Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
November 8, 2019
- Israel Advances Plans for 2,342 New Settlement Units
- Israeli Government Approves Settler-Initiated Plans for Cable Car in Jerusalem — Despite Professional, Human Rights Objections
- Israel Plans to Build a New Waste Treatment Plant (to serve Israelis) in the West Bank
- No More Waiting: MKs Introduce Annexation Bills Despite Political Deadlock
- Annexation-via-New Roads (the new Smotrich Plan)
- Annexation-via-Movies (Govt-Funded Settlement Hasbara)
- Annexation-via-Education (Ambassador Friedman’s Favorite Medical School)
- Settler Leaders Elect New Chairman of the Yesha Council
- Israeli Official Calls on Evangelicals to Defend Settlements, Fight BDS, and Support “Economic Peace”
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Contact Kristin at email@example.com
With little attention, on October 10th the High Planning Council – a body within the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, responsible for regulating all construction in the West Bank – advanced plans for 2,342 new settlement units, as well as for two additional settlement projects. Of that total, 719 units were approved for validation (the penultimate step in the planning process), and 1,623 settlement units were approved for deposit for public review (an earlier but decisive stage in the planning process).
The 719 units which received final approved for validation comprise:
- 207 units in the Bracha (aka Har Bracha) settlement, located south of Nablus. In September 2019, the Israeli Central Command signed an order that expanded the settlment’s jurisdiction, a move which paved the way for the approval of these new units (see our September 2019 report). According to Peace Now, this plan – if implemented – will significantly expand both settlement’s population and its physical footprint.
- 206 units in the Tzofim settlement, located north of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya – a town completely encircled by Israel’s seperation barrier (except for a single road connecting it to the rest of the West Bank) – in the northern West Bank.
- 166 units in the Alei Zahav settlement, located in a string of settlements stretching across the northern West Bank. Alei Zahav and its settlement neighbors create a contiguous Israeli populated areas linking Israel proper (west of the Green Line) all the way to the Ariel settlement, located in the heart of the West Bank (the eastern end of Ariel is closer to the Jordan border than to the Green Line). Notably, Alei Zahav is one of the settlements in which the “market principle” has been applied to legalize settlers theft of land recognized by Israel as belonging to Palestinians (see our July 2019 report).
- 140 units in the Mezadot Yehuda settlement, located at the very southern tip of the West Bank, just south of the Palestinian village of Susya, which the Israeli government has been threatening to demolish for years. This plan would nearly double the number of authorized units in the settlement.
Also receiving final approval for validation:
- A plan to retroactively legalize the illegal Brosh outpost in the Jordan Valley. According to Peace Now, the Brosh settlement serves as an educational institution that houses hundreds of students and families of staff members.
- A plan to build a tourist/visitors center in the Shilo settlement – where settlers and the Israeli government have been investing in developing tourism sites for Jewish and evangelical tourists.
The 1,623 units which were deposited for public review include:
- 609 units in the Beitar Illit settlement, located west of Bethlehem, near the Green Line. Beitar Illit is a massive, fast-growing ultra-Orthodox settlement.
- 382 housing units in the Dolev settlement, located west of Ramallah. This is a significant plan for Dolev, as it will more than double the number of existing units. Prime Minister Netanyahu previously promised to build 300 new units in Dolev in response to a Palestinian-perpetrated bombing at a spring (which settlers had taken over from Palestinians) near the settlement that killed a 17-year old Israeli and injured several others.
- 182 units in the Mevo’ot Yericho settlement, located north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The validation of this plan is the actualization of the Israeli security cabinet decision to grant the illegal outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho retroactive legalization, an action for which the security cabinet urgently convened on the eve of the September 19th elections. The plan approved by the High Planning Council on Oct. 10th granted legalization to the existing 20 existing units and, if implemented, will allow the settlement to significantly expand.
- 146 units in the Kfar Etzion settlement, located southwest of Bethlehem.
- 140 units in the Kerem Reim outpost located north west of Ramallah. Peace Now has repeatedly challenged the illegal construction of the Kerem Reim outpost, which the Israeli government retroactively legalized by declaring it a neighborhood of the Talmon settlement even though the areas are non-contiguous. Though a court rejected one Peace Now petition, there is an ongoing case against the Amana settler organization which Peace Now alleges engaged in illegal activities to build the outpost.
- 100 units in the Nokdim settlement, located southeast of Bethlehem. Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman – currently one of the most important figures in the race to form a governing coalition – lives in Nokdim.
- 64 units in the Telem settlement, located west of Hebron.
- A plan to build new shops and services in the Kochav Yakov settlement, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The figures speak for themselves. Netanyahu continues to sabotage the possibility of a political agreement with the Palestinians by promoting more settlement construction in the West Bank, including in places where Israel may have to evacuate as part of a future agreement. This is yet another dangerous step for both Israel and the Palestinians, led by a transitional prime minister whom the public did not trust in his policies. The next government must put a freeze on the development of settlements and to strive for immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions and to end the bloody conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.”
The European Union issued a statement criticizing the approvals, saying:
“The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Israeli authorities also approved a building permit for the construction of a new tunnel road, which bypasses Bethlehem to the west. The progressive construction of a separate road network, connecting settlements and outposts to each other and to the road network in Israel while circumventing Palestinian towns and communities, is entrenching the fragmentation of the West Bank. The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power. The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
Israeli Government Approves Settler-Initiated Plans for Cable Car in Jerusalem — Despite Professional, Human Rights Objections
On November 4th, the Israeli Housing Cabinet approved a settler-initiated plans to build a cable car line in East Jerusalem, despite the fact that the Israeli Attorney General has not yet rendered a decision on whether plans for such a significant and sensitive project can be advanced by a caretaker Israeli government. Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO fighting the politicization of archeology in Jerusalem – announced that it intends to appeal the approval to the Israeli Supreme Court.
As FMEP has repeatedly covered, this Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center – in the Silwan neighborhood, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route). The scheme is intended to further entrench settler control, via archeology and tourism sites, inside the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Non-governmental organizations like Emek Shaveh, Who Profits, and Terrestrial Jerusalem have repeatedly discredited the government’s contention that the cable car serves a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
Ir Amim field researcher Aviv Tartarsky told Middle East Eye:
‘The project is a way to whitewash Israel’s taking of areas in Silwan to use for archaeological and touristic reasons…If someone wants to go to the Western Wall of the Old City, they have to go through the ELAD activity centre. This project will give ELAD legitimacy and influence, as it is taking part in a governmental project. This is the political reason for why the government is doing this project,’ Tatarsky said.”
In October 2019 the Israeli government issued a construction tender to build a waste-to-energy plant in the West Bank, on an area of land that is within the jurisdiction of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement where several Palestinian Bedouin communities live. The plant – which is expected to cost USD $284 million (1 billion NIS) – will treat Israeli-generated waste.
“For many years, Israel has been taking advantage of its power as occupier to transfer the treatment of waste (including hazardous waste) and sewage from its sovereign territory to the West Bank. To that end, it has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans. This has created a financial incentive to transfer the treatment of environmental hazards from Israel to the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territory are the ones to pay the price for this environmental damage, even though they were never asked their opinion on the matter and although, as a population under occupation, they have no political power and no real ability to resist.”
B’Tselem also takes aim at the European Union (EU), which has invested millions in the implementation of the Isareli Ministry of Environmental Protection’s 2030 strategic plan, of which the waste-to-energy treatment plant is a part. B’Tselem writes:
“In 2019, Israel and the EU signed an agreement as part of the EU’s twinning instrument, which establishes cooperation with the EU’s neighboring countries, guaranteeing Israel approximately 1.5 million euros over the next two years to support the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s implementation of its 2030 strategic plan. In the agreement, Israel committed to creating a legal framework that adopts European practices and standardization for sustainable waste treatment. As in every agreement between the EU and Israel, it contains a territorial clause that stipulates that it will not apply beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. Yet the EU’s support for the ministry’s strategic plan – which defines the establishment of the plant at Ma’ale Adumim as a goal and presents the exploitation of West Bank land to resolve environmental problems as a matter of course – empties this annex of meaning. By supporting this plan, the EU will be supplying Israel with knowledge and experience that will help deepen its exploitation of Palestinian land resources and bolster the economic status of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.”
