Welcome to 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.
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Ahead of President Donald Trump’s first visit to Israel, there is still some debate about whether the United States has already shifted its policy on Israeli settlements. Here are Trump officials in their own words:
May 16, 2017: U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, ahead of President Trump’s arrival in Israel and anticipated peace push, said, “we have no demand for a settlement freeze.” Also: “If you look at what the president has said since taking office about settlements, his position has been remarkably different than the Obama administration’s. He has not come out and said that settlements are an obstacle to peace; he has not called for a settlement freeze; he has worked for the Israelis to come up with a common understanding about how they might proceed. The president is aware of the Israeli government’s need to replace the Amona community [reference to settler law-breakers evicted from an illegal outpost].”
March 20-23, 2017: In a read out of joint U.S.-Israel consultations on peace negotiations, the White House reported, “The two delegations also discussed Israeli settlement construction, following up on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington and Mr. Greenblatt’s recent visit to Israel. The United States delegation reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement. The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration. The talks were serious and constructive, and they are ongoing.”
February 15, 2017: At a press conference alongside PM Netanyahu at the White House, President Trump said, “As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out.” On the same day, the White House released a read-out of Netanyahu & Trump’s private meeting, relaying “The two leaders discussed the issue of Israeli settlement construction, and agreed to continue those discussions and to work out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”
February 2, 2017: In an official statement issued after Israel announced significant new settlement plans in the West Bank, the White House said “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”
PM Netanyahu will reportedly ask for President Trump’s approval of a massive blueprint for future settlement construction that includes highly sensitive areas beyond the 1967 Green Line – including construction of Givat Hamatos and Atarot in Jerusalem (see below).
If Netanyahu in fact presents a map detailing plans for new construction, it will be a major test of President Trump’s still-unconfirmed policy shift on settlements, which is speculated to include an American “ok” for construction in East Jerusalem, settlement blocs and “bloc-adjacent” areas. As detailed previously, this shift – if it has in fact taken place – should be understood as a green light for massive settlement growth across the West Bank. The U.S. may not be the only party considering giving this green light to settlement growth; the Wall Street Journal reported this week that some Arab gulf countries are also considering accepting the parameter (the world is awaiting confirmation of this report).
Hoping for Trump’s approval of this blueprint, PM Netanyahu’s office reportedly intervened to delay a meeting of the High Planning Committee (which oversees all construction in the Occupied Territories) until after President Trump’s visit.
New details have emerged on two alarming settlement developments that could imminently affect the future of Jerusalem, and thus any hopes of a two state solution.
Final tenders for the construction of Givat Hamatos are could to be published soon, at which point construction will soon start on the ground. This settlement, will completely sever Palestinian communities in Jerusalem from the West Bank, and will prevent a future division of Jerusalem that leaves Palestinian areas under Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli areas under Israeli sovereignty (map). Publishing tenders for 2,000 units in Givat Hamatos – which is, again, imminently expected – will spell the end to the future possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state. For more on Givat Hamatos – history, maps, state of play, and consequences – see the expert analysis of Terrestrial Jerusalem and Peace Now Israel.
Israel may soon approve a plan for 10,000 units to create an ultra-orthodox settler neighborhood in Atarot, the site of a disused airport in the northern part of East Jerusalem, extending to Ramallah’s southern border. To date, no official planning approvals have been published for public review – which means that the Atarot plan has a potentially long bureaucratic process to navigate. The site was reportedly promised as the airport of a future Palestinian state. The construction of a new settlement at the site will compromise the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian state, as well as preventing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. For more on Atarot, read this analysis from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann.
Additionally, in the center of the West Bank, a regional council run by Israeli settlers has begun soliciting construction bids to expand the illegal settlement of Kochav Yaakov. The growth – in the settlement’s ultra orthodox neighborhood called Tel Zion – was technically approved by in 1980 but never constructed. Some 37 years later, the settler council officially opened the bidding process to construct 209 new apartments. Peace Now’s Settlement Watch director Hagit Ofran noted, “There are tens of thousands of units [like these] that could be built under old plans. In practice, there was no [construction] freeze and there is no freeze in the settlements. This is a large project beyond the separation barrier that will continue to undermine the two-state solution.”
Here are short, but important, updates on settlement news we covered in previous editions of FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report:
- Already facing planning delays on their new settlement, the law-breaking Amona outpost-ers attempted to get expedited approval on “temporary” construction at their desired Shilo Valley hilltop; that temporary approval is now facing bureaucratic delays of it’s own.
- The greater Nablus area is once again becoming a major flashpoint of settler violence in the West Bank. A string of settler attacks on local Palestinians (and their property) escalated when a settler shot and killed a Palestinian stone-thrower in Huwarra. The settler’s gun fire also wounded a photographer with the Associated Press.
- In the northern Jordan Valley, Palestinian press is reporting a new illegal outpost being constructed by radical settlers.
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.
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