Eight losses, victories in Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2020

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The largest victories were more about what did not happen, then what did.

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem (photo credit: REUTERS)

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem

(photo credit: REUTERS)

While COVID-19 grabbed the headlines, Israelis and Palestinians in 2020 battled over large strategic issues relating to the conflict, that at the end of the day, left the West Bank in almost precisely the same status as it had in 2019.

The largest victories were more about what did not happen, then what did. Most Israeli right-wing victories were the result of US President Donald Trump’s administration’s decisions, less about steps that Israel actually took.

Politics both in Jerusalem and Washington stymied progress in the field, as large-scale victories slipped from Israel’s hands.

1. Netanyahu failed to unite the Israeli Right

The Israeli Right entered the year 2020 with a bang and came out with barely a whimper.

This should have been their year. Right-wing parties grabbed 49 mandates outright in the April elections. Combined with another 16 from the two ultra-religious parties, it should have allowed for a government of 65 that could have approved any right-wing agenda, such as sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.

To top it off, the Trump administration was supportive of that agenda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have proven he was the most popular right-wing leader, but he failed to unite it. Yisrael Beytenu Party head Avigdor Liberman didn’t want to sit with the religious parties and Netanyahu refused to meet Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett’s price for entry into the coalition: the Health portfolio.

What emerged was a coalition with Blue and White that helped block substantive movement on securing Israel’s hold on Judea and Samaria.

As a result, many right-wing politicians became almost an opposition force within their own government as they held Knesset meetings to strategize on how to recoup what had become a stunning set of losses.

2. Most generous peace plan, scrapped

Trump unveiled the most generous peace plan ever offered Israel and the first map ever for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It allowed for Israel to place 30% of the West Bank and most of Jerusalem within its permanent borders.

But Trump’s electoral loss in November and the entry of US President-elect Joe Biden to the White House in January means that his plan has been scrapped.

3. West Bank annexation never came to fruition

Both Netanyahu and Trump promised the Right that the West Bank settlements would be annexed this year.

That pledge was delayed and by August 13, suspended all together in favor of the Abraham Accords which provided a blueprint for Israel to normalize ties with Arab and Muslim states.

4. 2002 Arab Peace Initiative loses choke hold on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

This was the year that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which established requirements for normalized ties between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors, lost its choke hold on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The initiative, which was accepted by the international community and rejected by Israel, attempted to pressure the Jewish state to accept a two-state resolution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 lines by linking Israel’s regional diplomatic relations with that kind of territorial withdrawal.

The Abraham Accords went a long way to divorcing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from those relations. Those countries that agreed to normalize ties with Israel still held the principal positions put forward by the initiative, but agreed that failure to achieve these objectives would not prevent relations with Israel.

5. ICC never moved forward on alleged Israeli war crimes

The International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber never issued its highly anticipated jurisdictional ruling on whether it could adjudicate war crimes suits regarding the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Such jurisdiction would be tantamount to international legal recognition that this territory belonged to the Palestinians and should be part of its state. Once lawsuits could be filed against both Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority turned to the ICC with the intent of bringing war crimes suits against Israelis for their actions, including Netanyahu and Alternative Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda already said that she believed Israelis and Palestinians may have committed war crimes.

6. UNHRC black list published, but BDS takes a hit

This was the year that the United Nations Human Rights Council published its long anticipated black list of companies that conduct business with Jewish Israeli entities over the pre-1967 lines.

The list allows for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to increase its targeting of companies it believes should be boycotted. It also helps identify those companies, who may be in violation of international law, should the ICC declare that such business activity is a war crime.

The Abraham Accords, however, were a stunning blow to the BDS movement. It is difficult to argue that a boycott of settlement products or Israel is needed to pressure Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines when Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are busy establishing business ties with Israel.

7. US grants Israel de facto recognition of Area C, east Jerusalem

The United States agreed to suspend annexation, but took steps to strengthen recognition of Israeli ties to Area C of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the first ever visit by someone in his role or any high ranking American official to areas of the West Bank under IDF civilian and military control. This included a stop at the Psagot Winery in the Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Park and Jesus’s baptismal site in the Jordan Valley.

The US announced that it would not distinguish between territory held by Israel within and without its sovereign borders, including in east Jerusalem. It followed this with a change to its custom labeling laws, to ensure that all products emanating for territory held by Israel, were stamped “made in Israel.”

The US also allowed for American-Israelis born in Jerusalem to state on their passports that they were born in Israel, an option that had been previously denied to them.

8. The Right and settlers fail to expand territorial hold, or authorize illegal building

No advancements were made on the authorization of illegal settlement building, if anything the issue was set back.

The High Court of Justice struck down as unconstitutional a Knesset law that would have retroactively authorized illegal settler homes on private Palestinian property in exchange for financial compensation to the property owners. Netanyahu also did not allow for the authorization of some 70 West Bank outposts, including those built on state land.

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