UNITED NATIONS/JERUSALEM - The top United Nations human rights official has called on Israeli authorities to take urgent steps to halt continuing injuries and fatalities occurring during protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to ensure meaningful investigations into all such incidents. The call comes days after the death of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein following clashes with Israeli troops during a protest against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. ‘The incidents that preceded the Minister’s death are disturbing and must be carefully investigated,’ the high commissioner said in a statement.
‘I express my deepest condolences to Ziad Abu Ein’s family and to the people of Palestine. It is a terrible and deeply tragic irony that he should die in this way after taking part in a peaceful protest against illegal settlements, centred around the planting of olive trees, on Human Rights Day.’ The protest coincided with a petition brought before the Israeli High Court demanding the dismantling of the nearby illegal settlement of Adei Ad.
Welcoming Israel’s announcement that it will investigate the incident, Zeid stressed that this inquiry – and all others involving possible excessive use of force should be thorough, effective, independent and impartial. ‘It must also be quick and utterly transparent if people are to have faith in its findings,’ he said.
Also on Wednesday, in Jalazone refugee camp in the West Bank, Israeli security forces reportedly shot a 14-year-old Palestinian boy in the head with live ammunition, leaving him seriously wounded, during protests triggered by the death of Ziad Abu Ein.
‘This continuous stream of fatal incidents underscores the need for effective accountability measures,’ High Commissioner Zeid said. This year alone, there have been at least 50 Palestinian fatalities in incidents involving Israeli security forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This is almost double the 27 Palestinian fatalities that occurred in 2013 in similar circumstances.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a growing threat from centre-left rivals who have joined forces to try to oust the rightwing leader in snap elections, experts say.
Parliament on Monday set polling day for March 17, just over two years after Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition took office, and following a spat in which he fired two ministers and called the early vote. The challenge will come from an alliance between Isaac Herzog's Labour party and the centrist HaTnuah of former justice minister Tzipi Livni, whom Netanyahu dismissed along with finance minister Yair Lapid. Such a centre-left alliance would win 24 seats in the 120-member Knesset, polls published in Yediot Aharonot and Maariv newspapers said Friday, with the dailies respectively projecting 23 and 20 seats for Netanyahu's Likud. ‘Unlike in the previous elections (January 2013), we have a common goal - to replace Mr Netanyahu,’ Livni said in a television interview before the Labour-HaTnuah alliance was announced.
The latest poll numbers ignore the strong likelihood of Likud teaming up with other rightwing parties. hey do not indicate a shift in public opinion but rather simply the sum of each party's projected seats in a country that still favours the right, according to Denis Charbit, a politics professor at Israel's Open University. ‘By making the alliance with HaTnuah, Labour is becoming once again the centre of gravity for the left and a credible party for government,’ Charbit said.
‘But in general, political forces remain largely unchanged in terms of support, with the rightwing bloc favoured. It can still count on having around 70 MPs against the left and centre's 50 combined.’ The success of Labour-HaTnuah will depend heavily on post-election moves by Moshe Kahlon, an ex-Likud minister who last month formed his own centre-right party Kulanu (All of Us), and by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu.
‘Kahlon and Lieberman will find themselves acting as a pivot after the elections, and both have said they want to end the Netanyahu era,’ Charbit said. While the premier is looking to secure a fourth term, some commentators say that whatever the outcome of the vote, he is sure to go. ‘His authority has dissipated; his performance has become flawed; his political instincts have dulled; he has become fed up with his ministers and they have become fed up with him,’ Nahum Barnea wrote in the mass-circulation newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
Netanyahu himself is aware that many would like him out of government. ‘There's a clear attempt to kick out the Likud and replace it with the left,’ he was quoted on public radio as telling his party on Thursday. ‘It's the goal of many parties and media officials.’
Netanyahu has indicated he might seek alliances with ultra-Orthodox parties, considering them ‘natural allies’, and Yisrael Beitenu as well as the hardline Jewish Home headed by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bennett strongly opposes negotiations with the Palestinians and supports settlement expansion in the West Bank - a sticking point that has scuppered round after round of peace talks. Observers say a centre-left government would be far more likely to resume peace talks as the international community calls for negotiations to avoid further escalation. Livni was Israel's chief negotiator during the last round of US-brokered talks, which collapsed in April mainly over the issue of settlement building.
The left has also criticised Israel's immigration policy, after Netanyahu's government pushed for a harsher crackdown on African asylum-seekers, which it refers to as ‘infiltrators’. A law passed in March which raises the threshold of votes parties require to be represented in parliament could see many parties making alliances. Israel's next general election had been due to take place in 2017, and many commentators have called the upcoming vote ‘unnecessary’.