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October20
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October, in short:

  • Renewed effort by Trump administration to erase Green Line: US moves to allow taxpayer money to be spent in settlements and takes action to predetermine final status of Jerusalem
  • New announcements of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank: Promotion of almost 5,000 housing units makes 2020 a record year, while Trump administration enables US taxpayer money to be spent in settlements
  • Israel and Sudan agree to normalize ties: US-brokered pact, along with prior UAE and Bahrain deals, leads to further shift in Israeli attitudes on peace
  • Palestinian economic crisis in the West Bank continues: Effects of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown, along with continued refusal of tax revenues, wreaking severe economic damage 
  • Poll finds stable support for two-state solution among Israelis and Palestinians: New data also shows rise in Israeli support for a single, undemocratic state

These events decreased the Two-State Index (TSI) by 3.3% (down 0.18 points from 5.39 in the previous month).

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Trump administration takes new steps to erase Green Line

On October 28th, in a move reportedly driven by US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the Trump administration expanded scientific cooperation agreements with Israel, opening the door for US taxpayer money to be spent in West Bank settlements. It marked a milestone in Israel’s “creeping annexation” of the West Bank, of which the Trump administration has become a partner, and moved the US closer to official recognition of a one-state reality. Only one day later, the US State Department took further action in this vein, announcing that US citizens born in Jerusalem would now be able to list “Israel” as their place of birth on passports.

The Trump administration’s move to allow US taxpayer funding of settlements, its new effort to predetermine the final status of Jerusalem, along with its tacit encouragement of settlement expansion, lowered the US parameter from 4 to 2. Furthermore, the administration’s disregard for numerous international resolutions concerning the status of West Bank settlements – thus damaging their credibility and effectiveness – decreased the relevant parameter from 7 to 6.

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Israeli settlement expansion resumes, reaching new record

A De facto settlement freeze in the West Bank came to an end this month with the announcement that 4,948 housing units were advanced on October 14th and 15th, with over half promoted to the likely final stage before construction. According to Peace Now, almost of the units would be located beyond the borders of the Geneva Initiative, and the plan includes “extensive retroactive legalization of illegal construction” in the settlement of Eli. 2020 is now the highest recorded year for settlement plans promoted (12,159) since 2012.

“Clearly this move – after having suspended planning of construction in [the West Bank] this past February so as not to damage the agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – is a political payment aimed at [Netanyahu’s] survival,” wrote Israeli security expert Shaul Arieli in Haaretz

Along with condemnation from the Palestinians, Jordan, the UN, and the Arab League, the announcement prompted a critical joint statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Spain, which called settlement expansion a threat that “imperils the viability of a two-state solution.” Notably, there was no public response from the UAE, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank issued a building permit on October 25th for a new settlement of 31 units in the flashpoint city of Hebron, despite hearings scheduled for January over a petition against the permit’s approval. 

The advancement of almost 5,000 settlement units demonstrated the acquiescence of Defense Minister Benny Gantz to West Bank settlement expansion, decreasing the Israeli government parameter from 5 to 4 in October. 

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Normalization with Sudan moves forward amid shifting Israeli priorities

On October 23rd, it was announced that Sudan and Israel would move to normalize relations. The two countries, along with the US, released a joint statement announcing the move, which did not mention the Palestinians or a two-state solution. Sudanese FM Omar Gamareldin subsequently specified that the agreement would only take effect after ratification by Sudan’s parliament, which would take at least two more years. However, the Sudanese Sovereignty Council (one of the two main arms of the current Sudanese government) has already begun opening Sudan’s airspace to Israeli flights and proceeding with discussions on economic agreements.

With polls showing overwhelming Sudanese opposition to recognition of Israel, the normalization deal appears to be limited to the leaders of both countries rather than their respective publics. This is in marked contrast to the Israel-UAE agreement, which has already demonstrated potential for warm people-to-people relations. The Israel-Sudan agreement also further sidelines the Palestinians, whose condemnation of the move was relatively restrained. 

The current environment in the region, in which Arab states have moved forward with normalization absent any progress on the Palestinian issue, has affected the mindset of Israelis. A new poll from Mitvim showed that 61% of Israelis prioritize further deals with Arab states, as opposed to 24% who prefer that Israel now seek a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“The Israeli population is currently not [concerned with] the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or conflict,” according to Dr. Nimrod Goren, the head of the Mitvim Institute. “It does not see it as a priority for the government to deal with or as an interest of the public to advance peace. So while cooperation with the region is viewed very favorably, the Palestinian [issue is] lagging behind.”

The move for Israel-Sudan normalization, following the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, has strengthened belief among many Israelis that regional peace can be achieved without the Palestinians. The Arab world parameter therefore decreased from 8 to 6 in October.

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PA struggles with ongoing economic crisis

The Palestinian economy continued to decline in October, as President Abbas extended an official state of emergency for another month due to the coronavirus pandemic. The effects of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept tax revenues collected by Israel continued to be felt, with the PA forced to pay only 50% of salaries for the fifth consecutive month. Even these payments are now threatened, with banks having informed the PA that they can no longer provide loans to the government.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), over 50% of Palestinian main income earners have been negatively affected by coronavirus lockdown, with 14% having ceased working altogether. 63% of Palestinian households in the West Bank have been unable to cover expenses during the lockdown and 42% have had their income reduced by at least half. Financial support from Arab countries was reported to have declined by 82% in the first eight months of 2020, and a new report from the World Bank estimated that the Palestinian GDP will contract by 8% this year.

The Portland Trust warned that “the livelihoods of many families in Palestine are at risk with tens of thousands of families sinking into poverty.” These developments have heightened concern among Israeli intelligence officials, with Brigadier General Dror Shalom, head of the Research Division of Israel's Military Intelligence Directorate, publicly emphasizing the increased threat of violence due to high unemployment among Palestinian youth.

With new data showing the steep decline of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, the relevant parameter dropped from 3 to 2 this month.

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New poll shows stable support for two states, but worrying alternative trends upward

A small increase in support for a two-state solution among Palestinians was registered in a new poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) and Tel Aviv University. The poll, published on October 26th, found that a 43% plurality of Palestinians favored two states, compared to 39% in a PSR poll from the previous month. Israeli support for a two-state solution was shown to be generally holding steady at 44%. However, the poll found a rise in support among Israeli Jews for a one-state outcome without equal rights for Palestinians – increasing from 15% to 22% – along with a drop in support for a single democratic state (from 19% to 10%).

These results decreased the Israeli public opinion parameter from 7 to 6 in October, while the Palestinian public opinion parameter remained the same.

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