Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
August 14, 2020
- Bibi (Temporarily) “Suspends” Annexation as Part of UAE-Israel Normalization Agreement
- Forging Ahead with De Facto Annexation: Israel Starts Construction on Two New Settlement Projects
- Israel Advances Plans for More Bypass Roads for Jerusalem-Area Settlements
- Settlers Continue to Escalate Terror Campaign Against Palestinians, Israeli Police
- Bonus Reads
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On August 13th, the United Arab Emirates and Israel announced the signing of a U.S.-brokered “peace deal” that will fully normalize relations between the two countries – in effect bringing barely hidden secretive relations between the two nations out into the open. In a statement on the deal tweeted by President Trump, the countries have agreed to pause the implementation of Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” with Israel committing – at the request of President Trump – to suspend its plans to annex the West Bank. However (and predictably), Netanyahu quickly clarified that annexation is still very much on his agenda, saying during a televised address:
“There is no change to our plans to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, in coordination with the US. I remain committed to that” and that he will “never give up on our rights in our land.””
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman – who travelled to Washington this week to participate in talks – quickly backed Netanyahu’s refusal to shelve annexation. The Jerusalem Post reports the following:
“US Ambassador to the US David Friedman clarified that the word which had been chosen to describe the [annexation] situation was “suspended” and that word had been chosen “very carefully” because it means a temporary halt. Sovereignty, Friedman said was “off the table” not but not “off the table permanently.” But at an earlier stage in the conference Friedman noted that the application of sovereignty to West Bank settlements was incompatible with the overall goal of normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world. Friedman has been one of the strongest supporters of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. On Thursday night, as he spoke with Trump in Washington, he said, however, “we are putting our eggs into the basket of peace. The US Ambassador explained that, “we have an agreement with the Emirates. We are going to nail all the details, embassies, overflights, commercial. Then we are going to extrapolate that to the rest of the region. “How long that takes, I cannot tell you. But we have prioritized peace over the sovereignty movement. It’s not off the table, it’s just something that has been deferred until we have given peace every single chance.” When asked if a deal with the UAE could have been reached without Netanyahu’s decision to suspend annexation. “I think you can’t do both at the same time,” Friedman said. “Prioritize peace. Sovereignty after peace is given every opportunity.”
The Palestinian Authority denounced the UAE-Israel agreement, stating that “The UAE is not entitled to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people,” and calling for an urgent meeting of the Arab League. PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi tweeted:
“Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation. The UAE has come out in the open on its secret dealings/normalization with Israel. Please don’t do us a favor. We are nobody’s fig leaf!”
For more reaction from Palestinian factions, see this helpful Twitter thread from Ben White.
The UAE-Israel normalization deal serves many, many purposes for the three parties involved – the Trump Administration, the UAE government, and Netanyahu. For the U.S., it gives Donald Trump a foreign policy “victory” heading into the November elections. For the UAE, it is presented as a political “victory” that stops Israeli de jure annexation (even if only temporarily), while simultaneously allowing for the expansion of security and diplomatic cooperation (not to mention dividends from the U.S. that may become known later). And for Israel, it allows Netanyahu to claim a significant foreign policy victory, at a moment when he is facing the possibility of another election, while also providing a new rationale for why he has not yet advanced annexation of the settlements.
Notably, none of these purposes has anything to do with the rights and future of the Palestinian people. To the contrary, the deal facilitates the continuation of the current situation, in which Israel continues with settlement expansion, de facto annexation of the West Bank, and denial/violation of Palestinian rights, and at best temporarily delays the move by Israel toward formal, de jure annexation.
Al-Shabaka analyst and expert Tareq Baconi explained:
“This is not a “historic peace agreement” but a repackaging of an ongoing reality of normalisation between the UAE and Israel against the backdrop of de facto annexation and occupation of Palestinian territories. Repackaging reality and selling it as a diplomatic breakthrough is a show we’ve seen from the Trump administration before. Deal of the century to sell apartheid anyone? It’s not diplomacy, its marketing spin. But, this is also not inconsequential business as usual. The UAE’s decision to proceed in this way is a dangerous precedent in the post-Arab Peace Initiative era, where official normalization has become possible despite continued Palestinian subjugation. Bahrain next? This is the latest in a long history of Arab leaders selling the Palestinian issue or manipulating the Palestinian struggle to further their own interests, from the very inception of the PLO on. Sadat? Two ways to read Bibi. 1. Annexation may have always been a house of mirrors. Now he can be rewarded for not annexing: peace for occupation. 2. This is an admission of defeat; he was unable to annex, and needs a shiny new object to detract attention…Two things are certain. First, this agreement is one more step in the effort to formalise a new vision for the Middle East that is even further away from the calls of the Arab street that resonated in 2011. Second, this is another indication that the Palestinian leadership remains a spectator to events that determine their fate, unable to influence the unfolding trends. And finally, after a whole lot of fanfare around annexation, where are we now? Everyone breathing a sigh of relief that Israel continues to control the same territory.”
