July, in short:

  • East Jerusalem demolitions and evictions: New threats to Palestinian Authority rule in Areas A and B of the West Bank, and to the potential for a shared capital in Jerusalem
  • Abbas announces halt to all agreements with Israel: A strong message to the Palestinian public, but supported by little action
  • New report on growth of West Bank settlement outposts: New information comes amid expectation of major new settlement announcements
  • Gaza border protests continue: Despite continued unrest, Israel and Hamas appear determined to avoid conflict
  • US continues to indicate lack of support for two-state solution: Comments from Trump administration officials again undermine the two-state framework, as Bahrain workshop yet to lead to any tangible results

These events moved the Two-State Index (TSI) down by 0.9% (down by 0.05 points from 5.48 in previous month).

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Developments in East Jerusalem: Israeli demolitions of Palestinian residential buildings in Area A, eviction of Palestinian family in Silwan

Following an Israeli High Court approval, IDF forces on July 22 began the process of demolishing 13 residential buildings in the neighborhood of Wadi Hummus, on the outskirts of Palestinian village of Sur Baher in Southeast Jerusalem. Most of the neighborhood is located in Area A of the West Bank (designated by the Oslo Accords as under Palestinian Authority civil and security control), and the buildings were constructed legally with Palestinian permits.

Although primarily conducted in Area A, the demolition included structures in Areas B (Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control) and C (Israeli civil and military control) as well. Concerns have mounted that this action may set a precedent that allows for thousands of Palestinian homes to be demolished in Areas A and B.

According to Amy Cohen, Director of International Relations and Advocacy at Ir Amim, this action was also “unprecedented in scale in terms of demolitions in one day,” with 72 individual housing units destroyed. Cohen explained that this was also “likely the first time a military order was used to carry out this level of demolitions under Palestinian Authority control” and reflects a “steep increase” in East Jerusalem demolitions, conducted in 2019 at a rate already set to exceed the total number of demolitions in 2018.

Several international players condemned the action including the EU who called for a halt in the demolitions and said that the action “undermines the viability of the two-state solution." The demolitions provoked an unusually strong reaction from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (see more below).

Elsewhere in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian family was evicted on July 10 from a home in the neighborhood of Silwan, near the Old City. This was the culmination of a 30-year legal battle than ended with a victory for the Elad (City of David) foundation, a pro-settlement group that works to increase the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. This latest victory in the settler-led campaign to “Judaize” East Jerusalem only increases the challenge of creating two separate capitals in the city under a two-state framework.

The negative effects of these developments move the PA-ruled area parameter from 2 to 1 and the Jerusalem Settlements parameter from 3 to 2.


Abbas announces suspension of all agreements with Israel

In the wake of the Israeli housing demolitions in Sur Baher, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on July 25 announced his intention to cease all signed agreements with Israel, including security coordination. The move, which involved the establishment of a committee designed to study implementation of what would be a drastic measure, was met with vocal, widespread approval from all Palestinian factions as well as the Palestinian public.

Enthusiasm was tempered, however, by the fact that Abbas has made numerous similar proclamations in the past, none of which have been implemented. That the make-up of the committee to implement this decision has yet to be determined, and that no actions have yet been taken to cancel any PA-Israeli cooperation, is an indicator of a lack of seriousness. However, Abbas’ declaration may be part of an effort to lay the groundwork for future disengagement by serving as a reference point for the Palestinian Authority in a post-Abbas era. Abbas may also have been attempting to shift attention from the continuing financial crisis facing the PA.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on July 30 issued a strongly-worded statement in support of the two-state solution. During a meeting in Ramallah attended by a Meretz delegation, Shtayyeh said Israel would suffer a “demographic death” and risk a “democratic or Jewish state” if the two-state solution was not achieved.

With Abbas and the PA having yet to take any material steps towards suspension of agreements with Israel, all Palestinian Statebuilding and Security Coordination parameters remain the same.


New report on growth of illegal outposts in the West Bank, followed by potential settlement expansion after approval of new Palestinian homes

On July 30, the Israeli Security Cabinet approved a plan for the construction of over 700 housing units for Palestinians in Area C, although the precise location has not been announced. The PA Foreign Affairs Ministry heavily criticized the move, saying it was part of a process of building “a Jewish state for settlers on the West Bank.” Indeed, it seems that this measure, through which the Israeli government would determine exactly which Palestinians could live in Area C and where, will allow the Israeli government to shape Palestininian housing in Area C to its own designs. Far-right Israeli transportation minister Bezalel Smotrich claimed that “the state of Israel is formulating a strategic plan to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Along with the approval of Palestinian housing units, construction plans for over 6,000 settlement units are reportedly expected to be advanced as well.

This development comes on the heels of a new report showing that, since 2017, 16 new settlement outposts have been established in the West Bank, and 32 outposts established since 2012. All of the outposts are illegal under Israeli law, but a process of legalization for 35 more outposts has already begun. The report from Peace Now also showed that the outposts have been constructed with the assistance of local regional councils and with protection from authorities. As with all settlement expansion, these outposts - by increasing the settler population in the West Bank and the amount of land controlled by settlers - undermine prospects for a viable two-state solution.

Within the Settlement Expansion category, these developments shift the Built-up areas parameter from 4 to 3, the Population parameter from 5 to 4, and the Agriculture parameter from 7 to 6.


Border protests continue in Gaza, but Israel and Hamas appear determined to avoid conflict; humanitarian conditions remain poor

On July 11, a Hamas border enforcement officer was killed by the IDF in what was subsequently deemed by Israel to be the “result of [a] misunderstanding.”  While Hamas did respond by firing two rockets into uninhabited areas of Israel, the reaction by all sides (with the help of Egyptian mediation) was restraint and likely indicates a continued desire by both Israel and Hamas to avoid a major conflict.

Meanwhile, there continues to be a steady increase in the number of “trader permits” (issued to individual Gazan Palestinians who travel in and out of the Strip to conduct business) since the start of 2019. According to Gisha, the number has risen from 2,375 permits issued in February to 3,336 in July, with the number of trader exits through the Erez Crossing also on the rise. There have also been reports of selective expansion of goods allowed into and out of Gaza from Israel, although no change in policy has been announced.

According to Jessica Burnstein, Director of International Relations at Gisha, the conditions are “still very poor, and it is still too soon to say whether the recent changes on the ground are having a positive impact … the situation on the ground is very dynamic right now.”

With no significant change in Gazan humanitarian conditions or prospects for war between Israel and Hamas, all Gaza parameters remain the same.


Trump administration continues to show no support for a two-state solution; no indication of increased support by Arab states for peace plan after Bahrain workshop

Comments made by US Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman continued to indicate lack of support for a two-state solution on behalf of the Trump administration. In a July 17 interview, Greenblatt contended that Israel is “more the victim” in the conflict, rejected the term “occupied” regarding Israel’s presence in the West Bank (adopting the Israeli government’s preferred term of “disputed”) and referred to West Bank settlements as “neighborhoods and cities.” In a subsequent interview, Ambassador Friedman contended that the Trump administration was committed to “Palestinian autonomy” and added that a Palestinian state at this stage would pose an “existential threat” to Israel and Jordan.

Meanwhile, there was no sign of any pay-off for last month’s Bahrain workshop, which focused on the economic portion of the Trump administration’s peace plan. To date, there have been no monetary pledges or commitments to supporting the plan made by any of the conference participants.

Although statements from Trump administration officials continue to indicate lack of support for a two-state solution, the administration has still avoided taking a concrete stance on the issue. The US parameter thus remains at 3. 

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