Settlement Report: May 29, 2020

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.

May 29, 2020

  1. In a Legal First, Peace Now Submits Petition Against Allocation of Land for Purpose of Building the Givat Eitam/E-2 Settlement
  2. Master Plan for Har Homa-E Settlement Gets Final Approved
  3. Israel Advancing Plans for a New Settlement Industrial Zone
  4. Some Settlers Lobby To Change  Trump Plan as Annexation Map Becomes Clearer
  5. Netanyahu Says He Will Not Delay Annexation & Fights Off Criticism of Settlers
  6. Settler Leader Blames Yesha Council Head for Delaying Annexation
  7. USMEP Briefing Paper on Annexation
  8. Bonus Reads

Comments/Questions? Email Kristin McCarthy(kmccarthy@fmep.org).


In a Legal First, Peace Now Submits Petition Against Allocation of Land for Purpose of Building the Givat Eitam/E-2 Settlement

On May 21st, Peace Now formally submitted a petition to challenge Israel’s plan to build the Givat Eitam/E-2 settlement on a hilltop known to Palestinians as A-Nahle, located just south of Bethlehem. Peace Now has mounted several legal challenges to Israel’s drive to build Givat Eitam/E-2, but this petition is groundbreaking in that it seeks to challenge Israel’s allocation of land for settlement purposes, arguing that Israel is obligated to allocate the land to the Palestinians instead. This is the first time the issue of land allocation is being brought to trial.

There are three main arguments in the petition, Peace Now summarizes:

  1. The allocation of land to build a settlement contravenes Israel’s duties to protect the land for the local Palestinian population according to international law;
  2. Allocating land to Israelis over Palestinians is tainted by discrimination since 99.8% of West Bank land allocated since 1967 has been gone primarily to Israeli purposes, and
  3. The Palestinians’ need for the land in question is far greater than that of the Efrat settlement, as a Peace Now spatial planning analysis confirms. For more on the legal arguments of the appeal, read here.

This petition comes after Peace Now lost a previous effort to overturn Israel’s declaration of the land as “state land” (a move which then made it possible for Israeli to allocate the land for settlement). Attempts to legally stop Israel from building new settlements have typically not continued past this point. One reason for this is that in order to challenge how “state land” is allocated, the petitioner must, in effect, concede that the land in question is legitimately “state land” in the first place — something Palestinians do not concede with respect to land seized by Israel. That makes this petition, which is led by Peace Now along with over a dozen Palestinian landowners, novel.

Commenting on the decision to file the new petition, Peace Now said in a statement

“The decision to allocate a-Nahla land for a new settlement is illegal, immoral and un-Jewish. Implementing this plan will severely damage not only the Palestinian landowners and the development capacity of the Bethlehem area, but also the ability to reach a future peace agreement and territorial compromise for a future Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. The land should be allocated for Palestinian development in the region.”

Master Plan for Har Homa-E Settlement Gets Final Approved

Map by Peace Now

Ir Amim reports that on May 25th the Jerusalem District Committee granted final approval of a master plan that provides for the construction of 2,000 units in the “Har Homa E” settlement (aka Har Homa West). Planners must now submit a detailed outline plan(s) for approval before building can commence;  one such plan, for 500 units, is already being advanced through the planning process.

Ir Amim writes:

“Construction in Har Homa E will serve as another step in connecting the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will likewise detach Bethlehem and the southern West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. In line with the new reality created by the Trump Plan and its unilateral recognition of Israeli sovereignty of East Jerusalem, these developments will constitute a major obstacle towards the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city and the prospect of a viable two-state framework.”

For further details on the two Har Homa E plans – one of which is a master plan – see Ir Amim’s excellent analysis

Israel Advancing Plans for a New Settlement Industrial Zone

Haaretz reports that the Israeli Civil Administration is advancing plans to build a new settlement industrial zone – called “Samaritans Gate” by settlers – on land that straddles the Green Line in the northern West Bank. The zone is slated to take over 3,000 dunams (740 acres) of West Bank land to the east of the Israeli city of Kafr Qasem.

In addition to the Palestinians who the new industrial zone will impact, the plan is drawing significant opposition from Israeli environmental groups who are concerned about the impact of the project on the terrain. The zone is slated to be built on a riverbed in what is considered a rare ecological corridor in Israel.

Mor Gilboa, an activist with “Climate for Peace,” said:

“the military government in the territories has for decades created a list of climate blights on the environment. The plan ignores nature the same as it ignores Palestinian rights to these territories which don’t belong to Israel under international law.”

For more information on why settlement industrial zones exploit and harm Palestinians, their land, and their resources, see this brief by Who Profits.

Some Settlers Lobby Against (or for changes to)  Trump Plan as Annexation Map Becomes Clearer

Settler leaders as well as their political allies are increasingly vocal  in their opposition to the Trump Plan, as details regarding the closely guarded joint mapping process have surfaced in the press. In addition to their resolute opposition to Israel’s acceptance of the even a notion that a Palestinian state can be established under certain conditions in the future, the settlers have focused in on the amount of land that the Trump Plan permits (and doesn’t permit) Israel to annex.

In an interview from early May 2020, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman said that the Plan calls for Israel to annex no more than 30% of the West Bank (50% of Area C), which would leave 15 settlements/outpost as enclaves (i.e., Israeli sovereign territory that is outside the Israeli state’s borders, connected only by roads). Settlers have strongly rejected this concept, but have reportedly been frozen out of the joint mapping committee and are failing to find outside avenues of influence.

David Elhayani – the head of the settler Yesha Council and also head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council – told The Times of Israel that the  members of the joint U.S.-Israeli mapping committee have refused to meet with the settlers or received their proposed maps, and said that the committee “refuses to be flexible with regard to the map.” Ayelet Shaked (Yamina Party) also expressed frustration with being locked out of the mapping process, telling Army Radio that the mapping team is not letting anyone make any changes to the map originally proposed by the Trump Administration. 

Undaunted, the settlers reportedly have drawn up maps outlining three different versions of annexation they say they could accept, since these maps do not leave any Israeli enclaves (as of publication, the settlers’ maps have not been revealed publicly). According to media reports, one version of the map would add 2.5% more land to Israel (amounting to Israeli annexation of a total of 32.5% of the West Bank), a second would add 5% more land to Israel (total of 35%), and a third would add 8.5% more land to Israel (total 38.5%).  David Elhayani – the head of the settler Yesha Council and also head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council – said

“In our optimal map, 38.5 percent of the West Bank would be annexed to Israel. This is most of Area C. In our map there is Israeli territorial contiguity and it’s the Palestinians who remain in enclaves.”

Settler leaders and Yamina Party members are making the rounds in the Knesset, using a map to try to convince MKs to oppose the Trump Plan for the reasons discussed above.

Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration officials are reportedly irritated by the oppositional role that the settler leadership are playing. U.S. officials have reportedly sent messages relaying their frustration over the settlers’ rejection of and ingratitude for the Trump Plan. Those messages also note, reportedly,  that the map settlers are using to lobby MKs against the plan is not the final map. Suggesting that the settlers should take what their being offered and after that can ask for more, a U.S. official told Israel Hayom:

“If the settlers don’t want what the administration currently has to offer, they shouldn’t come to us in the future. The expectation was that they see the bigger picture, remember where they were standing in December 2016 (when the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334 that harmed Israel and was spearheaded by the Obama administration), and that they consider where they could be standing four years from now if the Palestinians continue to reject negotiations with Israel.”

The relationship between settlers and the Trump Administration was further inflamed when settler leader Yossi Dagan told the press that U.S. officials were requiring  Israel to abandon its claim to the remaining 70% of the West Bank as part of the Trump Plan. Quashing that report (and thereby making clear that the U.S. is not requiring Israel to give up its quest for even more territory in the future), a U.S. official said:

“This is a complete lie and whoever is spreading it is doing great damage to Israel, the US and the Jewish people.”

All that being said, settlers (and their leaders and allies) remain split on the Trump Plan. While the majority (24) of settlement council leaders voted for a Yesha Council resolution critical of the Trump Plan, Efrat settlement head Oded Revivi continues to support the Trump Plan, though he has made it clear that he is advocating for settlers to pocket the gifts Trump is offering, without forfeiting the rest. Revivi is aligned with Ariel settlement leader Eli Shavrio. Dismissing the position of Revivi and Shavrio, one suggested that they have the luxury of living near the Green Line, meaning:

“They don’t have a problem with Palestinians gaining control of transportation routes or enclaves.”

Netanyahu Says He Will Not Delay Annexation & Fights Off Criticism of Settlers

Following the first day of his trial, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told leaders in his Likud faction that he will definitely promote annexation on July 1st, saying “It is a big opportunity and we will not let it pass by…[July is] a goal date in July, and we won’t change it.” 

Two days after Bibi’s comments made headlines, Prime Minister-in-waiting Benny Gantz gave an address to his own faction (Blue & White) in which he offered veiled criticism of some of Netanyahu’s other policies, but offered only support for the pursuit of annexation. Gantz said:

“We are currently presented with meaningful windows of opportunity that could improve and even transform the reality in the region across all fronts, including, of course, the American government’s peace plan… [I will work] to ensure the best outcome that will fortify Israel’s security and protect our state and international interests.”

In an interview on May 28th, Netanyahu continued to fight off criticism from settlers and Yamina Party leaders, explaining his position on key points and taking on criticism at length:

“For the first time since the establishment of the state, I’ve managed to secure American recognition [of our sovereignty rights], first on the Golan Heights and in Jerusalem, and then through an agreement that will facilitate American recognition in the areas of our homeland inside Judea and Samaria. These are [US President Donald] Trump’s decisions, and the person who broached these matters with him was me. No one else…Within this package [the Trump Plan] is a historic opportunity for changing the tide of history, which was pointing one way. The whole time. All the diplomatic plans proposed to us in the past asked us to concede swathes of the Land of Israel, return to the 1967 borders and divide Jerusalem. To take in [Palestinian] refugees. This is a reversal. We aren’t the ones being forced to make concessions, rather the Palestinians are.” 

Notably, with respect to the criticisms that the Trump Plan permits the possibility of a future Palestinian state, Netanyahu clarified that this should not be mis-understood to mean the Palestinians would ever have an actual state, according to any standard meaning of the term, starting with the fact that such a state would be predicated on Palestinians accepting Israeli security control over the entire West Bank:

“Regardless of negotiations. If they [the Palestinians] see fit to meet and accept about 10 stringent conditions – including Israeli sovereignty west of the Jordan River, preserving a united Jerusalem, refusing to accept refugees, not uprooting Jewish communities, and Israeli sovereignty in large swathes of Judea and Samaria, etc. – the [diplomatic] process will move ahead. They need to acknowledge that we control security in all areas. If they consent to all this, then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state. There are those who claim and – an American statesman told me: ‘But Bibi, it won’t be a state.’ I told him, call it what you want. At the heart of the Trump plan are foundations we have only dreamed about. All the things we are being criticized about from the right – and what am I? These are things for which we fought for many long years and we’ve finally achieved them. Then they come with the criticism.”

When asked to address concerns that if/when Israel annexes the Jordan Valley, thousands of Palestinians living there will be granted Israeli citizenship, Netanyahu dispelled the notion altogether, saying:

“They will remain a Palestinian enclave. You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them, they will remain Palestinian subjects if you will. But security control also applies to these places.”

Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard corrected Netanyahu’s comments, Tweeting

“The gap between the number of Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley that the Prime Minister has named (2) and the number of communities that actually exist (47) – represents the number of villages and villagers that with annexation would be displaced from this area forcibly. This is a very small purge.”]

On May 29th, Netanyahu gave yet another interview, in which he was asked if the annexation plan he intends to bring up for a vote as early as July 1  will include the topic of Palestinian statehood, as provided for under the Trump Plan (though, as we’ve repeatedly documented, the Trump Plan does not provite for a real Palestinian state under any standard definition of the term, but rather for semi-autonomous Palestinian islands within an Israel sovereign sea ). Netanyahu responded

 “That subject is separate. A government decision on the matter is not expected.”

Settler Leader Blames Yesha Council Head for Delaying Annexation

In Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi’s telling of what went down in the days leading up to the moment when Netanyahu and Trump stood side by side to unveil the Trump Plan, a late night statement issued by David Elhayani (Yesha Council head) changed history. According to Revivi, the White House had planned to announce that annexation could take place immediately. Instead, as a result of Elhayani’s opposition to the Trump Plan and the controversy his statement triggered, the timeline for annexation was delayed, and the “joint mapping committee” was invented.

The other settler leaders who travelled to Washington with Elhayani and Revivi disagree with the latter’s telling of what happened. Nonetheless, Revivi offers one dramatic, insider’s perspective about the involvement of settler leaders leading up to the unveiling of the Trump Plan.

USMEP Briefing Paper on Annexation

Daniel Levy of the U.S.-Middle East Project has produced a detailed analysis of all the goings-on surrounding annexation, including his own predictions on how a number of key questions will be answered. After assessing the internal politics and options confronting  Israeli, American, Palestinian, European, and Arab decision makers, Levy concludes with an important point:

“Israeli impunity is the key driver of the current journey away from peace and equality. Israel’s cost/benefit calculation will need to change to prevent that journey continuing down the same path and to usher us onto the path less travelled. A better way forward would have to challenge that impunity. It would necessitate desisting from the delegitimization and criminalization of sanctioning Israel for its policies or of conditioning various preferential arrangements that Israel enjoys, while guaranteeing the space for legitimate Palestinian political expression and alternative visions for the future (especially as two states becomes ever-less attainable). Open debate and policy options certainly cannot be foreclosed in the service of cheapened and scurrilous accusations of antisemitism.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Annexation Is the Israeli Settlers’ Real Estate Dream Come True” (Haaretz)
  2. This Will Be the Heavy Price of Annexation for the Israelis” (Haaretz
  3. Ex-chief West Bank land inspector planted groves on Palestinian ground” (The Times of Israel)
  4. “Mixed messages on West Bank sovereignty leaves diplomats flailing” (Jerusalem Post)
  5. “Can Annexation be Reversed?” (Jerusalem Post)
  6. “IDF not yet tasked with annexation” (Jerusalem Post)
  7. “PLO fears Israel could use violence to annex parts of West Bank” (MEMO)
  8. “Israel Must be Smart about Annexation” (Ynet)

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.

April 24, 2020

  1. The Facts on the Bibi/Gantz Annexation Agreement
  2. The World Responds (or doesn’t) to Formation of Annexation Government
  3. Gantz Takes Over Defense Ministry – Including Authority Over Settlement Construction (at least until July 1st)
  4. Settlers, Yamina Party Dissatisfied with & Suspicious of Netanyahu’s Annexation Plans
  5. Plans Advance for Two New Settlement Enclaves in the Beit Hanina Neighborhood
  6. B’Tselem: With IDF Backing, Settlers are Violently Stealing Land During COVID-19 Crisis
  7. Coming Soon: Plans for Har Homa Expansion Scheduled for Discussion on April 27th
  8. Coming Soon: Israel To Open Bidding on “Doomsday” Givat Hamatos Settlement Tender on May 3rd
  9. IDF Demolishes Outpost Structures, Including in Outpost From Which the Criminal “Hilltop Youth” Group Hail
  10. Yesh Din Outlines Potential Impact of Annexation on Palestinian Human Rights (Spoiler: It’s Bad)
  11. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions – email Kristin McCarthy (kmccarthy@fmep.org).


The Facts on the Bibi/Gantz Annexation Agreement

Under the new emergency unity government agreement, the issue of annexation is at the total discretion of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Per the coalition agreement signed by Netanyahu and Gantz on April 20th, the stipulations related to annexation are:

  1. The U.S. must give its “full agreement” to the annexation plan, including on the maps of West Bank land Israeli legislation will specify for annexation. Reminder: the U.S. and Israel have already formed a joint mapping committee aimed at translating the conceptual map appended to the Trump Plan into a detailed plan. The U.S. has signalled that it will give its approval to the resulting map and to date, the Trump Administration has only offered its total support for Israeli annexation – including Secretary Pompeo in a April 22nd press conference. 
  2. Netanyahu and Gantz must “engage in dialogue” with (but are not obligated to secure any form of consent from) the international community, “with the aim of preserving the security and strategic interests of Israel including maintaining regional stability, preserving existing peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements.” During the negotiations that paved the way for the unity agreement, international coordination as a condition for any annexation was reportedly one of Gantz’s key demands, with particular insistence on the king of Jordan being consulted; as is clear from the agreement, Gantz totally folded on this point (among others). 
  3. On July 1, 2020, Prime Minister Netanyahu can bring the U.S-approved annexation plan up for discussion in the Cabinet and/or for a vote in the Knesset, – without the support/approval of Gantz. The unity agreement consists of a six-month “emergency period” during which Netanyahu is prohibited from introducing any legislation unrelated to Israel’s fight against the Coronavirus. Annexation legislation is the one and only exception from this prohibition, with the agreement allowing Netanyahu to move annexation legislation as of July 1 (the delay until July representing the empty “concession” extracted by Gantz in negotiations). Indeed, by providing two separate ways to move annexation – via the Cabinet or via the Knesset – the agreement ensures Netanyahu will be able to pass the bill even if he does not have a majority in the Cabinet (seats on which will be split equally between Netanyahu and Gantz appointees in the new government).
  4. Only a Likud member of the Knesset is permitted to introduce an annexation plan in the Knesset, provided that the plan is identical to the one promoted by Prime Minister Netanyahu. This stipulation prevents more radical annexation plans from being moved in the Knesset by members of other political parties, and also eliminates any role of Gantz in Knesset proceedings.
  5. Once introduced into the Knesset, the annexation legislation cannot be delayed or vetoed. By accepting this clause, Gantz has agreed in advance that he cannot block the bill from passage. At the same time, the agreement magnanimously allows Gantz and his fellow Blue & White Members of the Knesset to “vote their conscience” and oppose the annexation bill (FMEP has previously explained the political strategy behind this). Under the unity agreement, this is the only matter on which Gantz agreed to forfeit his veto power.

The World Responds (or doesn’t) to Formation of Annexation Government

The Palestinians were vocal in their opposition of the new government and its annexation plan, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to cancel all agreements with Israel and the United States if annexation plans proceed. 

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. government welcomed the unity government agreement and, with Secretary of State Pompeo stating he was “happy” that the sides had reached an agreement and noting:

“As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in (a) private setting.”

The government of France issued the most notably strong statement (so far) rejecting annexation, saying: 

“Such steps if implemented would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel.”

An European Union’s foreign affairs spokesman stated that “If this proceeds, it will not be left unanswered.” Separately. the EU’s Chief of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, issued a statement vowing to “closely monitor” annexation efforts, reiterating that the EU holds annexation as a “serious violation of international law.” Remarkably,  8 of 27 EU member states opposed Borrell’s statement, signalling a fractured and therefore weak EU stance against annexation. During discussions with member states, Borrell reportedly argued for including a threat of sanctions against Israel if annexation is advanced, a point which drew opposition. Other states were reportedly hesitant over the timing of the statement, claiming to be concerned about preemptively souring relations with the new government, and particularly Gantz. 

In response, Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz attacked Burrell and praised EU states that opposed the EU statement, including: 

“It is unfortunate to read that Joseph Burrell, who claims to be trusted with the EU’s foreign relations, chooses to welcome the new government of a central partner of the EU in this way, and prefers to see the relationship between Israel and the EU through the prism of the pandemic and the ‘status of the territories.’ Given the depth of the relationship and in light of the fact that this announcement did not receive the support of the EU member states yesterday, we wonder which policies the honorable gentleman is choosing to represent, and not for the first time.”

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney made a strong statement warning Israel against annexation:

“Annexation of territory by force is prohibited under international law, including the UN Charter, whenever and wherever it occurs, in Europe’s neighbourhood or globally. This is a fundamental principle in the relations of states and the rule of law in the modern world. No one state can set it aside at will.  Ireland remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution that ends the occupation that began in 1967, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States, on the basis of international law, the internationally-agreed parameters and relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Germany’s mission to the UN tweeted:

“Germany strongly advises against the annexation of occupied Palestinian territories. This would have serious, negative repercussions on the viability of the two-state solution, the entire peace process, regional stability and ISR standing within the international community.”

The UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador James Roscoe, delivered a statement in the UN Security Council noting:

“we are deeply concerned by reports that the new Israeli government coalition has reached an agreement which paves the way for annexation of parts of the West Bank. The UK position is clear: any unilateral moves towards annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel would be damaging to efforts to restart peace negotiations and would be contrary to international law.”

The UN’s special Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said that annexation would,

 “deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.”

Gantz Takes Over Defense Ministry – Including Authority Over Settlement Construction (at least until July 1st)

The newly signed unity government agreement will see Benny Gantz appointed as the Defense Minister of Israel, taking over the post from Yamina MK Naftali Bennet. As Defense Minister, Gantz will take control of the Civil Administration, which is a body within the Defense Ministry which serves as the sovereign authority in the occupied territories. For as long as the Civil Administration exists and Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank, Gantz will hold enormous power over decisions related to land seizures and allocations, settlement construction and enforcement of Israeli building regulations in the West Bank (of course, even without annexation, Netanyahu – as the highest official in the government, will retain important if not decisive authority in all settlement-related decisions). 

The objective of annexation, of course, is to fully normalize and permanently integrate the settlements into the state of Israel, bringing them fully under the laws and governance of Israel’s government.  If and when such annexation is implemented, the current system of governance over the settlements — which since 1967 has run through the Defense Ministry, reflecting the fact that the land is held by Israel under a status even the Israeli High Court has recognized as “belligerent military occupation” — will perforce be dismantled. In the event of partial annexation, areas annexed to Israel would perforce no longer be under Civil Administration authority. 

Nonetheless, we have seen what a determined Defense Minister can accomplish over a short period of time. Over the course of his 6 months as Defense Minister, Naftali Bennet aggressively exercised the significant power of that office to promote numerous settlement plans, including controversial plans that required careful legal maneuvering. Among his accomplishments are:

  • The issuance of a new legal opinion to enable settlement construction above the old vegetable market in Hebron;
  • The approval of plans to build a controversial new road near Jerusalem, dubbed by the settlers the “sovereignty road” — an important step towards building the E-1 settlement;
  • The announcement of seven new “nature reserves” in the West Bank, and the expansion of 12 existing reserves;
  • The launching of legal research into how Israeli can bring settlement building in Area C under the direct authority of the Justice Ministry, cutting out the Civil Administration;
  • The creation of an inter-ministerial taskforce to develop settlement and annexation plans for the future of Area C in the West Bank. Reports indicate the taskforce agenda includes: 
    • Allowing Jews to privately purchase land in the West Bank. [See here for a detailed explanation of this complicated matter]; 
    • connecting unauthorized outposts to water and electricity; 
    • granting official recognition to unauthorized outposts that are located near established settlements by recognizing them as “neighborhoods” of the settlement; 
    • repealing a military order that empowers the Civil Administration to evict settlers from privately owned Palestinian land with or without a Palestinian-initiated petition to have the settlers removed; 
    • legalizing 30 sheep farms in the West Bank that are under pending demolition orders. 

It is worth noting, however, that other ministries also have authorities with respect to support for an governance over settlements, a messy situation which is the result of Israel’s creeping annexation via the extension of Israeli domestic laws and regulations over the settlements/settlers [FMEP maintains a compendium of these laws and regulations]. The Israeli Education Ministry recently brought settlement colleges and universities under its authority. The Transportation Ministry has funded the construction of hotels and other tourist infrastructure in the settlements. The Agricultural Ministry facilitates the sharing of egg quotas between settlements and Israeli cities. The Interior Ministry facilitates tax sharing and redistribution between the settlements and Israeli communities. And of course the Justice Ministry has a central role in defending settlement activity in the West Bank, and is playing a key role in the bid to find new legal mechanisms for granting retroactive authorization to illegal outposts and expropriating privately owned Palestinian land.

Under the new governing agreement, the ministries are set to be divided between Likud and Blue & White. With respect to ministries that have direct involvement in settlements, Israeli media reports suggest that in addition to the Defense Ministry, Blue & White will get the Justice Ministry (with Avi Nissenkorn reportedly set to be the next ministry), the Ministry of Economy, and the Ministry of Agriculture. For its part, in addition to maintaining the position of Prime Minister for at least 18 months, Likud will get the Housing & Construction Ministry (which has a central role in West Bank settlement construction), the Finance Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the Education Ministry, the Ministry of Public Security, and will appoint the next Speaker of the Knesset (expected to be Yariv Levin) who will serve for the entire 18 months of the unity government’s duration.

The Times of Israel suggests that this division amongst parties might result in incoherent policies on the settlements:

“Take for example the West Bank settlements that will seek to capitalize on any Israeli declaration of sovereignty in the coming months to encourage a growth in population and economic development. The heads of controversial outlying settlements will undoubtedly find a sympathetic ear in the right-wing-led ministries of transportation or housing — both vital to their development — but will face a colder reception in the ministries of agriculture and economy, on which their livelihoods depend and which are slated to be led by the Gantz bloc’s Blue and White and Labor respectively in the new cabinet. Will the new government support those settlements or try to limit their growth? Both.”

Settlers, Yamina Party Dissatisfied with & Suspicious of Netanyahu’s Annexation Plans

Having been left out of any leadership role in the new unity government, the Yamina party – an alliance of far-right parties led by Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, and Bezalel Smotrich – has not yet decided whether to remain part of Netanyahu’s alliance or become an opposition party to the newly formed unity government. The faction’s central grievance concerns Netanyahu’s concessions on judicial appointees (which leave Yamina completely out of that important government process), and Yamina’s continued suspicion over Netanyahu’s intentions on annexation. 

Throughout the negotiations, Shaked and Bennett continued to express their rejection to the Trump Plan, based on their opposition to that plan holding out even the pretense of allowing for the establishment of a (discontiguous, powerless, politically and economically non-viable) Palestinian state in the future. In an attempt to cast doubt on whether the Prime Minister intends to implement the annexation path laid out in the unity deal, Bennett threw punches at Netanyahu, calling him “all talk” on the matter of annexation. Shortly after the deal was signed Bennett told the press:

“This is a left-wing government led by Netanyahu. All the things we care about are going to the [Blue and White-led] bloc. The agreement doesn’t leave us any way to have influence.”

While many settler leaders welcomed the new government, most withheld a full-throated celebration over the annexation clause – either because some settlers are dissatisfied with the Trump Plan (like Yamina) or because settlers distrust Netanyahu’s promises. Like Yamina, settlers are pushing for an even more expansive annexation than the one laid out in the Trump plan. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent comment that annexation is an Israeli decision gave settler leaders even more ammunition with which to threaten Netanyahu. Beit El Council head Shai Alon said:

“There are no more excuses. It’s time for action. The ball is in the new government’s court. If sovereignty doesn’t happen now, who knows when the next opportunity will come around.”

Prior to the agreement being finalized, Yesha Council head David Elhayani told The Jerusalem Post:

“I don’t think that the US will go against us [Israel] when Trump is president…You have to throw this [Trump] plan into the trash and the State of Israel has to decide to make the right decision. That decision is to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea and [all] the settlements…”

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan said in a statement:

“I congratulate the prime minister and MK Benny Gantz on reaching an agreement…We will work with the government, in partnership and, when necessary, in a forceful manner, in order to advance sovereignty in the coming period and to expand construction and development in Judea and Samaria.”

While the unity agreement means that Yamina will not have power in the new government, its impact on the unity agreement and on the course of Israel’s future under this government should not be underestimated. The dogged pressure on Netanyahu exerted by Shaked, Bennett and their settler friends may have helped him secure concessions from Gantz in negotiations, but in so doing it also put Netanyahu in corner, depriving him of any politically easy way to delay annexation, should he want to do so (that said, the idea that he would want to do so is increasingly far-fetched — according to Barak Ravid,  Netanyahu sees annexation as his main legacy as Prime Minister). Indeed, under the coalition agreement Netanyahu’s only excuse for delaying or preventing annexation would be U.S. opposition — and the Trump administration is already on the record (with the Trump Plan and in statements) in support of annexation.

Plans Advance for Two New Settlement Enclaves in the Beit Hanina Neighborhood

Ir Amim reports that on April 22nd, the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee recommended the advancement of plans to build two new settlement enclaves inside the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem. With the committee’s recommendation, the plans advance to the Jerusalem District Planning Committee for discussion. In January 2020, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee granted final approval to plans for another enclave in Beit Hanina, marking the first time the Israeli government granted authorization for settlement construction in Beit Hanina.

The plans for the two new enclaves are closely linked to East Jerusalem settlement empresario and Jerusalem municipal councilman Aryeh King. Ir Amim notes the role King has played behind the scenes and the potential impact of the enclaves:

“Although originally scheduled to be discussed at the Local Planning Committee on March 18, they were subsequently omitted from the agenda.  The plans likewise reappeared on the agenda for discussions on April 1 and again removed. For a third time, the plans re-emerged on the agenda for today’s discussions at the Local Planning Committee and were subsequently taken off and then immediately placed back on. Such moves indicate concerted pressure to advance these plans by prominent settler figures, including Arieh King, longstanding settler activist and Jerusalem Municipal Councilman who is behind the promotion of these projects. The establishment of more settler enclaves in the heart of Beit Hanina will not only impact the fabric of this community and fracture its space, but will further erode opening conditions for a political solution to the conflict based on two capitals in Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim previously provided essential context to Beit Hanina settlement schemes:

“the plan will enable an ideologically driven settler outpost in the heart of Beit Hanina, a neighborhood located on the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem that has remained relatively untouched by Israeli settlement within its limits. Since the land in question is not far from Ramat Shlomo to the south-west and Pisgat Zeev to the north-east of it, its construction may mark the beginning of a far sweeping move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while driving a wedge between Bet Hanina and Shuafat.”

B’Tselem: With IDF Backing, Settlers are Violently Stealing Land During COVID-19 Crisis

B’Tselem documented 23 attacks by settlers on Palestinians and/or Palestinian property in the first three weeks of April 2020, continuing what is now a two-month trend of increased settler violence during the coronavirus shutdown which began in mid-March. 

The violence centered around well-known hotspots:

  1. The Shilo Valley, were settlers terrorized the Palestinian villages of al-Mughayir, Turmusaya, Qaryut and Qusrah; 
  2. The South Hebron Hills, particularly near the outpost of Havat Ma’on as well as near the settlements of Rimonim and Kochav Hashahar; and
  3. The area around the Halamish settlement, where another new outpost was recently erected. 

B’Tselem also notes that settlers In the Jordan Valley harrass Palestinian herders on a daily basis, but these incidents are not counted in the violent attack data.

B’Tselem underscores the state support for such violence and its goal: the dispossession of Palestinians. It writes:

“These actions are part of a joint strategy by the settlers and Israeli authorities to systematically block Palestinian access to land – one acre, field, fertile plot, grove or pasture at a time – for decades on end, and take effective control of it. This way the state transfers the means of livelihood of Palestinians into the hands of Israelis. Settler violence is the state’s unofficial, privatized arm that serves to gradually achieve this goal. The state’s full support for this violence is evident in the actions of Israeli security forces on the ground. Five of eight attacks on Palestinian homes in March occurred in the presence of soldiers, who not only allowed the settlers to do as they pleased but took action against Palestinians trying to protect their families and homes. In some cases, soldiers arrested residents, and in at least three incidents fired tear gas canisters at residents. In three incidents, the soldiers arrived with the marauding settlers or joined them early on in the assault. Similar incidents occurred in April, with soldiers firing rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas canisters at residents, as has happened in the villages of Qusrah and a-Shuyukh on 6 April. In the Qatash brothers’ case, after the assault, the settlers handed ‘Issa Qatash over to soldiers, who did not give him any medical assistance or help him get back to his family. Instead, they simply abandoned him in the field with a fractured leg. For years, Israel has allowed settlers to attack Palestinians and damage their property virtually unimpeded, as a matter of policy. This includes provision of military protection for the attackers, and in some cases soldiers’ active participation in the assault. The police, meanwhile, hold back from enforcing the law on the offenders. This is part of Israel’s strategy to encourage the dispossession of Palestinians from growing areas throughout the West Bank, which paves the state’s way to take over more land and resources. The fact that this violence has exacerbated during a global pandemic adds another layer of brutality to Israel’s policy.”

Coming Soon: Plans for Har Homa Expansion Scheduled for Discussion on April 27th

According to Ir Amim, the Jerusalem District Committee is scheduled to discuss two plans for a total of 2,500 new settlement units in Har Homa E (also called Har Homa West) settlement on April 27th. The two plans were last discussed in February 2020, following Prime Minister’s Netanayhu’s lifting of a freeze on contentious East Jerusalem settlements (a development which also saw the E-1 settlement plans advance). At the time, the Har Homa plans were delayed for technical reasons.

Ir Amim explains:

“The resubmission of these plans for discussion only two months following the committee’s decision not to advance them and likewise amid the COVID-19 pandemic with its accompanied government restrictions and limitations highlights the pressure being applied to promote these plans. Construction in Har Homa E will serve as another step in connecting the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will likewise detach Bethlehem and the southern West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. In line with the new reality created by the Trump Plan and its unilateral recognition of Israeli sovereignty of East Jerusalem, these developments will constitute a major obstacle towards the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city and the prospect of a viable two-state framework.”

For further details on the two Har Homa E plans – one of which is a master plan – see Ir Amim’s excellent analysis

Coming Soon: Israel To Open Bidding on “Doomsday” Givat Hamatos Settlement Tender on May 3rd

According to Ir Amim, the Israeli government will open the Givat Hamatos settlement tender for bidding starting May 3rd, despite the fact that the government has delayed opening bidding on several other tenders due to the ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency. 

The tender appeared on the Israel Land Authority’s website on February 24th, but it was unclear whether or not the bidding timeline would be delayed. Ir Amim writes:

“It is reasonable to assert that voices on the political right are racking up pressure to ensure the tender is open for bidding on May 3 despite the current circumstances. Constituting a longstanding international red line, Israeli building in Givat Hamatos will seal off the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank, effectively eroding conditions necessary for the establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city within a viable two-state framework. If the tender is indeed published, it would significantly decrease the potentiality to effectively block Israeli building in the area. Concerted opposition and pressure to freeze the tender is therefore vital in this limited window of time in lead-up to May 3.”

IDF Demolishes Outpost Structures, Including in Outpost From Which the Criminal “Hilltop Youth” Group Hail

On April 22nd, hundreds of Israeli Border Police deployed to outposts associated with the radical and violent Yitzhar settlement in order to demolish six structures in three different outposts in the area. The demolitions included 2 structures in the Kumi Ori outpost, which serves as the home turf of the 20 extremist “Hilltop Youth” settlers who were recently quarantined in a new outpost established by the IDF especially for the group, from which the settlers violently attacked Palestinians nearby and absconded with Israeli army gear. The other demolished structures were located in the nearby Kipa Sruga and Tekuma outposts.

A lawyer representing the settlers filed a petition in an attempt to stop the demolitions, arguing that the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that it would not be implementing home demolition orders while battling the COVID-19 outbreak (though the Kumi Ori settlers clearly have no regard for Israeli policy meant to stop the spread of the virus). 

While the violent and illegal actions of the quarantined settler youth drew major headlines and condemnation even from the likes of devoted settler supporter Defense Minister Nafatli Bennett, this week’s demolition of two structures in the Kumi Ori outpost – one of which was the residence of the notorious and violent settler Neria Zarog – is part of a multi-year battle between the state of Israel and settlers over the outpost. Israel has demolished structures at the Kumi Ori site more than 10 times – most recently in January 2020 – and the IDF declared the area a “closed military zone” just six months ago. Kumi Ori settlers not only refuse to comply with IDF orders but have violently attacked Israeli forces, including an incident in March 2020 when settlers threw molotov cocktails at an IDF vehicle which arrived at the outpost site. During the demolition this week, two settlers were arrested, including Zarog, who refused to leave the building slated for demolition.

Yesh Din Outlines Potential Impact of Annexation on Palestinian Human Rights (Spoiler: It’s Bad)

In a new report, entitled “The Potential Impact of West Bank Annexation by Israel on the Human Rights of Palestinian Residents,” the Israeli NGO Yesh Din lays out four of the most alarming implications of annexation. In its last point, Yesh Din argues that annexation along the lines of the Trump Plan will reveal the operational reality in the West Bank: Apartheid. Yes Din writes:

“Annexation will pull the rug from under the argument, currently prevalent in many circles, that while Apartheid, or at least an Apartheid-like regime, is currently practiced in the West Bank, the sovereign State of Israel is a democracy. Applying Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank would be tantamount to a declaration that there is one regime, rather than separate administrations.”

Other impacts will include the mass expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land (violating property rights), even more limitations on freedom of movement, the expansion of settlements and outposts which systematically violate Palestinians’ human rights, the expulsion of communities living in unrecognized villages in the areas annexed by Israel, and consolidating Isarel’s control over natural resources.

Bonus Reads

  1. Whoever Thinks West Bank Annexation Will Pass Quietly, Better Think Again” (Haaretz)
  2. COVID-19 shows how reckless Jordan Valley annexation would be” (The Times of Israel)
  3. “Isareli-Palestinian Virus Cooperations Imperiled Amid Unity Gov’t, Annexation Bid” (Times of Israel)
  4. Coronavirus and Political Inaction on the Conflict” (The Times of Israel)
  5. Israel’s Memorial Day gift to bereaved families: Olive oil from a West Bank settlement” (+972 Magazine)
  6. “From Settlements to Annexation” (Canadian Friends of Peace Now – webinar)
  7. COVID-19 Emergency Situation Report 5 (14 – 20 April 2020)” (OCHA

 

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.

March 13, 2020

  1. Bennet Approves Plans for “Sovereignty Road” In Move Toward Construction of E-1, Annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim Settlement Bloc
  2. Israeli Planning Committee Asks for Changes, More Info on Har Homa & Givat Hamatos Plans
  3. Palestinian Minor Killed by IDF During Clash Over Settlers Entering Palestinian Land Near Nablus
  4. 2019 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report Further Erases Occupation, Denies Palestinian Identity, Affirms Golan Annexation
  5. Reports: U.S. Will OK Annexation “Within Months” Unless Palestinians Negotiate on Basis of Trump Plan (i.e.,  Palestinians Either Agree to Annexation, or They Get Annexation Anyway)
  6. Bonus Reads

Comments or questions – email Kristin McCarthy (kmccarthy@fmep.org).


Bennet Approves Plans for “Sovereignty Road” In Move Toward Construction of E-1, Annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim Settlement Bloc

On March 9th, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet approved a plan for the construction of a controversial road designed to facilitate Israeli annexation of a huge area of West Bank territory located between Jerusalem and Jericho. The purpose of the road is to enable Palestinians to travel between the northern and southern West Bank through what would be the new massive Israel settlement bloc just east of Jerusalem, while preventing them from entering Israel’s (expanded) territory. The road represents a key element in Israel’s broader plan to annex the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, the planned settlement of E-1 settlement, and surrounding territory. 

Map by Peace Now

For decades, construction of the E-1 settlement – which is now actively advancing through the planning process – has been adamantly opposed by the international community. A key criticism of that plan is that it would effectively cut the West Bank in half – preventing any two-state solution. The new road has long been Israel’s answer to that criticism, with Israel arguing that it will replace territorial contiguity with limited “transportational continuity” – via a sealed road that is under Israel’s total control. With Minister Bennett’s support and green light, the plan for that road can now be submitted to the Israel Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council for consideration.

If built, a section of the Palestinian-only road is projected to run under the separation barrier (which is not currently built in this area). The rest of the road will run relatively adjacent to the route of the future seperation barrier, in order to prevent Palestinian traffic from coming “near Jewish communities,” in the words of Defense Minister Bennet. This new section of road connects to the infamous “apartheid road” (aka, the Eastern Ring Road) which was opened for Paelstinian traffic in January 2019, and has a high wall dividing Israeli and Palestinian traffic.

In a statement announcing his plan, Bennet gave lip service to the idea that the plan will benefit Palestinians (even as it further cuts them off from Jerusalem, takes more land, and cuts the West Bank in half) while also making clear his real objective:

“[the road] will improve the quality of life for residents in the area, avoid unnecessary friction [for Israelis] with the Palestinian population and most importantly — allow for continued [settlement] construction. We’re applying sovereignty [to the West Bank] in deeds, not in words.”

Peace Now explains the issue with Israel’s design:

“The new road is intended to allow Palestinians to pass under the route of the separation barrier, and to travel ‘inside’ the Adumim Bloc along a wall without entering the ‘Israeli’ side, as in a kind of tunnel. Once the road is paved, Israel can then claim that construction in E1, and the construction of the barrier around the Adumim bloc does not sever the West Bank because the Palestinians have an alternative transport route. This argument is preposterous. A thin line of road connecting separate territorial sections–transportational contiguity–does not meet the needs for territorial viability for the development and livelihoods of Palestinians in the critical Ramallah-Jerusalem-Bethlehem metropolitan area. Without actual territorial contiguity, an independent Palestinian state cannot be established and prosper, and therefore a two-state solution cannot be reached.”

Further, Peace Now said in a statement:

“This is bad news for Israel as it enables annexation toward rendering a two-state solution insoluble. The planned road would allow Israel to cut the West Bank in half, build up E1 and the West Bank barrier, and shut down the possibility of developing a viable Palestinian state.The only roads Israel paved for Palestinians in its 52 years of control over the Territories were designed to allow Israel to build settlements or barriers that block existing Palestinian routes. There is no desire here to improve Palestinian transport, only to expand the settlements.”

Israeli Planning Committee Asks for Changes, More Info on Har Homa & Givat Hamatos Plans 

Ir Amim reports that at a March 8th meeting, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee asked for several modifications and required that additional surveys be completed before they approve plans for the construction of the Har Homa and Givat Hamatos settlement plans.

Ir Amim explains:

“There is a big gap between Netanyahu’s far reaching declarations regarding ‘the advancement of thousands of housing units in Har Homa and Givat Hamatos’ and the actual result of the discussions at the committee. It is unclear whether this gap is a result of real planning considerations that have to be resolved or is it a sign that despite Netanyahu’s dramatic announcements the Israeli government nevertheless needs to restrain itself. Ir Amim will try to inquire into the issue.

In any case the advancement of the three plans [2 relating to Har Homa, 1 relating to Givat Hamatos] in one of the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem after years during which the Israeli government refrained from advancing them is a cause for great concern. If constructed, these new settlements will essentially connect the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will serve to detach Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Constituting a long term strategy of Israeli governments, construction of large settlements is employed as a means to fracture the Palestinian space and unilaterally determine the boundaries of Jerusalem to prevent the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city.

The fact that the discussion of all three plans ended without a decision to advance any of them is not the norm. But in a few months, the surveys and modifications requested by the committee may be completed and the plans will be discussed again and this time be advanced.

It is important to remember that the Israel Land Authority has also published (on February 24th)  a tender for 1,077 housing units in Givat Hamatos A (on the area of TPS 14295). The tender has not yet opened for bidding and this is currently scheduled to happen on May 3rd. This tender is not contingent upon developments of the Givat Hamatos masterplan described above and can open for bids regardless of whether or not the plan is approved. If the tender does open for bids in May leading to future construction this will be a most negative development with a new settlement in one of the most sensitive places in East Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Minor Killed by IDF During Clash Over Settlers Entering Palestinian Land Near Nablus

A 15-year old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by Israeli military forces on March 11th. The forces were deployed to protect a group of Israeli settlers from the nearby Itamar settlement who had entered Palestinian land to “tour” an area which is believed to be the site of an ancient fortress. The site – “Jabal al-Orma” in Arabic and “Tel Aroma” in Hebrew –  is located in Area B of the West Bank, which under the Oslo Accords is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control. 

Two months ago, the Palestinian Municipality responsible for the area designated the site as a tourist destination and began building infrastructure to enhance it. Settler groups accused Palestinians of “taking over” the fortress  (reminder: it is located in Area B) and destroying it. The settler “tour group” that instigated the clash had, in fact, established a temporary encampment at the site a day earlier. The next day, 300 Palestinians arrived at the site to protest. The IDF arrived and reportedly began firing tear gas at the protestors. The ensuing clash resulted in the death of the one Palestinian minor, injuries to 16 other Palestinians (2 serious), and a head injury to one of the settlers.

In a joint report on Israel’s use of archeology as a means for dispossession and pretext for annexation, the NGO’s Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din write:

“In addition to the takeover of archaeological sites by official entities via ostensibly legal means, there is also a phenomenon of invasion and illegal takeover of historic sites by settlers. As part of the overall negligence on the part of the Israeli enforcement authorities with regards to the dispossession of Palestinians of their land by Israeli civilians, there is also a clear failure on the part of the authorities to remove invaders, enforce the law and protect Palestinian rights in cases where historic sites have been invaded or taken over. The enforcement failures in these cases endanger the antiquities, because unqualified persons perform work on these sites without plans and building permits and without supervision.”

2019 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report Further Erases Occupation, Denies Palestinian Identity, Affirms Golan Annexation

The U.S. State Department recently published its “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza.” 

Building on the significant changes to the structure, tone, and coverage of the 2018 report (text) — which removed the word “occupation” entirely from the report — the 2019 report also:

  • Normalizes Israeli control over the Area C of the West Bank, adding new language which reads:

“The government of Israel maintained a West Bank security presence through the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), the Israeli Security Agency, the Israeli National Police, and the Border Guard. Israel maintained effective civilian control of its security forces throughout the West Bank and Gaza. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. The PA has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces (ISF) regularly conducted security operations there, at times without coordinating with the PASF. The PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C and has designated the majority of Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas.”

  • Ceases to refer to Jerusalem’s Palestinian population as “Palestinians” – instead referring to them as “Arab residents.” This change is consistent with the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to de-nationalize the Palestinians people and its attempts to undermine their national claim to Jerusalem.
  • Re-affirms the legitimacy of  Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights (which the U.S. officially recognized in March 2019). Whereas the 2018 report included a section entitled, “Israel and the Golan Heights” (alongside a separate section entitled, “West Bank and Gaza”), the 2019 report no longer differentiates between Israel and the Golan Heights at all (as in, the two sections are now entitled, “Israel” and “West Bank and Gaza”).

Reports: U.S. Will OK Annexation “Within Months” Unless Palestinians Negotiate on Basis of Trump Plan (i.e.,  Palestinians Either Agree to Annexation, or They Get Annexation Anyway)

On March 5th, an Israeli news program quoted a senior White House official suggesting that the United States is prepared to approve Israel’s unilateral annexation of 30% of the West Bank “within months” if the Palestinians do not agree to participate in U.S.-led negotiations over the details of the Trump Plan.

The day before, Senior White House Advisor and Trump Plan architect Jared Kushner reportedly told U.S. Senators during a closed-door briefing that the work of the joint Israeli-American committee mapping will take “several more months,” which would appear to align with the comments and timeline laid out by the anonymous White House source. The source further said:

“Nobody can say we didn’t give the Palestinians an opportunity to return to the negotiating table. If they want to come back and talk we are ready for that and we believe we could improve the plan for them. But if they don’t, we will continue moving ahead without them.”

Kushner’s closed-door briefing members for Congress included a powerpoint presentation, slides of which were subsequently leaked. Notably, Kushner’s presentation appeared to argue that the continual expansion of Israeli settlements is one of two factors that has made peace impossible to obtain to this point (the other being the increasing amount international aid to the Palestinian people). 

FMEP President Lara Friedman has a fun Twitter thread commenting on the double-speak in the slides.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israeli AG’s objection to ICC jurisdiction in Palestine divorced from reality” (B’Tselem)
  2. “Another push to make Qalandia Airport a Jewish settlement” (Al-Monitor
  3. ‘You Want to Kill Me?’ Totally, He Said. ‘Leftists Are Worse Than the Arabs’: Election Day at a Settlement” (Haaretz)
  4. “Palestinian villagers ask why company exploiting West Bank quarry isn’t it on UN list” (Middle East Eye)
  5. “Hebron settlers hold Purim parade while Palestinians locked down for coronavirus” (+972 Magazine)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement and annexation activity this week.

Questions/comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy (kmccarthy@fmep.org).


Netanyahu Green Lights Construction of Doomsday Settlement Givat Hamatos – & Massive Expansion of Har Homa

On February 20th, Prime Minister Nentanyahu announced that he had lifted the freeze his government had put on building the controversial East Jerusalem settlement of Givat Hamatos and on the significant expansion of the Har Homa settlement (essentially creating a new settlement area called Har Homa West), both of which are located in geopolitically sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu said that he had given his blessing for plans that outline 3,000 units to be built at the Givat HaMatos settlement site (assuming, conservatively, a family size of 5, this means housing for 15,000 settlers) and for 2,200 new units in Har Homa West (i.e., housing for around 11,000 settlers).

Map by Peace Now

Speaking at a vista overlooking the Har Homa settlement, and alongside Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon and Israeli Housing Minister Yariv Levin, Netanyahu also announced the government will be building 1,000 new homes for Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa – an East Jerusalem neighborhood which will be completely encircled by Israeli construction if/when the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa West settlement plans are implemented. 

Ir Amim writes:

If advanced, these new settlements will essentially connect the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will serve to detach Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Constituting a long term strategy of Israeli governments, construction of large settlements is employed as a means to fracture the Palestinian space and unilaterally determine the boundaries of Jerusalem to prevent the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city.”

Unlike the Givat Hamatos plans, which were fully approved in 2014 and have since been awaiting the issuance of construction tenders, the plans to expand Har Homa towards Givat Hamatos are in preliminary stages of the planning process. The Jerusalem Planning & Building Committee is scheduled to meet on February 27th and is expected to initiate plans for Har Homa West. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran points out to The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s numbers regarding Har Homa were imprecise (the only Givat Hamatos plan slated to be considers outlines 2,610 units, not 3,000; and the project in Beit Safafa is for 805 homes not 1,000).

On the Har Homa plans, when rumors regarding these plans circulated in January 2020, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann – who previously predicted Givat Hamatos will move in relation to Israeli election calendar – weighed in with concerns which remain relevant, saying:

“The construction potential at Har Homa has been exhausted, and it’s not possible to build anything near 2,000 units. So what are they talking about? Something is clearly going on. Three possibilities come to mind, all problematic…Possibility no. 1: the nearby planned doomsday settlement of Givat Hamatos, which is awaiting tenders. Possibility no. 2: Hirbet Mazmoriyya, to the northeast of Har Homa. The lands owned by Palestinians that will have to be expropriated. Not likely. Too complicated and controversial. Possibility no. 3: the area wedged btwn. Mar Elias Monastery, the Hebron Road,  the 300 Checkpoint, dubbed Bethlehem Gate or Har Homa West. The land is ownership is a mixture of Palestinian &Church lands, along with settlement developers.”

Peace Now said in response to this week’s news:

“This is the last point that can allow territorial contiguity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem — the most significant Palestinian metropolitan area — and if the neighborhood is built, it will not be possible to connect the two cities. Such a policy change cannot be passed in a transitional government without a mandate from the public. This move is therefore but another cynical election exercise by Netanyahu to the detriment of the interests of all Israeli citizens.”

Palestinian Authority President Abbas quickly denounced Netanyahu’s announcement and insinuated it is a politcal stunt, saying in a statement:

“Netanyahu’s attempts to win right-wing Israeli votes on the eve of the Israeli elections at the expense of Palestinian rights will not bring peace and stability to anyone, and will lead to more tension and violence in the region.”

Israel Introduces Plan to Build Atarot Settlement in East Jerusalem, An Apparent Contradiction to the Trump Plan

On February 9th, the Israeli Ministry of Housing officially introduced a plan to build a new settlement on the site of the disused Atarot airport, located at the northern tip of East Jerusalem – an area that the Trump Plan seems to suggest would be the site for a Palestinian tourism zone (under the plan, that zone would be located entirely inside the state of Israel, and therefore subject to the complete control of Israeli authorities).

The Atarot settlements plan, which has existed for years, occasionally popping into the news and then disappearing, calls for up to 9,000 residential units aimed for ultra-Orthodox Jews (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 6, this means housing form 54,000 people), as well as synagogues, ritual baths (mikvehs), commercial properties, offices and work spaces, a hotel, and a water reservoir. If built, the Atarot settlement will effectively be an Israeli enclave, surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north.

Terrestrial Jerusalem’s Daniel Seidemann explains important context of the plan:

”This plan has been around since 2007. Every few years rears its ugly head, only to disappear for another few years. The obstacles to implementation are almost insurmountable but under Trump & Netanyahu, the unthinkable is commonplace. The plan keeps being ressurrected because it is the darling of the ultra-Orthodox. The land reserves in Jerusalem have been pretty much exhausted, and the haredim are leaving for Beit Shemesh and the settlements of Beitar and Modi’in Illit. They are pushing. There is even talk of a surrealistic plan to build a tunnel under the Qalandia Refugee Camp, linking the planned Atarot settlement with the existing West Bank settlement of Kochav Yaacov.”

There are currently 15 Palestinian families living in buildings on the land slated for the settlement, part of which is privately owned by Palestinians; other land in the area has been declared “state land” or belongs to the Jewish National Fund. To solve the problem of Palestinian land owners, the Israeli government will need to evict the Palestinians living there and demolish their homes — a step that will be facilitated by the fact that all of the homes lack Israeli-issued building permits (which are essentially impossible for Palestinians to receive). The private Palestinian landowners will then be subjected to a non-consensual process of reparcelization, in which Israel will unilaterally reparcel and then redistribute the land amongst its owners on the basis of the value of the land (as determined by Israel) and the percentage of their ownership claim.

Though the recently released Trump Plan does not explicitly designate the disused Atarot Airport as the site for a “special tourism zone,” this land is the only remaining undeveloped area in the Atarot. Explaining why the Atarot settlements plan has now resurfaced, despite the fact the has it contradicts the Trump Plan, Daniel Seidemann explains:

“The fact that the planned settlement contradicts the Trump plan’s designation as a Special Tourist Area for Palestinians is no problem at all: both Netanyahu and Trump secretly have silent contempt for the plan, exceeded only by their open contempt for the Palestinians. What is this REALLY all about? Elections. Courting the ultra-Orthodox, there is no rabbit that Netanyahu will not pull out of his sleeve before elections, even if the rabbit turns out to be a dead squirrel.”

The Atarot airport site is an important commodity and, during past negotiations, it was previously promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. The Trump Plan borders, and Israels long-held desire to develop the site into a settlement, would deprive a future Palestinian state of the only airport in the West Bank, dismember Palestinian neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, and sever East Jerusalem from a Palestinian state on this northern flank of the city (acting like E-1 on Jerusalem’s northeast flank, and like Givat Hamatos on Jerusalem’s southern flank).

The Atarot settlement plan dates back to 2007; it was pursued by the Israeli government in 2012 but shelved under pressure from the Obama administration. The plan came back into consideration in April 2017 (a few months following the inauguration of President Trump) when it was rumored to be included on Netanyahu’s master blueprint of settlements for which he was seeking U.S. approval. It was expected to be announced in May 2017 on the occasion of the Jerusalem Day celebration, but was not. In December 2019, rumors on the plan once again rumbled, but nothing came of it.

Peace Now said:

“Netanyahu wants to strike another deadly blow to the prospect of a two-state solution. The planned settlement neighborhood drives a wedge in the heart of the Palestinian urban continuity between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, thus preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with capital in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu is dragging Israel into a reality of a bi-national apartheid state and is putting the Zionist enterprise in jeopardy.”

Ir Amim writes:

“It is important to emphasize that construction of this new neighborhood/settlement (also marked in pale green in Greater Jerusalem map below) will create an Israeli residential area between Ramallah and Kufr Aqab and East Jerusalem, driving a wedge between Ramallah and Jerusalem from the north. Such a plan will significantly fragment Palestinian land contiguity necessary for any independent and viable Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem similar to the implications of potential future construction in the E1 area to the east and Givat Hamatos in the south. These measures serve to further seal off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and reinforce Israeli control of these areas, rendering the two-state framework based on two capitals in the heart of Jerusalem nonviable.”

Joint US-Israeli Mapping Committee Unveiled

On February 15th, the White House confirmed that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman will be leading the U.S. delegation appointed to the joint U.S.-Israeli committee formed to precisely map the Trump Plan. From the American side, Friedman will be joined by his longtime advisor Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone (a political appointee) as well as National Security Council advisor Scott Leith (a career military officer). From the Israeli side, Netanyahu has appointed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Ronen Peretz (director of the Prime Minister’s Office), and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.

The committee is tasked with lying down exact borders in accordance with the Trump Plan, which would see Israel annexing around 30% of the West Bank, including nearly all of settlements and the entire Jordan Valley. The “conceptual map” published alongside the Trump Plan lacked granular detail, and, conspicuously, large icons covered some of the most delicate and geopolitically important areas when it comes to drawing borders. At the press conference unveiling the plan, Trump stated that once the committee was done with its work the U.S. will immediately recognize Israeli sovereignty based upon the map. 

Last week, Netanyahu suggested that the Israeli government has already started the mapping process, and that the committee’s work will not take “too long.”

Israel Advances Plan for New High Speed Rail Station, Requiring Tunnel Under the Old City’s Historic Basin

On February 17th, Israel’s National Infrastructure Committee approved a highly controversial route for a new segment of Israel’s high speed rail way, which will connect the Ben Gurion International Airport directly to the Western Wall,  inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The new rail line will require the construction of a 1.8 mile-long tunnel leading to the walls of the Old City, extending underneath some of the most sensitive and potentially explosive territory on earth: the Old City’s historic basin. 

Specifically, the tunnel would run beneath the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – above which Israel is simultaneously advancing plans to build a new cable car line. Both projects, according to the archeological experts at Emek Shaveh, will negatively impact Palestinian inhabitants of the area, infringing on their rights and quality of life.. In addition to damaging Palestinian property and safety, the tunnel project is opposed by archeologists because it will disrupt archeological layers in what is one of the most historically and archeologically rich areas on earth. The plan also poses a pollution threat to a nearby historic spring.

Emek Shaveh writes:

“the NIC yesterday approved the route, likely due to political pressures on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and settler organizations who view the train as another means of directly connecting settlements and tourist sites in East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem. The train’s route includes a strip that runs underneath dozens of Palestinian homes in the neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan, parallel to the southern wall of the Old City. These are the same residents over whom the cable car is scheduled to be built. Even though both these projects will not be situated on the residential level, it is clear that the ventilation, above-ground infrastructure, and more, will be constructed adjacent to, or even on, Palestinian residents’ territory….Following the approval of the cable car plan to the Western Wall, the National Infrastructure Committee approved the advancement of the train’s route, which will further destroy the Western Wall area. It appears that government ministers are competing to see who will advance the most destructive transportation plan for Jerusalem’s Old City, which will ultimately serve the interests of a handful of settlers, to the detriment of hundreds of residents. The Israel Antiquities Authority, in its professional capacity, ought to prevent harmful development that will result in destruction of Jerusalem’s antiquities.”

The Kingdom of Jordan, which holds a special role as caretaker of Muslim sites in the Old City, quickly and strongly spoke out against the plan. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry called the plan a “flagrant violation of international law” and urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”.

The Israeli plan to extend the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed line to the Western Wall has been in the works since 2017. Introduced by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, the plan intends to name the station underneath the Old City after U.S. President Donald Trump.

Amazon Offers Free Shipping to Israeli Settlements, Not Palestinians

A report by Financial Times revealed the curious fact that Amazon, the online shopping and shipping giant, offers free shipping on orders over $49  to customers in the West Bank – so long as customers indicate that their addresses are in Israel. What this means in practice is that Amazon free shipping is available for settlers only. 

In a statement to Middle East Eye, an Amazon spokesman cited logistical challenges in delivering to Palestinian areas due to Israeli-imposed inspections, saying: 

“In November, we launched a free shipping promotion for customers within Israel. This does not include the Palestinian Territories, as we cannot guarantee the high standard of delivery experience that Amazon customers expect.

Peace Now told Financial Times that Amazon’s policy “adds to the overall picture of one group of people enjoying the privileges of citizenship while another people living in the same territory do not”.

Diana Buttu told Financial Times that Amazon’s policy is “allowing the settlement activity to be viewed as legal when [it’s] not. The issue is just how normalized the settlements have become, not just in Israeli eyes, but in international eyes. And that’s the problem, it’s that unless you begin to treat them as illegal, then it becomes so natural for them to become normalised.”

Michael Sfard told Financil Times that Amazon’s policy is “blatant discrimination between potential customers on the basis of their nationality.” 

Six EU Countries Argue that  ICC Jurisdiction Does Not Have Jurisdiction Over Israeli Settlements, Others Push EU Recognition of Palestine

Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary have appealed to the International Criminal Court to join their investigation into Israeli practices, in order to present their argument that the Court does not have jurisdiction over Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank (perhaps related to their own hesitancy to grant the ICC universal jurisdiction over their own affairs). While Israel – which also denies the Court’s jurisdiction over its actions – is not likely to participate in the Court’s proceedings, these European countries echo Israel’s main arguments against the case. In addition to state filings, several non-governmental organizations also filed to join the case as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) on the side of Israel.

Haaretz reports that perhaps the most consequential filing on the case came from the court’s own Office of Public Counsel for the Defense (akin to a public defender’s office for the ICC). Haaretz reports that:

“[the Office of Public Counsel for the Defense] believes that the jurisdiction issue should be deferred until a specific case is brought before the court. Rather, that question should be discussed in concert with the charges. Why? In order to protect the rights of future defendants to raise the issues during their trials. That, because the ICC prosecutes individuals, not states. Experts in international law say that could also turn out to be the surprising position of the judges, who would pass the hot potato to the prosecutor. In that event, no friend would be able to block an investigation. That, because the ICC prosecutes individuals, not states. Experts in international law say that could also turn out to be the surprising position of the judges, who would pass the hot potato to the prosecutor. In that event, no friend would be able to block an investigation.”

At the same time, a different set of European countries, led by Luxembourg, are reportedly considering offering a motion at the upcoming meeting of European Union foreign ministers to extend EU recognition to the state of Palestine. Haaretz reports that Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn is in discussions with the foreign ministers of Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Malta and Slovenia.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Congressmen to Samaria Council Head: We’ll fight UN blacklist.” (Arutz Sheva)
  2. “More hospitals and cheaper houses: Netanyahu, Barkat unveil new financial plan” (Ynet)
  3. “Settlement winery unveils ‘Pompeo’ wine in show of appreciation” (The Times of Israel)

 

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 10, 2020

  1. ICC Opens Formal Investigation into Israeli War Crimes, Including Israeli Settlements
  2. Israel to ICC: You Do Not Have Jurisdiction & You Will Not Stop Us from Advancing Settlements and Annexation
  3. Following ICC Announcement, Israel Advances Plans for Nearly 2,000 Settlement Units
  4. Following ICC Announcement, Israel Begins Planning Jordan Valley Annexation
  5. Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 1: New Settlement Enclave in Palestinian Neighborhood
  6. Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 2: Reports on Har Homa & Rumors on Givat Hamatos
  7. Plan Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 3: Israel Approves Plans for Two More Settler-Run Tourist Sites in East Jerusalem
  8. Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 4:  Tenders for Pisgat Zeev and Gilo
  9. For Second Time, Israeli Court Rules Against Settler Claim to Bakri House in Hebron
  10. Peace Now Wins Interim Decision Against Secretive Public Funding to Amana
  11. Israeli Court Dismisses Palestinian Landowners’ Petition Against the Ofra Settlement
  12. Bennett Launches Initiative to More Aggressively Police Palestinians in Area C
  13. Bennett Appoints Key Settler Ally to Lead New Government Task Force on Area C Annexation Plans, Immediately Announces Plan to Legalize Settlements
  14. Following ICC Announcement, Pompeo Says Israel Has “Fundamental Rights” to Land
  15. Pro-Settlement Legal Forum Conference Draws Big Names, Big Promises
  16. Bonus Reads

Comments/questions? Email Kristin McCarthy (kmccarthy@fmep.org)


ICC Opens Formal Investigation into Israeli War Crimes, Including Israeli Settlements

On December 20, 2019 the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda announced that the court has found a reasonable basis upon which to open an investigation into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Bensouda said that the preliminary investigation, launched five years ago, established sufficient evidence of war crimes, citing Israeli settlements and Israel’s conduct during its 2014 incursion into the Gaza Strip, which Israel gave the title “Operation Protective Edge”. The statement said that the Court found evidence that Hamas and armed Palestinian groups also committed war crimes during the 50 days of hostilities in 2014.

Before proceeding with a formal investigation, Bensouda requested a pre-trial chamber to rule on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction, as outlined in the Rome Statute, over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Bensouda requested a ruling on the matter within 120 days. Bensouda has previously articulated her opinion on the matter, suggesting that questions regarding Palestinian statehood do not necessarily need to be resolved because Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute and formally became a “State Party” to the court. 

Israel to ICC: You Do Not Have Jurisdiction & You Will Not Stop Us from Advancing Settlements and Annexation

Prior to Bensouda’s announcement on December 20th that the ICC will proceed with an investigation into Israeli war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit published a 34-page legal opinion arguing that the Court does not have jurisdiction over those territories because Palestine does not meet the criteria for statehood, and non-sovereign entities cannot confer jurisdiction to the Court. Notably, that opinion doesn’t address (let alone dispute or challenge) the assertion that Israeli actions might constitute war crimes.

Going beyond Mandleblit’s legal arguments, Netanyahu launched a disingenuous attack on Bensouda’s criticism of Israeli settlements, saying:

“[Bensouda] says it is a crime, a war crime, for Jews to live in their homeland, the land of the Bible, the land of our forefathers.”

Netanyahu later said:

“This will not deter us — not in the slightest”

Netanyahu is riding a wave of defiant, ultra-confident language following his Dec. 27th victory in the Likud primaries, after which he promised to secure U.S. recognition for Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank. In his victory speech, Netanyahu laid out a 6-point plan he will implement if he goes on to win the March 2020 elections:

“First, we will finalize our borders; second, we will push the US to recognize our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea; third, we will push for US recognition of our extension of sovereignty over all the communities in Judea and Samaria, all of them without exception; fourth, we will push for a historic defense alliance with the US that will preserve Israeli freedom of action; fifth, stop Iran and its allies decisively; and sixth, push for normalization and agreements that will lead to peace accords with Arab countries. The opportunities are within reach.”

Demonstrating that Netanyahu means what he says, shortly following the ICC’s announcement his government advanced plans for nearly 2,000 settlement units and launched the planning process for annexing the Jordan Valley. Both of these items – in addition to several other significant settlement advancements which were not explicitly linked to the ICC’s announcement – are covered in detail below.

Following ICC Announcement, Israel Advances Plans for Nearly 2,000 Settlement Units 

Over the course of a two-day meeting Jan 5-6, 2020, the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee approved plans for 1,936 settlement units, of which 786 units received final approval for construction. The Israeli Civil Administration is the body of the Defense Ministry which regulates all construction in the West Bank, both Palestinian and Israeli settler.

 The Civil Administration granted final approval to the following plans:

  • A plan for 258 units in the unauthorized Haresha outpost, located east of Ramallah, to take them to the final stage of the approval process. If granted final approval, the plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing the Haresha outpost. This outpost has been one of several test cases for the Israel government’s evolving legal justifications for granting retroactive approval to unauthorized outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land. In the case of Haresha, an outpost built on an island of “state land” surrounded by privately owned Palestinian land, then-Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked issued a new legal opinion in December 2018 outlining a legal basis for temporarily seizing the private Palestinian land for the construction of a tunnel road underneath it (essentially holding that Palestinian land rights – which can be temporarily infringed upon at any time for the sake of the settlements – do not extend below the ground’s surface). The tunnel road has not yet been constructed, an important qualification that Israel, to this point, has generally required outposts to meet prior to legalization. 
  • 147 units in the Mitzpe Yericho settlement, located just west of the Palestinian city of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing existing illegal construction in the settlement.
  • 120 units in the Karnei Shomron settlement, located in the northern West Bank east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya. Israel is planning to continue expanding Karnei Shomron with the stated goal of bringing 1 million settlers to live in the area surrounding the settlement.
  • 107 units in the Elon Moreh settlement, located east of Nablus.
  • 100 units in the Halamish settlement, (where settlers have built a strategic outpost, with the protection of the IDF, in order to further restrict Palestinian access to the area);
  • 25 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.
  • 12 units in the Ariel settlement, located in the central West Bank.
  • 10 units in the Etz Efraim settlement, located in the northern West Bank, one of several settlements slated to become a “super settlement” area.
  • 7 units in the Rechelim settlement, located east of the Ariel settlement and south of Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.

The Civil Administration advanced the following plans:

  • 224 units in the Talmon settlement, located west of Ramallah.
  • 204 units in the Shilo settlement, located in the central West Bank.
  • A plan for 180 units in the unauthorized Mitzpe Danny outpost, located east of Ramallah. If approved, the plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing the outpost, which was built without Israeli permission in 1999 in an area that includes privately owned Palestinian land. The Binyamin Regional Council – a settler body acting as the municipal government for settlements in the central West Bank – has been angling to retroactively legalize Mitzpe Danny for some time. As part of that effort, the regional council successfully lobbied for approval of a plan to build an educational campus for settlers that will create a territorial link between the Maale Mikhmash settlement (which has official recognition from the government) and the outpost. That plan received final approval in January 2019.
  • 160 units in the Kochav Yaakov settlement, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
  • 92 units in the Tzofim settlement, one of the settlements that flank the Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank.
  • 91 units in the Almon settlement, located northeast of Jerusalem.
  • 136 units in the Givat Zeev settlement, located south of Ramallah.
  • 63 units in the Maale Adumim settlement, located just east of Jerusalem.
  • A plan for 204 new units in the Shvut Rachel settlement, 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). 

Peace Now said in a statement

“Despite lacking a clear mandate, for this caretaker government it’s business as usual – Continue the massive promotion of harmful and unnecessary construction in occupied territory and in places that Israel will have to evacuate. Netanyahu continues to sabotage the prospects of peace, dragging Israel into an anti-democratic one-state reality resembling apartheid.”

The Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing all the settlements, celebrated the approvals, saying in a statement:

“To our delight, construction in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley is commonplace and we are pleased to see that every few months plans are up in the Supreme Planning Council. The time has come for extremist Leftist organizations to accept that the U.S. has also declared that settling in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley is not contrary to international law and that applying Israeli sovereignty is a consensus in the State of Israel. After eight years of unprecedented construction freeze, the government regularly approves construction and we strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister on their blessed work. We need more and more construction to promote the prosperity and growth of settlement.”

The head of the Binyamin Regional Council, Yisrael Gantz, spoke happily about the settlement advancements but also kept focused on the settlement movement’s ultimate demand: annexation.  Gantz told Arutz Sheva:

“This is undoubtedly an important and significant step. I hope we will soon be able to applaud the application of full Israeli sovereignty and the closure of the Civil Administration in order to truly develop the regions of our amazing country, in the same way that it is possible in the entire State of Israel.”

Despite the celebratory remarks, settlers were disappointed with the final number of settlement units, which fell short of the 3,000 units Netanyahu promised to advance on the eve of the Likud primary leadership vote (which went in Netanyahu’s favor). When promising the 3,000 units, Netanyahu also promised:

“We are going to bring [secure] US recognition for our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley [and] in all the settlements, those in the blocs and those that are beyond it.”

Following ICC Announcement, Israel Begins Planning Jordan Valley Annexation

On January 5th, the inter-ministerial committee created to plan the annexation of the Jordan Valley held its first meeting, in an effort to prepare an official proposal for how Israel can annex the Jordan Valley. The committee – dubbed the “Sovereignty Committee” – is headed by the Prime Minister’s Office Director General Ronen Peretz and includes representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces, and the National Security Council. 

The meeting took place despite (or perhaps because of) reports that Netanayhu put Jordan Valley annexation plans in a “deep freeze” following ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement on Dec. 20th that the Court will open an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Following those reports, the head of the Yesha Council, the settler umbrella group, David ElHayani spoke to Netanyahu on the phone to gain reassurance that the annexation plan was not frozen, which Netanyahu reportedly gave him. 

Haaretz reports:

Sources familiar with the establishment of the inter-ministerial committee told Haaretz that the insistence on moving forward with the discussions are mainly to show that the idea has not been abandoned due to international pressure.”

Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 1: New Settlement Enclave in Palestinian Neighborhood

On January 8th the Jerusalem District Planning Committee granted final approval to a new 75-unit settlement compound to be built in the heart of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. If built, it will be the first-ever authorized settlement project in Beit Hanina, located north of the Old City. 

May by Haaretz

The Beit Hanina settlement plan – as FMEP has previously reported – is backed and promoted by settlement impresario Aryeh King, and it provides for the construction of a total of 150 new units in the southern end of the Beit Hanina neighborhood. The land slated for the 150 units is privately owned,  53% of the land is owned by an Israeli who is supportive of the plan, and 47% by a Palestinian company who objects to the plan and has fought against it. Because the land has not been surveyed to demarcate the split ownership, Israeli planning authorities decided that the settlement plan is designated for the entire property, with construction rights split evenly between the parties, meaning the 75 units granted final approval on January 8th represent the Israeli-controlled half of the project. 

Ir Amim notes the larger picture of Isreali settlement activity north of the Old City:

“In close proximity to Ramat Shlomo to the southwest and Pisgat Zeev to the northeast, construction of this new compound may signal the beginning of a move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while fracturing the contiguous space between Bet Hanina and Shuafat. As exemplified by the ring of state-sponsored settlement strongholds throughout the Old City Basin, the establishment of a settler enclave in the midst of Beit Hanina will not only impact the fabric of this community, but will further erode opening conditions for a political solution to the conflict based on two capitals in Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim explains essential context:

“the plan will enable an ideologically driven settler outpost in the heart of Beit Hanina, a neighborhood located on the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem that has remained relatively untouched by Israeli settlement within its limits. Since the land in question is not far from Ramat Shlomo to the south-west and Pisgat Zeev to the north-east of it, its construction may mark the beginning of a far sweeping move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while driving a wedge between Bet Hanina and Shuafat.”

Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 2: Reports on Har Homa & Rumors on Givat Hamatos

On January 7th, the popular Isareli broadcaster network Kan reported that the Prime Minister’s office has blocked a plan to build 2,000 new settlement units in the settlement of Har Homa, citing “diplomatic difficulties.” In response to an inquiry, the office did not deny the report, but issued the following statement:

“Israel has built in Jerusalem, is building in Jerusalem and will continue building in Jerusalem — while exercising judgment.”

Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann raised a key question and larger concerns about the reports concerning Har Homa, saying:

“The construction potential at Har Homa has been exhausted, and it’s not possible to build anything near 2,000 units. So what are they talking about? Something is clearly going on. Three possibilities come to mind, all problematic…Possibility no. 1: the nearby planned doomsday settlement of Givat Hamatos, which is awaiting tenders. Possibility no. 2: Hirbet Mazmoriyya, to the northeast of Har Homa. The lands owned by Palestinians that will have to be expropriated. Not likely. Too complicated and controversial. Possibility no. 3: the area wedged betw. Mar Elias Monastery, the Hebron Road,  the 300 Checkpoint, dubbed Bethlehem Gate or Har Homa West. The land is ownership is a mixture of Palestinian &Church lands, along with settlement developers.”

Ir Amim notes that, while reportedly stalling the Har Homa plan, Netanyahu is – in fact – simultaneously facing mounting pressure to issue tenders for the construction of the Givat Hamatos settlement, the site for which is the northern border of Har Homa. Ir Amim writes:

“Last week, rightwing groups launched a coordinated campaign to exert pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance construction in the area of Givat Hamatos, which has been essentially frozen for the past six years. While the approval of the plan for 2,610 housing units in the area was formally published in 2014, there has been no announcement of tenders since then. This has been largely attributed to international opposition, namely from the United States and Germany. Likely attempting to ratchet up pressure on Netanyahu in lead-up to the upcoming elections in March, the campaign has been spearheaded on a public level by rightwing organizations. Several prominent rabbis known for supporting the settler movement penned a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to announce the tenders for Givat Hamatos, while rightwing media outlets have published daily articles demanding an ‘end to the freeze.’ A rightwing institute likewise published a lengthy paper on the significance of establishing a new settlement in the area as a means of thwarting any potential future division of Jerusalem within the framework of a resumed peace process.”

Plan Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 3: Israel Approves Plans for Two More Settler-Run Tourist Sites in East Jerusalem 

On December 25, 2019 the Jerusalem Local Planning approved two significant settler-backed schemes in East Jerusalem:

  1. The committee approved the Israeli government’s plan to seize land in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in order to establish a park adjacent to the infamous Shepherd Hotel, an historic/iconic building that was taken over by the radical Ateret Chohanim settler organization in 2011. The new park – called “Hakidron Park” has been discussed and considered by Israeli governments for the past 15 years.
  2. The committee also approved the Israeli government’s plan to confiscate land in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem, for the purpose of opening a tourist and religious services center on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to the Jewish cemetery. The Jerusalem Municipality hired an architect, Arie Rahamivov, who is also employed by the radical Elad settler group for the planning and construction of their crown jewel: the Kedem Center in Silwan. The new center in Ras al Amud will be yet another tourist center under the management of Elad, which already operates another visitors center on the Mount of Olives.

Ir Amim writes:

“Approval of the aforementioned land expropriations would signal intent to begin construction at both sites and will help to further solidify the settlement ring around the Old City Basin. While both plans can be posited as innocuous municipal initiatives to serve local residents and visitors to the areas, such touristic projects play an integral role in expanding the scope of settlement strongholds in the area and creating a more contiguous Israeli space, while diffusing the political agenda behind these efforts.”

Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 4:  Tenders for Pisgat Zeev and Gilo

Ir Amim reports that the Israel Lands Authority published construction tenders for the following East Jerusalem settlements in early January:

  • 3 tenders for a total of 461 new settlement units in the Pisgat Zeev
  • 1 tender for commercial buildings in the Gilo settlement, located 

For Second Time, Israeli Court Rules Against Settler Claim to Bakri House in Hebron

On December 23rd, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the Palestinian Bakri family are the rightful owners of a disputed property in Hebron. This ruling should deal a final blow to the 18-year long legal battle settlers have waged to gain control of the Bakri family house (“should”, not “will”, because the settlers have repeated been dealt defeats in court and each time are able to manufacture a new claim or appeal) .

The ruling – which affirmed a March 2019 ruling by the Magistrate court, which the settlers had appealed – called for the immediate evacuation of the settlers whom Israel has permitted to illegally squat in the house while the legal processes were ongoing. For a full history of the Bakri house saga, see here.

Following the ruling, Peace Now said:

“[the] court again ruled that the settlers had forged [documents] and lied all along… We hope that after [almost] two decades of violence, lies and terror, justice will be carried out and the invaders will be evicted.”

Peace Now Wins Interim Decision Against Secretive Public Funding to Amana 

In response to a Peace Now petition, on December 31st the Israeli High Court issued an interim decision that requires state bodies to request approval from the court before transferring funds to Amana, a settlement body which is known to undertake illegal settlement activities across the West Bank. Peace Now filed the petition after discovering that state bodies have been secretly funneling money to Amana. 

Peace Now said in a statement

“Amana is the most significant organization operating in the settlements. For decades, it has overseen the establishment of dozens of illegal outposts and neighborhoods with the help of massive budgets, some of which have been transferred from Israeli taxpayer money through local settlement authorities in violation of the law. The judges’ decision is a dramatic yet necessary step that limits, for the time being, this illicit transfer of funds to illegal projects in the settlements and outposts. We hope that in this spirit, the court will rule that public funds should no longer be transferred to Amana via subsidy procedures. This situation in which the State of Israel backs illegal activities with public funds is unconscionable, and we urge the Israeli government to put an end to it.”

Israeli Court Dismisses Palestinian Landowners’ Petition Against the Ofra Settlement

On January 6th, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition filed by Palestinian landowners challenging the legality of the Ofra settlement. The petition was based on the fact that the settlement is partially built on privately owned Palestinian land. The court ruled that the majority of the settlement had been built on land expropriated by Israel, and that the minority of land that Palestinians claim ownership over was not enough to invalidate the entire Master Plan for the settlement. Further, the court stated that the settlement structures built on the privately owned Palestinian land were built by settlers “in good faith,” under the mistaken belief that land had also been expropriated by the Israeli government. 

Map by Peace Now

This High Court ruling does not fix the legal status of Ofra settlement buildings, but it is nonetheless significant because it continues to deny Palestinians their property rights. Likewise, it gives a green light to  the use of the “market regulation” principle to expropriate land in order to retroactively legalize the structures. As a reminder, the “market regulation” principle – which was invented by the Israeli Attorney General – holds that if settlers acted “in good faith” when they built on privately owned Palestinian land, the state can expropriate that land, thereby making what was illegal before, now perfectly legal.

The Ofra settlement’s legal situation has long been an issue that the Israeli government has tried to fix.  Ofra was first established by settlers on land that the Jordanian government had expropriated in 1966, in order to build a military base (which was never built). The Israeli government used this pretext to expropriate the land in 1977, in order to recognize the Ofra settlement, which had been established illegally but with tacit cooperation of the government on the site two years earlier. However, the settlers built the majority of the Ofra settlement on land that was not expropriated by Israel in 1977 —  land that was in fact registered to Palestinians from the nearby village of Ein Yabroud. In light of the legal status of the land, no Israeli government has since found a way to fix the legal status of these homes (not for lack of trying) – meaning that the majority of the structures in Ofra were built without permits, making them illegal under Israeli law. 

Peace Now elaborates on what is at stake in the Ofra settlement case:

“Most of the houses built in Ofra (approximately 413 out of 625) were built on an area of ​​550 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land. In addition, hundreds of dunams of Palestinian private land were seized for roads in Ofra, as well as infrastructure and agricultural lands for the settlers. The only way to regulate the theft of these lands would be to expropriate them from the Palestinian landowners for the benefit of the settlers, in complete contradiction to the positions of previous Israeli governments and legal advisors, and contrary to binding rulings of the High Court. Although the current legal advisor (Avichai Mandelblit) allowed land expropriation in some places for settlement purposes (for example, in Haresha), in the regulation of massive land theft such as in Ofra the Israeli government would be crossing a new red line.”

FMEP documents the government’s efforts to expropriate Palestinian land for the settlements in its Annexation Policy Tables.

Bennett Launches Initiative to More Aggressively Demolish Palestinian Construction in Area C

Making the most of his appointment as Israeli Defense Minister in the current caretaker government, Naftali Bennett is pushing an initiative to annex Area C and to aggressively demolish Palestinian construction in the area (reminder: Area C constitutes nearly 60% of the West Bank; it is land that under Oslo II was supposed to have been “gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction”).

As part of his efforts, Bennett has launched legal research into how Israeli can bring settlement building in Area C under the direct authority of the Justice Ministry, cutting out the Civil Administration. This Civil Administration, it should be recalled, is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which acts as the sovereign power over the West Bank, in a system of governance Israel created based on its recognition of the different legal status of the area.  Bennett has called for that system to be disbanded (in addition to annexing Area C). To be clear: transferring the construction and planning processes in Area C to domestic Israeli jurisdiction would by any definition constitute the Israeli state extending its sovereignty over area — an act of annexation.

Bennett has requested that Defense Ministry officials present several legal options for how Israel can bring planning processes under the Justice Ministry (integrating the settlements into the normal planning process). The settler-run Arutz Sheva outlet attributes the following quote Bennett in a private meeting:

“We are in essence discussing applying procedural sovereignty only. Full sovereignty is under the authority of the political echelon, but this is a step in the right direction. There is no reason that residents of Judea and Samaria should continue being discriminated against. We must stop this. Residents of Beit El and Ariel are no less Zionist than residents of Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv. They pay taxes and serve in the army, and they need to receive the same services from the government.”

Bennett is also advancing several initiatives that will empower and compel the Civil Administration to more aggressively enforce demolition orders against Palestinian construction in Area C (based on Israel’s policy of not granting permits to Palestinians in Area C, nearly every Palestinian structure in this territory has a demolition order pending against it). Bennett is also eyeing ways to combat what he considers illegitimate and nefarious funding from the European Union to Palestinian communities living in Area C. Israel Hayom reports:

“Bennett’s plan to stop the Palestinians from chipping away at Area C demands action in four areas: Operational, economic, legal, and PR. He wants to change enforcement priorities to put an emphasis on eradicating illegal buildings in strategic locations rather than by numbers. For example, home demolitions would be carried out in accordance with Israeli interests, prioritizing illegal buildings next to roads or settlements. Bennett also instructed the Central Command and the Civil Administration to work more closely to implement his plan and asked that the Civil Administration report to him monthly to update him on progress. Meanwhile, the defense minister is weighing the possibility of allocating more resources to the Civil Administration for enforcement, which would entail hiring more personnel. Bennett also wants to take steps to stop the flow of European money that funds the illegal Palestinian construction in the first place, allowing the “Fayyad Plan” to flourish.”

Bennett Appoints Key Settler Ally to Lead New Government Task Force on Area C Annexation Plans, Immediately Announces Plan to Legalize Settlements

In addition to his new initiative targeting Palestinian construction in Area C, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he has created an inter-ministerial taskforce to develop settlement and annexation plans for the future of Area C in the West Bank.

Bennett’s chief of staff, Itay Hershkowitz, has been in weeks-long consultations with key settler leaders to decide what items to act on immediately. Haaretz reports their agenda includes:

  1. Allowing Jews to privately purchase land in the West Bank. [See here for a detailed explanation of this complicated matter]
  2. Connecting unauthorized outposts to water and electricity.
  3. Granting official recognition to unauthorized outposts that are located near established settlements by recognizing them as “neighborhoods” of the settlement. 
  4. Repealing a military order that empowers the Civil Administration to evict settlers from privately owned Palestinian land with or without a Palestinian-initiated petition to have the settlers removed.
  5. Legalizing 30 sheep farms in the West Bank that are under pending demolition orders. 

On Thursday, Bennett announced that he has appointed West Bank settler Koby Eliraz to lead the new taskforce. Calling Eliraz a “bulldozer,”Bennett said:

“The territorial future of the Land of Israel is at stake. The State of Israel has simply not been up to the task of stopping [Palestinian construction]. We are changing direction and embarking on a battle that Israel must win… The defense establishment will fight for this territory, and it is essential for someone to lead this campaign.”

Eliraz previously served as Netanyahu’s settlement advisor, but was fired by the Prime Minister in June 2019 reportedly because he was believed to be allied too closely to Netanyahu rival Avigdor Liberman, who Netanyahu also dismissed. At the time of Eliraz’s firing, settler leaders were outraged and published a letter asking Netanyahu to reverse Eliraz’s firing, suggesting that Eliraz’s absence will hinder government efforts to retroactively legalize outposts. The letter noted:

“Kobi has taken care of Israeli settlement and its residents with great professionalism. He is credited for many advancements [on our behalf] in the fields of construction, infrastructure development, security and more.”

The Times of Israel observed, significantly, that the Yesha Council was able to get every single settlement Mayor to sign the letter in support of Eliraz, explaining:

“The Yesha Council in recent years has struggled to get all of its members on board with its initiative, but the umbrella group’s ability to gather the signatures of every Israeli mayor beyond the Green Line is testament to the broad respect that Eliraz holds among settler leader.”

Following ICC Announcement, Pompeo Says Israel Has “Fundamental Rights” to Land

At a press briefing on December 22nd, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not specifically address the ICC announcement, but made lengthy comments regarding statements from European countries and the European Union that were critical of the new U.S. position on settlements (that they are not “per se illegal” under international law). Pompeo’s comments hold relevance to the U.S. position on the ICC case and more generally on the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

“First, the legal analysis that the EU performed [on settlements] we just think is wrong. We think they have an improper analysis of the international law surrounding this. So as the technical legal matter, [EU Foreign Minister] Ms. Mogherini just – she’s just wrong. And so we are doing our level best to demonstrate to them our legal theory, our understandings, and why it is that we’re convinced that under international law these settlements are not per se illegal. So we’re working that element of it as well. But at another level, and perhaps at the level that will lead to the right outcome, which is why we did this, this has to be resolved through political means, and we hope that all nations, including member nations inside of the EU and the EU itself and countries all over the world, will come to recognize the fundamental rights that the Israeli people have to this land, to this space. There are real security needs. The risk that is presented from the world as anti-Semitism is on the rise, we hope that every nation will recognize that and weigh in on this conflict in a way that is constructive, that will ultimately lead to the peace that is so desperately needed.” [Emphasis added by editor]

Pro-Settlement Legal Forum Conference Draws Big Names, Big Promises

The Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing advocacy organization that has enormous influence with senior Israeli – and increasingly American – government figures, hosted a “Conference on the Pompeo Doctrine” in Jerusalem, Jan. 7-8, 2020. The conference served as a gleeful celebration and forward-looking projection of what the new U.S. settlement policy towards settlements means for Israel. The conference drew participation from all the leading Israeli politicians and several senior members of the Trump Administration, including Secretary of State. Pompeo. Key quotes from the conference speakers are copied below.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

 “We’re recognizing that these settlements don’t inherently violate international law. That is important. We’re disavowing the deeply flawed 1978 Hansell memo, and we’re returning to a balanced and sober Reagan-era approach. “In doing so, we’re advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” 

U.S. Ambassador David Friedman:

“…when we came into office the lingering issues included three of significant importance: the status of 1) Jerusalem, 2) the Golan Heights and 3) Judea and Samaria. We have approached them in ascending order of complexity…I thank God that President Trump had the courage and the wisdom to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv…In recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Trump, evaluating the continuous malign and barbarous threats posed by Syria, concluded that no northern boundary for Israel would be secure except a boundary that incorporated the Golan. He acted well within the language of 242. [Judea and Samaria] is certainly the most complicated of the issues because of the large indigenous Palestinian population. Over the years before we came into office, it’s only gotten more complicated and more challenging. The proverbial goalposts have moved and moved – to the point today where they are no longer even on the field….The Pompeo Doctrine does not resolve the conflict over Judea and Samaria. But it does move the goalposts back onto the field. It does not obfuscate the very real issue that 2 million or more Palestinians reside in Judea and Samaria, and we all wish that they live in dignity, in peace, and with independence, pride and opportunity. We are committed to find a way to make that happen. The Pompeo Doctrine says clearly that Israelis have a right to live in Judea and Samaria. But it doesn’t say that Palestinians don’t….it calls for a practical negotiated resolution of the conflict that improves lives on both sides.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

“I will not let any settlements be uprooted in any diplomatic plan. This idea of ethnic cleansing… it won’t happen. There is a window of opportunity. It opened, but it could close…There was no West Bank separate from the rest of the land. It was seen as the heart of the land. We never lost our right to live in Judea and Samaria. The only thing we lost temporarily was the ability to exercise the right. When Israel returned to the West Bank We didn’t return to a foreign land. That is a distortion of history. Jews lived in Jerusalem and Hebron for thousands of years consecutively…The Pompeo declaration about the status of the towns [in Judea and Samaria] establishes the truth that we are not strangers in our land. In a clearly defensive war, we returned… to the land where our forefathers put down roots thousands of years ago…Unlike some in Europe who think the Pompeo declaration distances peace, I think it will promote peace, because peace must be based on truth, not lies. Settlements are not the root of the conflict. We are standing with justice and the truth. It is a great struggle.”

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Area C annexation and his initiatives in that regard:

“Our aim is that within a decade a million Israeli citizens will live in Judea and Samaria” and later “Our objective is that within a short amount of time, and we will work for it, we will apply [Israeli] sovereignty to all of Area C, not just the settlements, not just this bloc or another. We are embarking on a real and immediate battle for the future of the Land of Israel and the future of Area C. It started a month ago and I am announcing it here today. A month ago, I convened a meeting and I explained the clear directive, the State of Israel will do everything to ensure that these territories [Area C] will be part of the State of Israel.”

Likud MK and former Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said:

“I am confident that Secretary Pompeo’s statement is an integral part of the American plan and is closely linked to Jared Kushner’s proposal advanced in Bahrain promoting significant economic investment in the Palestinian economy…Now is a perfect opportunity to similarly grow the communities throughout Judea and Samaria at a pace like never before. This declaration is a recognition of the legal and historic right of the Jewish people to live wherever we wish. This is how it should be in other parts of the world and certainly here in the Jewish State. This declaration is therefore an exceptional opportunity for Israel to ensure our continued growth and expansion throughout these areas. Israel needs to set a goal for the settlement of two million people in Judea and Samaria within fifty years. This is a commitment which requires that we already now lay the framework to make that possible and this is an investment which will also benefit the Palestinian people” [Editor’s note: Barkat has been working with Harvard Professor Michael Porter to promote an economic peace scheme, most recently speaking at Harvard about the plan in December 2019]

Eugene Kontorovich, Director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and a key shaper of anti-BDS/pro-settlement legislation in U.S. Congress and across state governments, said

“American Policy is now clearer than ever, Jews living in Judea and Samaria is not a crime. For decades, the obscure Carter-era memo was used as justification for anti-Israel policies despite the fact that its conclusions were rejected by subsequent administrations. Sec. Pompeo’s statement at the Kohelet conference today makes clear the U.S.’s wholesale rejection of the legal theory that holds that international law restricts Israeli Jews from moving into areas from which Jordan had ethnically cleansed them in 1949.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “The Atarot Exception? Business and Human Rights Under Colonization” (Marya Farah in Jerusalem Quarterly)
  2. “The Decade Israel Erased the Green Line” (+972 Magazine)
  3. “Settlers are seizing ‘empty’ land. The Palestinian owners are fighting back” (+972)
  4. “Israeli Right Wants to End Peace with Jordan” (Haaretz)
  5. Security official says police, courts scuttling efforts to curb settler violence” (The Times of Israel)

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

To receive this report via email, please click here.

July 21, 2017

  1. In Jerusalem’s North: The “Adam-Neve Ya’akov” Plan Resurfaces
  2. In Jerusalem’s South: The “Gilo Southeast” Plan Expected to Advance
  3. In the Shadow of Jerusalem’s Old City: Settler-Run Visitor Center is Approved
  4. In the Heart of East Jerusalem: Alarming Plans Advance As Expected
  5. U.S. Department of State: Settlements & Settlers Provoke Violence
  6. Settlement Outpost Near Bethlehem is Angling to Avoid Demolition
  7. Court Wants Settlers/Palestinians to “Negotiate” Land Theft Ex-Post Facto
  8. Bonus Reads

Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at kmccarthy@fmep.org


In Jerusalem’s North: The “Adam-Neve Ya’akov” Plan Resurfaces

The Israeli Construction & Housing Ministry announced impending plans for a 1,100 unit housing project to Jerusalem’s immediate northeast.

Map by Ir Amim

The plan aims to connect large settlements in East Jerusalem (Neveh Ya’akov and Pisgat Zeev) with an isolated settlement in the West Bank (Adam, aka Geva Binyamin). The land identified for the project is within the municipal boundaries of Adam, but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier (the route of the separation barrier in this area cuts deep into the West Bank). If implemented, the Adam settlement would have built up areas on both sides of the barrier.

Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant’s office issued a statement explaining, “We will be everywhere that it is possible to build and to provide solutions to the housing shortage, particularly, as in the case of Adam, in the vicinity of Jerusalem. In Greater Jerusalem, there is also particular security importance in Israeli [territorial] contiguity from the Gush Etzion Bloc in the south to Atarot in the north, and from Ma’aleh Adumim in the east to Givat Ze’ev in the west.”

Ir Amim writes that the plan would, “further fracture a future Palestinian state by… breaking contiguity from north to south… while isolating the southern perimeter of Ramallah from East Jerusalem, the future capital of the Palestinian state. Advancing a project of this size, given its extreme geo-political ramifications, would have a fatal impact on the two-state solution.”

The same plan was developed in the early 2000s and explored in 2007 and again in 2008, but shelved because of its political sensitivity and international concern for the future of Jerusalem and the prospects for a two-state solution. Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann of Terrestrial Jerusalem writes, “What is different now than in the past is talk of the plan comes in the context of an opening of the settlement floodgates in East Jerusalem, including green lights and expediting of plans the implementation of which, for any number of reasons, in the past was far-fetched or even inconceivable. Consequently, it is important to flag this scheme as early as possible, and to monitor in vigilantly.”

 

In Jerusalem’s South: The “Gilo Southeast” Plan Expected to Advance

Map by Ir Amim

The Israeli government is set to advance a plan to expand the borders of the Gilo settlement (between Jerusalem and Bethlehem) in order to build 3,000 new units. This plan, called “Gilo Southeast,” is expected to be considered at a meeting on July 26th.

If implemented, Gilo Southeast would further surround the Palestinian city of Beit Safafa, severing the town from the West Bank. An area of intense Israeli settlement infrastructure growth (a settler-only freeway divides the community, and the area has been the focus of demolitions of Palestinian homes), Beit Safafa’s Palestinian residents describe a life under siege.

Gilo Southeast is just one of several alarming plans threatening to sever Palestinian contiguity between East Jerusalem and the southern West Bank:

  • Gilo Southeast would abut the border of the Givat Hamatos doomsday plan, which is only waiting for the publication of tenders to begin construction. The Givat Hamatos plan has remained blocked under the previous political calculations, but can be tendered at any moment.
  • The plan would also connect Gilo to Har Homa, a fast growing settlement that was built with the Netanyahu’s approval in 1997 – the last official settlement to be built until the recent approval of the Amichai settlement.

Ir Amim writes that Gilo Southeast would create “one more link in a chain of developments designed to seal off the southern perimeter of Jerusalem from the West Bank, nullifying prospects for a two state solution.”

