10 top Israeli-Palestinian conflict stories of 2019

When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel suffered several losses.

Hilltop Youth setters West Bank 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)
Hilltop Youth setters West Bank 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)
The Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria fared better in 2019, in the absence of a government they had when one was in power, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made concessions to them as part of his re-election campaigns. Among his most significant gestures was his pledge to annex the West Bank settlements. He also ousted international observers from Hebron after 22 years and allowed the demolition of Palestinian structures in Wadi Hummus.
When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, Israel suffered several losses. This included at the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled that Israeli goods produced over the pre-1967 lines must be labled as settlement goods. The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor also issued a statement that she believed Israel had committed war crimes with respect to military activity against Palestinians in Gaza and with respect to settlement activity in the West Bank.
With respect to Gaza, Israel was able to avoid a new war, but suffered from the continual Palestinian launching of incendiary devices against it and two seriously violent flare ups. The one on May 5 led to five civilian fatalities, as much as Israel suffered during the 2014 Gaza war.
Listed are ten of the stories that marked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the year 2019.
1. West Bank annexation with Jordan Valley first
This was the year that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally adopted a West Bank annexation platform, a move he had resisted for the last decade.
It marked the end of a dramatic shift from the past Israeli policy of territorial concessions and negotiations regarding West Bank settlements. If Netanyahu makes good on his pledge, he will have unilaterally set Israel’s final borders. It is a move that would severely impact the tone and tenure of any future talks with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu spoke of the issue briefly during the first election cycle, before making a formal pledge during the second elections. In September, he promised to apply sovereignty first to the Jordan Valley immediately upon the formation of a new government. He added that he would extend that sovereignty to all the West Bank settlements. In the last two weeks, he has expanded on that pledge to include a promise of US recognition of that sovereignty.
As the head of an interim government, he cannot legally apply sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. But to show that he was serious, Netanyahu legalized the Jordan Valley outpost of Me’voet Yericho, making it the third new settlement he had approved in the last three years, following on the heels of Gilad Farm in 2018 and Amichai in 2017.
To underscore Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, he also held the first governmental meeting in the West Bank in almost two decades.
As part of the normalization of settlement activity in 2019, Ariel University opened the first Jewish West Bank medical school. Located in the Ariel settlement, Ariel University is the only such Jewish institution in Judea and Samaria.
2. The ouster of TIPH from Hebron after 22 years
This was the year that Netanyahu sought to make his mark in Hebron, most dramatically by ending a 22-year mandate that allowed for a force of international observers to report on human rights violations in the city.
Since its inception in 1997, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) had operated under a mandate that was renewed twice a year by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The civilian force that was made up of 64 observers from Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
TIPH was tasked with helping maintain the 1997 division of the city by Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister from 1996-1999. As part of his attempt to undo the political damage from that move, Netanyahu delivered the first prime ministerial address in Hebron. Netanyahu spoke in a ceremonial tent, set up on the plaza just outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
In addition, he took steps to shore up and expand the small Jewish community of some thousand people in Hebron. Plans were advanced to allow for the construction of Jewish homes, above the abandoned Palestinian market stalls outside of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. The Jewish community could register rights with the Civil Administration to half of a building near the Tomb of the Patriarchs known as Beit Machpelah.
Separately, the High Court of Justice ruled that Jewish families could continue to live in two Hebron buildings called Beit Rachel and Beit Leah until legal proceedings regarding the two structures have been completed. A Jerusalem District Court ruled however that three Jewish families must evacuate a building in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood.
3. Wadi Hummus demolitions
Netanyahu allowed the demolition of 12 permanent Palestinian structures in an area of the West Bank known as Wadi Hummus. Many of the structures were in various stages of construction, with some 17 Palestinians already living inside the buildings.
Technically, Wadi Hummus is part of the Bethlehem municipality and under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. But the area itself is on the Israeli side of the security barrier and is immediately adjacent to the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Sur Bahir. The Palestinian homeowners had received building permits from the Bethlehem municipality, but the structures were deemed illegal by the Israeli High Court of Justice because they were built too close to the security barrier.
The move was viewed by many as an attempt by Netanyahu to shore up right-wing support for his re-election campaign, particularly given his decision not to remove the illegal West Bank Bedouin herding village of Khan al-Ahmar.
4. Airbnb ends it boycott of West Bank settlements
In a victory for Israel over the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Airbnb rescinded its decision to delist Jewish properties in West Bank settlements.
Airbnb’s move to boycott such listings the previous year had placed it in the legal and diplomatic spotlight. In April, the global, US-based Internet company that advertizes vacation apartment listings announced it would not go ahead with the move.
5. EU’s top court rules “settlement” labels a must for Israeli products over the pre-1967 lines
In a major BDS failure for the state,  2019 was the year in which the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that all Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines must be marked with consumer labels designating them as settlement products.