Israeli political figures appear to be done waiting for a new government to be formed before acting on the loud signals from the Trump Administration supporting Israeli annexation of West Bank land.
On November 4th, Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked filed a bill with the Knesset to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley, the Ma’ale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem, and all 22 settlements and 75,000 Israeli settlers in what is broadly termed the Etzion “settlement bloc” located south of Bethlehem. Shaked’s bill calls for Israel to “apply sovereignty” to these settlements, which in practice would constitute the annexation of the settlements. Applying Israel law to areas outside of Israel’s sovereign borders is de facto annexation, as FMEP has explained and documented.
Shaked urged expeditious consideration of the bill, saying:
“There is a diplomatic window of opportunity and willingness on the part of the US for this kind of annexation that will not return. We cannot afford to hesitate or wait. We must take advantage of this window of opportunity immediately and begin to apply sovereignty over these areas. It is for this reason that the State of Israel cannot be dragged into another election cycle.”
“It’s time to make the residents of the Jordan Valley legal Israeli citizens, thus kick-starting the development and prosperity of the region.The communities of the Jordan Valley and their residents are a strategic resource of the highest order for Israel. There is a wide consensus today about the region, following the long-awaited U.S. president’s recognition of the Golan Heights as under Israeli sovereignty. It is time to do the same with the Jordan Valley. After Blue and White leader Benny Gantz proposed to do the same, I call upon him and my fellow party members to support my proposal.”
In March 2019, ahead of the first round of Israeli elections this year, leaked reports suggested that U.S. diplomats were engaged in discussions with Israel about the latter’s intention to annex several “settlement blocs” – even more so-called blocs than called for by Shaked’s latest plan – following the elections. The reports were not corroborated by U.S. sources, but in the intervening time U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has made repeated statements to the press (in addition to speculative reporting about a forthcoming U.S. political plan) in support of Israel’s right to annex territory in the West Bank – cues the Israeli government has enthusiastically welcomed. In the lead-up to the September elections, Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley should he be reelected, a plan endorsed by his rival Benny Gantz and supported by then-U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.
As a reminder, over the years there has been no shortage of attempts to normalize the idea that Israel will retain “settlement blocs” in any negotiated peace agreement — logic that originally applied narrowly to the Etzion bloc (defined on much less expansive terms), Maale Adumim, and, in the eyes of some, Ariel. The terminology has been exploited for decades by the Israeli government to convey legitimacy to building in the so-called “blocs.” Over the years the definition of what is a “bloc” has been twisted to include a much larger idea of the Etzion bloc, as well as the entire Jordan Valley. The implied idea regarding what the blocs are and the fact that they are inarguably Israel’s to keep, is incredibly misleading. The term “settlement blocs” has no formal definition or legal standing, and the future of the blocs – no matter how they are defined – is indisputably a matter at the heart of what will one day be negotiations aimed at a two-state solution (if there is ever to be such a solution). For more context, see resources from Americans for Peace Now here and here. (NOTE: A Haaretz investigation last year estimated that a total of 380,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, of which 170,000 live outside of the so-called blocs, as defined by Haaretz).
On November 1st, Israeli Minister of Transportation Bezalel Smotrich unveiled a new government plan to advance Israeli “sovereignty through transportation.” The plan calls for massive investment (USD $283 million) in new/expanded roads and rails lines, for the express purpose of more seamlessly integrating Israeli settlements into Israel proper. Smotrich made clear that his ultimate goal is the complete integration of the West Bank into the national planning mechanisms of Israel proper. The move will erase the government’s current distinction between transportation projects in the West Bank (across the Green Line) and Israel proper [fun note: the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an official map posted on its website entitled, “Transportation and Built-Up Areas” that includes the entire West Bank as part of Israel).
Touting the significance of his plan, Smotrich said:
“I do not give preference to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] but also am not willing to continue the discrimination. These areas will receive treatment just like anywhere else in Israel. While it is only about roads and trains, it has political significance.”
Smotrich created a new bureau for “Judea and Samaria Planning” within the Transportation Ministry to oversee the implementation of this project, and more generally ensure that the ministry is geared towards serving the settlements as a matter of normal business. The institutionalization of such bureaucratic structures within the Israeli government is a significant, and often overlooked, mechanism by which the Israeli government has been engaging in annexation for years. The new bureau – much like parallel structures former Minister Ayelet Shaked set up in the Justice Ministry – is a formal and public statement that the Israeli government is pursuing (and allocating resources to) annexing the settlements.
It should be noted that Israel has used infrastructure projects in the West Bank to advance its settlement agenda, and to further fragment Palestinian life – two completementary goals powerfully explained by B’Tselem in a recently released interactive: “Conquer and Divide: The Shattering of Palestinian Space by Israel.”
FMEP tracks developments related to the ongoing annexation of West Bank land in its Annexation Policies Tables.
On November 6th, Israeli Cultural & Sports Minister Miri Regev announced new government funding for film projects initiated by Israeli settlers. According to the guidelines, the new funding will support Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements who want to make documentaries and films.It is widely understood that the goal is to encourage the creation of more pro-settlement propaganda.
Celebrating her new initiative, Regev essentially admitted that annexation was her motive, saying:
“I made a promise and I am keeping my promise! We are making history today. The Culture and Sports Ministry will support the regional production of films in the north, and for the first time in Judea and Samaria too, and in the hope that in the near future also in the south… The wheels of cultural justice, which bring to expression the range of voices in Israeli society, have worked quickly and now another stage in correcting the cultural map in Israel has been completed. The artists from the periphery, the north and from Judea and Samaria, will become more and more in the center of things, not just on stage but also on the screens. Soon we will allow them to express their ability and talent.”
One critic of the fund, Israeli producer Liran Atzmor, nailed why the new fund is highly problematic and a tool of de facto annexation:
“Setting up a fund that supports filmmaking in the occupied territories with Israeli taxpayers’ money amounts to creeping annexation, which is happening in many areas, obviously, but is happening now more forcefully in the realm of culture, thanks to this fund. As long as the fate of those territories has not been determined, one cannot accept the fact that public funds are distributed there to people of only one color, one nationality and one religion.”
Shlomo Eldar writes:
“…And that is the whole point, to show life in the settlements in a positive light, as a Zionist enterprise glorifying the State of Israel. Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan described the fund as a ‘giant piece of good news. … I believe this move will bring the story of Judea and Samaria to the big screen. … I call on all artists to take part in this party, to come and film in Judea and Samaria and tell its story, so that we can present the public with other faces and other stories that have yet to be seen on the screen’.”
Libby Lenkinski, Vice President of the New Israel Fund, explained in a tweet:
“Creeping annexation and normalization of settlements is not just happening on the land, it’s also a narrative strategy that uses arts and culture funding to move forward. #StopAnnexation”
Despite delays and scandals, the sparkling new medical school at Ariel University has officially launched its first school year, with a ceremony attended by a who’s-who of settlement financiers and supporter rejoicing in the opening of the school and in the implications of its opening for the Greater Israel enterprise.
Dr. Miriam Adelson and her husband, Trump-backer/U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, were in attendance. The Adelsons donated $20 million to the medical school, which was named after Miriam. Addressing the crowd, Dr. Adelson said:
“In Israel, being Israel, we also had to withstand our tribulations. In Israel, being Israel, there were opponents who tried to block the establishment of a critical institution on ancient Jewish land and to deny us legitimacy. But we won, Zionism won, the truth won.”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman recited the “shehecheyanu,” a prayer of gratitude to God, as part of his speech, also exclaiming:
“A new medical school has opened in Samaria. It’s worth saying that again: A new medical school has opened in Samaria! How many people ever thought those words would be spoken?…The United States Embassy enjoys warm relations with Ariel University, and we are inspired by its contributions to Israeli society and to the scientific world.” [NOTE: “Samaria” is a biblical name used mainly by settlers and their allies to refer to the northern part of the West Bank]
MK Naftali Bennet put an even finer point on the significance of opening a medical school in Ariel settlement, saying:
“No longer is there a Green Line. We are one [united] Israel and that is how it should be. We are going to serve everyone here.”
