Settlement & Annexation Report: August 6, 2021


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

August. 6, 2021

  1. Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Court Proposes Settler-friendly “Compromise” to Avoid Substantive Ruling on Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases
  2. Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Israel Reportedly Asks Biden Administration to Pressure Palestinians Into Accepting Sheikh Jarrah “Deal”
  3. Israel Housing Ministry Moves to Advance Atarot Settlement Plan
  4. Report: Jewish National Fund to Approve “Review” of West Bank Land/Property it Claims to Own but Not Have Registered
  5. New Petition Against Construction on Top of Ruins of Lifta
  6. Members of Congress Seek Codify Trump’s Green Line-Erasing Labeling Policy Into Law
  7. Bonus Reads

Sheikh Jarrah, Part 1: Court Proposes Settler-friendly “Compromise” to Avoid Substantive Ruling on Sheikh Jarrah Dispossession Cases

At a hearing held on Monday August 2nd, the three-judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court proposed a “compromise” to resolve the cases of pending evictions of four Palestinian families from their longtime homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The compromise — which appears designed above all else to enable the Court to avoid issuing a ruling on the substance of the case — would enable the Palestinians in the targeted homes to avoid displacement for the time being, while offering settlers formal recognition of their ownership of the properties in question (and turning the Palestinians into tenants paying rent to a settler organization that has made clear its intention to displace them). Moreover, if implemented, the “compromise” would almost certainly become a precedent for the cases of the many other Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan (and almost certainly elsewhere in the future) whose homes/presence is targeted by settlers.

Specifically, under the deal proposed by the Court, the four Palestinian families fighting imminent forcible displacement from their longtime homes in the Sheikh Jarrah (the El Kurd, Jaouni, Abu Hasna, and Askafi families) would be required to recognize the settlers as the rightful owners of the land their homes are built on. In exchange for this recognition — in effect, a repudiation of claims to their own rights to the property — the Palestinians would be designated as “protected tenants,” which would enable the families to continue to live in their homes for 2 generations (protected tenancy rights may be handed down to the children and grandchildren, but not further), so long as the Palestinians pay the required rent to settlers (set at 1,500 shekels a year) and do not otherwise violate the rules of protected tenancy.

The four families swiftly rejected the proposal – which Mohammed El-Kurd observed, accurately, would leave them “at the mercy of settlers, paying rent to live in our own homes.” Despite  this rejection, the Court announced that it intends to continue pursuing the “deal” (while applying pressure on the families to accept it). To that end, the four families were asked to submit a list of individuals who might be eligible to receive protected tenancy rights.

Ir Amim explains not only the trap of protected tenancy rights, but also the larger concerns about how the Court is behaving, writing:

“While protected tenancy offers some assurances against arbitrary eviction, the law still allows for the eviction of protected tenants through a variety of means. Settler organizations are currently using these mechanisms in order to try and evict protected Palestinian tenants in other cases. Alternatively, the settler group could advance an urban renewal building plan, which would ultimately result in the eviction and demolition of the families’ homes. In such a case, the families would be eligible for alternative housing elsewhere, but would lose their community and the homes in which they were living for decades and to which they are strongly tied. Indeed, settler leaders have already applauded the court’s proposal calling it a victory.

Additionally, protected tenancy status will mean, in essence, that the families are not recognized as the owners of their homes. The significance is both symbolic and practical since it means that the families would lose all opportunity to claim ownership in the future – for example when the Israeli Government conducts a land registration process in the neighborhood. Past experience shows that regardless of any phrasing which may be used in an attempt to circumvent recognition of settler ownership, the declaration of protected tenants may be used against future claims by the families. 

The judges’ resolve to push for a settlement indicates their reticence in issuing a substantive ruling which would obligate them to rule against the settler group and the discriminatory legal mechanism which grants Palestinian property to Jews. Such a settlement likewise enables the Israeli government to abdicate responsibility for these measures. 

A fair proposal can only be one that is in accordance with International Law and its basic premise of protecting the occupied population and its right to property, family, and community life.  This basic principle must not be forgotten as the Israeli government is trying to evade the strong pressure which the protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions have succeeded in creating.”

Sheikh Jarrah, Part 2: Israel Reportedly Asks Biden Administration to Pressure Palestinians Into Accepting Sheikh Jarrah “Deal”

Haaretz reports that the Israeli government has asked the Biden Administration to pressure the four Palestinian families facing forcible dispalcement from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah into accepting the deal offered by the Supreme Court (see section above for details on the Supreme Court’s “deal”). The families rejected the deal immediately upon presentation, based on their refusal to legitimize settler claims of ownership over their homes.

