Settlement & Annexation Report: April 26, 2024


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

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April 26, 2024

  1. Smotrich Directs Government to Prepare to Fund & Service 68 Illegal Outposts
  2. U.S. Balks on Designating Israeli Military Unit Named in Annual Human Rights Report
  3. U.S. Publishes 2023 Human Rights Report
  4. Bonus Reads

Smotrich Directs Government to Prepare to Fund & Service 68 Illegal Outposts

On April 20th Israel’s Channel 12 News reported that Bezalel Smotrich – in his capacity as a minister in the Defence Ministry – has ordered several ministries to begin the practical preparations to service 68 outposts, even though the legal process to grant the outposts retroactive legalization has not concluded (or even begun). The move essentially directs the government to treat the outposts as if they are settlements even though they are still illegal under Israeli law – which should be understand as an act of de facto annexation. Smotrich’s orders include a call for the preparation of budgets and service plans to extend utilities – including water, roads, state-funded medical clinics, schools, and more – to the outposts.

Peace Now explains further:

For Peace Now’s understanding, this is in fact a ‘legalization bypass’ route, according to which the various authorities will treat these illegal outposts as if they were legal for the purposes of budgets and services and refrain from enforcing the demolition orders in them, even if the legalization procedures for those outposts have not yet begun or been completed…So far, the list of the 68 outposts destined to move to the status of “Sites under Legalization” has not been published and it is difficult to know which outposts are involved. A cautious assessment of Peace Now is that these are mostly relatively old outposts (as appears in the coalition agreement between Likud and Smotritch’s party (section 119), which referred to the legalization of outposts established before February 2011). At the same time, it’s plausible that the list also comprises outposts established later, like the Malachei Hashalom outpost, which was established in 2015 but the government has already decided on the intention to legalize it.”

The coalition agreements which brought the current Israeli government into power included a commitment to the full recognition and integration of outposts. The government has done a lot to fulfill this pledge, as seen in the actions taken to legalize the Homesh outpost, the Evyatar outpost, and the Israeli Cabinet’s February 2023 decision to legalize ten of the most isolated, legally complicated outposts. That decision also included approval of a clause that makes the remaining outposts eligible – right away, even as they remain illegal – to receive Israeli municipal services like water and electricity.

The United States criticized the Israeli government over these reports, with U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel saying at a press briefing on April 24th:

“…these reports about directives to support illegal outposts in the West Bank, we believe that to be dangerous and reckless. Our policy, U.S. policy, remains that settlements are counterproductive to the cause of peace and the Government of Israel’s program is inconsistent with international law. And we’ll continue to urge Israeli officials to refrain from taking actions to fund outposts that have long been illegal under Israeli law. Actions or announcements seeking to expand outposts will only move the goal of peace and stability in the region further away.”

U.S. Balks on Designating Israeli Military Unit Named in Annual Human Rights Report

Despite reports earlier in the week, the U.S. has decided to not enforce the Leahy Law against the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which is a special IDF unit for ultra-orthodox soldiers stationed in the West Bank. The unit, which attracts members of the radical and violent Hilltop Youth settler movement, is alleged to have participated in gross human rights violations, including the causing the death of U.S. citizen Omar Assaf. and  Secretary Blinken himself even hinted that actions against the battalion were imminently forthcoming. 

By the end of the week, ABC News reported that the U.S. had reversed its plans to sanction IDF units, and that the U.S. will not announce sanctions while it reviews new information Israel has provided regarding its steps to remediate U.S. concerns. The Associated Press reports that Secretary Blinkin sent a letter to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives explaining that while the government has determined the battalion engaged in gross misconduct, the U.S. will withhold sanctions. Blinken also assured the stridently pro-Israel Speaker of the House that, should any sanctions be announced in the future, it would not impede or delay the transfer of the $17 billion in military aid to Israel that the U.S. Congress just passed

The U.S. Department of State has reportedly been investigating the Netzah Yehuda battalion as well as other units for over a year. The unit was named in the just released “2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” in association with the death of Omar Assad in January 2022. The report also notes that Israel investigated Assad’s death and did not bring a single charge against the unit or its members.

