Settlement & Annexation Report: December 11, 2020


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

December 11, 2020

  1. Israel Expected to Advance Plan for Yeshiva at Entrance to Sheikh Jarrah
  2. Gantz Weighing Vote in Cabinet to Legalize 40+ Outposts
  3. MK Planning to Call Vote on Bill to Prevent Future Evacuation of Any/All Settlements & Outposts (De Facto Annexation West Bank)
  4. Annexation via Internet
  5. Annexation via Roads & Infrastructure
  6. Bahrain Backtracks On Annexation Recognition…As UAE Openly Embraces Settlers
  7. Bonus Reads

Israel Expected to Advance Plan for Yeshiva at Entrance to Sheikh Jarrah

Ir Amim reports that at the next meeting of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee the Committee, scheduled for December 16, is expected to advance a highly inflammatory plan to build a Jewish religious school (a yeshiva) and dormitory at the entrance of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The District Planning Committee was expected to grant approval to this plan in July 2020, but – based on data submitted by Ir Amim – unexpectedly ordered a new survey on the needs of the Sheikh Jarrah community. It is unclear at this time whether that survey has been completed, and if it has been completed, what the conclusions/findings were and if the Committee is now satisfied. The December 16th Committee meeting is closed to the public.

The plan to build the yeshiva and dormitory, which would house dozens of young religious settlers, as well as another project for a 6-story building in the same area, aims to strengthen Israeli settlers’ hold on the neighborhood. Once built, settlements will literally flank both sides of the road leading into Sheikh Jarrah, advancing the settlers’ goal of cementing the presence of the settlement enclaves inside of Sheikh Jarrah and connecting them more seamlessly to the neighborhood’s periphery and to West Jerusalem. 

Ir Amim writes:

“If approved, the construction of the yeshiva will significantly bolster the efforts of state-sponsored settler organizations to transform large portions of Sheikh Jarrah into a large Israeli settlement through evictions of Palestinians and settler takeovers of their homes. Over the past few months, the Israeli courts have upheld eviction demands against 12 Palestinian families, including the Sabbagh family, from the Kerem Al’ajoni section of Sheikh Jarrah, ruling on behalf of settler groups. Various appeals and legal proceedings have only temporarily halted the families forced removal from their homes.”

Just this week, FMEP hosted a webinar on Sheikh Jarrah and the impending dispossession of Palestinians from their longtime homes.

Gantz Weighing Vote in Cabinet to Legalize 40+ Outposts

The Jerusalem Post reports that Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue & White) is holding up – for unreported reasons – the Security Cabinet’s consideration of a draft decision to grant authorization to dozens of Isareli outposts across the West Bank. Gantz has not (yet) issued his approval for the draft text to be discussed and voted on at the Cabinet level, though he has allowed a senior Defense Minister, Michael Biton, to work with Settlement Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) on crafting that text over the past several weeks.

Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee on December 9th, Hanegbi said that a draft decision is “almost 100% complete,” and that he expects it to provide for the retroactive authorization of 40-45 outposts.  Hanegbi said he had hoped to craft a decision that could apply to 69 outposts, but his negotiations with Biton limited its scope. Last week, Biton and Gantz made it clear that the party would support granting authorization to outposts which were built on “state land,” but not outposts which have a more complicated land status, including private Palestinian ownership claims.

According to Peace Now, there are a total of 124 outposts in the West Bank. There is a new urgency around granting a sweeping government authorization to outposts as Israel anticipates a closing window of opportunity to do so with the looming exit of President Trump and his openly pro-settlement, pro-outpost, pro-annexation policy

The push to grant retroactive legalization to all of the outposts is nothing new, nor is the more limited goal of granting authorization to outposts that were built on land that has been declared by Israel to be state land – a status which the Israeli government regards as less complicated than cases where the outposts were built on land that have recognized ownership claims from Palestinians. In addition to the myriad problems with how Israel has used its authority as an occupier to declare land as “state land” and subsequently designates that land for the sole use of settlers, the fact remains that outposts built on that land were built illegally even under Israeli law (though in many cases with the tacit support or active encouragement of the government). For years, Israel has openly sought to find creative bureaucratic and legal means to grant retroactive “legal” status to as many outposts as possible. 