There are 70 Israeli students enrolled to attend the settlement university. Even though classes are set to begin, the medical school still does not have an approved budget for the 2020 school year.
As a reminder, the Ariel settlement is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces. Nonetheless, in February 2018, the Israeli Knesset passed a law extending the jurisdiction of the Israeli Council on Higher Education to universities in the settlements (beyond Israel’s sovereign borders) – an act of de facto annexation. The law was necessary to ensure that the Ariel settlement medical school (and its graduates) would be entitled to all the same rights, privileges, and certifications as schools and students in sovereign Israel. FMEP has tracked this process, and all other annexation policies in its Annexation Policy tables. A fuller history of the Ariel Medical School saga can be found here.
David Elhayani was narrowly elected to serve as the next Chairman of the powerful settler Yesha Council – an umbrella body representing all the settlement regional councils. Elhayani is a well known personality, having served for 10 years as the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council (a quasi municipal body serving the needs and interests of settlements in the Jordan Valley).
The Times of Israel’s settlement correspondent Jacob Magid explains the relevant politics involved behind Elhayani’s narrow victory over Yigal Lahav, a younger, more radical voice:
“Elhayani and Lahav represented opposite sides of an intensifying rift between an older generation of settler leaders that is closely aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a younger group of council chairmen who believe in acting more aggressively on behalf of the movement, even if that means being at odds with right-wing governments that the Likud chief has led. Elhayani, from the old-timer’s camp, edged out Lahav 13-12 after the votes of 24 West Bank council chairman plus settler elder Zeev ‘Zambish’ Hever were counted.”
Elhayani addressed the dynamics of the old guard (of which he is a part) vs. new, more radical, guard ahead of the elections, saying:
“There’s a crisis of trust in the Yesha Council where many council chairmen don’t see the body as being capable of serving the needs of their residents. Many council chairmen don’t show up to Yesha meetings at all.”
Elhayani promised a more “aggressive” demeanor so that those the Council represents will see that they “finally have someone who will fight for them.” So, despite being what some settlers may consider the “mainstream,” i.e. less willing to aggressively challenge the perceived slow-walking of settlement expansion and annexation by the Israeli government, Elhayani is still best understood as an ideologue in his own right.
Ahead of the vote, Elhayani did offer strong criticism of what he sees to be the Isareli government’s discrimination against the settlements, saying that he will fight for better “quality of life”for the settlements – making infrastructure as a core part of his agenda:
“Our residents are sick of the poor infrastructure that has led to power outages, water shortages and traffic jams. It is the responsibility of settler leadership to provide adequate services. You cannot improve quality of life until you improve infrastructure. We still need to be aggressive in demanding infrastructure improvements in the meantime, in addition to preventing a Palestinian takeover of Area C so that there will be something to [annex] when the time comes.”
Israeli Official Calls on Evangelicals to Defend Settlements, Fight BDS, and Support “Economic Peace”
Speaking to an audience of leaders in the evangelical media world, a top Netanyahu aid asked the crowd to join Israeli government efforts to defend the legitimacy and permanence of the settlements, and coached the crowd on how to frame settlements in a way that advances their normalization.
This was the third annual “Christian Media Summit” hosted by the Israeli Government Press Office to develop the group into “ambassadors for Israel.” According to Haaretz, the 2019 event was attended by approximately 150 journalists, mostly from the United States, working for Christian media outlets from 30 different countries. Entitled, “Between Jerusalem and the Golan: International Recognition,” the event featured addresses by Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. U.S. Ambassador David Friedman attended as well.
Speaking to the group, Deputy Chief of Foreign Affairs Reuven Azar said:
“The return of Jews to Judea and Samaria is not a curse, it’s a blessing for all the residents of the area…Calling for their expulsion is a recipe for destruction and for chaos… Look what happened when we went out of Gaza. Our presence in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and in Jerusalem brings stability… because we bring security by fighting the bad guys…We must partner in embracing our brothers and sisters who live in Judea and Samaria, and fight against those who claim their presence is illegal, or try to dehumanize them through different means. Help us to fight boycotts, they are not just, and they hurt us and they hurt our neighbors even more. ‘The revival of the Jewish people in the land of Israel is a divine promise being fulfilled…It is a blessing for our people, our region, for the world. A force for good, a force for peace, prosperity and happiness’.”
Following his remarks, the Front for the Protection of Democracy – an Israeli NGO – filed a complaint with the Civil Service Commission seeking disciplinary action against Azar. The Prime Minister’s Office quickly came to Azar’s defense, saying: “Political adviser Reuven Azar expressed government policy.”
Azar repeatedly referred to settlements as “communities” – a term that erases the illegality of those “communities” under international law. This pro-settlement framing was recently endorsed by outgoing U.S. advisor Jason Greenblatt. Azar also touted the now familiar but Orwellian claim that settlements are an economic gift to the Palestinians, claiming that “communities [settlements] in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] provide opportunities, and jobs…” Azar invited the audience to visit the Barkan industrial zone, stating: “The best paying jobs for Palestinians are in Barkan.”
As FMEP has previously explained, for decades Israel has used industrial zones as another tool to expand and deepen control over West Bank land and natural resources. Industrial zones perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources), and that it is Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Importantly, jobs in industrial zones – often the only jobs available for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that prevents the development of any normal Palestinian economy – are widely viewed by Palestinians as a double-edged sword.
- “Five Settlers Arrested on Suspicion of Attacking Israeli Policemen at West Bank Outpost” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s Right New Bank – The Jewish National Fund” (Haaretz)
- “Why did Microsoft fund an Israeli firm that surveils West Bank Palestinians?” (NBC News)
- “Israeli Schools Teach Pro-settler Religious Nationalism Is the Only Way to Be Jewish” (Haaretz)
- “A Wall, Arrests and Close Surveillance: How Israel Fences in a Palestinian Family” (Haaretz)
- “Hilltop Youth Battle The IDF Over Expulsion Order “ (JNS)
- “Welcomed, then Attacked by Yitzhar” (New Voices)
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
August 9, 2019
- Summary: Another Week, Another Round of Major Settlement Approvals
- Israeli Annexation via Settlement Construction Unleashed, Part 1: Three Outposts are “Legalized”
- Israeli Annexation via Settlement Construction Unleashed, Part 2: Final Approval for 648 New Settlement Units
- Israeli Annexation via Settlement Construction Unleashed, Part 3: Plans Advanced for 1,466 New Settlement Units (With More to Come)
- Israeli Annexation via Settlement Construction Unleashed, Part 4: Reactions
- Following Murder of Settler Youth, Netanyahu Doubles Down on Commitment to Settlements
- Latin Patriarchate Files Suit Claiming New Proof of Fraud Behind Settler Takeover of Old City Hotel Properties
- Education Minister Strips Key Committee Membership from Professor Who Objected to Authorization of Settlement Medical School
- Bimkom Report: Israel’s “No Construction Zone” Adjacent to the Separation Barrier Has Little To Do With Security
- Ir Amim: Israel’s Crackdown in Issawiya Advances Settlement Project in East Jerusalem
- Terrestrial Jerusalem In-Depth Report: The Silwan Tunnel Project
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During its quarterly convening on August 5th and 6th, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council advanced plans for a total of 2,304 new settlement units. This includes:
- the approval of plans legalizing 190 units that have the effect of retroactively legalizing 3 unauthorized outposts;
- final approval for the construction of 648 settlement units; and
- interim approval (i.e., a step toward final approval) for the construction of 1,466 new settlement units
These approvals comes on the heels of the Israeli Security Cabinet’s decision to issue 6,000 building permits for settlement units last week (details of which are still unpublished). The past week of massive settlement advancements is a clearer-than-ever indication that Israel (with very public backing from top U.S. officials) is not holding back its illegal settlement activities and its ongoing annexation of the West Bank, particularly in Area C.
