An Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip took effect with no formal announcement, after two days of hostilities that saw the most extensive Israeli air-strike since 2014. Hidden from the headlines, the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian lands on the West Bank meanwhile continues. The day after the ceasefire, Israeli troops forced several Palestinian families to evacuate from their homes in the Jordan Valley, in order to make way for military training. Days before, Israeli bulldozers uprooted some 120 fruitful olive trees west of Ramallah, to pave a settler-only road through the area. A document said to outline Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” to end the Palestinian conflict calls for a reduced Palestinian state on lands not already appropriated by settlement blocs. The areas of the blocs are to expand, incorporating outlying settlements, and will remain under Israeli control—apparently amounting to a de facto annexation. (Photo: Ma’an)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to annex areas of the occupied West Bank ahead of the coming week’s Israeli Knesset elections. In an interview on Israeli Channel 12 TV, he was asked about plans to annex settlement blocs in the occupied territory, and responded: “Will we go to the next phase? The answer is yes. We will go to the next phase to extend Israeli sovereignty…” In a part of the interview seemingly reported in English only by the independent Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Netanyahu also appeared to broach annexation of all Area C, the zone of mixed Israeli and Palestinian control, which covers 62% of the West Bank’s territory. Asked about the future status of Area C, he reportedly replied: “I promise that you will be surprised. I cannot talk about the plan, but Trump is a big friend and I doubt there will ever be any bigger friend than him.”
The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: “Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project.” Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting dominated by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. (Photo: Ma’an)
Israel demolished 538 Palestinian homes and facilities across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2018, leaving 1,300 Palestinians and 225 children homeless, according to a year-end report by the Abdullah Al-Hurani Centre, an affiliate of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The report stressed that these demolitions were carried out in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international norms. It charged that Israel "continues its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem," pointing out that, in addition to the demolitions, Israel had issued 460 "stop-building orders" during the same period. (Photo via Middle East Monitor)
Local activists in Gaza announced that they have moved tents set up along the border with Israel as part of the "Great March of Return," relocating them 50 meters closer to the border fence. The committee in charge of the Great March said they had moved the "tents of return" closer to the border "as a message of persistence from our people to the world that we are moving forward towards our rightful goals." The announcement came on the 20th day of protests since the Great March of Return began in the besieged Gaza Strip, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians demanded their collective right of return to their homelands in present-day Israel. Since the demonstrations began, at least 36 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. Among the dead are two minors and a journalist. (Photo: Ma'an)
Two UN rights experts expressed serious concern regarding the arrest and detention of Ahed Tamimi, a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who became famous for slapping an Israeli soldier during a physical confrontation. The statements came as Tamimi appeared before an Israeli military court for the first time. An Israel military judge, who prohibited the media from entering the courtroom and began the trial behind closed doors, ruled that Tamimi should remain in detention until the end of her trial and adjourned the hearing until early March. (Photo: Wikimedia)
Palestinian Christians from around the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel came out in harsh opposition to a visit by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, to Bethlehem for Orthodox Christmas Eve. The patriarchate is accused of selling large amounts of land to Israeli authorities and investors, contributing to Israeli plans to "Judaize" Jerusalem and betraying the church's responsibility to protect Palestinian lands that were handed under its care during the Ottoman period. (Photo: Ma'an News Agency)
Pope Tawadros II, leader Egypt's Coptic Church, has cancelled a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Cairo later this month, in protest of the Trump administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump's decision "did not take into account the feelings of millions of Arab people," the church said in a statement, adding that it "declines to receive" Pence.
We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production. Now prices are rising again, due to a convergence of crises in major producers: escalating tensions among the Gulf states, labor unrest in Nigeria, deepening instability in Venezuela. The US was able to contain the price spike after the ISIS irruption in 2014 by boosting its own production. This trick isn't going to work forever.
If Trump is seeking to appease the Christian fundamentalist element of his base with his pledge to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, this should hardly be comforting to Jews. The evangelical fundis see Jewish control of Jerusalem only as fulfillment of Bible prophecies portending the End Times. What makes this wackiness dangerous is that with nuclear weapons, the human race now has the capacity to bring about the foreseen rain of fire and brimstone.
Israeli authorities revoked permits for Palestinians to enter Jerusalem and Israel in response to a deadly attack in East Jerusalem's Old City, rounding up hundreds in mass arrests.
Palestinians erupted in anger over President Trump naming the Hamas movement—Gaza's de facto ruling party—in a list of terrorist organizations during his speech in Riyadh.