Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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There is war of words about what Netanyahu’s Trump-era settlement policy actually is. According to settler leaders, Netanyahu is implementing a freeze; according to Netanyahu’s cabinet, he has given settlement construction a green light; and according to the U.S., he is expected to follow a policy of “restraint.” Notably, there has been no official statement by the Trump administration following the last week’s major settlement announcement.
Who is right? Here are the important facts and developments so far with respect to 2017 settlement growth:
- Large #s of Settlement Units Advanced: So far in 2017, plans for 4,909 new settlement housing units have been advanced through the planning process, according to Israel’s Peace Now. Of these, 3,178 were advanced at the June 6-7 meeting of the High Planning Council. And also according to Peace Now, tenders for 2,942 new settlement housing units been issued for imminent construction (meaning there are 2,942 new units actually being built, or about to be). Peace Now, which has tracked settlement growth for decades, based on the Government of Israel’s own officials numbers, notes that these 2017 numbers are “85% more than the housing units promoted during all of 2016 and in half the time.”
- A brand new settlement approved: Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s government has advanced the construction of the first entirely new settlement in 25 years, “Amichai” (a gift to “compensate” settlers who had built/taken up residence illegally in the outpost of Amona, and who were forced to move after the Netanyahu government exhausted all possible means to legalize their illegal acts).
- Illegal outpost legalized: Also earlier this month, the Netanyahu government moved to retroactively “legalize” the illegally-built outpost of “Kerem Reim,” west of Ramallah.
- Jerusalem plans looming but not moving (yet): Despite high profile reports that the government is close to issuing tenders for construction of Givat Hamatos in addition to advancing plans for Ramat Shlomo and Atarot, none of these actions have happened yet. These plans are particularly alarming for the future of Jerusalem and would preclude the contiguity of a future state of Palestine. Likewise, despite similarly high profile reports that the government is going to expedite the advancement of a visitor’s center abutting the Jewish Cemetery on the Mt. of Olives, the government has not yet advanced plans for its approval.
Haaretz is reporting that Netanyahu is now demanding any peace agreement must allow all Israeli settlers to stay where they are, under Israeli rule. This represents a sharp departure from the past Netanyahu demands, as revealed by negotiation documents from the 2014 Kerry effort.
Abbas, on the other hand, is now signaling that he cannot accept a peace deal that leaves even a single settler in the future state of Palestine – also a new position since 2014.
Previously, both Netanyahu and Abbas posited that – at least in principle – some Israeli settlers could be allowed to remain in Palestine under Palestinian jurisdiction – meaning they would become citizens of Palestine (and that their settlements would not remain exclusively Jewish communities). The 2014 policy iterations were (and still are) untenable for both sides, but so too are their new positions.
Haaretz has an investigative report out this week delving deep into the demographics of Israelis living east of the 1967 Green Line, in violation of international law (and in some cases, in violation of Israeli law as well). Highlights from the report:
- There are 380,000 settlers in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem settlements.
- 178,000 settlers in the West Bank live outside of the major settlement blocs (44% of total); notably, the Haaretz report does not make clear how it defined settlement “blocs” (the term has no formal or legal definition).
- These figures do not include outposts. According to Peace Now, there are 97 outposts with thousands of settlers populating them.
The Israeli Shin Bet appears to be more actively moving to stop the pattern of violence emanating from the Yitzhar settlement, located deep inside the northern West Bank, in connection to the “Hilltop Youth” movement. This week the extremist rabbi and Yitzhar settler Yosef Elitzur was indicted on incitement charges. Elitzur is a prolific writer and teacher known for his religious justification for Jews killing non-Jews. Elitzur is the third Yitzhar settler to be prosecuted in recent weeks for incitement to violence; two others were also convicted because of violent content in articles they published online.
Additionally, nine Israeli teenagers were arrested in Jerusalem this week. There is a gag order in place over the case, but we do know the teenage settlers were arrested while at the house of Yitzhar settler and “Hilltop Youth” movement leader Elkana Pikar. Pikar himself was recently, issued a restraining order requiring him to stay away from the West Bank for four months and banning him from meeting with a list of identified activists for six months. He must also report weekly to Israeli police in the Maale Adumim settlement. Pikar is believed to have been directly involved in a string of recent violent acts perpetrated by Yitzhar extremists in the Nablus area. Notably, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset rushed to Pikar’s defense following a previous ruling against him, saying that Elitzur is “the only one [who] has managed to get through to the Hilltop Youth and keep them in check a little.”