Details of this week’s approvals are broken down below.
Plans advanced August 5-6 by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council In its decisions taken August 5th and 6th include at least 190 units in three illegal outposts — which have the effect of retroactively legalizing those three outposts. The outposts that gained retroactive approval this week are:
- Haroah Haivri – The council approved a plan for an educational institute and accompanying housing for students and staff. Most extraordinarily, Haroah Haivri, located just east of Jerusalem, is within eyesight of the Khan al-Ahmar community, which Israel is planning to demolish (forcibly relocating the Palestinian bedouin community that has lived there since the 1950s) — ostensibly because the structures in Khan al Ahmar were built without necessary Israeli approvals. The Haroah Haivri outpost was also built without the necessary Israeli approvals, but instead of demolishing the construction, Israel has retroactively legalized it — demonstrating once again that, when it comes to administering the occupation, Israel prefers “rule by law” – where law is turned into a tool to elevate the rights/interests of one party over another, over the democratic rule of law.
- Ibei Hanachal – The Council approved 96 units in this outpost, located southeast of Bethlehem, turning it into a “neighborhood” of the Maale Amos settlement. In reality, the outpost is not contiguous with the built-up area of the Maale Amos settlement, meaning that the implementation of this plan will, in effect, create a distinct new settlement (for coverage of this plan, see here) .
- Givat Salit – The Council approved 94 units in this outpost, located in the northern Jordan Valley, as part of turning it into a “neighborhood” of the nearby Mechola settlement.
The legalization of these three outposts only adds to the success of Israel’s ongoing and increasingly successful effort to retroactively legalize all illegal settler construction in the West Bank (that is, construction undertaken illegally under Israel law; all settlement construction is illegal under international law). The lengths to which Israel has gone to in order to achieve that goal include inventing new legal grounds — some outlined by the government’s “Zandberg report” and another – the “market regulation principle” identified by the Isareli Attorney General — that in effect allow Israel to suspend the rule of law and erase private property rights of Palestinians. For the past 2.5 years, FMEP has documented this campaign in detail in its Annexation Policies Tables – regularly updated and available online.
Israeli Annexation via Settlement Construction Unleashed, Part 2: Final Approval for 648 New Settlement Units
The actions taken this week by the High Planning Council include issuing final approval for 648 settlement units – mostly new construction but also some approval of existing construction that had been undertaken without approval (all of this is in addition to the 190 units in outposts legalized retroactively). Details of these approvals for new settlement construction are as follows:
194 units in the Ganei Modlin settlement, located in the northern “seam line zone” in the West Bank but on the Israeli side of the security barrier (by design of the Israeli government). The plan for 194 new units will bring the settlement’s built-up area directly up to the separation barrier, a particularly notable plan given Israel’s recent demolition of 70 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, based on the argument that the construction within a 200-250 foot Israeli-imposed “no construction zone” on either side of the barrier poses an unacceptable security risk to Israel. Israel rejected an offer by Palestinians to privately finance the construction of new and higher wall near the buildings; developers behind the Ganei Modlin project also offered to finance the construction of high wall near the construction, an offer the courts saw fit to accept – resolving the matter in the eyes of the High Planning Council, which approved the plan.
- 96 units in the Kiryat Netafim settlement, located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line into the very heart of the West Bank and on towards the Jordan Valley.
- 76 units in the Beit Hagai settlement, located just south of Hebron,
- 66 units in the Efrat settlement, located south of Bethlehem. Efrat had already received final permission for 1,000 new settlement units at the most recent High Planning Council meeting, in April 2019. As a reminder, Efrat is located inside a settlement enclave that cuts deep into the West Bank. Efrat’s location and the route of the barrier wall around it, have literally severed the route of Highway 60 south of Bethlehem, cutting off Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the southern West Bank. The economic, political, and social impacts of the closure of Highway 60 at the Efrat settlement (there is literally a wall built across the highway) have been severe for the Palestinian population.
- 61 units attached to an educational institute in the Gva’ot settlement, located south of Bethlehem. The Gva’ot (Gevaot) settlement was established as an outpost of mobile homes, and later benefited from Israel’s unilateral, mass expropriation of Palestinian land in 2014 (which Israeli officials explictly said was done in response to a Palestinian terror attack). At the time, Peace Now reported that the move constituted the largest single expropriation of Palestinian land by the Israeli state in over 30 years.
- 51 units in Shvut Rachel, which only recently became an authorized settlement area when Israel extended the jurisdiction of the Shiloh settlement to include it as a “neighborhood” (along with three other outposts). The plans approved this week will retroactive legalize existing units and permit the construction of a few news one.
- 29 units in the Otniel settlement, located in the South Hebron Hills area. The plans serve to retroactively legalize existing units.
- 27 units in the Maskiyot settlement, located in the northern Jordan Valley. These units are part of a plan allowing the construction of a “bed and breakfast” with 27 additional rooms (and calling to mind Amnesty International’s recent report on the role tourism plays in supporting the occupation).
- 19 units in the Peduel settlement, located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line into the very heart of the West Bank and on towards the Jordan Valley.
- 18 units and a park in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.
- 11 units in the Einav settlement, located northwest of Nablus.
In addition, the Council gave retroactive approval for a controversial archeological site in the Shiloh settlement, located in the center of the northern West Bank. The Israeli government has devoted a significant amount of money and political energy towards building the tourist site, which is now drawing upwards of 60,000 evangelical tourists each year. For background on the site, see this Emek Shaveh report from 2014 and this brief from 2017, when the government approved the commercialization of the site. For analysis on how the site fits into a bigger pattern of Israeli efforts to normalize the settlements through tourism, see this report by Amnesty International.
Israeli Annexation via Settlement Construction Unleashed, Part 3: Plans Advanced for 1,466 New Settlement Units (With More to Come)
Actions taken August 5-6 by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council include advancing plans that, when they eventually receive final approval, will allow for the construction of 1,466 settlement units (details of the various steps of the planning/approval process are laid out by Peace Now here). Specifically, the Higher Planning Council this week approved the following plans for deposit for public review:
- 382 units in the Beit El settlement, located north of Ramallah. The plans include the retroactive legalization of 36 units; the remaining 346 are new units. As a reminder, Beit El is the settlement closely associated with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who among other things was the President of the “Friends of Beit El” organization, which raised money on its behalf.
- 354 in the Nili settlement, located in the northern West Bank;
- 200 units in the Asfar settlement, located northeast of Hebron. If approved, this plan will triple the size of the Asfar settlement.
- 168 units in the Talmon settlement, located north west of Ramallah. In December 2018, FMEP reported on a deadly encounter between neighboring Palestinians and settlers from Talmon and/or the many unauthorized outposts associated with it. The settlers had been attempting to takeover another hilltop on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of al-Mazra’ah al-Qibliyah. When Palestinians staged an attempt to stop the settlers from entering the area, a scuffle ensued and Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians.
- 132 units in the Kfar Adumim settlement, located east of Jerusalem and less than one mile from the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community which the state of Israel is seeking to demolish.
- 84 units in the Shima settlement, located in the southern tip of the West Bank.
- 74 units in the Yakir settlement, located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line deep into the West Bank.
- 48 units in the Bracha settlement, located south of Nablus.
- A recreational area in the Kochav Yaakov settlement, located just south of Ramallah.
In addition to the plans approved and advanced detailed above, the High Planning Council delayed consideration of two additional plans, which are:
- A plan that would effectively legalize another outpost, known as Brosh. Similar to the Haroah Haivri plan, discussed above, the plans relating to Brosh serve to retroactively legalize an existing educational institute. Approval of the plan was delayed because the Council had not resolved objections that were filed against the plan, including an objection filed by Peace Now.
