Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 9, 2017
- Israel Moves Forward with Inflammatory Evictions & Home Demolitions in Jerusalem
- Netanyahu Celebrates Expansion of Beitar Illit Settlement
- Attorney General Requests Temporary Injunction Against “Regulation Law”
- Palestinian Leaders Criticize U.S. Peace Efforts & Point to Silence on Settlements
- New Poll Reveals Settlers Prefer the Status Quo to Annexation or Peace
- Updates: Machpelah House; New “Amichai” Settlement; Netiv Ha’avot Outpost
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
Last week we covered three devastating bills moving in the Knesset that seeking to remove Palestinians and include far flung settlements in the borders of Jerusalem. Now, several seemingly small but incredibly significant developments in Jerusalem show how Palestinians are already being forced out of the city:
In Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian family is fighting against imminent eviction from their family home of 50 years, an eviction ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court. This is the first eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem since 2009 and comes on the heels of several inflammatory settlement announcements which will bring more Israeli settlers into the neighborhood that sits just north of Jerusalem’s Old City. The Court’s decision to evict the Shamasneh family relies on an Israeli law which allows Jews to regain East Jerusalem property owned before Jordan’s 1948 capture of that part of the city. Daily solidarity protests are reportedly being staged in an effort to prevent the family’s eviction.
In Silwan, the settler group Elad is bidding to become the majority-owner of an apartment building that Palestinians are in a bidding war to keep. The Siyam family originally owned the entire building but over time lost control of one-half of it to the settlers another one-fourth of it to Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property. The owners of the remaining one-fourth – Silwan non-violent opposition leader Jawad Siyam and his sister – currently reside. Now the Custodian is auctioning off its one-fourth share and if the settlers have the winning bid, it is a near certainty that Jawad and his sister will be evicted from the house by Israeli courts. This ownership battle could have a decisive impact on the character of this critically-located East Jerusalem neighborhood, which sits in the shadow of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Elad has long been active in Silwan, taking over properties and, working hand-in-hand with the Israeli government and Jerusalem Municipality, gaining control over the public domain via tourism and park projects at the expense of the Palestinian residents. Elad recently won the rights to build a state of the art visitor center that will also be a stop on the new cable car line running to the Mount of Olives. Elad’s efforts to take over Palestinian property in East Jerusalem rely in large part on Israel’s “Absentee Property Law” (1950), according to which Palestinians who were not present at their property immediately following the 1967 war are considered “absentee,” and consequently forfeit ownership rights to the Israeli government. The government can then dispose of the property as it sees fit. In Jerusalem, Elad’s multi-million dollar annual budget puts Palestinians at a potentially insurmountable disadvantage. When Israel used the “Absentee Property Law” in 2004 to seize Palestinian property in East Jerusalem, then-President George W. Bush called on Israel to reconsider the decision.
- In al-Walajah, a wave of home demolitions combined with the nearly completed construction of the separation barrier threatens to completely sever and displace al-Walajah’s residents from the West Bank (who hold West Bank IDs, rather than Jerusalem residency, despite the fact that in 1967 most of the village’s land was made part of Jerusalem). Just this week the Israeli government issued demolition orders against 14 Palestinian homes built without the proper permits (these permits are nearly impossible for obtain).
The 14 homes are in addition to 28 other homes already slated for demolition in the village. On the same day, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to temporarily delay the implementation of 7 of those previous orders in light of a petition brought to the court by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Residents of al-Walajah have fought the growing encroachment the nearby Etzion settlement bloc and the Israeli government’s attempt to de facto annex the bloc as part of “Greater Jerusalem.” Ir Amim explains several prongs of this effort, including a particularly unbelievably section of the separation barrier planned to almost completely encircle the village, to turn its valuable agricultural land into an urban park for Jerusalem, and construction of a highway that will connect the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem with Israeli-only bypass roads.
- In Jabal al-Mukaber, a neighborhood south of the Old City in East Jerusalem, Israel demolished four Palestinian homes without prior notice to the residents. Ma’an News reports, “Israeli authorities have stepped up issuing demolition warrants for Palestinians in East Jerusalem in recent months, particularly after Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat threatened that the demolition of the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank would be met with the mass demolition of Palestinian homes lacking the nearly impossible to obtain Israeli-issued building permits.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu attended a cornerstone-laying ceremony for hundreds of new homes set to be built in the Beitar Illit settlement, a massive, fast-growing, ultra-Orthodox settlement in the Etzion bloc. At the ceremony, Netanyahu proudly repeated his assertion that, “There is no government that does more for the settlement [movement] in Israel than the one under my leadership.” The project will annex a third strategic hilltop to the Beitar Illit, which like much of the Etzion bloc is located on the Israeli side of the separation barrier.
The same day Netanyahu visited Beitar Illit, several right-wing Knesset members traveled to the northern part of the West Bank to call on the Prime Minister to re-establish four Israeli settlements located near the West Bank city of Jenin, that were dismantled in 2005 of part of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza. A bill has been introduced in the Knesset that would rescind the 2005 disengagement memo which led to the evacuation of the four settlements.
On August 7th, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit weighed in on a petition filed with the Israeli Supreme Court challenging the legality of the “Regulation Law,” which was passed this year and provides a legal basis for retroactive legalization of outposts and other settlement activity in the West Bank on land owned by Palestinians. Mandelblit – who argued against passage of the Regulation Law late last year and after the law’s passage and said he would not defend it in court – asked the High Court to put a temporary injunction against the law until the Court issues its ruling. The injunction would prevent the Civil Administration (the arm of the IDF that rules over the West Bank) from using the law, and possibly from even taking the preliminary steps towards using the law, in order to retroactively legalize outposts and unauthorized settlement activity.