The landmark ruling said that such consumer labeling must be applied in all 28 EU member states. The ruling codified into law what had previously only been advisory guidelines. It also went one step further than the guidelines, which had suggested only that consumer labels should clarify that such product were not made in Israel. The European court said that the word "settlements" must be attached.
Similarly, Canada’s Federal Court rules this year that wines produced by West Bank settlers cannot be labeled “Products of Israel.”
6. UN finds ethical misconduct in UNRWA, but still extends its mandate
A United Nations probe found that ethical misconduct had occurred among the top management of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), but still extended the organization’s mandate for three years.
The overwhelming 170-2 vote dashed Israeli hopes that the ethics probe would force the international community to re-examine some of the core principles of its handling of Palestinian refugee.
Israel allows the UNRWA to operate in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, even though it holds that it is a stumbling block to peace. Both Israel and the US believe that the agency holds by an unsustainable and ever-expanding classification of who is a Palestinian refugee.
The probe led to the resignation of UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl, following allegations of mismanagement and abuses of authority among senior agency officials. He was temporarily replaced by Christian Saunders, who has restored international confidence in the agency.
7. UNHRC probe finds Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted innocent protestors at Gaza border fence
A United Nations Human Rights Council probe in February found that IDF soldiers intentionally shot at innocent protestors at the weekly Gaza protests, including children and people with disabilities.
Argentinian legal expert Santiago Canton, who chaired the three-person probe, said that some of the IDF’s actions may have amounted to “war crimes or crimes against humanity.”
The report recommended that UN member states consider imposing individual sanctions against Israeli leaders and soldiers. This could include arrests, travel bans or a freeze of financial assets, the commission stated. It also encouraged member states who are parties to the Rome Statute to arrest or extradite citizens involved in Gaza deaths.
It also compiled a list of IDF soldiers it believes to have been involved in violations of human rights.
Israel has said that the IDF at the border is responding to violent rioters who have tried to infiltrate into Israel and have placed explosive devices at the barrier. They have launched incendiary devices that have burned thousands of acres of fields and forests in southern Israel.
8. ICC Chief prosecutor says she plans on open a war crimes investigation over Gaza, settlements
This month, International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda issued a dramatic ruling in which she said that she believes Israelis and Palestinians have committed war crimes and plans to open an investigation into the matter.
Prior to such an investigation, including into Gaza and West Bank settlements, Bensouda has sought a ruling from the ICC’s pre-trial chamber as to the extent of the territory that can fall under the scope of her probe and can be considered part of an “occupied Palestinian state.”
In a larger brief to the pre-trial chamber, Bensouda said she has reason to believe that the IDF committed war crimes in Gaza, particularly during the 2014 war. Similarly, she said, “There is a reasonable basis to believe that members of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups (‘PAGs’) committed… war crimes.”
She also plans to examine IDF activity along the Gaza border since the start of the “Great March of Return” in March 2018.
Separately, Bensouda wrote that she has reason to believe that the actions of the Israeli authorities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem can be considered to fall under the war crime of transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory.
She clarified that she is only examining war crime claims dating back no further than June 13, 2014. Advancement of the case strengthens the Palestinian diplomatic pursuit of Israel, including its efforts to isolate it in the international arena and at the UN.
9. The one-day Gaza war
Five Israeli civilians were killed during an intense flareup of Israeli-Palestinian violence on May 5, in which Palestinians in Gaza launched an unceasing barrage of rockets against Israel. The number of civilian casualties in southern Israel equaled that of the entire 2014 Gaza war, in which four Israeli civilians and one Thai civilian were killed from rocket fire.
According to the Foreign Ministry, those who were killed included: A father of four, Moshe Agadi (58), who was killed when a rocket hit his home in Ashkelon. A father of seven, Ziad Alhamada, (49), who was killed when a rocket hit the Ashkelon factory where he worked. He was from the Bedouin village Savian in Negev. A father of two, Moshe Feder (68) of Kfar Saba was killed when an anti-tank missile hit his vehicle as he drove to work in Kibbutz Erez. The father of a small infant, Pinchas Menachem Prezuazman (21) was killed in Ashkelon as he sought shelter from a falling rocket. A mother and a grandmother, Rivka Jamil (89) of Ashkelon died on July 7, of wounds she sustained on May 5 while seeking shelter from a rocket attack.
10. West Bank terror
Four Israelis, one soldier and three civilians, were killed in terror attacks in the West Bank. The Foreign Ministry has listed those fatalities as follows: IDF Sgt. Gal Keidan (19) and Rabbi Achiad Ettinger (47) were killed in a terrorist attack at the Ariel Junction. Dvir Sorek (19) was stabbed to death outside the gate of the Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva on the outskirts of the Migdal Oz settlement on August 8. A student at the yeshiva, he was returning to school after a trip to Jerusalem to buy gifts for his teachers. Rina Shnerb (17), was killed by a Palestinian explosive device while hiking near Dani’s Spring by the Dolev settlement. Separately in Jerusalem, Ori Ansbacher (19), of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, was murdered by a Palestinian in Jerusalem’s Ein Yael Forest.