By Mohan Chen- Bethlehem/PNN/
From a series of border protests in the Gaza Strip to thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank, 2018 has indeed been an eventful year in Palestine. As the year draws to a close, we have taken a moment to look back and compiled a list of ten most important news stories in the past twelve months, and many of them are certainly set to reverberate in 2019.
1) Great March of Return- 30 March 2018
Started on the annual Palestinian Land Day, thousands of demonstrators joined a series of weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border. The campaign aimed to demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees, an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, as well as the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. It is the biggest movement in the recent history of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and has resulted in deadliest days since 2014 war on Gaza.
The planned six-week campaign has extended into November. Every Friday, Palestinians set tires ablaze, flew Palestinian flags, sometimes threw rocks and flew incendiary balloons and kites. The Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets on the ones who got too close to the fence. According to the report from the Ministry of Health, at least 210 Palestinians were killed and more than 18,000 were injured.
2) US Embassy Opens in Jerusalem- 14 May 2018
On December 6, 2017, the US President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is interpreted as an official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem was led by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner on May 14, coinciding with Israel’s 70th Independence Day.
In the meantime, the protests in the Gaza Strip escalated in response to the US Embassy move. At least 52 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,200 were injured along the Gaza-Israeli border.
The Secretary General of the PLO Erekat criticized the Trump administration for violating its obligations under international law, including UNSCR 478, and the U.S. own commitments towards the peace process.
3) 70 Years of the Nakba- 15 May 2018
May 15 marks 70 years of the Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic. The Nakba Day is commemorated to honor the more than 700, 000 Palestinians who were uprooted from their homes in the 1948 war. The eviction has created a refugee crisis and led to the core Palestinian demand in the later peace process – the “right of return”.
Marches and demonstrations have taken place across Palestine and around the world. In the West Bank, clashes broke out between the protesters and the Israeli occupation forces in the areas of central Hebron, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Ramallah. The Palestinian diaspora and activists also gathered in major cities in the United States, South Africa, and Lebanon, demanding Israel to bring justice for its human rights violations.
Read More: Protests, clashes renewed on Nakba day
4) Jewish Nation-State Law- 19 July 2018
The Israeli Knesset passed a new basic law by a vote of 48 – 41 on July 19. The law defines the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and reiterates that the unified and complete city of Jerusalem is its capital. The controversial bill also downgrades the status of Arabic from an official language of the state to a special status, arousing fear of further marginalizing 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and other minority groups.
Despite the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the Nation-State Law “respects the rights of all of its citizens,” discontent rises among both Jewish and Arab communities. In August, an estimated 50,000 Israelis gathered at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, calling for cancellation of the law and protesting against polarizing the Israeli-Palestinian issues.
In response, the Palestinian cabinet also condemned the Israeli government for rejecting any international efforts to achieve the two-state solution and denying the historic, cultural, and national existence of the Palestinian people on their own land through passing this law.
5) Ahed Tamimi Released- 29 July 2018
Ahed Tamimi is a Palestinian teen activist. On December 15, 2017, Tamimi participated in a demonstration in her hometown, Nabi Salih, and was filmed slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers. She was soon arrested during an overnight raid after the video went virus on the Internet. Her trial gained wide attention from the international society to the situation of Palestinian activists.
In March, the 17-year-old Palestinian girl reached a plea deal with the military prosecution. The deal includes serving eight months in jail and a fine of 5,000 shekels. On July 29, Ahed Tamimi and her mother were released by Israeli occupation authorities from the Hasharon Prison in Ramallah.
6) US Aids Cuts- 24 August 2018
In late August, the United States announced to halt its funding to the United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA). The organization provides healthcare, food and education to more than 5 million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The United States has been the biggest patron to the UNRWA, contributing $350 million every year. This decision means that the UNRWA will lose 30% of its annual budget and have to cancel its programs by a large scale.
On September 9, the US President Donald Trump redirected approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which is the last US aid program for Palestinians. The withdrawal of the financial support will affect thousands of Palestinians, including cancer patients and children.
7) Closure of Washington PLO Office- 10 September 2018
On September 10, the United States announced the closure of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, DC. According to a statement from the US State Department, the PLO office was permitted to operate to “support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”
The Palestinian Authority described the US decision as “a declaration of war on efforts to bring peace to our country and the region”. The Palestinian Council made a statement that “the closure is yet another American step toward attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause and not only affects the political situation, but rather affects serious humanitarian aspects related to the consular services provided by the organization.”
The closure of Washington PLO office will impact 600,000 American-Palestinian Citizens.
8) The Application for Full United Nations Membership- 28 December 2018
On December 28, the Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Minister Riyad al-Malki announced that Palestine would initiate an application to gain full state membership at the United Nations. Al -Malki is scheduled to submit the formal request to the Security Council during his upcoming visit to the UN Headquarters in New York in January 2019.
It will be the first time since 2011 that the Palestinian Authority applied for full UN membership. Acquiring the committee’s approval requires at least nine out of fifteen Security Council members to vote in favor of the motion and none of the five permanent members to use its veto power.
Given that the United States will most likely to block the application as a permanent member state, any attempt from Palestine to upgrade its current status as an observer state to a full-member state faces huge obstacles. Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, made a statement, “We are preparing to stop the initiative.”
9) Jewish Settlements
In 2017, the Israeli government approved 6,742 settlement units for construction, which was the highest since 2013. In early January, the total number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has already reached 600,000. In 2018, the Israeli government continued to advance its plans.
In January, the Peace Now NGO reported that Israel has approved more than 1,000 settlement units in the West Bank. in July, the Israeli Defense Minister Lieberman announced to build 400 settler homes after a violent conflict resulting the death of one Jewish settler and injuries of two. In August and December, more than one thousand new settlement units were approved respectively.
The Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of Palestinian homes, and settlement building have been the biggest obstacles to the two-state solution. But in the past two years, the number has skyrocketed. According to Peace Now, 96% of those approved “are in isolated settlements that Israel will likely need to evacuate within the framework of a two-state agreement”.
Read More about latest settlement plans: Israel approves 1,450 new settlement units in West Bank
10) Netanyahu Investigation
The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has been surrounded by corruption scandals in 2018. He is accused of accepting gifts in exchange for preferential treatments as well as allegations he attempted to bribe Israeli telecommunication companies for favourable coverage.
Throughout the year, Israeli police has questioned Netanyahu and his family for several times. The police also recommended Netanyahu be charged with bribery and fraud based on the sufficient evidence. While Netanyahu admitted the acceptance of these gifts, he denied there was any favour in return.
On December 24, the right-wing leader called for early elections in April 2019. Although the latest poll suggests another victory for the incumbent Israeli Prime Minister, the ongoing legal investigations will surely shape the outcome of the election.