It’s been a whirlwind of a week in Palestine following the release of the Trump ‘Deal of the Century.’
While the backlash surrounding the plan has remained steady, with Palestinians continuing to protest and the local and international media focusing their coverage on the details of the proposal, a lot has happened in the week since the plan’s release.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overeagerness to move forward with annexation has hit a few bumps in the road; the Palestinians are on the brink of a potential trade war with Israel; Israel has begun normalizing relations with more regional powers; tensions with Gaza spiked again; and Netanyahu quietly pushes for a population transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the north.
Here’s the breakdown of what’s been happening in the aftermath of the Trump announcement:
Netanyahu’s annexation dreams interrupted
Immediately following the release of Trump’s plan last week, Netanyahu announced that he would move towards full annexation of the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea, and the hundreds of illegal settlements scattered across the West Bank.
According to the premiere and fellow Likud officials, he planned to make the move within days of the announcement.
But just as quickly as Netanyahu jumped forward with annexation plans — which were given the stamp of approval in the US peace plan — he was shot back down.
In an unexpected move, senior advisor to Trump and the co-author of the plan, Jared Kushner, said he hoped Netanyahu would wait until after the Israeli elections on March 2 before moving ahead with any plans.
According to Kushner, the US administration would not support immediate annexation, preferring instead to have an established Israeli government when the move is made, as opposed to the current interim government being led by Netanyahu.
The EU also pushed back against Netanyahu and Trump’s plans for annexation, saying on Tuesday that “steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”
“In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied since 1967,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu backtracked on his earlier statements, announcing instead that he would wait until after the March elections to bring the topic of annexation before the Israeli parliament for a vote.
In a campaign event, Netanyahu said his party “won’t let such a great opportunity slip,” Haaretz reported.
“We brought it and we’re here to make it happen, but in order to secure it, to secure Israel’s borders, to secure Israel’s future, I need … all Likud members to go out and vote.”
The premiere is under increasing pressure from his right-wing settler base, to whom he promised annexation during his election campaign last year.
On Monday, a parade of settlers drove through the Jordan Valley on tractors, adorned with Israeli flags, demanding Netanyahu move ahead with annexation as fast as he can.
Trade war between PA and Israel reaches new heights
In the midst of the drama surrounding the Deal of the Century, a trade war between the Palestinain Authority and Israel reached new heights throughout the week, resulting in the two governments banning the imports of the other’s agricultural products.
On January 31, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he was ordering a halt on all Palestinian agricultural imports to Israel, effective on Sunday, February 2nd.
Bennett’s decision came in response to increasing pressure from Israeli cattle farmers, who had been suffering economic losses in recent months after an October decision by the PA to boycott Israeli cattle and sheep meat products in attempt to reduce Palestinian dependence on the Israeli market and economy.
Right-wing Israeli minister Ayelet Shaked condemned the move at the time for impacting the livelihoods of hundreds of Israeli farmers, saying “there should be no situation in which the Palestinians can import goods at will, while they boycott Israeli produce. We must stop this.”
A few days after Bennet’s decision, the PA struck back, announcing that it would also be banning the import of Israeli agricultural products into the West Bank, effective Wednesday February 5th.
PA-owned Wafa news agency reported that the ban will include Israeli vegetables, fruits, carbonated soft drinks, juices, and mineral water into the Palestinian marke.
According to the Times of Israel, PA imports from Israel “are worth tens of billions of shekels a year,” while Israel imports an estimated some 700 million shekels worth of goods” from the PA annually.
Israel steps up normalization efforts in Africa
Heeding calls from Trump to increase efforts to normalize relations between Israel and the surrounding states, Netanyahu traveled to Uganda on Monday where he met with the head of Sudan’s sovereign council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the current leader in a power-sharing agreement between the military and civilian parties in Sudan.
“It was agreed to start cooperation leading to normalization of the relationship between the two countries,” Reuters quoted an official Israeli government as saying.
The Sudanese remained relatively hush about the meeting, with the government’s spokesman saying he had no knowledge of the meeting, which he added was not approved by the cabinet.
The meeting came just days after Sudan had joined the Arab league in denouncing Trump’s peace plan. The Muslim-majority country has historically refused to recognize Israel as a state, and rejected any negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian leaders slammed the meeting between Netanyahu and Burhan, “a stab in the back of the Palestinian people.”
Chief negotiator for the PLO Saeb Erekat said the meeting was a “blatant departure from the Arab Peace Initiative at a time when the administration of [US] President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are trying to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
Erekat also criticized statements from Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who reportedly told Netanyahu that he was considering opening an embassy in Jerusalem.
Gaza tensions on the rise
After weeks of relative calm in Gaza, cross-border tensions picked back up again, as Gaza responded to the release of the US peace plan with renewed rocket fire into Israel.
The ruling parties in the Gaza Strip seemed to break with the informal ceasefire with Israel that had been in place in recent months — in exchange for curbing border protests and rocket fire, Israel and Egypt eased some restrictions on the territory.
The Israeli military claimed on Friday that forces conducted airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza after three mortar shells were fired from the territory into Israel. No casualties were reported, and the army said that two of the rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system.
Hamas denied instigating the cross-border fire, saying “Israel alleges that we launched rockets, but we cannot take their narrative,” Al Jazeera reported, quoting Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem.
“Israel’s airstrikes early this morning are part of the occupation’s ongoing attacks and enmity towards our people in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Qasem told Al Jazeera.
On Saturday, Israel said it was suspending cement imports into the Strip in response to the attacks.
Airstrikes continued over the weekend, and on Monday, local Palestinian media reported that Israeli naval boats detained three Gazan fishermen off the coast and took them to an unknown destination.
By early Wednesday morning, Israel had carried out more airstrikes across Gaza, allegedly in response to overnight rocket fire from the strip. The military said it targeted a Hamas weapons manufacturing site, and that no injuries were reported.
Later Wednesday morning, Palestinian media reported that the Israeli navy opened fire on Gaza fishermen off the northern coast. No injuries were reported.
Like their fellow countrymen in the West Bank, Palestinians in Gaza have widely protested the US peace plan, which calls for full demilitarization of Gaza.
What will happen to the Palestinians of “The Triangle”?
Reports surfaced on Tuesday alleging that during discussions between Israel and the US surrounding the peace plan, Netanyahu suggested stripping hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citzens of Israel of their citizenship, and forcing them to live under Palestinian rule.
Haaretz reported that Netanyahu “encouraged” the Trump administration to include a provision in the plan that would promote the transfer of Palestinian residents of the “triangle” communities in northern Israel to becoming a part of the future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu reportedly first discussed the idea with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in July 2017, while Kushner was visiting Israel.
While Netanyahu reportedly suggested stripping the triangle’s residents — who account for nearly a third of Israel’s Palestinian citizens — of their citizenship, the actual plan used much lighter language.
The plan “contemplates the possibility, subject to agreement of the parties, that the borders of Israel will be redrawn such that the Triangle Communities become part of the State of Palestine. In this agreement, the civil rights of the residents of the triangle communities would be subject to the applicable laws and judicial rulings of the relevant authorities.”
The current language of the plan does not clarify whether the residents of the communities in question would be given the choice to make the switch, or if it would be forced on them.
Following the release of the plan, Palestinain citizens of Israel slammed the provision, with Palestinian MKs saying it would amount to the forcible transfer of a population, a crime under international law.