Welcome to the 1st edition of FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about what is happening this week related to Israeli settlement activity – news, context/background, and why it matters. FMEP has long been a trusted resource on settlement-related issues, reflecting both the excellent work of our grantees on the ground and our own in-house expertise. FMEP’s focus on settlements derives from our commitment to achieving lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, and our recognition of the fact that Israeli settlements – established for the explicit purpose of dispossessing Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of land and resources, and depriving them of the very possibility of self-determination in their own state with borders based on the 1967 lines – are antithetical to that goal.
In this 1st edition we’re playing catch up, examining the unprecedented shift in U.S. policy regarding settlements that has already occurred under President Trump and looking at recent developments on the ground.
For questions, comments, and inquiries email Kristin McCarthy (Director of Policy & Operations @ FMEP).
FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report – April 21, 2017
A New U.S. Policy on Settlement Construction?
Bibi Announces 1st Official New Settlement in Decades; U.S. Says “Meh”
About Geulot Zion & the Shilo Valley: Details
So Much for “Restraint”: Israel’s Newest Outpost
Recent Court Decisions on Settlement Activities
Settlements as Flashpoints of Violence
President Trump and the Netanyahu government reportedly reached a private agreement on what it will mean for Israel to “hold back on settlements a little bit,” per President Trump’s February 2017 request. Billed as an agreement to curb Israeli settlement growth, media reports indicate that, in fact, President Trump may have given Israel a license to build in “settlements blocs” as well as in “adjacent” areas – opening the door for massive construction so broadly defined as to potentially include every inch of the West Bank other than existing Palestinian built-up areas. Here’s a few choice explainers that highlight why calling this a “curb” is an utter fallacy:
- Peace Now(maps and data): “The New Declared Settlement Policy: Not a Restraint at All”
- B’Tselem: “Unbridled Theft Masquerading as ‘Restrained Construction'”
- Times of Israel: “Billed as self-restraint, Netanyahu’s ‘settlement curb’ actually allows for massive building”
- APN: Settlement Bloc(k)s on the Road to Peace
- Mitchell Plitnick: “Netanyahu’s Settlement Scam”
- Ori Nir: “Settlement Blocs Block Prospects for Peace”
- Terrestrial Jerusalem: “Limiting Settlement Construction to the ‘Blocs’ – Implications for Jerusalem”
“Such a shift in U.S. policy would almost certainly mark the end of the peace effort that began more than two decades ago in Madrid – an effort that sought to make good on the historic promise of trading land for peace.”
– Lara Friedman
President, Foundation for Middle East Peace.
(more from Lara on this here)
As part of the new agreement with the Trump administration, Netanyahu appears to have secured U.S. approval for building the first entirely new settlement announced in the past 20 years. The new settlement being is to be located in the Shilo Valley, the heartland of the northern West Bank, an area that cannot conceivably be retained by Israel in any peace agreement.
This new settlement is being called Geulot Zion and is billed by Netanyahu as an exception to the “settlement curb” deal, with Netanyahu arguing that it must be built in order to provide homes for 40 families evacuated earlier this year from the illegal settlement outpost of Amona. Yes, that’s right: this brand-new, “legal” settlement is a reward to settlers for breaking Israeli law. First they built illegally on land recognized even by Israel as privately-owned by Palestinians; then the Israeli government spared no effort in trying to find a way to legalize that crime; and when those efforts failed, Netanyahu decided to give the law-breakers a brand-new settlement as a pay-off for leaving Amona, despite the fact that they still did not leave voluntarily. This pay-off is in addition to the Israeli government’s approval of thousands of new units in existing settlements in tandem with the evacuation of Amona.
A great summary of the Amona saga is here.
President Trump reportedly “understands” why Netanyahu has to build this new settlement. If these reports were accurate, it would be an unprecedented shift in U.S. policy, representing the first U.S. approval of a new settlement in history.
Less than a year ago, the U.S. Department of State strongly condemned Israel’s promotion of a plan for a new settlement in the same Shilo Valley, warning that this plan “would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote” and that “Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
To date, the Trump administration has not issued a statement on the historic announcement of the Geulot Zion settlement in the Shilo Valley.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, however, issued a strong statement condemning the new settlement and warning, “if settlement expansion continues, I’m afraid future Israelis will face a choice between democracy and a Jewish state.”
Israel’s new settlement will be built deep in the heart of the West Bank’s Shilo Valley, an especially problematic location.
According to Peace Now, the exact location is a hilltop 2.5 kilometers east of the settlement of Shilo. The area is notorious for aggressive settlers who harass and intimidate Palestinian villagers, often violently.
For more maps, data, and analysis of what’s happening in the Shilo Valley, please read:
- “Settlement Blocs that Sever the West Bank: The Shilo Valley as a Case Study” (Yesh Din, November 2016)
- “Between Shilo and Duma: The Valley of Wild Outposts” (Peace Now, 2015)
Peace Now has published evidence of construction of a new settlement outpost. This construction is taking place near the settlement of Adam, southeast of Ramallah, without legally required approvals and permits. This is the first new illegal outpost established since PM Netanyahu’s reported promise in February 2017 to restrain settlement growth.
Recent Court Decisions on Settlements & Outpost
There have been two significant favorable decisions on settlement growth in Israeli courts following the Knesset’s passage of the Legalization Law (or “Regulation Law”) in early February. The law opened the door to retroactively legalize settler activity undertaken in violation of Israeli law, including ~4,000 homes in West Bank settlements and outposts. Here are two key uses of the legalization law thus far:
- In the Shilo Valley, two illegal outposts – Palgei Mayim and Givat Haroeh – have begun the process of being retroactively legalized after a favorable court ruling. (Haaretz)
- The Israeli Civil Administration – the arm of the Israeli army that rules over the West Bank – has interpreted the Regulation Law to protect four illegal structures in the settlement Psagot – east of Ramallah – from demolition. The buildings had been previously slated for demolition because they were built on private Palestinian land. (Jerusalem Post)
The settlement watchdog group Peace Now launched a legal challenge to the Regulation Law. Following Peace Now’s petition, the High Court of Justice issued a stop work order for the illegal outpost Kerem Reim (west of Ramallah). The outpost was a case study for that March 2017 Peace Now report.
The High Court is currently reviewing the legality of the Regulation Law; it’s unclear what that means for cases currently before the courts who continued existence will depend on the law’s retroactive authority.
VIDEO: Club-wielding settlers from the radical Baladim illegal outpost attacked Palestinian shepherds and Jewish Israeli volunteers from the peace NGO “Ta’ayush” (“Coexistence”). Baladim is infamous for the extremist, violent “hilltop youth” who are encamped there. Located on a hilltop in the northern Jordan Valley, Baladim has been evacuated by the IDF and re-occupied by the youth numerous times. It is alleged that settlers from Baladim may have been responsible for the horrific arson attack in the Palestinian village of Duma which killed an infant and both of his parents, and critically wounded his 4-year old brother in July 2015. Background on Jordan Valley settlements and outposts is here.
Attack in Gush Etzion settlement, a Palestinian killed a 70-year old Israeli in car ramming attack. Gush Etzion is a “settlement bloc” located south of Bethlehem inside the West Bank; today it is home to over 75,000 Israeli settlers. In response to the car ramming, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council said, “When they shed our blood, every hate monger must know that … the result will be many more houses and settlers throughout the Land of Israel.”