News Digest — 6/29/20

US, Israeli Officials Meet To Hash Out Sovereignty Plan

Trump’s Mideast peace team, led by Avi Berkowitz, who took over as special negotiator from Jason Greenblatt, met with Israeli officials  on Sunday (28th) to estimate the feasibility of proceeding with the plan to extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley.

Joining the discussion was US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who favors the sovereignty plan.

The talks continued those held last week at the White House when an important breakthrough was expected.  Although the Trump administration didn’t quash sovereignty hopes at that time, it also didn’t reach a definite conclusion.

According to Israel Hayom, in the meetings, the two sides are trying to evaluate whether it is possible to extend sovereignty to the maximum allowed under the Trump plan in one go, or whether sovereignty should be extended piecemeal.

Israel’s N12 news site reported on Friday (26th) that Israel has already told PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the Jordan Valley won’t be included in the sovereignty plan.  This would be a major about-face for Netanyahu, who promised before the elections he would annex the Jordan Valley.

The prime minister has run into opposition from several quarters regarding his plan, including the PA, EU, some of Israel’s left, and even some settlement leaders, due to the fact that the Trump plan provides for establishment of a Palestinian state.  

However, not all settlement leaders oppose the plan, pointing out that the demands made by the PA make it all but impossible that it will agree to the conditions for receiving a state.



UN Official Calls For “Countermeasures” To Punish Israel Over Sovereignty Bid

UN Special Rapporteur On Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Michael Lynk, has urged the European Union to take real and drastic steps against Israel if Jerusalem moves forward with its plans to extend its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, and parts of Judea and Samaria, and called upon the European body to “develop a menu of countermeasures.”

In a June 26 statement to the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Lynk wrote: “It has sometimes been said by critics of the EU’s foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine that it suffers from paralysis and inaction.  Nothing could better demonstrate that this argument is misplaced than for the EU to back up its criticisms of Israel’s occupation and looming annexation with a decisive menu of countermeasures.”

Lynk added that the EU “should review and be willing to suspend or downgrade its array of trade and cooperation agreements, including the EU-Israel Association Agreement and Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe.”

While more than 1,000 lawmakers signed a joint letter last week protesting Israel’s sovereignty plan, the European Union has so far failed to reach a unified decision on the matter, which it must do in order to pass a resolution.

Lynx urged the EU to block “Israeli settlement goods” from entering the European market “without certificate of origin from the Palestinian Authority” and to disallow “any EU registered companies or organizations to trade or invest in, donate to or financially assist, the settlements in any way.”

He also called on the European Union to “deepen its policy of differentiating between Israel and the settlements across the entire scope of Eu-Israeli relations” and urged it to “insist that Israel honor its obligations under international law and end the Gaza blockade, while taking the necessary steps to enhance Gaza’s economy.”



Israel Gets Top Rank For Fighting Human Trafficking

The US State Department released its annual report on the global fight against human trafficking over the weekend, with Israel placing in the first tier of countries that are doing the most to combat this phenomenon.

This is the ninth consecutive year in which Israel was placed in the top tier in the State Department report.

The report, which has been published annually since 2001, ranks countries into three tiers by measuring their efforts to combat human trafficking.

The State Department praised Israel for working on three levels to combat human trafficking: prevention, prosecution of human traffickers, and protection for victims.

The Israeli government identified 73 new human trafficking victims in 2019, an increase of 14 over 2018.  58 were women and 15 were men.  38 were victims of sex trafficking and 34 were victims of forced labor.  

In addition, the Israeli police opened 125 investigations against suspected human traffickers.

Attorney Dina Dominitz, the Head of the National Anti-Trafficking Unit, said in response to the report: “Israel maintains its top-tier position in the US State Department report for the ninth straight year.  The state is making large investments in this field because of the importance of protecting the weak in society. … The 2019 report shows an increase in the number of convictions for the relevant offenses and an increase in the number of victims who were identified.  It recognizes the achievements of the State of Israel which were accomplished through the integration of forces between all government ministries, organizations, in civil society, and with international bodies.”  



New Airstrikes In Syria Attributed To Israel, Nine Iranian Fighters Killed

Airstrikes were reported in eastern Syria Sunday (28th), the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The report said Israel was “likely responsible” for the bombings, which hit Iranian positions outside of Al-Bukamal in the Deir Ez-Zor district of eastern Syria.

At least nine Iranian-backed fighters were killed in the strikes, the SOHR said, adding that the number of fatalities is expected to rise since a number of people at the target sites were seriously injured.  Some of the dead are non-Syrian nationals.  Several weapons depots were reportedly destroyed in the bombings.

This was the second wave of airstrikes reported in Syria in less than 24 hours.

On Saturday night (27th), airstrikes were reported in eastern Syria, with at least six Iranian militiamen killed, in the al-Abbas village near the border with Iraq.

The SOHR said Israel was also likely responsible for the Saturday night strikes.

Israel has not commented on either incident, in keeping with its policy of not publicly taking credit for attacks on Iranian forces stationed in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory is affiliated with forces opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the war-torn country.



Islamic Jihad Threatens Retaliation Over Any Annexation Move

“Palestinian Islamic Jihad and its military wing the al-Quds Brigades, won’t sit idly by in the fight against plans that seek to eradicate the Palestinian issue,” sources affiliated with the Gaza-based terrorist organization told the Palestinian al-Quds daily over the weekend.

The same sources said Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave, was completely coordinated with the other terrorist groups in Gaza over the response to Israel’s plan to apply sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria.

The IDF said the Islamic Jihad was behind the rocket fire into southern Israel on Friday (26th), shattering months of near-total calm.  In response, Israeli aircraft attacked two Hamas military facilities.

The IDF said the airstrikes “will impede” Hamas’ future abilities.

“It is the right of the resistance to respond to any aggression against the Palestinian people, and implementation of the annexation plan will be met with a harsh response from the resistance,” an Islamic Jihad official said.

On Thursday (25th) Hamas warned of violence if Israel proceeds with the sovereignty plans, saying such a move amounts to “a declaration of war.”

Meanwhile, other sources affiliated with armed Palestinian groups in Gaza told al-Quds that the various armed military wings in the Strip have prepared practical measures to counter any tangible Israeli steps to apply sovereignty in early July.  The sources told the paper that the armed Palestinian factions have ordered their commanders on the ground to prepare military contingencies and that all armed units are ready to react.



Head of Bedouin Tribes In Iraq And Syria Call For Strategic Alliance With Israel

A virtual meeting was held last week with Sheikh Ali al-Obeidi, the head of the Bedouin tribes in Iraq and Syria, and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.  Al-Obeidi had written to Jerusalem Center President Dore Gold, saying, “We want to join our hands with yours in order to create for our people, and upcoming generations, a future where we will live in peace and love as allies,”  He said that he wants to reach a strategic alliance with Israel and hopes to reach a peace agreement between Iraq, Syria and Israel, and establish full political and economic relations.

The sheikh stated that his goal, together with Israel, is to expel Iranians from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.  He added, “We are ready to go to Jerusalem to visit you and make a new history for the Middle East.”

Amb. Gold said this is an important step to another and different dialogue in the Middle East, a dialogue that can bring about a change in the world and Israel, and it is important to foster it.

Gold said it was important to note that neither the current debate over Israeli application of sovereignty nor the Palestinian issue arose during the conversation.