forces officers “carry out policy, they don’t set it.” Lieberman echoed the same sentiment in a separate statement.

Opinions and Analysis

Settlement Tours: a New Frontline in Israel’s Ideological Conflict, US News and World Report

“[A]s well as the conflict over land, settlements and religion, there is another battle in the largest city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: an ideological conflict between left- and right-wing Israeli NGOs over how to explain Hebron to outsiders. On one side stands Breaking the Silence, a leftist group of former Israeli soldiers opposed to the occupation, which for years has led tours of Hebron for foreign visitors, highlighting the restrictions routinely faced by its 200,000 Palestinians. On the other stands Im Tirtzu, a right-wing NGO that over the last year has run a handful of tours denouncing Breaking the Silence, accusing it of deepening ethnic faultlines and fuelling anti-Semitism with its criticism of Israel’s actions.”

50 Years After Six-Day War, East Jerusalem’s Palestinian Residents Remain Prisoners in Their City, Haaretz

“In a comprehensive study published last week as a book titled ‘Non-Citizen Residents,’ Dr. Amnon Ramon of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research analyzes the irregular, hybrid status of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians. He shows how ambivalent policies, narrow interests, an unwillingness to decide and denial of the problem have created a status that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world: Native-born residents who are not citizens of the state in whose capital they live. This legal status has shaped Jerusalem since 1967, and the question of Jerusalem’s future, and that of the whole State of Israel, is to a great extent a question of what changes will or will not be made to this status.”

Israel’s Gaza problem, locally and regionally, Americans for Peace Now

Yossi Alpher answers questions on “some of the creative thinking on what Israel could do to head off a disaster in the Gaza Strip, such as Katz’s proposal for a man-made island off Gaza; whose hands the island’s security would be in; the regional and international complications that appear to render the island idea unrealistic under current circumstances; and whether this issue is linked in any way to PM Netanyahu’s zigzag regarding a plan to allow the West Bank city of Qalqilya to expand into Area C and double its population.”

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