A plan for 207 settlement units in the Bracha settlement, located near Nablus (these plans are in addition to the plans for 48 units approved to be deposited for public review, covered above). Though plan was on the Council’s schedule, it could not be approved because the Council first needs to approve the extension of Har Bracha’s existing settlement jurisdiction to include the area units are to be built. Since the plan calls for the construction of units outside of the existing area of jurisdiction, the plan could not be approved.
Following this week’s advancement of plans for 2,304 settlement units, settlement watchers and key members and bodies of the international community issued sharp criticism and sounded the annexation alarm bells. In contrast, there was glaring – and very, very, very predictable – silence came from the U.S. administration. A few notable reactions are included below.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The approval of settlement plans is part of a disastrous government policy designed to prevent the possibility of peace and a two-state solution, and to annex part or all of the West Bank. The linkage of thousands of housing permits for settlers and a negligible number of housing units for Palestinians cannot hide the government’s discrimination policy. As a result, we see for example an approval of the illegal outpost (Haroeh Haivri) built for Israelis adjacent to the Palestinian bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar, for which the government refuses to approve any construction permits and instead seeks to transfer. Or we see, the approval of the construction of a new settlement neighborhood adjacent to the separation barrier after demolishing 72 housing units built adjacent to the separation barrier in Wadi Hummus, despite offering to fund security measures.”
The European Union issued a statement which reads:
“The EU expects the Israeli authorities to fully meet their obligations as an occupying power under International Humanitarian Law, and to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and of denying Palestinian development.”
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement:
“The expansion of settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. By advancing the effective annexation of the West Bank, it undermines the chances for establishing a Palestinian state based on relevant UN resolutions, as part of a negotiated two-state solution.”
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged Israel to stop what he called:
“the effective annexation of the West Bank.”
Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the right to housing, and Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, said in a statement:
“These settlement housing units are clearly meant to solidify the Israeli claim of sovereignty over the West Bank. Building civilian settlements in occupied territory is illegal, as is the annexation of territory. The international community has spoken out against the Israeli settlements, but it has not imposed effective consequences for the country’s defiance of international law. Israel’s actions indicate it plans to remain permanently and advance a claim of sovereignty. The Israeli Prime Minister made this clear when he said recently that: ‘No settlement and no settlers will ever be uprooted.’ Should we not take him at his word that Israel has no intention of complying with international law? Criticism without consequences is hollow. The international community has a wide menu of commonly-used countermeasures to push recalcitrant states into compliance with their international duties. If the international community is serious about its support for Palestinian self-determination and its opposition to Israeli settlements then, surely, the time has come for meaningful action.”
Israeli settlers, on the other hand, we filled with glee. Gush Etzion Regional Council Head Shlomo Ne’eman said in a statement:
“Thank God today we received approval from the Higher Planning Council for new housing units in Gush Etzion. Congratulations to all of our residents on the 200 units in Metzad, which is historic in that it will triple the size of the community. Congratulations on the final approvals for the Sadna institution, which works towards integration and is located in Gevaot, and will enable permanent construction of tens of units. Another major breakthrough is the final approval for Ibei Hanachal, which essentially fully legalizes the community and includes the construction of 96 permanent homes. These are major accomplishments for southeastern Gush Etzion, for the Jewish communities in the Judean Desert, and of course for all of Judea and Samaria. This is an opportunity for me to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu on this impressive accomplishment. Let’s hope that the trend of development and construction in Judea and Samaria continues full speed ahead.”
Following the murder of a 19-year old Israeli settler, Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed once again that he will promote settlement construction in all areas of the West Bank. Speaking at a ceremony marking the establishment of a new neighborhood of 650 units in the settlement of Beit El (which just saw plans for 382 new units advance, see above) Bibi said:
“We promised to build hundreds of housing units. Today we are doing it, both because we promised and because our mission is to establish the nation of Israel in our country. We know that the Land of Israel is bought in agony. Today another one of our sons fell. He was from a family that has already made a heavy sacrifice for the Land of Israel. These vicious terrorists: They come to uproot, we come to plant. They come to destroy, we come to build. Our hands will reach out and we will deepen our roots in our homeland – in all parts of it.”
Bibi’s words — which suggest an intention to continue/expand settlement construction across the entirely of the West Bank — did not satisfy many of his challengers on the Israeli right (against whom he is squaring off against in the upcoming election). Ayelet Shaked – who is leading a union of right wing parties – called directly for annexation. She said:
“We have to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Gush Etzion is in consensus and there is no reason not to apply sovereignty there.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said:
“our response to the murder has to be [to] apply sovereignty on the settlements, starting with Gush Etzion.”
And the Sovereignty Movement – is an offshoot of the Women in Green organization, and has been working to formalize its expanding influence over Israeli politicians and public discourse by pushing for the establishment of a Knesset committee devoted to the cause of Israeli annexation of the West Bank – issued a statement saying:
“It is either us or them! This is a 52-year-old struggle that must be resolved. Sovereignty will bring resolution and will erase the hope of pushing us out of here through terror attacks. The resolution must be clear and unambiguous – we have returned to the heritage of our fathers, we will bring another million Jews here, we will build dozens of communities. The Arabs are invited to live under our sovereignty as individuals and enjoy a prosperous life as residents.”
Latin Patriarchate Files Suit Claiming New Proof of Fraud Behind Settler Takeover of Old City Hotel Properties
On August 5th, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem filed a request to reopen the underlying case in Jerusalem District Court which awarded the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim the ownership rights to three historic church properties in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Patriarchate’s appeal is based on new evidence of fraud committed by the Jerusalem settler organization Ateret Cohanim – with the aid of church officials – during the sale of the properties. The original Jerusalem District Court ruling acknowledged that there were problems in the transaction, but found that the church failed to prove its allegations of bribery and corruption.
The allegations of fraud rely on the testimony of Ted Bloomfield, a man who managed the Petra Hotel in the 1990s. Bloomfield reportedly told the Greek Patriarchate that Ateret Cohanim paid him to help persuade the Palestinian protected tenants to sell their rights. The lawsuit says these actions are “extraordinary in their severity” and include fraud, forgery of legal documents, and bribery – including alleged attempted sexual bribery. The church’s complaint also alleges that the settler group obstructed justice in deliberately concealing documents during legal proceedings.
Haaaretz recently published a moving video testimony of one Palestinian man, Abu-Walid Dajani, whose family has run the New Imperial Hotel, one of the targeted properties, since 1949. Dajani is now facing eviction.
Education Minister Strips Key Committee Membership from Professor Who Objected to Authorization of Settlement Medical School
The Haaretz Editorial Board penned a sharp criticism of newly appointed (and interim) Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who recently removed Professor Yossi Shain from the Planning & Budgeting Committee of the Higher Education Council. Shain was one of the members of the key professional committee – which essentially serves as the gatekeeper for schools hoping to join the ranks of accredited Isareli education institutions – who objected to the rushed and politicized process by which, in contravention to the Council’s normal practice, a medical school located in the settlement of Ariel received approval from the Higher Education Council.
The Editorial Board writes:
“The ‘revenge’ taken by Peretz against someone acting according to his professional judgment is a worrisome sign. The message conveyed by the education minister’s bureau is crystal clear: In education and academia, loyalty to the occupation and annexation project has become a decisive criterion.”
Bimkom Report: Israel’s “No Construction Zone” Adjacent to the Separation Barrier Has Little To Do With Security
In a new report, the Israeli NGO Bimkom sheds light on the very problematic regulation that was the legal pretext behind Israel’s recent demolition of 70 Palestinian homes in Wadi Hummos – i.e., the argument that the construction was located too close to Israel’s separation barrier.
