Clashes in the West Bank, Settlement Expansions, and Coronavirus: Week Review, February 15th-21st

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Violence in the region:
Violence between Israel and Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza continued this week. Last Shabbat, the Feb. 15, 2 rockets were fired from Gaza. Israel struck Gazan targets in response. On Sunday a young girl found an explosive device in her yard in her home in a town bordering Gaza. On the same day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned mayors of southern towns that it is possible that a major Gaza operation will begin before the elections.

Meanwhile, the IDF discovered a plot by Hamas that used a fake online social profile of an attractive young woman to lure IDF soldiers to downloading malicious software onto their phones. The IDF believes that no significant data was stolen from the IDF soldier’s phones.

There were some tensions in the West Bank on Monday, with a Palestinian trying to stab a cop in Hebron. Then, later in the day, a Bedouin soldier was assaulted by a group of masked assailants and nearly killed. He escaped by hiding under a vehicle which then ran over his hand. He and his friend who was with him at the time were taken to the hospital with multiple fractures.

On Tuesday, Israel ended a number of restrictions that had been placed on Gaza following the rocket fire. A group of Gaza merchants was allowed into Israel, and one of them told YNet News that “everybody wants to work here [in Israel].” Defense Minister Naftali Bennet said he was ready to “give Hamas a chance” but that Israel should also be prepared for a “painful spring.”

On Thursday, Bennet announced the lifting of restrictions against certain Palestinian agricultural imports, following the Palestinian Authority’s decision to lift restrictions on Israeli imported beef. On the same day, a driver from the West Bank tried to ram a checkpoint with his car and was shot by IDF soldiers.

On Friday, a woman in Jerusalem attempted a stabbing attack, yelling “Allahu Akbar” before attempting to attack a passerby. Civilians in the area quickly overpowered her and restrained her until the police arrived.

Iran and Syria:
Following the assumed-Israeli bombing of targets in Damascus last week, there were no reported significant developments this week. 

Housing, settlements, and borders:
On Monday, Israel’s Transportation Ministry announced a plan to extend the recently-operational Tel Aviv to Jerusalem high-speed train all the way to the Western Wall. Then, on Tuesday, Israel’s Housing Ministry submitted a plan for building 9,000 homes in an area of Jerusalem that is marked for Palestinians according to US President Donald Trump’s “Middle East Peace Plan”. On Thursday Netanyahu announced a plan to build 3,000 homes in a settlement in Jerusalem which is adjacent to Jewish Israeli, Israeli Arab, and Palestinian Arab villages. 

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas continued to condemn the US Peace Plan and asked the European Union to recognize Palestine in order to help counter the plan.

Sudan:
Meanwhile, relations are improving between Israel and Sudan. On Sunday, Netanyahu announced that an Israeli flight had crossed over Sudan, a potential threshold and sign of improving relations between the two countries.  Two weeks ago, Netanyahu had met with the Sudanese President. YNet News reported that since the meeting, Sudanese nationals have been positively commenting on and following Israeli social media accounts.

Elections:
Political polls in Israel continued to predict a stalemate in the next election, which takes place on March 2. At this stage, no party looks like it will be able to form a government following the elections, and Israel will likely return to a fourth straight election.

Netanyahu is attempting to get Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to debate him, but so far Gantz has refused. Gantz stated on Tuesday that he will mend ties with US Democrats if elected.

Yehuda Glick arrested:
Former MK and Likud Member Yehuda Glick was arrested for “going too slow” on the Temple Mount, according to his account of the reason given to him by police for the arrest. He was detained at the police station and his house was searched. He claims to have been threatened while in custody. 

Domestic issues:
On Sunday, Netanyahu and his candidate for Finance Minister Ehud Barkat released a new economic plan, which includes reforms to cut bureaucracy and monopolies in the food and housing sectors and to increase investment in hospitals.  

Coronavirus:
Israel is facing its first real challenge with the coronavirus. A cruise ship in Japan with 11 Israelis on board had been quarantined after the Coronavirus was discovered to have infected some passengers. On Wednesday, passengers began to disembark from the vessel and the Israelis returned to Israel, where they were immediately quarantined. On Friday, Israel’s first case of the virus was discovered in one of the passengers, who is now being treated in isolation.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is threatening jail time for anyone returning from East-Asian countries who ignores the Health Ministry order to remain in one’s home for two weeks after entering the country.

Now, some good news:
On Tuesday, Gilad Shalit, a POW held by Hamas for five years, announced his engagement to his girlfriend, Nitzan Shabat.

And on Wednesday, 42 orphans celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs in Jerusalem in an event hosted by Chabad.