Haaretz further reported that officials in the Biden Administration is not jumping to implement the Israeli request, but is keeping a close eye on the case. When asked about these  reports at a State Department briefing on August 5th, spokesperson Ned Price responded:

“Well, as you know, we don’t speak to any diplomatic or private conversations, but what I can say is that we believe that the proposal offered by the Israeli court on August 2nd is a matter for the Israeli and Palestinian parties to the case to consider and to decide for themselves. We’ve said this just this week and many times before that: families should not be evicted from their homes in which they have lived for decades. We have encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution...Look, we’re not going to comment or comment on or confirm reports of diplomatic conversations. What we have said as it relates to this – we have both in public and in private encouraged Israeli authorities to avoid evictions and other actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance negotiated two-state solution.”

Reporting around the Court’s and the Israeli government’s efforts to secure Palestinian agreement on the Sheikh Jarrah “compromise” makes clear that this deal is seen by the Court and the government as a solution that can (a) placate the international community, by avoiding immediate evictions; (b) deliver a huge victory to the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem by creating a legal precedent for settlers to take ownership – and, eventually, possession – of a large number of homes/properties across East Jerusalem); and (c) bolster the Israeli narrative that what is happening in East Jerusalem is merely a real estate dispute, while rebutting claims that Israeli rule in East Jerusalem involves occupation/apartheid policies that systematically dispossess and disenfranchise Palestinians, while in parallel promoting the interests and aspirations of settlers.”

Haaretz columnist Nir Hasson wrote:

“In the end, the Sheikh Jarrah legal battle revolves around one question. Is it simply a real estate dispute, as the settlers assert, or is it part of a campaign by the state – its official arms (the custodian general, Land Registry, the Israel Police) and its unofficial ones (the Nahalat Shimon Company) to dispossess the Palestinians and Judaize the neighborhood? If it’s the latter, it’s a campaign based on discrimination and unjust laws. Needless to say, for the rest of the world, apart from Israel, the Palestinian viewpoint is the one that is accepted; the view that it’s a private dispute is rejected. The three justices struggled to decide where the court stood on this question. On the one hand, they are clearly not happy reopening a discussion on the legal substance of the affair. On the other, they also very much do not want to order the eviction of hundreds of people from their homes – at least not now, when Sheikh Jarrah is the focus of media and diplomatic attention.”

Israel Housing Ministry Moves to Advance Atarot Settlement Plan

The Walla news outlet reports that the Israeli Housing Ministry has placed the Atarot settlement plan on the agenda for the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, which is scheduled to convene in December 2021. The plan for the Atarot settlement – which calls for 9,000 units to be built on the site of the former Qalandiya airport (located at the northern tip of East Jerusalem) – is at an early stage in the approval process. 

According to the Times of Israel, Prime Minister Bennett was not notified in advance of the Ministry’s move – which is surprising given the sensitivity of the plan (which is opposed by the international community and strikes a deadly blow to the prospects of a two-state solution). Bennet is scheduled to head to Washington, D.C. soon – a trip originally scheduled for August, but now delayed until September.

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. In February 2020, following the publication of the Trump Plan – which designated the area that would be used for the settlement as a “special tourist zone” for Palestinians –  the Atarot settlement plan was formally introduced. In January 2021 then-Prime Minister Netanyahu dangled the advancement of the plan as an incentive for parties to join his flagging coalition in order to remain in power. At the time, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann noted that the plan faces significant legal obstacles and predicted that it will not come to fruition “anytime soon.”

In its current form, the plan provides for up to 9,000 residential units for ultra-Orthodox Jews (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 6, this means housing for 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 a small Israeli city surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north.

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” by Israel 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.

 The Atarot airport site is an important commodity and, during past negotiations, it was promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. Israeli development of the site as a settlement would — by design — not only deprive a future Palestinian state of the only airport in a Palestinian area, but also dismember Palestinian neighborhoods in the northern part of the Jerusalem, 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).

Report: Jewish National Fund to Approve “Review” of West Bank Land/Property it Claims to Own but Not Have Registered

Haaretz reports that the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund is set to approve an institutional review of approximately 17,000 assets it claims to own but failed to register  (or take possession of) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Many of these properties are Palestinian homes, whose residents the JNF refers to as “squatters”. The JNF’s legal review could reportedly take five years to complete, and could result in the eviction of Palestinians if the JNF is found by Israel to rightfully own the land (given the track record of Israeli courts with respect to property disputes between Israeli organizations and Palestinains, such a finding is a near certainty), is then permitted to register the land, and then chooses to pursue the eviction of those Palestinians.