Bimkom explains that in 2011, the Israeli military issued a “no construction order” to prevent construction close to the separation barrier, ostensibly on the basis of security considerations. The zone defined by the order ranges from ranges from 30 meters to 700 meters in different areas (on both sides of the barrier). Given that much of the barrier passes through the West Bank (meaning the land on both sides is Palestinian land), the cumulative impact on the Palestinians is significant. According to Bimkon, the total area affected by the no-construction order is approximately 195,000 dunams [48,185 acres/195km2] of land, belonging to 115 Palestinian villages.
While the order also (theoretically) impacts 15,000 dunams of land in areas where there are settlements located close to the barrier, the perimeter of the zone and enforcement against construction within it follows a predictable logic in favor of the settlements.
“Similar to the barrier route, the no-construction order is determined such that its impact on settlement construction is minimal, but its impact on Palestinian villages is enormous. The negative impact of the physical barrier on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is intensified expanded to hundreds of meters in which Palestinian construction is prevented. The potential for Palestinian development in Area C is already very limited, and the no-construction zone only serves to exacerbate the situation. In summary, it can be seen that the security considerations which are supposedly behind the construction ban are often questionable, and this also applies to Wadi al-Hummus. The obvious conclusion is that the security considerations according to which buildings in Areas A and B were demolished are a smoke-screen for political considerations whose purpose is to reduce the Palestinian population in the seam zone, especially in the Jerusalem region, or even to punish them for unrest in the area, according to army reports. The threat of demolition still hangs over Wadi al-Hummus, as there are a large number of other buildings that have received demolition orders and the court is scheduled to discuss their case in the coming months.”
Also, as detailed above, the inconsistency of Israeli policy when it comes to enforcing the “no-construction zone” was on display this week, as Israel approved the construction of 194 units in the Ganei Modlin settlement, right up to the barrier (discussed above). Whereas Israel rejected an offer by Palestinians in Wadi Hummos to privately finance the construction of new and higher wall near their buildings (and went ahead and demolished them), Israel authorities accepted an offer by developers behind the Ganei Modlin project to finance the construction of high wall near the construction, allowing expansion of a settlement to move ahead.
In +972 Mag, Ir Amim researcher Aviv Tartarsky published a superb analysis of the ongoing campaign of daily harassment and intimidation Israeli authorities have unleashed against Palestinians living in the Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Tatarsky writes:
“The campaign against Issawiya signals a new stage in Israel’s oppressive policies in East Jerusalem, and is part of the overall change in Israeli policy toward the Palestinians with the backing of the Trump administration. In the past, Israel primarily focused on settlement construction in the eastern part of the city. By building so-called ‘facts on the ground,’ the government intended to make it as difficult as possible to draw a border along the Green Line and create two capitals in Jerusalem. Today that focus has dangerously shifted to breaking apart Palestinian Jerusalem. Israel is pouring hundreds of millions of shekels into projects that will take over large parts of the the Old City and its surrounding neighborhoods, while fragmenting Palestinian territory and jeopardizing the Palestinian population. Neighborhoods such as Silwan, A-Tur and Sheikh Jarrah have seen an intensification of home demolitions and evictions on the one hand, while on the other the municipality has built promenades, heritage centers, and other tourist attractions for the Jewish settlers living inside Palestinian neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Israel is aiming to redraw the city’s municipal borders so as to push 120,000 Palestinians — more than a third of the city’s Palestinian population — out of the city. According to legislation advanced last year by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, neighborhoods such as Kufr Aqab, Ras Hamis and the Shuafat refugee camp — already separated from the rest of the city by the separation wall — will be drawn out of the municipal boundaries. Issawiya, then, portends what Israel has in store for the remaining Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem: continual violence that has no aim other than oppressing and making life miserable for all who live there.”
Terrestrial Jerusalem produced an essential in-depth report on Israeli and U.S. policy towards Silwan, offering important context and shedding new light on the significance of Ambassador Friedman and Jason Greenblatt’s political stunt alongside Elad in the tunnels underneath the neighborhood.
Danny Seidemann writes in the report’s introduction:
“The event was not merely dramatic. The choreography illuminated at one critical moment and in one critical space two apparently disparate dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and their current dynamics: the territorial skirmishing and the battle over narrative in Jerusalem. More than anywhere else, the settlement in Silwan embodies the significant changes taking place in the Old City of Jerusalem and its immediate environs. The opening tunnel was, superficially, a minor routine event that disclosed developments that are anything but routine. As such, it requires an in-depth analysis that takes a hard look at the event, its background and its consequences. In our three sectioned report, we will begin by examining the background and significance of the settlement in Silwan. In Part II, we will examine the tunnel, its archeological, historical and ideological significance and the context in which it was excavated. Part III will deal with the nature of the shift in US policy regarding Silwan, its sources and its ramifications.”
- “Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers” (Times of Israel)
- “Peace Cast: Housing Rather than Ideology” (Americans for Peace Now)
- “How Ayelet Shaked, a secular woman, came to dominate the right-wing religious camp in Israel” (JTA)
- “India’s Settler-Colonial Project in Kashmir Takes a Disturbing Turn” (Washington Post)
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
January 4, 2019
- Israel Advances Plans for 2,191 New Settlement Units – Including Establishing 2 New Settlements & Laying Groundwork for 2 New Settlement Industrial Zones
- Based on New Legal Tools to Take Palestinian Land, Israel Announces Intention to Build A New Settlement (“Givat Eitam/E-2”) Near Bethlehem
- Following High Profile Political Support, Settlers Violently Resist Evacuation from Amona Outpost Site
- Knesset Speaker & Leaders Call for Annexation of Hebron
- Regavim Petitions Jerusalem District Court to Stop the EU-Backed “Arab Takeover” of Area C
- Knesset Lawyer Criticizes Bill to Give Palestinian Land to the World Zionist Organization
- Sheldon Adelson’s Medical School in Ariel Settlement May Not Open
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Email email@example.com
Israel Advances Plans for 2,191 New Settlement Units – Including Establishing 2 New Settlements & Laying Groundwork for 2 New Settlement Industrial Zones
During its final meetings of 2018 (held on December 26th and 27th), the Israeli Civil Administration High Planning Council advanced plans for a total of 2,191 new settlement units. Peace Now reports that 87% of the settlement plans advanced are located deep inside of the West Bank, far beyond any of the negotiated parameters for a border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
The flood of settlement approvals includes plans that will effectively create two new settlements (by legalizing the unauthorized outposts of Ibei Hanachal and Gva’ot, detailed below) and establish two new settlement industrial zones (one near the Beitar Illit settlement and one near the Avnei Hefetz settlement). Another plan, for an educational campus and a gas station, will serve to connect the unauthorized outpost of Mitzpeh Danny to a nearby settlement (Ma’aleh Mikhmash) – paving the way towards the eventual legalization of that outpost, creating yet another new settlement.
Of that total, plans for 1,159 units were given final approval for construction – meaning building permits can be issued immediately. These include
- 220 new units in the Givat Ze’ev settlement;
- 180 new units in the Neveh Daniel settlement;
- 135 new units in the Tene settlement;
- 120 new units in the Karmei Tzur settlement;
- 129 new units in the Avnei Hefetz settlement (where plans to build a new, noncontiguous industrial zone nearby were also advanced – see below);
- 61 new units in the Tzofim settlement;
- 42 new units in the Alfei Menashe settlement;
- 55 new units in the Tomer settlement;
- 18 new units in the Adora settlement;
- 16 new units in the Metzad settlement;
- 1 new units in the Shilo settlement; and,
- 62 new units in the Ma’aleh Mikhmash settlement;
A plan to build an educational campus and a gas station between the Malakeh Mikhmash settlement and the unauthorized outpost of Mitzpeh Danny. Peace Now writes, “Although this is not a residential program, these buildings also qualify as the establishment of a new settlement complex in the West Bank. The plan covers 140 dunams and will create a permanent presence of hundreds of Israeli students and teachers…During the discussion it was noted that the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council is preparing a plan to regulate the outpost.”
