News Digest — 10/21/21

Report: US, PA Hold Talks Over Consulate Branch In East Jerusalem

Besides opening a diplomatic mission to the Palestinians in west Jerusalem, the Biden administration is also looking to open a consulate branch in east Jerusalem, Israel Hayom found out Wednesday (20th) from sources involved in the matter.

According to reports, Washington has already held talks with Palestinian leaders in this regard.

The US consulate used to be located on Nablus Road in east Jerusalem but was moved to the western part of the capital in 2010.  The mission operated from there until its closure by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

For years, it assisted the Palestinian Authority in establishing governing bodies and security services and liaised with the Palestinian leadership in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  It also provided the US State Department with information on Israeli building of settlements in Judea and Samaria, a move Washington opposed, except during the Trump administration.

According to Al-Quds daily, the Biden administration plans to reopen the consulate – despite pushback from Israel – within the next few weeks.

The move was commended by PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh who expressed hope it would “lay the foundation for a future US embassy in the Palestinian state.”

According to the Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), Shtayyeh also said that by reopening its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians “the US administration is sending a message that Jerusalem is not a united Israeli city, and its capital, and that it does not recognize the annexation of Arab Jerusalem by the Israeli side.”



Jordan Foreign Minister Seeks To Weigh In On Judea And Samaria Land Deals

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi issued a formal directive to the Justice Ministry this week calling on its lawyers not to approve any real estate transactions conducted in Judea and Samaria.

Jordan controlled the area from 1948-1967, meaning Amman allocated and registered many plots of land on behalf of local Arab residents.  The documents are still legally valid to this day and are often cited by Israeli courts.

“All notaries throughout all the districts in the kingdom must cease their dealings with agencies with regards to [deals pertaining to] the state of Palestine,” Safadi’s directive read.  “The Jordan Bar Association must clarify the issue with all lawyers and refrain from finalizing any deed of sale regarding Palestinian lands.”

As a result, the Jordanian Bar Association, which is known for its animosity toward Israel, issued an identical directive to its members, calling on them “not to settle any sale agreements of Palestinian land.”

Jordan has a longstanding policy of banning real estate transactions in Judea and Samaria and it is therefore unclear why Safadi issued the official directive at this time.  Already in 2019, Palestinian officials requested Jordanian authorities to issue an official ban on such deals.

Ostensibly, the directive violates Israelis’ and Palestinians’ freedom to trade.

For years, the PA has waged a war against its residents advertising properties to Jews.  According to Palestinian law, selling real estate to a Jew is punishable by death.

Jews wishing to purchase land in Judea and Samaria often do it secretly, using Palestinian realtors who later leave the area or move abroad.  The Palestinian appeal to Jordan was most likely intended to put another stumbling block in this process.

The move is especially surprising, since last July, Safadi met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, where they announced new trade and water arrangements.  Just last week, Jerusalem formally agreed to sell 50 billion liters of water a year to Amman, doubling what it already supplies.

With regard to the directive, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was “being handled vis-a-vis the Jordanian government.”

The pro-Israel advocacy group Ad Kan said, “The Kingdom of Jordan is harming its former Palestinian citizens who want to sell their land in Judea and Samaria for a reasonable price.  This is another achievement by the Palestinian Authority in its quest for Area C, and the State of Israel does nothing.”

“We call on Foreign Minister Lapid to demand that the Jordanians cancel the decision.  How can the Israeli government double the amount of water it sells to Jordan while the Jordanians are interfering with Israel’s internal affairs, and Israel does not even protest?”



Israel Authorizes 3,000 Additional Entry Permits For Gazan Workers

Israel will increase the number of Palestinian workers it permits to enter its territory from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s liaison to the Palestinians announced Wednesday (20th), a gesture aimed at bolstering a fragile calm between the sides.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said an additional 3,000 Gazans will be allowed into Israel to work, bringing the total of recently announced permits to 10,000.

“The decision to increase the quota of merchants was made by the political echelon following a security assessment on the matter,” COGAT said in a statement.

The move comes as Israel and Hamas continued indirect negotiations to stabilize the fragile ceasefire between the two sides reached after the 11-day war last May.  Israeli officials have pledged to ease some restrictions on Gaza’s civilian population in exchange for a quiescent southern border and progress on a prisoner exchange deal with the terrorist group.

At the same time, the current Israeli government – led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – has vowed to “shrink the conflict” by taking measures to ease Palestinian daily life.  In a similar move, COGAT legalized the status of 4,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday (19th).

Israel and Egypt have placed tight controls on movement in and out of Gaza for nearly a decade and a half.  Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent an even greater threat from Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who have fought repeated wars with the Jewish state.

Earlier this month, rumors that Israel intended to issue work permits to Gazans brought crowds of tens of thousands to the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs office in the Strip.

Though the Israeli military officially refers to the Palestinians it allows into Israel as “merchants,” they are overwhelmingly employed as day laborers.

After the May war, Israel imposed heightened restrictions on Gaza.  Israeli officials repeatedly vowed that “there’s no going back to the way things were” on policy toward the enclave.  In the months since, although tensions on the southern border have risen and fallen, matters have largely returned to the status quo.

Meanwhile, Israel has said it will not consent to a full reconstruction of Gaza without a prisoner deal between the two sides.  Hamas holds captive two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, from the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.



Indian Prime Minister Invites Bennett For First Official Visit

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, currently in Israel on an official visit, at his Jerusalem office on Wednesday (20th).  During the meeting, Jaishankar – speaking on behalf of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – issued a first state invitation for Bennett to visit India.

Bennett and Jaishankar discussed ways of strengthening the strategic alliance between India and Israel, expanding bilateral ties, and deepening the friendship between the two countries.

Bennett thanked Jaishankar and Modi for their commitment to the partnership between India and Israel and said, “In the name of Israel, I want to tell you: we love India – we see India as a great friend and expect to expand our relations in every sector.”

Earlier Wednesday (20th), Jaishankar met with President Isaac Herzog, who welcomed the closer ties between Israel and India in a number of fields and thanked Jaishankar for his personal commitment and that of Modi’s for promoting ties with Israel.

The meeting ended with a discussion of global strategic issues.

On Monday (18th), Israeli and Indian government representatives said that the two nations had agreed to resume talks on a free trade agreement starting in November, with hopes of signing it by mid-2022.

Total merchandise trade between the two countries stood at $4.67 billion by the end of last financial year, ending in March 2021, according to data from India’s trade ministry.



UAE To Participate In Next Israeli Moon Landing

The next time Israel tries to land a spacecraft on the moon, it will have some neighborly help.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel plan to land Israel’s un-crewed Beresheet craft on the moon in 2024 in a joint space exploration deal, Haaretz reported on Wednesday (20th).

Israel’s first attempt to land a lunar module on the moon failed in 2019 when it crashed.

The Beresheet 2 effort will be part of an agreement slated to be signed between Israel and the UAE to develop space technologies.  The craft will collect soil samples and conduct experiments.

Israel and the UAE are accelerating their cooperation under the Abraham Accords normalization deal brokered last year by the Trump administration.  Last week, their foreign ministers met in Washington with their US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to sign trilateral agreements on advancing religious freedoms and collaborating on climate change.