The petition against the Regulation Law (also called the “Expropriation Law,” the “Regularization Law,” the “Legalization Law,” or the “Settlements Law”) was filed in March by three leading Israeli settlement watchdogs: Yesh Din, Peace Now, and ACRI.
The Palestinian outlook on President Trump’s negotiation efforts has grown outright grim this week. Any initial optimism has been replaced with a sense of abandonment on the part of Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and the topic of unfettered settlement growth has been a recurring talking point. On August 7th in Ramallah, Jordan’s King Abdullah and the Palestinian Authority jointly called for the U.S. to unequivocally state its support for a two-state solution and reiterated that a complete settlement freeze remains a precondition for the resumption of negotiations, including in East Jerusalem. That statement should dispel any lingering questions regarding reports in June that the PA was willing to drop a settlement freeze as a precondition to peace talks.
The new statement comes after a week of terse, unscripted criticism by the Palestinians aimed at President Trump. A top Abbas advisor, Dr. Nabil Sha’ath, told Haaretz that that Palestinians no longer look to the U.S. to be helpful on the issue. Sha’ath said, “Palestinian efforts in the near term will be focused on the international arena in an effort to prevent accelerated settlement construction or the passing of laws that have direct consequences for the peace process.”
In an interview with Jewish Insider last week, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat did not mince words about his disappointment with the Trump administration’s earlier attempts to get the ball moving on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Of note, Erekat laments, “Israel announces thousands of new settlement units that make it almost impossible to achieve the two-state solution, and it’s merely met with silence from U.S. officials.” Erekat is not entirely correct about the U.S.’s silence. The U.S. Department of State has repeatedly issued the same ambiguous statement regarding Israeli settlement policy, that “unrestrained settlement activity is not helpful to the peace process.” The statement echoes President Trump’s remarks in February calling for Israel to “hold back a little” on settlements.
In a third report, an anonymous Palestinian official took aim at Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s senior-most envoys dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. The source said, “It’s not a nice thing to say, but they are both ardent supporters of the settlements.They are completely unfamiliar with the other side, they don’t understand the region and they don’t understand the material. You can’t learn about what is happening here in a seminar lasting just a few weeks.” The remarks came one day before the release of a recording of Jared Kushner revealed his thinking on the topic of Israeli-Palestinian issues during which he expressed a lack of interest in history lessons on the topic.
A new poll reveals remarkable differences between Israeli Jews living within the borders of sovereign Israel and those living in settlements. It sheds light on who in Israel is benefitting from the current “status quo” (which was undefined in the poll’s questions to respondents):
Of Israeli settlers:
- 35% called for the continuation of the status quo
- 24% want Israel to annex the West Bank
- 15% want to see a peace agreement
- 10% back a decisive war against the Palestinians
Of Israeli Jews living in Israel:
- 18% called for the continuation of the status quo
- 9% want Israel to annex the West Bank
- 45% support a peace agreement
- 12% back a decisive war against the Palestinians
The poll also examined the views of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Several important updates to last week’s settlement report:
- In Hebron, settlers continue to illegally occupy the Machpelah House under the protection of the Israeli army, despite a new petition seeking their evacuation filed this week by Palestinians who claim to own the house. Last week, the head of the “Samaria Regional Council” Yossi Dagan, moved into the house along with his wife and three children. Approximately 120 Israeli settlers were already living there, having illegally broken into into the house last week in a bid to circumvent legal proceedings regarding rightful ownership. The IDF quickly declared the house a closed military zone, but the order has not been enforced, which is the only reason why Dagan and his family were able to enter the building. Yossi Dagan was elected head of the Samaria Regional Council in 2015. He opened a campaign office for Donald Trump during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and published an open letter to Steve Bannon expressing his admiration and support for the newly elected U.S. administration.
- Netanyahu’s cabinet gave a major boost to the stalled construction of a new settlement called Amichai by reportedly doubling the size of the government’s financial contribution to the project. Last week, after it was reported that construction has been halted due to lack of funds, Netanyahu quickly issued assurances that the problem will be fixed. The new Amichai settlement – the first to be approved by the government since 1991 – is being built in the Shilo Valley, deep inside of the West Bank, as the payoff for families who built the illegal Amona outpost and were evacuated earlier this year. Immediately next to the Amichai construction site, at the site of the future Shvut Rachel East settlement (which was the original plan to pay-off the Amona evacuees but was rejected because it wasn’t the preferred hilltop — but was nonetheless approved for construction by the Israeli government as a neighborhood of the Shilo settlement) several caravans have been moved onto the recently leveled land in preparation for further construction.
- In two separate meetings last week, settler leaders met with PM Netanyahu and his chief of staff in their bid to cajole the Prime Minister into intervening against a demolition order threatening 15 homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost near Bethlehem. Commenting on the issue while at a ceremony in the Beitar Illit settlement, Netanyahu committed to helping the affected families “within the framework of the law that would minimize the damage.” It’s not clear if the Prime Minister was referring to the past damage caused to the Palestinians who own the land upon which settlers built illegally, or the future damage it will cause to relocate the families who live in illegally built homes.
- Who Profits Flash Report: “Tracking Annexation: The Jerusalem Light Rail and the Israeli Occupation” (July 2017)
- “The Young Palestinian Men of East Jerusalem Have Nothing to Lose” (August 3, 2017 | Haaretz+)
- Human Rights Watch: “Jerusalem Palestinians Stripped of Status” (August 8, 2017)
- “Demographic hysteria leaves Jerusalemites by the wayside” (August 7, 2017 | +972 Mag)