Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
August 7, 2020
- U.S. “Source”: Annexation is Still on the Table
- Givat Hamatos Settlement Tender Delayed (Again)
- Emek Shaveh: Civil Administration Hearing on Hebron Settlement Project is a “Farce”
- Minister Presides Over Celebration of Completion of New Migron settlement
- On 15-Year Anniversary of Disengagement, Israeli MKs Vow No More Settlement Evacuations
- Settlers Say Israel’s Mismanagement of West Bank Land Registry Has Enabled Palestinian Theft of Land in Area C
- State Comptroller Report Re-Centers Long Standing Settler Safety Complaints As Grounds for More De Facto Annexation
- Near Nablus, Palestinians Take on IDF & Settlers to Stop Land Theft
- Israel’s Short-Lived Settlement Affairs Ministry Shipped to London
- West Bank Realities No Longer Hidden by U.S. Satellite Imagery Prohibition
- Bonus Reads
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Annexation rumors were kept alive this week with an August 3rd report that a “well placed source” told The Times of Israel that Avi Berkowitz (an assistant to President Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations) continues his work to get Trump’s sign-off on Israel’s plan to annex of a massive portion of the West Bank. The source said that more negotiations between the U.S. and Israel are needed, and that the U.S. is demanding that Israel make some kind of gesture to the Palestinians. In weeks past, it has been suggested that this “gesture” could be Israel giving Palestinians some degree of control over a small part of Area C.
Also on August 3rd, Prime Minister Netanyahu commented to his fellow Likud Party members that the Trump Plan was not off the table, but that the decision and movement around the plan was in the U.S. arena.
Speaking on August 5th, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (a key leader of the Blue & White Party) appeared to contradict Netanyahu, saying:
“Right now [annexation is] not on the agenda, because everyone is busy” [but also making clear his support for the Trump Plan and annexation, noting “as we stated, it’s a framework to solve the conflict. We prefer to do to in dialogue with our neighbors, we prefer to do to it without interfering with the existing past peace agreements [with Egypt and Jordan], and future ones. We are fully aware of the consequences of this vision and we would like to do it in a responsible way.”
Scheduled to be open for bidding on August 2nd, Ir Amim reported on August 3rd that (as of that date) the tender for the construction of the Givat HaMatos settlement in East Jerusalem (1,077 units) had not yet been opened online. The Israeli government has not offered an explanation for the delay (the second delay in this opening for bids) or timetable for when the bidding will be opened.
Though the plan for Givat Hamatos has been fully approved, construction of the settlement has yet to start. Givat Hamatos has long been regarded as a doomsday settlement by parties interested in preserving the possibility of a two-state solution. If the Givat Hamatos settlement is built, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction, severing its connection to the West Bank.
In anticipation of the bidding window opening, 15 European Union members issued a rebuke of the plan during a video conference, with the French Embassy in Israel later tweeting its disapproval of Israel’s advancement of both the E1 and Givat Hamatos settlements. Peace Now also delivered a letter to Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi beseeching them to stop those two settlement plans from moving forward.
Hanan Ashraw sharply responded to the outcry against E-1 and Givat Hamatos from the EU countries, saying:
“Rhetorical opposition has not deterred Israel. In fact, Israel is emboldened to escalate its criminal actions precisely because it is confident that opposition will not move from the verbal to the practical. If implemented, these Israeli plans would completely sever occupied Jerusalem from its natural Palestinian surrounding and cut the occupied West Bank in half. While the international community is concerned with the “possibility” of annexation, Israel is implementing its annexation scheme on the ground without any deterrence.”
On August 4th, the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee held a public hearing to discuss objections submitted against its plan to build accessible infrastructure, including an elevator, at the al-Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarch in Hebron — a plan which requires Israel to seize from the Islamic Waqf.
Described as “unprofessional” and “a farce” by Emek Shaveh (an Israeli NGO with deep expertise in archaeology and the preservation of historic sites), the hearing began with the Council chairman stating that the government had already determined that it will build the elevator regardless of any objections to the plan. The Chairperson said:
′′We [the members of the planning committee] all decided, it is an important program that must be promoted…What is this attitude, you came to resist. Why resist?””
Emek Shaveh raised several objections to the plan’s archeological and planning deficits, and the Palestinian Municipality of Hebron submitted objections to Israel’s violation of agreements, signed by Israel, relating to governance and planning in Hebron.
