July has started and with it the second half of 2020 is underway. Days and weeks blur into one and the news headlines come and go. Elections, annexation, covid, occupation, it can be difficult to see the history being made in front of our eyes. This week, I’m taking stock of 2020 so far, a year that is likely to be etched in our memories for a long time.
Last week, the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu had everyone poised on a knife’s edge waiting to see what would happen on 1st July regarding his highly controversial annexation plan. Just to re-wind a few steps, Israel held three sets of elections in the space of a year to reach the compromised position of the current Netanyahu-Gantz coalition. The last election was on 2 March and it took until 17 May until the coalition was formed. So not exactly willing bed-mates but perhaps a small flicker of hope for some that the coalition would signal a more moderate approach.
The ingredients had been thrown in the pot and Trump’s much anticipated ‘Deal of the Century’ promised to provide the recipe to bring it all together. Titled the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ Plan, the document published in January, promised to bring a workable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obviously, there was doubt that the chef in this case had the credentials to deliver such miracles and so it came to pass. When the plan was revealed, the Palestinian Authority outright rejected it.
The plan called for around 30% of Palestinian land to be transferred to Israel. This was land which had been conquered by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and where illegal Israeli settlements had been built over the previous decades. This is not recognised by the international community. It is this formalisation of Israeli control of these areas that is meant by the term ‘annexation’ and which was a key election pledge by Netanyahu.
The process was expected to start on 1st July and yet the day came and went without action. Perhaps a deliberate strategic ploy or more likely a signal that there is far from consensus within the Israeli government about how to proceed. The NY Times capture the mood of this well if you want to read more.
Oh and there is also the small matter of the PM currently undergoing a corruption trial with thousands of Israelis coming out on Saturday to protest against him.
But let’s not forget the main story of 2020: corona virus. Israel locked down early and robustly. The whole country had an 8 week almost complete lockdown during March and April and the flames were all but extinguished. Relaxing the lockdown caused a sigh of relief across the country and perhaps the party has been a bit bigger than was sensible.
People wear masks in public and maintain social distancing where possible, but restaurants and shops are open, and business has resumed for many. But now the virus is back with a vengeance and we are now in the midst of a bigger wave than the first.
The West Bank (i.e. all Palestinian areas) is currently in the midst of a 5 day complete lockdown which will probably be extended when it expires on Wednesday, and certain Israeli areas are also being restricted. For many people being in lockdown means not getting paid and poverty has already significantly increased in Palestinian areas.
This week there has been an increase in flights in and out of Israel but tourists are still not permitted entry and for many hotels, shops and other businesses dependent on the tourism industry they are being slowly suffocated. The Old City is still open, but it is a sad site with many shops closed and other shop keepers opening out of a desire for routine rather than the expectation of making any money.
Then there are the things that never make the news. The things that are almost ‘normal’. The daily clashes between Israeli Security Forces (ISF) and Palestinians. The tear gassing, the arrests, the demolition of family homes on spurious grounds. The death of innocent people like Iyad Halaq without any visible sign of consequences for the police forces. Life here is far from normal and the slow grind of the occupation marches on.
Who knows what 2020 has in store for us next but the stage is set for a turbulent second half. I hope wherever you are in the world you enjoy some peace over the summer even if going on holiday remains a thing of dreams for most of us.