Adding to that analysis, FMEP’s Lara Friedman noted:
“…3rd option: annexation temporarily “suspended” for sake of normalization w/ UAE (& others?), but still on table. Given Trump Admin Greater Israel predilections & Evangelical voters, expect some concrete move before Nov elex.”
Palestinian expert Omar Baddar of the Institute for Middle East Understanding tweeted:
“ 1) There is nothing “historic” or “groundbreaking” about this agreement: Israel & the UAE have been strong allies under the table for many years! This is merely making that friendship public (which is still interesting). Israel didn’t “halt” the annexation for the West Bank (annexation is ALREADY a de facto reality on the ground). Israel merely “suspended” its announcement of a reality it has already illegally imposed on Palestinians. It is FALSE to say Israel suspended it at the UAE’s request. Israel suspended (put off) its annexation announcement after realizing it was going to be costly to Israel, with many US Democrats threatening for the first time to cut off military aid to Israel. The suspension came long before this UAE deal was reached. The claim that the UAE deal is responsible for halting Israel’s annexation announcement is merely a PR stunt for the UAE government, which knows full well that normalization with Israel WHILE Israel continues to brutalize Palestinians is extremely unpopular in the region. The Arab Peace Initiative already promised full normalization of relations between Israel and all Arab countries in exchange for ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories to allow a tiny Palestinian state to exist. Israel rejected this generous offer. Some Arab governments see “the Palestinian cause” as a burden, feigning concern for their human rights while secretly working with Israel on “more important” partnerships: economic, intelligence, undermining Iran’s influences in the region…etc. Israel may be able to normalize w/these dictatorial governments w/out treating Palestinian like human beings who deserve basic rights, but Israel will never be truly accepted by the PEOPLE of the region so long as Palestinians live without freedom under the boot of occupation.”
Former Vice President and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released a statement praising the deal, and reiterating his opposition to annexation (conspicuously not acknowledging occupation and ongoing de facto annexation):
“Annexation would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president. It would virtually end any chance of a two-state solution that would secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and uphold the right of Palestinians to a state of their own. By forestalling that possibility and replacing it with the hope of greater connection and integration in the regions, the UAE and Israel have pointed a path toward a more peaceful, stable Middle East.”
U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweeted:
“We won’t be fooled by another Trump/Netanyahu deal. We won’t celebrate Netanyahu for not stealing land he already controls in exchange for a sweetheart business deal. The heart of the issue has never been planned, formal annexation, but ongoing, devastating apartheid. The focus needs to be on promoting solidarity between Palestinians & Israelis who are joining together in struggle to end an apartheid system. We must stand with the people. This Trump/Netanyahu deal will not alleviate Palestinian suffering—it will further normalize it.”
Former Obama Administration official Ben Rhodes commented:
“This agreement enshrines what has been the emerging status quo in the region for a long time (including the total exclusion of Palestinians). Dressed up as an election eve achievement from two leaders who want Trump to win.”
B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad tweeted:
“Now that Israel has magnanimously agreed to “suspend declaring sovereignty”, all can calmly get back to underwriting Israel’s tried-and-tested perpetual oppression of Palestinians: arbitrary killings, land theft, controlling every aspect of an entire people’s life. Biz-as-usual.”
Netanyahu is already receiving criticism from staunch pro-annexation forces to his right, which largely feel betrayed by Netanyahu.
Yamin MK Naftali Bennet (whose popularity is soaring), said:
“it’s sad [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu missed a once-in-a-century opportunity to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley… and the rest of Israeli settlements [in the West Bank]. It’s tragic Netanyahu hasn’t seized the moment and hasn’t had the courage to extend sovereignty even over an inch of the Land of Israel.”
Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev said:
“This is a historic agreement on every level, security, economic, business — but it can’t come at the expense of sovereignty that the prime minister and all of us have committed to.”
David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council of settlers said:
“He [Netnayahu] deceived us. He has deceived half a million residents of the area and hundreds of thousands of voters.”
Notably, Egypt, Oman, and Bahrain came out with statements welcoming the agreement.
Over the past week, Palestinian media has documented the start of the construction on two significant new settlement projects.
On August 12th, Wafa News reports that Israeli construction crews began leveling land near the Palestinian villages of Iskaka and Yasuf in preparation for expanding the nearby unauthorized outpost of Nofei Nehemia. The area is located east of the Ariel settlement in the heart of the northern West Bank. ActiveStills documented this construction project as it continued on August 13th.
On August 13th, Wafa News reports that Israel began construction on a new settler bypass road near the Kafr al-Labad village, located east of Tulkarm in the northern West Bank.