Emek Shaveh said in its statement:
“The most important historical, archaeological and holy site in the West Bank has been subject to reckless and amatuer planning and is the victim of politically motivated, unprofessional decision making.”
On July 27th, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein spoke at an event to celebrate the end of construction on the new Migron settlement, which will house 50 settler families.
The new Migron site is located a little over one mile away from the original site of the outpost bearing the same name – which settlers were forced by Israel to evacuate. The new site is on a hilltop that is technically within the jurisdiction of the Kochav Ya’acov settlement, but is not contiguous with its built up area. As such, it is properly understood as a new settlement. The fact that the site is within the territory allocated to Kochav Ya’acov allowed Israel to approval of New Migron as if it were merely a neighborhood of an existing settlement rather than a new settlement.
In 2011, the Israeli High Court ruled that (old) Migron – an illegal outpost – must be evacuated because it was built on privately owned Palestinian land. Most of the illegal outpost’s residents were evacuated and most of the outpost’s buildings were demolished in 2012. Determined to demonstrate its support for settlers in the face of this court-compelled evacuation, the government promised to establish two new settlements: “New Migron” (the settlement officially inaugurated this week), as well as 184 housing units to be built east of the settlement of Adam (aka, Geva Binyamin). All said, the two new settlements and temporary housing for the evicted settlers cost Israeli taxpayers millions of dollars – sending a clear message that settler law-breaking pays off.
At last week’s ceremony, which was also attended by Ronen Peretz, a senior aid to Netanyahu, Minister Edelstein said:
“This is an important national moment…this is the response [to Disengagement]. This is what provides hope…With God’s help, the application of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria will give an even more determinative response.”
Edelstein’s reference to the “Disengagement” refers to Israel’s unilateral move in 2005 to evacuate its settlements in the Gaza strip and a small number of settlements in the northern West Bank (which took place almost 15 years ago to the date the celebration of New Migron).
On August 4th, a coalition of Knesset Members led by Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) and Miki Zohar (Likud) introduced a bill meant to prevent the government from evacuating settlements under any circumstances. The bill was introduced on the anniversary of Israel’s 2005 unilateral move to evacuate 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank.
Minister of Diaspora Affairs Omer Yankelevich (Blue & White) also took the opportunity to state her opposition to settlement evacuation, making the following remark during a tour of settlements in the northern West Bank:
“Settlement evacuation brings terror, not peace…Judea and Samaria are an inheritance from our forefathers. There are those who speak of these areas in terms of cost versus benefit but we need to remind them that we are talking about our land and not to be ashamed of this fact. Extension of sovereignty over these areas is our desire at the end of the day, under the right conditions,”
In addition, Gilad Sharon (son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who devised and implemented the 2005 disengagement) added his voice to the anti-evacuation chorus. While defending his father’s actions and bashing the Palestinians, Sharon said:
“What we could afford in the Gaza Strip, in an isolated area squeezed between the desert and the sea, we cannot do in Judea and Samaria. This is the heart of the land, Judea and Samaria. When the world sees what happened in Gaza, because they got billions of dollars. What did they do with the money? [Did they build] any housing, factories, something? Only rockets and terror tunnels. That’s what they did, so everyone understands that that’s how they behave when they are left alone. What you can afford for yourself in an isolated corner, you cannot do in the heart of Tel Aviv, in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, in the heart of the country. I don’t think we should evacuate anything. Gaza was a very unique case, nothing to do with Judea and Samaria, which we have to hold forever.”
Settlers Say Israel’s Mismanagement of West Bank Land Registry Has Enabled Palestinian Theft of Land in Area C
A new report published by the Israeli State Comptroller chided the Israeli Defense Ministry for its incomplete land registry documenting land ownership (Palestinian and Israeli) in Area C of the West Bank. The radical settler group Regavim used the report as yet another opportunity to perpetuate the myth that the Palestinian Authority is orchestrating a campaign to steal Area C land from Israel. As a reminder, Area C land is not Israeli land; it is land occupied by Israel that, under the Oslo Accords, came under temporary Israel civilian and security control under arrangements that were supposed to last only a short period of time before a permanent status agreement was reached between the parties – an agreement that was supposed to be reached within 5 years.
Regavim Director-General Meir Deutsch said:
“The painstaking, glacial pace of handwritten record keeping is fertile ground for forgery, and leads to further violation of property rights, making it nearly impossible to conduct property transactions in a normal fashion. The failure to carry out the necessary registration and regulation of land in these areas has enabled the Palestinian Authority to carry out a well-planned, carefully-timed and well-funded land-seizure program.”