- A plan to build a cemetary on an area of “state land” south of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. The area used to be a closed firing zone, but that military designation was rescinded years back, and the site has since been the subject of settlement planning. Peace Now writes, “The planned cemetery is likely to be the first component on the road to the establishment of an industrial zone, which is also a type of settlement.”
Settlement plans that were advanced through earlier stages of the planning process include:
A plan for 98 units in the unauthorized Ibei Hanachal outpost, which will turn the outpost as a “neighborhood” of the Maale Amos settlement. In reality, the outpost is not contiguous with the built-up area of the Maale Amos settlement, meaning that the implementation of this plan will, in effect, create a distinct new settlement.
- A plan for 61 new units in the unauthorized Gva’ot outpost, an outpost originally built in 1999 by the settlers as a “neighborhood” of the Alon Shvut settlement. The settlers built a yeshiva there, but abandoned it not long after. The new settlement plan is for a public building, likely an educational institute with housing.
- 82 new units in th Ofra settlement. FMEP reported on this plan in the Dec 14th edition of the Settlement Report, in conjunction with the litany of punitive settlement plans advanced by Israel in response to terror attacks. The area where the new units are slated to be built is land that was allegedly purchased by the settlers from its original Palestinian owners.
- Plans for two new settlement industrial zones, one near the Beitar Illit settlement and one near the Avnei Hefetz settlement. The latter industrial zone, called Bustani Hefetz, will cover a large area of land (some 730 dunams) and will not be not contiguous with any other settlement. Peace Now writes, “an industrial zone of this scope, which is cut off from any other settlement, in all actuality constitutes a new settlement.”
- 121 new units in the Yitzhar settlement, where the IDF has been trying to rein in the violence perpetrated by the “Hilltop Youth” settlers, who are based in Yitzhar.
- 152 new units in the Shavei Shomron settlement.
- 212 new units in the Har Bracha settlement.
- 94 new units in the Beit Haggai settlement.
- A plan to legalize 75 existing settlement units in the Shvut Rachel settlement, which Israel considers a “neighborhood” of the Shiloh settlement.
- 100 new units in the Halamish settlement.
Peace Now released a statement saying:
“In 2018, the government advanced thousands of housing units, including most which can be found in isolated settlements deep inside the West Bank that Israel will eventually have to evacuate. Those who build these places have no intention of achieving peace and a two-state solution. The latest announcement, which as an aside was cynically passed on Christmas while most Western governments are on holiday, shows that Netanyahu is willing to sacrifice Israeli interests in favor of an election gift to the settlers in an attempt to attract a few more votes from his right-wing flank.”
Top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, released a statement saying:
“While the world is celebrating Christmas with its spirit of peace and joy, the Grinch ‘occupation’ decided to steal the Christmas spirit from the people of Palestine. As part of his early election campaign, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has as well stolen more Palestinian land and resources for the benefit of Israel’s illegal colonial settlement expansion. Such illegal actions are a deliberate campaign to destroy the two-state solution and to prevent the establishment of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Tamar Zandberg, head of the Meretz Party, slammed the new announcements, and previous decisions taken by the government to retroactively legalize 60 outposts. Zandberg said:
“The Israeli government has become a settlement government. (MKs Bezalel) Smotrich, Moti Yogev, (Justice Minister) Shaked and (Education Minister) Bennett are its landlords. They exploit the (Palestinian) attacks to build more settlements. But the truth needs to be said. To achieve security we need to evacuate settlements, not build more and more…”The 60 new settlements are the real threat to Israel’s security and to IDF soldiers. The pogroms they are waging in Palestinian villages. The stone-throwing, the shooting and the uprooting of the trees. This is the danger to our moral image and our security! They eight seats of Habayit Hayehudi party dictate eight million lives.”
Based on New Legal Tools to Take Palestinian Land, Israel Announces Intention to Build A New Settlement (“Givat Eitam/E-2”) Near Bethlehem
On December 26th, the Israeli Civil Administration announced that it will draft plans to build as many as 2,500 new settlement units at the Givat Eitam outpost site, creating a new settlement on a strategic hilltop that will cut off Bethlehem from the southern West Bank, completing the near encirclement of Bethlehem by Israeli settlements.
For years, settlers have lobbied for construction at the site, but those efforts have been stymied by the lack of a legal access road to the outpost, which is surrounded by land that even Israel recognizes is privately owned by Palestinians. Until recently, Israel has balked at seizing private land from Palestinians for the exclusive benefit of the settlements. But now, several new legal opinions have allowed Israel to violate the private property rights of Palestinians for the sole purpose of legalizing settlements and settlement infrastructure. Those legal opinions include the “market regulation” principle, the opinion(s) regarding the Haresha outpost case, and the Regulation Law. It is unclear which legal argument will be applied to the Givat Eitam/E-2 case.
The Givat Eitam outpost has been nicknamed “E-2” by settlement watchers for for its resemblance, in terms of dire geopolitical implications, to the infamous E-1 settlement plan. Located east of the separation barrier on a strategic hilltop overlooking the Palestinian city of Bethlehem to its north, Givat Eitam/E-2 is located within the municipal borders of the Efrat settlement but is not contiguous with Efrat’s built-up area, making Givat Eitam/E-2 effectively a new settlement that, according to Peace Now, will:
“block Bethlehem from the south, and prevent any development in the only direction that has not yet been blocked by settlements (the city is already blocked from the North by the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, and from the West by the Gush Etzion Settlements) or bypass roads (that were paved principally for Israeli settlers). The planned building in area E2 would likely finalize the cutting off of Bethlehem city from the southern West Bank, delivering a crushing blow to the Two States solution.”
In September 2018 FMEP reported that the local council of the Efrat settlement encouraged the start of (unauthorized) construction of an outpost at the Givat Eitam/E-2 site (presuming that any such illegal construction would be retroactively legalized by the government) in response to a Palestinian terror attack in the Efrat settlement. Since then, the Civil Administration has allowed the settlers to build and maintain an agricultural farm there.
FMEP tracks all developments related to Israeli legislative, cabinet, and judicial action that promotes the retroactive legalization of outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land as part of its documentation of creeping annexation – available here.
Following High Profile Political Support, Settlers Violently Resist Evacuation from Amona Outpost Site
On January 3rd, 23 Israeli police officers were injured by Israeli settlers and their supporters who violently resisted the court-ordered evacuation from illegal encampments erected on privately owned Palestinian land as part of an effort to re-establish the Amona outpost. Approximately 300 settlers showed up at the Amona site (which is currently a closed military zone) overnight to resist the removal of settlers and two caravans from the hilltop, which was ordered by the Jerusalem District Court. The settlers and their supporters burned approximately 300 tires at the entrance to the outpost, poured oil on the access roads, and threw rocks and boulders at the Israeli police. Seven suspects were arrested and quickly released.
The evacuation of the outpost was reportedly carried out in defiance of a direct order from Prime Minister Netanyahu. According to the Haaretz report, Netanyahu gave orders to the Israeli military secretary, Col. Avi Bluth, to stop the evacuation. Col. Bluth did not relay the message in time, and the evacuation was carried out. Now, Netanyahu has ordered a disciplinary hearing to investigate the actions of Col. Bluth, which is scheduled for January 4th.
The violent evacuation of settlers from the Amona hilltop follows a week of high profile support for their efforts. Israeli Cultural Minister Miri Regev attended a ceremony near the recently re-established (yet unauthorized) Amona outpost to express her support for authorizing construction on the hilltop – which, according to the Israeli High Court of Justice, is privately owned Palestinian land. Regev could not go to the actual Amona site, because the area is a closed military zone where no one (settlers, politicians, and even the Palestinians who own the land) is permitted to enter. Regev and the settlers claim that the hilltop land has been legally purchased by the settlers, but that claim has not been investigated, much less verified. Casting doubt on the settlers’ claims, Haaretz notes:
“The lot in question is jointly owned by several different Palestinians, which means every single one of them would have to consent to the purchase for it to be legal. It’s not clear which, if any, of these Palestinians signed the sale document. In the end, the land was designated military land, is zoned for agriculture and has no building permits.The Binyamin Regional Council didn’t await the administration’s decision before moving two prefab homes into Amona and providing basic infrastructure such as water tankers.”
