Israel to Approve New Settlement Units in the West Bank
Despite shelving annexation, Netanyahu is full-steam ahead on settlement expansion.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel is set to authorize more than 4,000 new housing units in the West Bank, protests against police brutality continue in Nigeria, and violence intensifies in Afghanistan.
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Netanyahu Sets His Sights on Settlement Expansion
Israel’s Higher Planning Council (HPC) of the Civil Administration that operates the West Bank is expected to approve plans to construct 4,430 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank during a two-day meeting starting today. According to Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlement expansion, it will make 2020 the biggest year since 2012 for the construction of new settlement units.
Under pressure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under significant pressure from settlers, one of his Likud party’s key constituencies, since signing the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates in August. As part of the deal, Netanyahu agreed to suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank, outraging settlers and causing the head of the Yesha settlers’ council to say that “he deceived us, defrauded us, duped us.”
As Albert B. Wolf wrote in Foreign Policy in August, “abandoning annexation altogether would be seen as the ultimate flip-flop, and Netanyahu does not have any available substitutes to satisfy these supporters.” Earlier this month, Netanyahu buckled under the pressure and approved plans for the construction of 5,400 new housing units in the West Bank.
Palestinian opposition. But the Israeli government’s continued effort to expand settlements in the West Bank have angered Palestinians and undermined Netanyahu’s pledge to shelve annexation. “This disproves the Israeli claim that it has frozen settlement to enable its normalization with Arab states,” said the Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry in response to Netanyahu’s announcement earlier this month, “and reflects the systematic American and Israeli violations of international law and United Nations resolutions.”
Stronger with allies. The move could be another victory for Netanyahu as he continues to battle domestic challenges to his authority. Settlement expansion will likely mollify one of its most important constituencies, and they are unlikely to seriously impact the normalization deals he has signed with the UAE and Bahrain.
What We’re Following Today
No calm in Nigeria. Protests against police brutality continued in Nigeria for the sixth straight day on Tuesday despite the government agreeing to disband a controversial police unit at the heart of the public’s grievances. Protests erupted last week after a video showing a person being beaten by police went viral online, sparking an online campaign in which users shared their personal experiences with police brutality.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes in the country, but has since been accused of extrajudicial killings, torture, kidnapping, and theft. On Sunday, Muhammed Adamu, the Nigerian police’s inspector general, said in a public broadcast that SARS would be immediately disbanded and that police would investigate alleged human rights violations committed by the squad.
Belarusian crisis escalates. Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has demanded that President Aleksandr Lukashenko resign by Oct. 25 or face nationwide strikes. “[On] Oct. 26, all enterprises will begin a strike,” she said in a statement, “all roads will be blocked, state-owned stores will no longer have any sales.” Tikhanovskaya is hugely popular among protesters but fled to Lithuania in the aftermath of the controversial Aug. 9 election, which saw Lukashenko win by a landslide amid allegations of electoral fraud.
Tikhanovskaya’s ultimatum is part of a wider escalation of tensions between Lukashenko and anti-government protesters. On Monday, the government authorized police to use lethal force against protesters after the ninth consecutive Sunday of massive protests in the capital of Minsk. But as Vladislav Davidzon wrote in Foreign Policy, Lukashenko’s changing tactics present a serious challenge to protesters that could ultimately undermine their cohesion.
Political uncertainty grips Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov said he will ask the country’s parliament to hold a second vote affirming opposition leader Sadyr Zhaparov as prime minister after the first vote last week was marred by irregularities. Zhaparov was released from prison by supporters and elected to replace Kubatbek Boronov after the latter’s government was brought down during major anti-government protests in response to parliamentary elections last week. Jeenbekov has already said he will resign once a new prime minister has been formally appointed.
Kyrgyzstan was thrown into political chaos after two pro-government parties won a large majority of seats in the country’s parliament after the most recent elections. The country faced major unrest before Jeenbekov declared a state of emergency, forcing Russia to intervene in yet another crisis in its backyard. Tuesday’s announcement followed a meeting between Jeenbekov, Zhaparov, and a senior Russian official aimed at defusing the crisis.
Saudi Arabia fails to win seat on U.N. council. Although Russia and China succeeded in winning seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council despite objections from rights groups, Saudi Arabia failed in its bid. China and Saudi Arabia were competing against Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Nepal for four regional seats. With just 90 votes, the kingdom failed to make the cut. Earlier this month, the Saudi lawyer Taha al-Hajji argued in FP that “A country that tortures and executes its citizens for exercising their right to free expression should not be on the council.”
Keep an Eye On
Violence continues in Afghanistan. The Afghan security forces launched a major counteroffensive against Taliban targets in the southern province of Helmand on Tuesday as violence between the two sides continues to intensify. The assault was a response to a series of Taliban attacks on several security checkpoints around the southern city of Lashkar Gah, which precipitated a U.S. airstrike in the region. The violence has overshadowed the slow-moving peace talks currently taking place between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar.
The fighting has forced an estimated 35,000 people to flee their homes in Helmand, pushing the country closer to a humanitarian disaster.
Who will lead Malaysia? Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim met with King Al-Sultan Abdullah on Tuesday as part of his bid to become the country’s next prime minister. Ibrahim claims he has enough support in parliament to oust Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, though he has not disclosed the identities of those he claims support his bid. “We must … remember that Muhyiddin has lost his majority,” Anwar told reporters, “and it would be appropriate for him to resign.” The king will now review the documents presented to him and make a decision.
Malaysia has been wracked by political instability since the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government in February, after which Yassin took power with a slim majority. Anwar, who has previously served as deputy prime minister, spent almost 10 years in prison for alleged corruption and sodomy, charges widely seen as politically-motivated.
Odds and Ends
Pundits, oddsmakers, and ordinary observers are at pains trying to predict the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and polling data is notoriously unreliable. But they might find it worthwhile to look closely at the voting patterns of Vigo County in Indiana. Vigo residents have voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1956, and all but two since 1888.
True to form, Vigo residents are split over who to support this election cycle, and another win for Trump isn’t guaranteed. “Donald Trump has shown that putting America first leads to total discord,” one reader wrote in the letters section of the local Tribune-Star newspaper in September. “Trump is taking the country in the right direction while Biden and the left have the wrong vision of what this country is and should be,” another reader hit back.
That’s it for today.
Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty