Settlement & Annexation Report: April 20, 2023


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

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April 20, 2023

  1. Israel Introduces Second Plan to Expand Givat Hamatos Settlement in East Jerusalem
  2. After 15 Yrs of Work, Jerusalem Govt Withdraws Support for Private Plan to Build First new Palestinian Neighborhood in East Jerusalem since 1967
  3. Following Repeal of Disengagement Law, Israel Dismisses Cases Against Settlers Who Violated It
  4. On the Potential for Mass Expulsion of Palestinians via West Bank Land Registration
  5. Bonus Reads

Israel Introduces Second Plan to Expand Givat Hamatos Settlement in East Jerusalem

Ir Amim reports the Jerusalem Municipality recently initiated a new plan – called “Tzmerot” – to massively expand the current construction outline for the Givat Hamatos settlement in East Jerusalem. The new plan would add an additional 1,200 units to the existing plan, bringing the total number of settlement units to be built in Givat Hamatos to 3,810 (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 5, this means housing for an additional nearly 20,000 Israelis). Israel issued tenders for more than 2,000 units in Givat Hamatos in January 2021, just before Trump left the U.S. presidency, and preparations for construction have started (actual construction has not).

This is the second plan the Israeli government has initiated so far this year to significantly expand the plan for Givat Hamatos. The first – known as the “East Talpiyot Hill” plan – was introduced in January 2023 and provides for the construction of 3500 units and 1300 hotel rooms on a strip of land adjacent to the land alloted to Givat Hamatos. 

Collectively, the East Talpiyot Hill plan would increase the size of Givat Hamatos by 40%, expanding it eastward and connecting it with another new settlement plan – the “Lower Aqueduct Plan.” 

Taken together — this latest Givat Hamatos expansion plan (Tzmerot), combined with the the East Talpiyot Hill plan, the Lower Aqueduct Plan, and the plan for a new settlement known as “Givat HaShaked” to the north of Givat Hamatos — these plans ultimately would create an unbroken string of settlements spanning from Gilo to Har Homa, in the process completely encircling the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa with Israeli settlement construction. For this reason, Givat Hamatos has long been regarded as a doomsday settlement for parties interested in a negotiated two-state solution.

Ir Amim explains:

“The Tzmerot plan calls for four high-rise apartment buildings – two of which will include 12 floors, while the other two will include 42 and 35 floors. This stands in stark contrast to the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods which face strict building restrictions, including those that preclude the construction of residential buildings beyond four-six levels. The municipality’s willingness to expand building rights for residential development when it is Israeli construction further exemplifies the extent of planning and housing discrimination in Jerusalem.  

The initiative for the new plan came as part of an agreement between the Jerusalem municipality and Shikun & Binui against the backdrop of a conflict concerning the company’s construction rights in a West Jerusalem neighborhood known as Kiryat HaYovel. Residents of the neighborhood strongly opposed the planned construction, compelling the municipality to intervene. According to the agreement, Shikun & Binui will give up construction in Kiryat HaYovel in exchange for receiving increased construction rights for residential development beyond the Green Line in Givat Hamatos.”

After 15 Yrs of Work, Jerusalem Govt Withdraws Support for Private Plan to Build First New Palestinian Neighborhood in East Jerusalem since 1967

Haaretz reports that the Jerusalem Municipality has retracted its support for a private, Palestinian-led project to build a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem, after signaling its support for the plan for the past 15 years. The project would have been the first new neighborhood developed specifically for Palestinians since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 (reminder: during the nearly 56 years since it gained control over East Jerusalem, Israel has undertaken massive, government-backed construction of new neighborhoods, aka settlements, throughout East Jerusalem).  Sources told Haaretz that Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon withdrew his support out of concern that approval of the project could become a political liability for him in local elections to be held later this year.

Ir Amim comments:

“While the Israeli authorities continue to deplete all vacant land in East Jerusalem to promote new Israeli settlements, they refrain from initiating residential projects for Palestinian areas and effectively obstruct the advancement of Palestinian-initiated plans. One recent example is the municipality’s withdrawal of support for the first planned new Palestinian neighborhood since 1967 in an area known as Tel Adsa, adjacent to Beit Hanina along the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem. Initiated by private Palestinian landowners from Beit Hanina, the plan had originally received support from the municipality. After enormous funds had been invested in the plan’s preparation, when the time came for discussion of the plan’s approval, the municipality withdrew their backing, citing claims that the plan did not comply with new planning policy for open spaces.

