February 1, 2021

Last week, the Biden administration announced it was restoring relations with Palestine after the Trump administration slashed financial assistance for Palestinians, effectively shut down their diplomatic mission to the United States, and recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. And on Monday, officials from both sides publicly engaged for the first time in three years when the Palestinian Authority's Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh spoke over the phone with Hady Amr, the Biden administration's assistant secretary of state for Israel-Palestine.

It sounds like the call mostly covered the basics involved with re-establishing the relationship, but it appears to have been well-received.

The Biden administration is reportedly looking to take a more even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Washington will reportedly seek to both strengthen ties with Palestine and "maintain its steadfast support for Israel" en route to what it hopes will be a peaceful, two-state solution. Tim O'Donnell

November 18, 2019

The United States is changing its tune when it comes to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, bucking international consensus in the process.

"The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters during a press conference Monday.

The statement indicates that the U.S. will take a softer stance on the matter going forward, which is becoming a trend for the Trump administration in matters related to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Reuters notes that the latest announcement follows Washington's 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and 2018 decision to move the U.S. embassy to the city.

Unsurprisingly, Pompeo's words were not received warmly among Palestinians. Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, criticized the announcement on Twitter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, was pleased by the decision, which is viewed as a victory for his camp as he struggles to remain in power in Israel.

The new stance could be risky for the Trump administration, though, as it's likely to alienate other foreign powers, including the European Union. That could subsequently make it even more difficult for the White House to carry out its Middle East peace plan. Tim O'Donnell

September 10, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday that he plans to annex the Jordan Valley and other parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank if he is re-elected next week.

"This is a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty to communities in Judea and Samaria," the prime minister said. He also said he intends to make the move "in coordination with the United States," adding that the U.S. would present its long-rumored Israel-Palestine peace plan shortly after Israel's elections.

Netanyahu made a similar pledge before Israel's elections in April and another in August — analysts view the rhetoric as a means for cementing votes from the religious Zionist voting bloc. But Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in response that "the land of Palestine is not part of Netanyahu's election campaign," calling his Israeli counterpart the "main destroyer of the peace process."

More than 3 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank. Israel's military captured the territory during the Six-Day War in 1967, but never formally annexed it. Read more at The Guardian and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

September 1, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he intends to annex all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, doubling down on an election promise he made five months ago, though he did not provide a timeframe.

"With God's help we will extend Jewish sovereignty to all the settlements as part of the [biblical] land of Israel, as part of the state of Israel," Netanyahu said in a speech in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, where he was attending a ceremony opening the school year.

Settlements are one of the most contested issues in the Israeli-Palestine conflict and Netanyahu's most recent comments have already received pushback. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Netanyahu's announcement "will not lead to any peace, security, or stability." Saeb Erekat, a longtime peace negotiator who now serves as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said there's "an international responsibility to impose sanctions after decades of systematic crimes."

Hebrew University lecturer Yonatan Freeman told Bloomberg that Netanyahu is likely trying to cement support from the religious Zionist voting bloc, which might be vulnerable ahead of the country's September elections. Tim O'Donnell

June 22, 2019

President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to unveil his "peace to prosperity" plan at an international conference in Bahrain next week. But Reuters got an early look at the economic half of the Trump administration's effort to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Here are the key elements of the plan which can only take place if a political solution is reached:

Economic revival — The total plan costs $50 billion with more than half going to Palestinian territories over ten years. The rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Tourism — Nearly a billion dollars are allocated for Palestine's tourism industry specifically. Though Reuters points out that the tenuous security situation in the West Bank might mean that part of the plan is impractical — at least, that is, until a political solution is reached.

Travel corridor — Kushner's proposed investment fund would be administered by a "multilateral development bank," which would reportedly launch a signature project to construct a travel corridor for Palestinian use that would cross Israel to link the West Bank and Gaza, including a highway and, possibly, a rail line.

Kushner is optimistic about the plan, which he says would create a million jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, but the Palestinians have criticized it, and, Reuters reports, most foreign investors will likely steer clear for now. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

June 8, 2019

David M. Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel told The New York Times that Israel has a right to annex at least some, but "unlikely all," of the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to begin annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which would violate international law and could serve as a blow to any prospect of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Much of the world considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal, the Times reports, and many critics fear that annexation would foment violence and require military occupation of urban areas of Palestine for the first time in decades. But, in the past, Friedman criticized the Obama administration for allowing the United Nations to pass a 2016 resolution which condemned the Israeli settlements.

Friedman did not say how the U.S. would respond if Israel did decided to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, adding that he does not want to "prejudge" such a situation. "We really don't have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves," he said. In the interview, Friedman also spoke about the Trump administration's peace plan, the first phase of which appears to be tied to economic development in Palestine. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

November 13, 2018

Conflict between Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip is at its most intense since 2014, The Associated Press reports.

The IDF estimate Hamas has launched about 400 rockets since Monday, and Israeli strikes have reportedly hit around 100 targets in Gaza, including the building housing Hamas's television station. Six Palestinians have been killed in this round of strikes, though reports vary as to how many were militants. Another two dozen people have been wounded, and one Israeli civilian has also died.

U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt on Twitter Monday reiterated U.S. support for Israel against Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist organization. "Terrorists in Gaza are again attacking Israel with tools of war," he wrote. "These rocket & mortar attacks on Israeli towns must be condemned by all. Israel is forced once again into military action to defend its citizens. We stand with Israel as it defends itself against these attacks."

Truce negotiations facilitated by the United Nations, Egypt, and Qatar are underway, and further escalation is expected if they are derailed by this week's violence. Bonnie Kristian

September 10, 2018

The Palestine Liberation Organization office in the nation's capital is closing.

In announcing the closure Monday, the State Department said that the PLO "has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," reports The Washington Post. The move escalates the growing disharmony between the Trump administration and Palestinian leaders, who called the office's shuttering a vicious display of "collective punishment."

U.S. officials previously angered Palestine by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and opening a new embassy in the city, and by significantly rolling back aid to Palestinian refugees. "These people have decided to stand on the wrong side of history by protecting war criminals and destroying the two-state solution,” said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the U.S. still wants to see Israel and Palestine work to find a "way forward" through direct negotiations. The PLO office's closure represents the last of any symbols of Palestinian sovereignty in Washington, reports Axios. The office functions as an embassy in D.C., though the U.S. does not recognize a Palestinian state.

"PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise,” the statement from the State Department said. PLO officials accused the Trump administration of attempting to irreversibly damage the U.S.'s role in two-state negotiations. The office will close by Oct. 10. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

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