Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalate ahead of settlement expansion

Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Jihad group burn pictures of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's flag during a rally in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 10 October 2020

Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalate ahead of settlement expansion

  • Peace Now, an Israeli campaigning group, announced that 4,430 settlement units are set to be approved on Oct. 14

AMMAN: Tensions are rising in the occupied territories as the date for the approval of thousands of new Jewish settlement units nears.

Peace Now, an Israeli campaigning group, announced that 4,430 settlement units are set to be approved on Oct. 14 by the Israeli Army’s Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council.

Peace Now said in a statement: “Instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf states and promoting peace with the Palestinians, he (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) is distorting Israel’s priorities and catering to a fringe minority for these settlement units approvals that will continue to harm future prospects for peace.”

It called on top Israeli ministers to veto the plans.

“By doing so, Israel will be signaling to the world its bi-partisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state — the paradigm that until now has largely shielded Israel from formal pressure over its 53-year occupation. The settlement enterprise is not in Israel’s national or security interest and is a strategic mistake at the international level,” Peace Now concluded.

Khalil Toufakji, director of the Jerusalem-based Arab Studies Society, told Arab News that the new Israeli move sends troubling messages to all sides.

“By looking at the location of the new units, it is a clear message to Palestinians that the Israeli occupiers have no plans towards the two-state solution,” Toufakji said, adding that Israel continues to unilaterally draw borders deep into Palestinian occupied territories.

“The planned new units in Bitar Elite and the Gush Etzion block are within the greater Jerusalem area. Also, new units are targeting the Jordan valley and the south Hebron areas, all areas that Israel is targeting for annexation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoners Club has announced that Israeli troops arrested 21 Palestinians from different West Bank locations.

Tensions are also on the rise in Israeli prisons as Maher Al-Akhras, who has been detained under administrative orders without charge or trial, has entered his 77th day of a hunger strike. Protesters in Gaza called for his release. Khaled Batash, a member of the politburo of Islamic Jihad, warned Israel against harming Al-Akhras or any other prisoner.

Prisoners belonging to the Popular Front have threatened to start an open-ended hunger strike on Sunday if Israeli prison authorities fail to address their grievances about conditions.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police prevented thousands of worshipers from accessing Al-Aqsa Mosque. Vigilante settlers were filmed attacking homes and torching Palestinian farms and groves as the olive-picking season begins.

The Israeli Army commander of the West Bank issued 63 separate military orders barring Palestinians from reaching some 3,000 dunums of olives because they are “close” to Jewish settlements. Only a handful of farmers with rare permits were allowed to participate.

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.