Yet, such claims contradict the fact that a myriad of similar plans are being promoted for Israeli settlements in such spaces. Not only does this reveal the baseless nature of the claims, but also underscores the rampant planning and housing discrimination leveled against Palestinians in Jerusalem. 

Despite Palestinians constituting nearly 40% of the city’s population, not one new neighborhood has been approved or constructed for Palestinians since 1967, while existing Palestinian neighborhoods face major building restrictions. Such a reality serves as a major impediment for Palestinians to remain in the city, which ultimately becomes a mechanism of forced displacement. These policies and practices enable Israel to seize more land in East Jerusalem while also acting as form of population control in service to Israel’s longstanding territorial and demographic goals. Such measures deprive Palestinians of basic rights to housing and shelter and constitute a severe violation of International Law while undermining any potential for an agreed political future.   

The Israeli government must be held accountable to afford equal rights to all populations in Jerusalem.”

Following Repeal of Disengagement Law, Israel Dismisses Cases Against Settlers Who Violated It

The Petah Tikva Magistrates Court has tossed out several indictments of settlers who illegally entered the site of the former Homesh settlement and illegally established a yeshiva there. The settlers were banned from entering the area as part of the 2005 Disengagement Law, which among other things legislated the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank and banned Israelis from entering the area. The Israeli Knesset recently repealed the clauses in the Disengagement Law relating to those four settlements, effectively ending the ban on Israeli entry to the area, and providing a pretext for the Court to drop the cases (notwithstanding the fact that the settlers’ actions brazenly violated the law at the time). 

Yesh Din – an Israeli organizations which has fought for years to have the illegal outpost known to settlers as the Homesh yeshiva removed and for the land to be returned to its Palestinian owners – responded that the dismissal of these criminal cases:

“[sends] a clear message that the State of Israel encourages stealing from and banishing Palestinians.”

As a reminder, the Homesh settlement was built almost entirely on land that belongs to (and is recognized by Israel as registered as belonging to) Palestinian owners. Yet, after the Homesh settlement was dismantled in 2005, control over the land was never returned to its owners. The area was instead declared by the Israeli army to be a closed military zone, with Palestinains, including the owners of the land, barred from access. The Palestinians owners have been fighting for the right to access their own land since 2009, with no success. At the same time, the Israeli army allowed Jewish Israeli settlers to access the area regularly, and even permitted the settlers to illegally (under Israeli law) establish a religious school and settlement outpost at the site. Rather than enforce Israel’s own laws against the settlers, the current Israeli government has agreed to grant retroactive approval to the settlers’ illegal presence, the first step towards doing so being the aforementioned repeal of clauses in the Disengagement Law that make any Israeli presence there illegal. As Yesh Din has noted, repealing the West Bank-related clauses in the Disengagement Law does not change the legal status of the land, which Israel has recognized as privately owned by Palestinians. This means, according to Yesh Din, that Israel still has “no legal option for legalizing the [Homesh] outpost.” Based on the commitments made by this new government, it seems probable that this legal “problem” will be just one more challenge to be overcome.

Shmuel Wendy, a settler who participated in establishing the illegal yeshiva at Homesh, told the Times of Israel:

“Along with our happiness over the cancellation of the Disengagement Law, we still expect the yeshiva to soon be approved.”

On the Potential for Mass Expulsion of Palestinians via West Bank Land Registration

Writing in Jewish Currents, FMEP non-resident fellow Peter Beinart argues (agreeing with decades of Palestinian warnings) that the mass expulsion of Palestinians by Israel – a second Nakba – is not a far-fetched worry but an idea with deep roots and currency amongst Israeli lawmakers. Beinart posits that, “It’s impossible to know how mass expulsion might occur. But one clue lies in the coalition agreements that lay out the current government’s agenda. The agreements call on the government to launch a process of land registration in the West Bank.”