This would be the first time the U.S. has ever (anywhere) enforced the Leahy Law against a foreign military. The designation would disqualify the sanctioned units from receiving U.S. military assistance or training, but it would not stop the units from using weapons purchased by Israel from the U.S. (a symbolic if not actually meaningful designation).

Noting the symbolic importance of the use of the Leahy Law to sanction Israeli military units, Haaretz columnist Alon Pinkas notes:

“While the impact of the sanctions the law stipulates may be very limited, the United States is essentially acknowledging a very inconvenient truth: A combat unit in the Israeli army is acting like a militia….Second, the United States is drawing a clear contrast between Israel and the West Bank. This shouldn’t be taken lightly or dismissed as an ad hoc technicality.”

U.S. Publishes 2023 Human Rights Report

On April 22nd, Secretary Blinken released the 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. As a reminder, the report is designed to provide an ostensibly objective synopsis of how governments across the world perpetrate and handle human rights abuses. However, the report’s treatment of Israel and its role in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem is consistently a matter of controversy. During Blinkin’s press briefing to mark the release of the new report, he had to defend the State Department against accusations of holding Israel to a lower standard than any other country.

The 101-page section on “Israel, West Bank, and Gaza” opens with a lengthy preface on the events of October 7, 2023 and following events, noting the record high level of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank that has followed. Beyond a few mentions of settler violence, the report does not discuss the Israeli settlement enterprise, which is the underlying context perpetuating the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.

The report once again maintains the format imposed on the report by the Trump Administration, with a section entitled “Israel, West Bank, and Gaza.” Under this format, which the Biden Administration also used in its 2020 and 2021 reports, there is a section on Israel (looking at the practices of the Israeli government in sovereign Israeli territory, including East Jerusalem) and a separate section on the West Bank & Gaza (looking primarily at the practices of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and the “Israeli authorities in the West Bank”). Prior to the Trump era, the report and its sections were entitled  “Israel and the Occupied Territories.” The Trump administration adopted the new section titles in its 2017 report and completed its elimination of the word “occupation” in its 2018 report. The Biden Administration’s decision to continue this new format was widely reported when the administration’s first report was released in early 2021. The Biden Administration re-introduced the word “occupation” in its first report. 

Notably, the report does not cite any of the seven Palestinian NGOs that the Israeli government declared to be terrorist organizations in October 2021, including Al-Haq which is largely held to be the preeminent Palestinian human rights group. 

Amnesty International published its own report recapping 2023 human rights concerns across the globe, in it taking shots at the U.S. and other countries’ failures to uphold and enforce international human rights law. The report’s overview explains that the report exposes the 

“betrayal of human rights principles by today’s leaders and institutions. In the face of multiplying conflicts, the actions of many powerful states have further damaged the credibility of multilateralism and undermined the global rules-based order first established in 1945.

In a conflict that defined 2023 and shows no sign of abating, evidence of war crimes continues to mount as the Israeli government makes a mockery of international law in Gaza. Following the horrific attacks by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October, Israeli authorities responded with unrelenting air strikes on populated civilian areas often wiping out entire families, forcibly displacing nearly 1.9 million Palestinians and restricting the access of desperately needed humanitarian aid despite growing famine in Gaza.

The report points to the USA’s brazen use of its veto to paralyse the UN Security Council for months on a much-needed resolution for a ceasefire, as it continues to arm Israel with munitions that have been used to commit what likely amounts to war crimes. It also highlights the grotesque double standards of European countries such as the UK and Germany, given their well-founded protestations about war crimes by Russia and Hamas, while they simultaneously bolster the actions of Israeli and US authorities in this conflict.

‘The confounding failure of the international community to protect thousands of civilians – a horrifically high percentage of them children – from being killed in the occupied Gaza Strip makes patently clear that the very institutions set up to protect civilians and uphold human rights are no longer fit for purpose. What we saw in 2023 confirms that many powerful states are abandoning the founding values of humanity and universality enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,’ said Agnès Callamard.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Less Than Quarter of Israeli Jews in Favor of Renewed Settlement in Gaza, Poll Finds” (Haaretz)
  2. “Israeli, U.S. Officials Say New Sanctions Due to Conduct of Ben-Gvir, Smotrich” (Haaretz)
  3. “Far-right Advisor to Ben-Gvir Sanctioned by U.S. Tries to Get Gas, Finds Credit Card Blocked” (Haaretz)