Officials from Israel’s “Civil Administration” for the West Bank arrived with a military escort, a bulldozer and two flatbed trucks with cranes at the Palestinian community of Khirbet Ibziq in the Jordan Valley. They confiscated poles and sheeting that had been brought in to erect tents, emergency housing and a field clinic in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The force also confiscated a tin shack in place for more than two years, as well as a power generator and sacks of sand and cement. Four pallets of cinder blocks intended for the tent floors were taken away and four others demolished. Israeli human rights group B’tselem stated: “As the whole world battles an unprecedented and paralyzing healthcare crisis, Israel’s military is devoting time and resources to harassing the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, that Israel has attempted to drive out of the area for decades.” (Photo: B’tselem)
Trump’s Israel-Palestine “peace” plan (sic), unveiled at the White House in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed with the very Trumpian epithet “Deal of the Century.” It is actually a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept the status quo of bantustans, surrender much territory to actual Israeli annexation, give up their long-standing demand for justice for refugees—and call it “peace.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas predictably responded with “a thousand no’s.” And Palestinians immediately mobilized in outrage, in both the West Bank and Gaza. (Photo: Maan News)
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused her of “pure anti-Semitism” for seeking to investigate possible war crimes committed in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. “This is a particularly regrettable accusation that is without merit,” Fatou Bensouda told the Times of Israel in an interview. “I, along with my office, execute our mandate under the Rome Statute with utmost independence, objectivity, fairness and professional integrity. We will continue to meet our responsibilities as required by the Rome Statute without fear or favor.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons via +972)
An Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip took effect with no formal announcement, after two days of hostilities that saw the most extensive Israeli air-strike since 2014. Hidden from the headlines, the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian lands on the West Bank meanwhile continues. The day after the ceasefire, Israeli troops forced several Palestinian families to evacuate from their homes in the Jordan Valley, in order to make way for military training. Days before, Israeli bulldozers uprooted some 120 fruitful olive trees west of Ramallah, to pave a settler-only road through the area. A document said to outline Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” to end the Palestinian conflict calls for a reduced Palestinian state on lands not already appropriated by settlement blocs. The areas of the blocs are to expand, incorporating outlying settlements, and will remain under Israeli control—apparently amounting to a de facto annexation. (Photo: Ma’an)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to annex areas of the occupied West Bank ahead of the coming week’s Israeli Knesset elections. In an interview on Israeli Channel 12 TV, he was asked about plans to annex settlement blocs in the occupied territory, and responded: “Will we go to the next phase? The answer is yes. We will go to the next phase to extend Israeli sovereignty…” In a part of the interview seemingly reported in English only by the independent Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Netanyahu also appeared to broach annexation of all Area C, the zone of mixed Israeli and Palestinian control, which covers 62% of the West Bank’s territory. Asked about the future status of Area C, he reportedly replied: “I promise that you will be surprised. I cannot talk about the plan, but Trump is a big friend and I doubt there will ever be any bigger friend than him.”
The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: “Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project.” Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting dominated by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. (Photo: Ma’an)
Israel demolished 538 Palestinian homes and facilities across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2018, leaving 1,300 Palestinians and 225 children homeless, according to a year-end report by the Abdullah Al-Hurani Centre, an affiliate of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The report stressed that these demolitions were carried out in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international norms. It charged that Israel "continues its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem," pointing out that, in addition to the demolitions, Israel had issued 460 "stop-building orders" during the same period. (Photo via Middle East Monitor)
Local activists in Gaza announced that they have moved tents set up along the border with Israel as part of the "Great March of Return," relocating them 50 meters closer to the border fence. The committee in charge of the Great March said they had moved the "tents of return" closer to the border "as a message of persistence from our people to the world that we are moving forward towards our rightful goals." The announcement came on the 20th day of protests since the Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians demanded their collective right of return to their homelands in present-day Israel. Since the demonstrations began, at least 36 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. Among the dead are two minors and a journalist. (Photo: Ma'an)
Two UN rights experts expressed serious concern regarding the arrest and detention of Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who became famous for slapping an Israeli soldier during a physical confrontation. The statements came as Tamimi appeared before an Israeli military court for the first time. An Israel military judge, who prohibited the media from entering the courtroom and began the trial behind closed doors, ruled that Tamimi should remain in detention until the end of her trial and adjourned the hearing until early March. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Palestinian Christians from around the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel came out in harsh opposition to a visit by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, to Bethlehem for Orthodox Christmas Eve. The patriarchate is accused of selling large amounts of land to Israeli authorities and investors, contributing to Israeli plans to "Judaize" Jerusalem and betraying the church's responsibility to protect Palestinian lands that were handed under its care during the Ottoman period. (Photo: Ma'an News Agency)
Pope Tawadros II, leader Egypt's Coptic Church, has cancelled a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Cairo later this month, in protest of the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump's decision "did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arab people," the church said in a statement, adding that it "declines to receive" Pence.
We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production. Now prices are rising again, due to a convergence of crises in major producers: escalating tensions among the Gulf states, labor unrest in Nigeria, deepening instability in Venezuela. The US was able to contain the price spike after the ISIS irruption in 2014 by boosting its own production. This trick isn't going to work forever.