Ir Amim reports that the High Planning Council recently advanced a massive outline plan for expanding the road infrastructure for settlers in the West Bank, with the goal of more seamlessly integrating the settlements into the Jerusalem metropolitan area. Ir Amim detailed the plans for three new bypass roads in the Greater Jerusalem area, which were deposited for public review on July 3rd:
1 – A new road that will allow settler traffic to bypass the Qalandiya checkpoint via a new tunnel. This plan specifically serves a cluster of settlements – located deep inside the West Bank, in an area that under any reasonable sense of a two-state solution cannot become part of Israel — that Netanyahu has recently dubbed a “fourth settlement bloc.” In so doing, Netanyahu is in effect defining these settlements as forming an area over which Israel will never relinquish control. This “bloc” includes the settlements of Adam, Kochav Yaakov, Ofra, and Beit El. Ir Amim writes:
“The planned road will create a quick and smooth connection for settler traffic entering Jerusalem from the northeast… it will enhance the contiguity between Jerusalem and the so called ‘fourth settlement bloc’ and enable the expansion of settlement construction. The planned road will also cut through the A-Ram and Qalandia area between A-Ram and Ramallah. Today there are no settlements in this area nor is settler traffic passing through it. It is telling that during the discussion the planners explained that the route of the road was designed to pass a distance away from the Kochav Yaakov settlement and close to the town of A-Ram. As in many other cases, this means that the road leaves a large area next to the settlements enabling its future expansion, while its construction will serve to limit the possibility of A-Ram’s future development. For the construction of the road, private Palestinian land will have to be expropriated. According to rulings of the Israeli courts based on International Law, private Palestinian land cannot be seized for the purpose of settlements and settler traffic, therefore the Civil Administration claims that the road will also serve Palestinian traffic and for that purpose an interchange nearby Qalandia will connect it to the road to Ramallah. But when examining the schedule for construction of the road, it is clear that this interchange is scheduled to be operational only in the year 2040- many years after the road serving settler traffic is scheduled to open. The fact that Israel is advancing large scale plans for 20 years into the future demonstrates Israeli intentions regarding its control of the area for decades to come.
2 – Expansion of an existing bypass road leading from the Adam settlement into Jerusalem. This plan will likewise serve settler traffic connecting the “fourth settlement bloc” to Jerusalem. This project will also require the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land. Ir Amim writes: “The committee claims to justify the expropriation by stating that the road serves Palestinian traffic as well, yet it is doubtful if there is any significant Palestinian public transportation on the road.”
3 – A new bypass road near the Palestinian village of al-Walajeh, connecting the Etzion settlement block to Jerusalem. Ir Amim notes that this road is a prerequisite for Israel’s expansion of the Har Gilo settlement. This plan will require the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land. Ir Amim writes: “the Israeli Civil Administration wishes to justify its confiscation of Palestinian private lands needed for the construction of the road by claiming that it will also serve Palestinian traffic. This claim would clearly be false as the road only leads into Jerusalem along a route from which Palestinian traffic is blocked by Israeli checkpoints…The planned expansion of Har Gilo by 560 housing units – an addition which will more than double the current size of Har Gilo – is located adjacent to Al-Walaja from the west and will result in the village’s complete isolation.”
Commenting on the plans as a whole, Ir Amim notes:
“These plans for road infrastructure are part of the huge investments of the Israeli government into the de-facto annexation of Greater Jerusalem through furthering large-scale, unilateral, facts on the ground. If realized, these projects will dramatically change the landscape around Jerusalem and deep into the West Bank, allowing for rapid settlement expansion and further fragmentation of the Palestinian space. These moves will deal a death blow to the prospect of a two state solution and lay the ground for the formal annexation of Greater Jerusalem whether through a ‘minor’ or ‘major’ scope of annexation.”
Rights groups and media outlets have documented several instances of settler-perpetrated violence in the vicinity of the Yitzhar settlement over the last week:
- On August 11th, B’Tselem reports that settlers threw stones at Palestinians in two separate incidents.
- On August 12th, dozens of masked settlers violently clashed with Israeli police while the police attempted to dismantle the unauthorized Shevach Haaretz outpost near Yitzhar, located just south of Nablus. The settlers deployed pepper spray, threw paint cans, and punctured car tires during the incident. One police officer needed medical attention, and additional forces were deployed to the area before the riot was dispersed. No arrests were reported.
- On August 13th, Yesh Din reports that a group of settlers set a bulldozer on fire at a Palestinian quarry in the Nablus region, near the radical Yitzhar settlement (home of the Hilltop Youth settler movement).
- The Palestinian villages of Asira al Kabalia and Urif were vandalized with hateful graffiti spray painted in the villages and damage to vehicles.
- “Normalization Deal Between Israel and the UAE Signals a Shift in the Region” (Foreign Policy)
- “These Settler Farmers Are All About Peace and Love – Just Don’t Mention Land Theft” (Haaretz)
- “’The Left Made Israel More Moral, but Their Mistakes Made Them Irrelevant’” (Haaretz)