In the West Bank, successive Israeli governments have already laid the groundwork for re-starting the process of land registration with the urging and fervent backing of settlers who see the process as a massive opportunity for the state to declare more land to be “state land” and take control over it. Only one-third of West Bank land was registered and titled (under the British Mandatory government and then continued by Jordan) when Israel seized control of the West Bank and froze land registration proceedings. 

Some key pieces of that groundwork that have already been laid – not only to restart the land registration process but to utilize it as a means for the seizure of massive amounts of West Bank land – include:

  • In September 2021, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) announced that it had approved funds for an effort to systematically register West Bank lands that it claims to have purchased from the Israeli Custodian General. Ir Amim warned that the JNF’s land registration effort could result in land takeover of an “alarming magnitude.” As a reminder, the JNF, established in 1901, devoted itself to buying land for Jews. Today, the JNF owns about 15% of all the land inside the Green Line (a figure which stands to increase if the review process leads to more properties being registered to the JNF). In addition, the JNF has used two subsidiary companies – both called Himanuta – to purchase land in the West Bank, even though the stated JNF policy did not support such purchases. Peace Now reports that the JNF, via Himanuta, has already purchased over 16,000 acres (65,000 dunams) across the West Bank.
  • In December 2020, the Israeli High Court of Justice issued a ruling in favor of the Kochav Yaakov settlement, signaling the Court’s willingness to sidestep Ottoman and Jordanian land registration practices when deciding land ownership claims (which since 1967 Israel has recognized as applicable in the West Bank and East Jerusalem). The Court appeared to accept the settlers’ argument that the Court should care about what has happened on the land since the Jordanian land registration process was frozen, not about what existed at the moment the law was frozen. This argument, by design, favors the settlements and the settlers, who since 1967 have been able – with the backing of the state and the permission of the Courts – to illegally establish settlements and outposts while also preventing Palestinians from accessing their land.
  • In November 2020, the Israeli Attorney General offered support to a recommendation by COGAT to re-start land registration across the West Bank, a recommendation which was the result of a campaign by the far right-wing Israeli NGO known as Regavim (which today has deep ties in the current government) to push the government to seize more land in the West Bank via declarations of state land.
  • In August 2020 the Israeli State Comptroller issued a report that criticized the Defense Ministry for having an incomplete land registry of the West Bank.

By contrast, in East Jerusalem (which Israel annexed in 1967) the Israeli government announced its intention to start land registration in 2018 and to complete the process by 2025 (which the government framed as an effort to “Reduce Socio-Economic Gaps and Advance Economic Development in East Jerusalem”). Since then, the government has carried out land registration mostly in secret and for the exclusive benefit of settlers, including in Abu Dis, Sheikh Jarrah, near Al-Aqsa, and possibly with regard to the Sharafat neighborhood and the Givat HaShaked settlement.

The Israel-run process of registering ownership of land in East Jerusalem land will have far-reaching consequences for Palestinians, who have not had a formal legal avenue for registering land ownership since East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1967. Palestinians who wanted/needed to prove their land ownership were forced to rely on the “mukhtar protocol” — a procedure in which Palestinians in East Jerusalem document/prove ownership by collecting signatures from local Palestinian leaders acknowledging that the land in question does, indeed, belong to them. This policy was developed by the Israeli government as an alternative to the formal land-registration process.

In 2019, a mini-saga over the “mukhtar protocol” revealed the uphill battle facing Palestinians if formal registration proceeds. In March 2019, the Jerusalem Planning & Building Committee, at the urging of the Regavim settler group (acting with the clear goal of preventing Palestinian development and undermining Palestinian land ownership claims to land in the city), annulled the mukhtar protocol as a legally acceptable basis for establishing land ownership in the eyes of the Israeli government, putting Palestinian land ownership in East Jerusalem in limbo. The result: having no recognized means to prove their land ownership, Palestinians were prevented from building in East Jerusalem. One month later, the Israeli authorities reversed the decision and again recognized the mukhtar protocol, reportedly following appeals to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon by a city council member. The incident highlights how precarious Palestinian land ownership in East Jerusalem is.

Key resources on land registration (aka “Settlement of Title”) are:

Bonus Reads

  1. “How the ‘Poor People of Galicia’ Defeated an Elderly Palestinian Couple” (Haaretz)