Between the 24th-28th February 2020, Oliver McTernan, Forward Thinking’s Director, and Jordan Morgan, Middle East Programme Manager, travelled to Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to develop forthcoming and build upon current initiatives within the Middle East Programme.
In the West Bank, bi-lateral meetings took place with Palestinian Ministers, cross-factional PLC members, academics and party activists. Hosted by the Embassy of the Netherlands, a debriefing session took place with national religious scholars who recently returned from the Netherlands to explore the relationship between religion and state. In addition, Oliver and Jordan met with Elyakim Rubinstein, who helped shape Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt; representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Economy; Members of the Knesset and party strategists from Blue and White, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu.
In the West Bank, the visit coincided with a delegation of US-Israeli officials who had began the controversial task of delineating territory as part of the US President Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century, aiming to turn Trump’s conceptual map into a cartographically accurate map. Cross-factional PLC members stated that the lack of unified Palestinian political voice, widespread political fragmentation and stalling of Palestinian elections is severely hampering an effective political and legislative response to the deal, which was widely condemned.
Events saw a violent escalation in confrontation between Gaza and Israel with rockets being launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and a subsequent Israeli military response. After the Israeli Defense Minister had reinstated a policy of collecting bodies, gruesome footage emerged of an Israeli Defence Force bulldozer attempting to snatch the body of a deceased Islamic Jihad fighter in Gaza. Palestinian interlocutors were troubled by the continuing cycle of violence and the lack of long-term political processes to break it.
On 3rd March 2020, Israel will once again go to the polls. Electioneering, campaigning and posturing continued apace as Israel braces itself for its third election in a year. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hopes to seize upon the initiative created by US support and the so-called Deal of the Century.
Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, who also supports Trump’s Deal, is Netanyahu’s closest rival. The winner’s first priority will be to negotiate a 61-seat majority coalition to reinvigorate the stalled political programme which has stymied the domestic and social agenda for the last year. So far, agreement has not been possible and unless the parliamentary arithmetic can change a fourth election cannot be ruled out. For Prime Minister Netanyahu legal complications also persist, his hearing on the three criminal cases is scheduled after the elections on the 17th March, which could present a constitutional crisis.