Of the total (17,000 assets), the JNF claims:

  • It has documentation showing the purchase of 360 properties.
  • It has a contract proving ownership of 170 properties
  • It has legal claim to 2,050 plot currently under the control of Israel’s General Custodian (the body set up by the Israeli government to take control of land and properties “abandoned” by Palestinians in the 1948 war).

Peace Now said in response:

“The Jewish National Fund is becoming the Settlers’ National Fund. The registration procedures in the Occupied Territories and in East Jerusalem could bring to massive dispossession of Palestinians, like in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, and expansion of the settlements. The JNF- KKL is a national institution for the entire Jewish people which should not serve one side of the political map as it puts facts on the ground that endanger the state of Israel. We call upon all the organizations which are party to the JNF- KKL board, including Maccabi, Hadassah and Naamat and others: don’t be political organizations, don’t let your representatives vote for deepening the occupation and the settlements.”

As a reminder, established in 1901, the JNF 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 (until now) did not support such purchases. Peace Now reports that the JNF, via Himanuta, has already purchased over 160,000 acres (65,000 dunams) across the West Bank; settlements established on some of those lands include Itamar, Alfei Menashe, Einav, Kedumim, Givat Ze’ev, Metzadot Yehuda (Beit Yatir), Otniel and more. At the same time, the JNF and the settler group Elad have been partnering together to pursue the mass eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Silwan.

New Petition Against Construction on the Ruins of Lifta

On August 4th, a new petition was submitted to the Jerusalem Administrative Court challenging the issuance of a tender for construction on the ruins of the Palestinian neighborhood of Lifta in West Jerusalem. The tender was issued for 259 luxury housing units, commercial buildings, and a hotel. The petition was submitted by Adv. Dr. Sami Arshid on behalf of refugees from Lifta  and experts/activists who have been protesting for the conservation of the site, which is on the UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage Sites.

The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh writes that the petition was submitted with three expert opinions, one from a civil engineer, a second from an ecologist, and a third written by a team of five architects and conservation planners. All of these opinions object to the construction plan. 

While FMEP’s settlement and annexation report focuses on settlement building in areas located over the 1967 Green Line, the story of Lifta – and of other Palestinian villages forcibly depopulated by Israeli forces in the 1948 – is another facet of the Israeli government’s policy of erasure of Palestinians via the establishment of Jewish Israeli communities. You can read one Palestinian’s account of forced her forced displacement from Lifta, here.

Members of Congress Seek Codify Trump’s Green Line-Erasing Labeling Policy Into Law

On July 27th, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and 5 Republican colleagues introduced a bill to “require the maintenance of the country of origin markings for imported goods produced in the West Bank or Gaza, and for other purposes.” Under this legislation, products made in the West Bank and Gaza would be legally required to be labelled “Made in Israel” for the purposes of importing to the United States. 

In a tweet following the introduction of the bill, which has been referred  to committee, Sen. Cotton released a statement  and tweeted:

“Left-wing activists abuse county-of-origin labels in order to stigmatize products made in Israel. Our bill will defend the integrity of the Jewish State by ensuring that Israeli products may proudly bear the label ‘Made in Israel’ 

As a reminder, in the waning months of the Trump Administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new U.S. guidelines that require products made in all areas under Israeli control to be labelled as “Made in Israel” (or iterations thereof) when being exported to the U.S. This was a massive and highly consequential shift in U.S. policy, boiling down to U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty not only over settlements (as the Trump Administration has previously done) but over all of Area C – some 60% of the West Bank), irrespective of whether or not Israel officially annexes the land. This Trump-era labeling policy remains in effect today, as the Biden Administration has not publicly reversed it. Notably, this policy – as laid out by Pompeo – would in principle require even Palestinian-made goods originating from villages in Area C to be labelled as “Made in Israel”. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C, where they are subjected to an escalating Israeli campaign to make life untenable for them via discriminatory planning policies and demolitions. 

For more, please see (and subscribe to receive) Lara Friedman’s weekly legislative roundup.

Bonus Reads

  1. Why we went to the UN Security Council about East Jerusalem” (The Times of Israel // Yudith Oppenheimer of Ir Amim)
  2. Ted Cruz blocks bill advancing Israel-Arab normalization, citing pressure on Israel to reach two-state solution” (JTA)
  3. “WATCH: Settler grabs Israeli soldier’s weapon, fires at Palestinians” (+972 Magazine)