 

In the Shadow of Jerusalem’s Old City: Settler-Run Visitor Center is Approved

Map by Emek Shaveh

Last week the controversial Visitor’s Center in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan (known to Israelis as the “City of David” and located just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in the shadow of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif) took another important step forward in the final stages of the planning process. According to the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh, the plan “awaits final approval by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which will only be granted once the archaeological excavations at the site are completed. In our assessment this should happen soon.”

Known as the “Kedem Center,” the building is being financed and promoted by the settler-run Elad Foundation, whose goal is to establish Jewish hegemony over all of Jerusalem (i.e. erase all Palestinian presence, history, and any visibility in the city). The Center will be the largest, state-of-the-art tourism center in Jerusalem and will also serve as a station for the new cable car line approved this year, a cable car line that is designed to facilitate tourists visits to Jewish sites in East Jerusalem while preventing tourists from encountering Palestinians.

Emek Shaveh issued a statement saying, “this project will change the landscape in the area between the Old City and the village of Silwan, and will have a considerable impact on the identity of the Historic Basin. The purpose of the Kedem Center is first and foremost political – to Judaize Silwan and prevent a political solution for Jerusalem.”

The Jerusalem Post reports the Kedem Center plan was approved by Prime Minister Netanyahu as a defiant gesture following UNESCO’s decision to designate sites in Hebron as World Heritage Sites, which Netanyahu incorrectly says deny Jewish history.

 

In the Heart of East Jerusalem: Plans Advance as Expected

In addition to the north, south, and center settlements plans detailed above, previously reported settlement plans targeting East Jerusalem were all approved for deposit for public review at a government meeting last week. We reported extensively on these in our last edition, here. The plans approved for deposit for public review include the incendiary plans in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and more.

Though the plans were all approved for deposit for public review, as of this writing none have been deposited (yet). Like almost every step in the Israeli settlement planning process, actually depositing the plans for public comment is itself a political decision.

 

U.S. Department of State: Settlements & Settlers Provoke Violence

In the recently released 2016 Country Reports on Terrorism, Secretary Tillerson’s State Department writes, “Continued drivers of violence included a lack of hope in achieving Palestinian statehood, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, the perception that the Israeli government was changing the status quo on the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount, and IDF tactics that the Palestinians considered overly aggressive.” [emphasis added]

Notably, the 2015 Country Reports on Terrorism (an Obama Administration document) did not focus on the role of settlements or identify settlements/settlers as a “driver of violence.” The 2015 document simply noted a handful of terrorist incidents, including the trend of “price-tag attacks,” committed by settlers and committed by Palestinians near settlements.

 

Settlement Outpost Near Bethlehem is Angling to Avoid Demolition

A settlement outpost near Bethlehem – built illegally even under Israeli law – is fighting a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to demolish 17 buildings that were found to have been built on land owned by Palestinians. A 2016 decision ruled that buildings in the center of the outpost sit partially on Palestinian land and must be demolished by March 2018. The NGO Yesh Din has an additional, broader petition before the High Court that seeks to prove that the whole outpost is on Palestinian land.

Map by Peace Now

The Netiv Ha’avot outpost was built in 2001 as an additional “neighborhood” of the Elazar settlement southwest of Bethlehem, but was in fact built on a hilltop near the outskirts of the settlement, on land located beyond the settlement’s borders. Forty Israeli settler families currently live there, 15 of which will be affected by the demolition orders.

The outposts’ residents are aggressively pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu to intervene in their favor (Netanyahu has already caved to vociferous settler protests several times this year). At a demonstration in support of the outpost, signs read “This destruction too is on your watch” (referring to the Amona evacuation) and “Bibi wake up and intervene.”

 

Court Wants Settlers/Palestinians to “Negotiate” Land Theft Ex-Post Facto

The Israeli Supreme Court made an unusual move to try to avoid having to return private land to Palestinians. The ruling pertains to a case in the Jordan Valley, where the Israeli military seized Palestinian private land for military uses, and subsequently (and improperly, according to Israeli law) gave the land to settlers. Rather than compel the settlers to return the stolen land to its owners, the court wants the Palestinians to negotiate with the settlers for compensation. The court’s move – which is in response to a 2013 petition – is an attempt to resolve the issue without having to rule on the validity of the land seizure, and without having to compel Israel to forfeit the land and evict the settlers (even if doing so requires suspending even the pretense of the rule of law).

Haaretz explains how we got here, “After the Israeli occupation of the West Bank began in 1967, the army issued an order prohibiting Palestinians from entering the area between the border fence and the Jordan River. At the beginning of the ‘80s, the government decided to encourage farmers to work the fields to create a buffer zone with Jordan. The World Zionist Organization was given the land and leased it to settlers.”

 

Bonus Reads

  1. “In Israel’s ‘eternal capital’ anti-Palestinian discrimination is built-in” (July 16, 2017; +972 Mag)
  2. “Black is the New Orange: 30% of Settlers are Haredim” (July 18, 2017; Times of Israel)
  3. “Why Adelson is Pouring Millions of Dollars Into an Army-run Israeli University in the West Bank” (July 19, 2017; Haaretz+)
  4. “The Biggest Attack in Jerusalem” (July 18, 2017; Haaretz+)
  5. REPORT: “Insurance against political risk: Settlements and the Yanai governmental insurance corporation” (Akevot, July 21, 2017)

Overview: “Archival records, now declassified at Akevot’s request, tell the story of the financial safety net Israeli government provided for commercial companies and settlement agencies beyond the Green Line. Referred to as a “political guarantee” or “political insurance”, it protected settlers and investors in the occupied territories against such “political risks” as Israel’s evacuation from the occupied territories, policy changes or boycotts. As use of the government guarantees gradually expanded, a government insurance corporation was created, to sell insurance policies against these political risks. This is the story of the political guarantee in the occupied territories and the Yanai insurance corporation.”

 


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.

Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

To receive this report via email, please click here.

June 23, 2017

  1. Coordination? Test #1: Kushner & Greenblatt Arrive as Construction Begins on New Settlement of “Amichai”
  2. Coordination? Test #2: Bibi Reportedly Ok’s 5,000 East Jerusalem Units After Blocking Them for Years
  3. Coordination? Test #3: 70% Rise in Settlement Construction Starts Over Past Year
  4. Ariel University – Located in the settlement of Ariel – Set to Double in Size
  5. Cleared from Baladim Outpost, “Hilltop Youth” Radicals Stir More Trouble in Yitzhar
  6. Bonus Reads

For questions and comments please contact FMEP’s Director of Policy & Operations, Kristin McCarthy (kmccarthy@fmep.org).


Coordination? Test #1: Kushner & Greenblatt Arrive as Construction Begins on New Settlement of Amichai

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman raised eyebrows late last week with a wide-ranging English language interview with the Times of Israel. When asked if Israel is “coordinating its [settlement] building starts with the United States,” Liberman casually responded, “of course.” Though headlines ran with his confirmation of coordination, it should be noted that when Liberman was pushed to give a more concrete picture of what that coordination entails, he said that Israel and the U.S. do not coordinate on “every 10 houses” but that the U.S. generally respects Israel’s approach and vision for “Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

That respect was put to the test this week as President Trump’s chief Middle East envoys – Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt – visited Israel and Palestine to “to continue the discussion about the possibility of peace.” Kushner’s arrival coincided with the commencement of construction of the first official new settlement in 25 years; the coincidence maintained a long tradition of greeting U.S. envoys with new settlement construction, dating back to the early 1990s and the era of Secretary of State James Baker, whose every visit to Israel was seemingly marked by the establishment of expansion of new settlements.

The Trump administration indicated it won’t object to this new settlement, sometimes referred to as the “Amona exception” (i.e., the rule is still that Israel doesn’t establish new settlements, but Amichai is a one-time exception, as a pay-off to settlers who illegally established the Amona outpost on privately owned Palestinian land and were forcibly evacuated earlier this year). But the timing, which may be entirely coincidental, is nonetheless politically provocative. While Kushner was en route, the State Department reiterated the only policy it has communicated publicly on the issue, saying “unrestrained settlement activity is not helpful to the peace process.” The Palestinian Authority also issued a statement on the timing of the new settlement’s ground-breaking, saying that it shows “Israel is not interested in the U.S. efforts, and is serious about thwarting them as it has with previous U.S. administrations.”

On June 22nd, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din filed a petition, together with residents of the Palestinian village of Jalud, to Israel’s High Court of Justice (equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court) challenging the establishment of the new settlement of Amichai and demanding transparency in the process of demarcating land for settlement. According to the petition, the jurisdiction granted to the new settlement includes enclaves of privately-owned Palestinian land.

But Amichai isn’t the only construction happening near Jalud. Palestinian officials have reported that construction work has also begun on Shvut Rachel East, a new “neighborhood” of the Shilo settlement (in fact, not a neighborhood but rather a new settlement, as explained by Peace Now). Shvut Rachel East was the original Amona pay-off plan, but Amona evacuees held out for a different plan on a different hilltop – and they got it with the approval of Amichai, to be built  literally adjacent to Shvut Rachel East. But what the world might have assumed would be a choice of “this site or that site” became, instead, a jackpot for settlers of “this site AND that site,” and the Shvut Rachel East neighborhood plan was also approved. Meaning that rather than paying a price for breaking the law (and then resisting evacuation), the government rewarded Amona settlers with not one but two new settlements – both located deep inside the West Bank, in an area that Israel could not possibly retain in any land swap agreement, and, both at the expense of Palestinians residing in the area around the settlement of Shilo. And meaning that the government of Israel is, through this policy, continuing to actively incite and incentivize settler law-breaking.

Coordination? Test #2: Bibi Reportedly Ok’s 5,000 East Jerusalem Units After Blocking Them for Years

On June 21st – the very day Trump envoy Jared Kushner arrived in Israel and was meeting with Netanyahu – news broke that Netanyahu was lifting his alleged hold on plans for the construction of 5,000 of new settlement units in East Jerusalem. This news comes on the heels of a June 19th report by Israel’s Army Radio that it had seen secret government documents showing that Prime Minister Netanyahu had imposed a building freeze in East Jerusalem settlements over the past few years. The documents – which were not released by Army Radio – allegedly identify specific projects totalling 6,000 units in Gilo, Pisgat Zeev, and Har Homa, that Netanyahu reportedly froze under intense pressure from the Obama administration. The 5,000 units for which Netanyahu has now reportedly given a green light are part of these 6,000 units, although there are few additional details thus far. Jerusalem Online suggests that some of the units are part of plans that were previously but have expired and need re-approval, and that the Jerusalem local planning committee will convene in short order to re-approve these plans.

It’s worth revisiting the dangerous East Jerusalem construction roller coaster ride of 2017. In January, Netanyahu announced, “I’ve decided to remove the political limitations on construction in East Jerusalem.” The worst was feared, including implementation of Givat Hamatos and/or E1, either of which would have devastating impact on the viability of the two-state solution. Nothing happened until April when rumors frantically swirled suggesting Netanyahu was planning a 15,000-unit construction surge in East Jerusalem. The formal announcement was expected to coincide with Jerusalem Day – and President Trump’s first visit – in May, but nothing was announced. A short time later, on June 6th, the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council advanced 603 units for the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, located just across the Green Line on the northeast border of East Jerusalem.

Coordination? Test #3: 70% Rise in Settlement Construction Starts Over Past Year

Netanyahu has recently declared, “There hasn’t been and won’t be a government that’s better for settlements than our government.” He isn’t kidding. Data released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), and analyzed by Peace Now, documents a huge surge in settlement construction over the past year. Specifically, the official data shows that the number of construction starts in settlements from April 2016 to March 2017 was 70% higher than the previous 12-month period. And these numbers may still not tell the whole story: Peace Now warns that the ICBS is still counting starts for January-March 2017 (as currently reported in the ICBS data, the number for that period is actually lower than the same period for 2016). In addition, Peace Now has documented an 85% increase in the number of plans promoted so far in 2017. If these plans continue to advance, an additional surge in construction starts is likely.

Ariel University – Located in the settlement of Ariel – Set to Double in Size

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett presented a plan to the Knesset that will double the size of “Ariel University,” an Israeli institution of higher education located in the settlement of Ariel settlement. The centerpiece of Bennett’s plan, which will be implemented over the next five years, is a medical center to be named for Sheldon Adelson, who is a major American settlement financier. Adelson is said to be contributing $20 million to the medical school, making good on a commitment made in 2014. The plans still need to secure addition approvals before proceeding.

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. 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 settlements.

Cleared from Baladim Outpost, “Hilltop Youth” Radicals Stir More Trouble in Yitzhar

Earlier this month, the IDF evacuated dozens of radical Israeli settlers from the illegal “Baladim” outpost in the Jordan Valley. Baladim was the most notorious and established outpost in the region, a frequent source of terror for Palestinians and the Israeli army alike. The radical “Hilltop Youth” that camp-out in Baladim have been evacuated dozens of times before, but each time the they return to live illegally in the area.

According to a Haartez report, this time the IDF approached the leaders of the radical settlement of Yitzhar – from which many of Baladim radicals hail – before the outpost’s evacuation. The IDF reportedly warn them about the likely influx of Hilltop Youth to Yitzhar following the evacuation.

The interplay between Yitzhar and the Hilltop Youth is one to watch, particularly after an attack this week on Israeli Army vehicles at Yitzhar’s gate. The settlement’s leaders are claiming that the Hilltop Youth are responsible for perpetrating the attack. Haaretz writes, “Yitzhar is considered an ideological focal point of the radical settler right, yet a large number of residents who spoke to Haaretz condemned the recent stone throwing and the extremist ideology of the Baladim settlers.” Shin Bet officials reportedly met with Yitzhar leaders this week to push them to do more to “calm” the young, violent, and extremely problematic radicals. Yitzhar settlers might be trying to distance themselves from the Baladim (which is problematic given that the Hilltop Youth who have fought for Baladim are from Yitzhar), as the Shin Bet has been more aggressively moving against members of the “Hilltop Youth”, which we covered in last week’s settlement report.

Bonus Reads

  • “Who Are You Calling a Settler? Meet the young Israelis living in the West Bank” (Haaretz)
  • “Settlement tours: a new frontline in Israel’s ideological conflict” (Reuters)
  • “Americans disproportionately leading the charge in settling the West Bank” (Haaretz)

 


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.