Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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April 28, 2023
- Israel Introduces Second Plan to Expand Givat Hamatos Settlement in East Jerusalem
- State Tells Supreme Court: Timeline for Khan Al-Ahmar Demolition Should be Decided by Government
- Israeli Ministers & Settlers Celebrate Israel’s 75th by Storming Homesh Outpost
- Israeli Transportation Ministry Requests $960 Million for West Bank Projects
- Bonus Reads
Peace Now reports that the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee secretly approved a plan to, in effect, establish a brand new settlement. The plan, which is framed as a new “neighborhood” of the settlement of Talmon, located northwest of Ramallah, allows for 189 settlement units to be built in an illegal outpost called “Zayit Raanan.” In reality, the site of the new “neighborhood” – on land designated by Israel as “state land” – is closer to the Palestinian villages of Beitillu and Deir Ammar than to the Talmon settlement, and the area between the outpost (now a de facto new settlement) and Talmon is crowded with three other settler outposts that were built illegally but later granted retroactive legalization by the Israeli government, also under the guise of “neighborhoods” of Talmon.
This new settlement is just one piece of a much larger story – – the story of how the Israeli government has established settlements and outposts as a means of expanding its control of land in a critical area of the West Bank, where there are many Palestinian population centers. Peace Now explains:
“From a political perspective, the establishment of the settlement of Zayit Raanan is part of a plan to create a ‘settlement bloc’, in an area adjacent to Ramallah from the west, with the aim of impeding the expansion of the Palestinian city and other Palestinian villages and towns around the area. Virtually, the bloc creates Palestinian enclaves surrounded by settlements from almost every direction, which negatively impacts Palestinian development and access to their lands. Another goal is to create a ‘finger’ of settlements from Modi’in Illit settlement, through the Nili settlements, all the way to the depth of the West Bank. The settlement bloc is composed of the settlements of Talmon, Dolev, and Nahliel, as well as numerous outposts, many of which have been legalized or are in the process of legalization (Harasha, Horesh Yaron, Kerem Re’im, Neriya), and through the seizure of additional lands along various roads, including agricultural farms (Eretz Zvi, Sde Ephraim), and tourist sites (Nabi Aner). The establishment of Zayit Raanan as an independent settlement adds to these efforts.”
On April 24th, the Israeli government submitted its latest filing with the Supreme Court, seeking to again delay the court-ordered demolition of the Khan Al-Ahmar bedouin village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In its filing, which was filed a day late because of internal dissent within the Israeli Security Cabinet, for the first time the State asked the Court not only to delay the forcible removal of Khan al-Ahmar but for the Court to withdraw its underlying order, arguing that the State should be able to decide when to carry out the demolition in light of “diplomatic and security” concerns (all the while affirming its commitment to the forcible dispossession of the bedouins who live there currently, which will be a war crime).
The filing submitted on April 24th also informed the Court that the State is conducting “negotiations” with the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar in an attempt to convince them to leave the area without force. The filing mentions that one possible plan was agreed to in 2022 (under the Bennett government), but shelved by the government when it was leaked to the public. Reports from 2022 suggested that the government’s plan was to relocate the Khan Al-Ahmar community to lands some 300 meters from where it currently stands.
The filing to the court was due on April 23rd, but Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich caused a crisis, accusing Prime Minister Netanyahu of violating his coalition agreements by delaying the demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar, and saying that the government’s brief did not reflect his (Smotrich’s) policy and should not be submitted. Smotrich was reportedly not involved in drafting the brief, even though he has broad authority over construction matters in Area C of the West Bank, where Khan al Ahmar is located. It’s worth recalling that Smotrich is the former head of the right-wing organization Regavim. Regavim, it should be recalled, is the right-wing organization behind the underlying 2009 petition to force the government to destroy the village, based on the argument that the community lacks the required Israeli building permits (permits that are nearly impossible to receive from Israel).
Haaretz (very) recently published an article exploring the reach of Regavim and its principles, calling it “an organization waging total war on Palestinian construction.” The article lays out the breadth of Regavim’s political agenda – from demolitioning Khan Al-Ahmar to obstructing the recognition of Bedouin villages in the Negev, and issuing a blanket denial to any new Palestinian construction in Area C – and highlights how today key former Regavim officials have obtained top government positions overseeing official Israeli policy on the very issues on which Regavim works.
On Israeli Independence Day (April 26th), hundreds of Israelis illegally entered the area where the Homesh settlement once stood, continuing their demand for the government to reestablish the settlement. Finance Minister and head of the Defense Ministry’s new Settlements Administration Bezalel Smotrich (effectively the sovereign authority in the West Bank), was in attendance.
At the event, Smotrich said:
“Just recently we passed the cancellation of the Disengagement Law…and now we are promoting the recognition of young settlements…We will continue to promote settlement in the coming years more vigorously.”
JNS reports that the Israeli Ministry of Transport and Road Safety recently submitted a budget request in which $960 million is earmarked over 5 years for transportation projects in the West Bank – nearly 25% of the total Ministry’s total budget request. Over half of the total funds ($547 million) are for its project to widen Route 60, the main north-south highway in the West Bank.
Other projects specified in the budget include $55 million for a new bypass road for settlers that will circumvent the Palestinian village of Al Funduq; a $100 million to widen the access road leading to the Beit El settlement; and, $137 million to widen and expand the highway connecting the Ariel settlement to the Tapuah Junction. For a more detailed analysis of the roads budget, see this detailed analysis from Yehuda Shaul.
In a deeply researched report on how Israelis uses infrastructure projects (like roads) as a means for settlement expansion and annexation, Breaking the Silence explains:
“While Israeli authorities justify many of the projects…by claiming that they serve both the settler and the Palestinian populations in the West Bank, it is important to note that these roads are designed with Israeli, not Palestinian, interests in mind. Many of the roads that are technically open to Palestinian traffic are not intended to lead to locations that are useful to Palestinians. Instead, these roads are primarily designed to connect settlements to Israel proper (and thus employment and other services) via lateral roads, rather than to connect Palestinian communities to one another. Further, roads intended to connect Israeli settlements to Jerusalem (many of which are currently under construction) do not serve West Bank Palestinians outside of Jerusalem, as they are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a permit. In addition, an extensive system of checkpoints and roadblocks allows Israel to control access to bypass roads and the main West Bank highways, and it can restrict Palestinian access when it so chooses.
This prejudice against Palestinian development is even starker when one considers that, according to an official Israeli projection, the expected Palestinian population in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2040 is 4,600,000 individuals. Even if the vision of settler leaders to arrive at 1,000,000 settlers is realized by 2040, the Palestinian population would still be four times the size of the settler one. Despite this discrepancy, priority is still given to settler infrastructure development.
West Bank road and transportation development creates facts on the ground that constitute a significant entrenchment of the de facto annexation already taking place in the West Bank and will enable massive settlement growth in the years to come. By strengthening Israel’s hold on West Bank territory, aiding settlement growth, and fragmenting Palestinian land, this infrastructure growth poses a significant barrier to ending the occupation and achieving an equitable and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
- “Israelis Use Palestinian Land Near the Separation Barrier as a Cattle Pasture” (Haaretz)
- “After Settler Attacks, a Palestinian Town Fears for Its Survival” (New York Times)
- “Religious, settler groups lead charge on Thursday’s pro-overhaul ‘Million March’” (The Times of Israel)