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit slammed the settlers for trespassing and illegally moving caravans onto the site. Mandelblit criticized MK Bezalel Smotrich and the heads of regional settlement councils who went to the site to express support, saying:
“Breaking the law with the support of public figures, like placing caravans on privately-owned lands, can’t be a source of pride.”
A Haaretz report recently revealed Bezalel Smotrich was a founding member of a non-governmental group called Ofek Lehityashvut, which directly financed the illegal reestablishment of the Amona outpost last month by purchasing the two caravans that settlers moved onto the hilltop. The Haaretz report goes on to reveal that the Benyamin Regional Council has purposefully tailored various calls for proposals so that Ofek Kehityashvut would be the only group qualified to receive financing for that project. As a result of that manipulation, Ofek Kehityashvut has received substantial amounts of funding from the Benyamin REgional Council, which is an Israeli-taxpayer funded entity.
The speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli Edelstein (Likud), called for Israel to apply its sovereignty over the city of Hebron – which would constitute an act of de facto annexation. Edelstein released a statement announcing his intention to go on a tour of Hebron – where some 500-800 settlers live under Israeli military protection amongst 200,000+ Palestinians – with the far-right, pro-annexationist group Im Tirzu. In the statement he wrote:
“In my view, it’s delusional that some Knesset members dare to undermine the Jewish people’s right to dwell in the city of our forefathers,” Edelstein said in a press statement issued prior to the conference. “We’re developing Hebron, investing in it and inculcating its importance in future generations. We are saying clearly – sovereignty in Hebron first.”
Speaker Edelstein also participated in a conference highlighting Israel’s historic connection to the city of Hebron. Organized by the Knesset Land of Israel Lobby, the event culminated in the signing of a document that reads:
“We, the undersigned, hereby express deep solidarity with the roots of the Jewish people in Hebron and the support of the Jewish community in Hebron that has clung to the city despite all the difficulties. We declare an unambiguous commitment to the continued existence, security and prosperity of Hebron as the city of both our forefathers and children.”
The event was co-organized by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) who said:
“Hebron is a litmus test. What is happening in Hebron shows our Jewish pulse….[those who call for settlers to leave Hebron] understand very well that if Hebron grows and develops, the entire settlement enterprise will grow and develop, so they invest in harming Hebron. But they will continue to shout and complain while we will continue to build, reach the people and connect with our roots.”
Following the Knesset’s passage of a bill in July 2018 that brought many West Bank legal matters under Israel’s domestic jurisdiction (an act of de facto annexation), the Jerusalem District Court is set to hear its first case concerning land disputes in the occupied territory. The bill was sponsored by Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose three-fold rationale for the bill explicitly states that its purpose is to help settlers take more Palestinian land and shut-down Palestinian challenges to such thefts — by bringing matters to the Jerusalem Court instead of the High Court of Justice, which Shaked believes is too concerned with Palestinian rights and international law. The bill is part of the legislative body’s broader effort to erase all remaining distinctions (legal, judicial, economic, and otherwise) between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories, distinctions which allowed Israel to preserve the guise of respect for rule of law, and good intentions, for the last 50 years.
Looking to cash in the bill’s explicit purpose, the radical settler group Regavim initiated the petition asking the court to intervene to stop the “illegal Arab takeover” of land in the West Bank. Regavim’s petition claims that Palestinians are cultivating “state land” near the Mezad settlement. The petition also blames the European Union for its financial backing for the agricultural projects on the land. (Note: Regavim, like most settler media outlets, uses the word “Arab” to describe Palestinians, a vocabulary choice meant to erase any recognition of Palestinian identity).
A coordinator for Regavim told the Arutz Sheva outlet:
“The intervention of the European Union in what is happening in Area C is a brazen and aggressive intervention. We see extensive involvement on their part in lawbreaking and invading state land throughout Judea and Samaria. Their symbols are everywhere, and the State of Israel must respond to this blatant intervention on the diplomatic level as well.”
Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council said:
“The direct involvement of the European Union in financing Arab squatters in the territories and state lands has already become a plague on the state. We congratulate Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on the obvious step that has led to great logic and justice in reducing the burden on the Supreme Court and in uniform enforcement against the land grabs by hostile elements…the Arabs understand that the real battle is on the ground. Foreign countries with their money are trying to shape a false consciousness and finally change the map of the state, but nothing can change history and our natural belonging on our national land.”
FMEP tracks the application of domestic Israeli law over the occupied West Bank (the de facto annexation of the West Bank) on its Annexation Policy Tables, which are regularly updated.
The legal advisors to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee criticized a bill that would transfer vast tracts of land in Area C of the West Bank to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO), a quasi-private state-funded entity that works to establish and expand settlements in the West Bank. Despite pressure to pass the bill, the legal advisors called on the committee to reexamine the text over concerns that it would also give the WZO authority over Palestinian communities in Area C. The experts wrote in a legal opinion for the committee:
“The proposed definitions of ‘rural settlement’ and ‘land’ do not include references to the character and nature of the settlement, and it seems that land that is government or abandoned property intended for Palestinian rural settlement will also be included in the boundaries of the proposed arrangement, and will be transferred to the management of the Settlement Division. Is the intention of the bill that the Settlement Division will also manage the Palestinian rural settlement in the area?”
As FMEP has previously reported, the bill was proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) to accelerate the transfer of almost all of the land in Area C to the control of the World Zionist Organization. The land transfer is, in fact, taking place at the bureaucratic level, but Smotrich and the Israeli Cabinet (which endorsed the bill) are increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of the transfer (and perhaps also the limited scope of land slated to be handed over). Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit expressed his opposition to the bill, saying it is unnecessary given that ministry staffs are already working to transfer more land to the WZO through an administrative process.
In June 2018, when the Knesset gave preliminary approval to the bill, Peace Now responded:
“the government is scandalously planning to give the biggest land thieves responsibility for managing the land distribution, which will continue to be done under the cover of darkness if the bill passes into law.”
For more information on this bill, read a comprehensive background briefing by Peace Now.
The state-of-the-art medical school planned to be built in the Ariel settlement is now in danger of not opening, after a letter from the Israeli Justice Ministry warned that the school’s approval is in jeopardy. The Justice Ministry discovered an undisclosed conflict of interest that voids an important vote in favor of approving the school by the planning and budgeting subcommittee of the Higher Education Council. A member of the subcommittee, Dr. Rivka Wadmany-Shauman, allegedly met with the heads of Ariel University ahead of the vote, and made her approval of the new medical school conditional on being promoted to the rank of professor. Israel Hayom reports the Ariel University has already shelved plans to inaugurate the new school for its first semester in the Fall of 2019.
As FMEP has previously reported, Ariel University became an accredited Israeli university in 2012, following significant controversy and opposition, including from Israeli academics. It has since been the focus of additional controversy, linked to what is a clear Israeli government-backed agenda of exploiting academia to normalize and annex settlements. In 2018, the settlement broke ground on the new medical school, with significant financial backing from U.S. casino magnate and settlement financier, Sheldon Adelson. In February 2018, in an act of deliberate de facto annexation, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that extends the jurisdiction of the Israeli Council on Higher Education over universities in the settlements (beyond Israel’s self-declared borders), ensuring that the Ariel settlement medical school (and its graduates) are entitled to all the same rights, privileges, and certifications as schools and students in sovereign Israel.
As a reminder, Ariel is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
- “Israeli settlements threaten to engulf West Bank communities” (Al-Monitor)
- “Israeli settlement activity appears to surge in Trump era” (AP)
- “It Pays Off to be an Israel Settler, Whether Trespasser or Landowner” (Haaretz+)
- “In the West Bank, the Israeli army works for the settlers” (Haaretz)
- “Netanyahu’s pro-settler allies force annexation into campaign agenda” (Al-Monitor)