State Comptroller Report Re-Centers Long Standing Settler Safety Complaints As Grounds for More De Facto Annexation
A new report published by the Israeli State Comptroller blamed the Israeli Defense Forces for putting settlers in danger by failing to secure roads in Area C for the settlers. The report explained that part of the IDF’s failure was due to bad communication and conflict over which Israeli ministry – Defense or Transportation – was actually in charge. This framing is significant given that the Israeli Civil Administration – the body which effectively is the occupying government of the West Bank – is part of the Defense Ministry, while the Transportation Ministry does not have legal planning authority in the West Bank (it is a part of Israel’s own government, meaning that giving it authority in the West Bank amounts to de facto annexation). The report also called out the Defense Ministry for the poor quality and incompleteness of the West Bank land registry (as discussed above).
Efrat Council Chairman Oded Revivi said that the report demonstrates why Israel needs to annex the settlements.
As a reminder: settlers are Israeli civilians who have chosen, for a variety of reasons, to live in an area under military occupation where their “safety” must be actively attended to by the Israeli army. The issue of security for settlers and settlement infrastructure has in the past translated to massive investments of government resources into projects that entrench and expand Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank. For example, following months of intense pressure from settlers, in October 2017, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman promised to allocate $939 million for projects for settlers and settlements across the West Bank. According to the Times of Israel, the $939 million package was dedicated to funding:
“the installation of security cameras along roads throughout the West Bank; the installation of cell phone towers to improve reception for settlers who may need to call for help; the paving of bypass roads around Palestinian towns and settlements to allow the populations to avoid each other; the bolstering of armored buses that travel through the West Bank; and broad security improvements for each settlement that will include security cameras, “smart fences” and sensors to warn of attempts to sneak into settlements.”
The following year (2018), Israel inaugurated several new bypass roads In partial fulfillment of the 2017 funding commitment to a settler security package. In 2019, Israel issued permits for the construction of an additional two bypass roads.
On August 6th, Wafa reports that Palestinians clashed with IDF just west of Nablus, at the site of a new outpost that settlers were attempting to establish near a well on privately-owned Palestinian land. The report says Palestinians were attacked by the IDF when they attempted to reach the area where settlers had set up a tent and a caravan.
Palestinians reportedly planned to continue their struggle to challenge the settlers’ effort to take over the site by staging Friday prayers there.
After serving for around four months as Israel’s first Settlement Affairs Minister, Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has now moved on to be Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom. There is no word on her replacement.
Hotovely is regarded as a rising star in the Likud Party (which some suggest is why she is being sent abroad, noting that Netayahu has a pattern of using ambassadorship to put some distance between himself and those he sees as posing the greatest challenge to him politically). Hotovely is well known for her radical views — racist, homophobic, and pro-annexation — as well as her denial of the existence of the Palestinian people.
Al-Shabaka policy fellow Zena Agha writes in Foreign Policy about the repercussions and importance of a recent change in U.S. policy regarding satellite imagery. This change eliminates the longstanding prohibition on American satellite imagery companies producing high-resolution photos of the West Bank. Agha writes:
“Significantly, the reversal empowers humanitarian groups working to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law, including unlawful killings and settlement construction (which, under the fourth Geneva Convention, constitutes a war crime). It is perhaps for this reason that the KBA’s reversal has already caused some disquiet in Israeli military quarters. The reversal also has geopolitical implications. Satellite images of the border areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt have thus far been both downsampled and poorly covered (with many operators wary of capturing any Israeli territory). The change in legislation will provide uncensored images of these areas and allow for their monitoring and investigation, particularly around environmental issues such as water extraction. Finally, from the perspective of historical justice and accountability, uncensored, high-resolution images enable Palestinians to accurately catalog the remnants of villages and towns destroyed during the events of 1948 and beyond. The democratizing power of the reform will allow Palestinians to use technology to rediscover an erased past and to imagine an alternative future.”
- “Court override bill dead in the water as Haredim, Liberman rule out support
- “ (The Times of Israel)
- “Peace Now asks Gantz, Ashkenazi to halt east Jerusalem Givat Hamatos homes” (Jerusalem Post)
- “What Comes First, an Israeli Army Firing Zone or Palestinian Villages?” (Haaretz)
- “Netanyahu’s decline benefits pro-settler Bennett” (Al-Monitor)
- “Israel Offers Money to Palestinian family for Killing by Settler” (Ynet)