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February
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February, in short:

  • Netanyahu makes raft of announcements on settlements as Israeli election approaches: PM’s pledge to build in highly sensitive areas of E1 and in East Jerusalem threaten two-state solution
  • New measures taken by Israel fail to stop Gaza violence: Israeli forces and Palestinian factions trade fire throughout February despite multiple steps taken to maintain calm 
  • Rise in anti-normalization among Palestinians: Trend of rejecting interaction with Israelis on the upswing after release of Trump plan
  • Vast majority of Palestinians reject Trump plan, according to new poll: Additional findings include increased support for violence and significant decline in those favoring a two-state solution
  • Publication of UN report listing companies that do business in Israeli settlements: Long-delayed report sparks outrage among Israeli officials and political parties
  • Planning for West Bank annexation moves forward as international organizations and public figures push back on Trump plan: US-Israeli planning continues as international community increasingly alarmed

These events moved the Two-State Index (TSI) down by 4.2% (down by 0.2 points from 5.21 in the previous month).

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Promises of significant settlement expansion by Netanyahu ahead of Israeli election

In the lead-up to Israeli’s March 2nd election, there were a slew of announcements by PM Netanyahu concerning settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most significantly, tenders for 1,077 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Givat Hamatos were published on February 24th, allowing for immediate implementation of the planning process. Construction in Givat Hamatos has been frozen in recent years, and it threatens to completely disconnect East Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Plans were also advanced on February 26th for 3,500 settlement units in the E1 area of Ma’aleh Adumim. Construction in E1, which has been a red-line for every US administration until now, would cut off East Jerusalem from its West Bank environs, and thereby preclude the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

This announcement was followed one day later by the promotion of 1,739 additional settlements units, 703 of them approved for the final stage of validation, as well as the retroactive legalization of 620 units built illegally in the settlement of Eli. One week prior, Netanyahu visited Hebron and pledged to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish community there, as well as the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque. And only days earlier, a plan was submitted for construction of a new settlement at the site of the Atarot Airport, between the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Kafr Aqab, Qalandiya, and Ar-Ram. Notably, this area was included in the Trump administration’s “Vision for Peace” as the future site of a Palestinian tourism center.

Although much of the settlement expansion announced by Netanyahu will take years to implement, the danger posed to a two-state solution by construction in Givat Hamatos moved the Jerusalem border parameter from 3 to 2.

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Violence continues in Gaza despite new measures

Through much of February, Hamas resumed sending incendiary balloons into southern Israel, which were typically met by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and rockets fired in return. However, after three days of a lull in violence, the Israeli Civil Administration announced on February 18th that 2,000 new work permits to enter Israel would be issued to Palestinian businessmen (in actuality, laborers who work in construction, industry, and agriculture), and 500 permits that had been cancelled earlier in the month would be restored.  These measures, in addition to recent restoration of the fishing zone, imports of cement, and approval for heavy equipment, are the most far-reaching since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force in 2007.

Nonetheless, violence resumed almost immediately. On February 23rd, Israeli forces shot dead an Islamic Jihad militant caught planting a bomb along the Gaza border, later extracting his body with a bulldozer in an incident that was filmed and widely disseminated on social media. Amid the subsequent exchange of rockets and airstrikes, Israeli restrictions were restored, but reversed on February 26th in the wake of a ceasefire.

The continuous back-and-forth between Israel and militants in Gaza further demonstrated the fragility of any agreement for calm between the sides, and the fact that the status quo is not a viable option. Thus, both relevant parameters (Palestinian attacks and IDF military actions) moved from 5 to 6 each. 

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Spike in anti-normalization following release of Trump plan

On February 24th, President Abbas expressed public support for the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society and rejected the resignation of Mohammed al-Madani, the head of the committee and a veteran member of the Fatah Central Committee. Madani was reportedly angry over a perceived failure by the Palestinian Authority to defend the work of his committee, after facing criticism from Palestinians for attending recent meetings with Israelis. Similar criticism led to the resignation of the mayor of the West Bank town of Anabta, Hamdallah Hamdallah. 

Nidal Foqaha, Director-General of the Palestinian Peace Coalition-Geneva Initiative, said that the recent increase in anti-normalization sentiment is “mainly due to the Trump plan … there was an increase in frustration among Palestinians.” ” Furthermore, said Foqaha, “there was a clear message from Abbas that the whole PA is standing behind these efforts, and already joint meetings and dialogue have resumed.” 

With no significant setbacks for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and interaction as of yet, all relevant parameters remained the same.

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New poll finds almost complete rejection of Trump plan by Palestinians, decline in support for a two-state solution

A new poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) showed that 94% of Palestinians reject the Trump administration’s “Vision for Peace”. Released on February 11th, the poll also found that 64% of Palestinians say violence is the best response to the plan, and 50% now say violence is the most effective way to end the occupation. Of major significance was the finding that only 39% of Palestinians currently support a two-state solution, the lowest support recorded by the PCPSR poll since the signing of the Oslo Accords.

PCPSR Director Khalil Shikaki explained that “the motivation for violence is strong [among Palestinians] but the capacity is not, mostly because Hamas’ military infrastructure has been decimated and because the Fatah leadership strongly opposes the militarization of the Tanzim [Fatah-aligned militants].”  

Regarding Palestinian support for a two-state solution, Shikaki said that it “will continue to decline if the Trump plan is implemented on the ground. Sooner or later, support for the one-state solution will become much higher. However, if the Trump plan is not implemented on the ground, public support for compromise and for the two-state solution will probably continue to remain open, with people embracing the idea if they view it as realistic or feasible.”

The significant decline in support for a two-state solution shifted the Palestinian public opinion parameter down from 5 to 4.

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UN releases list of companies operating in settlements

On February 12th, the UN human rights office issued a report listing 112 companies that do business in West Bank settlements, 94 of them based in Israel. Upon release of the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that “while the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises' involvement in them.” 

The willingness of the UN to exert indirect pressure on the issue of Israeli settlements moved the Third-party engagement parameter from 5 to 6.

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Trump plan prompts moves toward annexation amid rejection by international community

On February 15th, the Trump administration confirmed that U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman will lead a joint U.S.-Israeli committee to determine the precise borders of Israel and the Palestinian “state” prescribed in the “Vision for Peace” plan announced in January. The results of the committee’s work are expected to allow for unilateral Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, approved by the Trump administration. After meeting with Netanyahu to begin the mapping process, Friedman declared that “we hope to complete [the process] as soon as possible, and complete it the right way for the State of Israel.” Earlier, on February 4th, Netanyahu made clear that he intended to pursue annexation only after Israel’s March 2nd election.

That same day, the European Union released a statement asserting that the Trump plan departs from “internationally agreed parameters.” EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell reiterated the EU‘s commitment to a "negotiated two-State solution, based on 1967 lines, with equivalent land swaps” and warned that “steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.” The statement came three days after the Arab League backed President Abbas by rejecting the Trump plan, and one day after it was rejected by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (named in the Trump plan as a potential partner in settling Palestinian refugees).

With no major steps taken toward West Bank annexation, or significant international resistance to the plan yet materializing, all relevant parameters remained the same in February.

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