In 2012, a government-commissioned report – called the “Levy Report” (after its author, retired High Court Justice Edmund Levy) declared Israeli’s occupation of the West Bank to be legal and recommended that outposts built on state land can be easily authorized (legalized) through the planning process without a government decision (i.e., outside of  the influence of political or diplomatic considerations). The Israeli government, though it did not formally adopt the report, has nonetheless proceeded to implement its recommendation to grant retroactive legalization to many of these outposts. According to a 2019 Peace Now report – 15 outposts have since been legalized and 35 are in the process of being legalized between 2012 and 2019. At the same time, 32 new outposts have been established.

The outposts that, to this point, have not been legalized have spurred new legal thinking in Israel – like the Regulation Law and the “market regulation” principle – to find new bases by which to legalize the outposts under Israeli law (aka, to suspend the rule of law to deprive Palestinians of recognized land ownership and legalize illegal actions). 

MK Planning to Call Vote on Bill to Prevent Future Evacuation of Any/All Settlements & Outposts (De Facto Annexation West Bank)

MK Tzvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) announced that he intends to bring to a vote in the Knesset a bill that would amount to the de facto annexation of the West Bank. The bill aims at preventing the Israeli government from ever evacuating any settlements or outposts, and it does so by expanding the application of an existing Israeli law to include the West Bank. That law, passed in 2014, requires that any proposed withdrawal/evacuation of territory in Jerusalem or the Golan Heights be approved in a national referendum or receive a supermajority of 80 votes in the Knesset. The logic behind this effort is that even if political leaders some day were interested in negotiating a two-state agreement with the Palestinains, the law would make implementation of any agreement politically difficult if not impossible (a situation which would in effect tell the Palestinians, formally, that they have no hope of ever ending the occupation via negotiations).

The bill was submitted to the Knesset in August, and can be brought up for a vote by a member at any time.

Various versions of this same bill have been repeatedly introduced to the Knesset, but not yet called up for a vote. For details, see Yesh Din’s handy database of annexation legislation here. Explaining a 2017 version of the bill introduced by MK Yehuda Glick (then a Likud party member), Yesh Din wrote:

“The bill addresses the West Bank territory as part of the State of Israel, and seeks to equate the legal standing of sovereign Israel and territories not subject to Israeli sovereignty.”

Annexation via Internet

On December 8, Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz Party) accompanied settler leaders on a tour of the Etzion settlement bloc region in the southern West Bank. Speaking to reporters, Hendel reiterated his promise to deliver modern communications infrastructure, including high speed internet and fiber optics, to settlers living in the area.

Perfectly explaining why this is part of Israel’s entrenchment of the settlements and de facto annexation of the West Bank, Shlomo Ne’em (head of the settler Gush Etzion Regional Council) said:

“Adding communications infrastructure in Gush Etzion is equivalent to de facto sovereignty. Until we bring full national sovereignty, the residents here can live on par with 21 century standards.”

Annexation via Roads & Infrastructure

Breaking the Silence and the Israeli Centre for Public Affairs this week issued a new report entitled “Highway to Annexation: Israeli Road and Infrastructure Development in the West Bank.” The report lays out how Israel has, for decades, been implementing de facto annexation of the West Bank not only through the growth of the settlements, but through the construction of roads, water, electricity, and other infrastructure in the West Bank which in turn allows for the growth of the settlements.

In addition to providing a history lesson on Israel’s construction of infrastructure in the West Bank from the earliest days of the occupation, the report provides analysis of ongoing and likely infrastructure projects that are a key part of the ongoing annexation-through-infrastructure reality. Those projects, which are designed solely with the interest of the settlements in mind (though the GOI says that Palestinians will be able to use them as well), include:

    1. Expanding Lateral Roads, including: Highway 55 (running from Israel to the Kedumim settlement), Highway 5/505 (running from Israel through the Ariel settlement and on to the Jordan Valley), Highway 456 (running between Ramallah and Salfit), Highway 367 (in the western Etzion bloc). As explained in the report, lateral roads in the West Bank serve two goals: connecting settlements to Israel proper and restricting the growth potential of Palestinian communities.
    2. Expanding and renovating roads in the Jerusalem Metropolis, including the following –
      1. To Jerusalem’s south: doubling the size of Highway 60 (the “Tunnels Road”) as an entrance to Jerusalem from the south;
      2. To Jerusalem’s east: extending the Eastern Ring Road (aka the “Apartheid Road”), building an underpasses for the Talpiot and French Hill settlements and an overpass for the Ramat Shlomo settlement – all of which will allow settlers to more directly (without hitting a single traffic light) enter Jerusalem.
      3. To Jerusalem’s north: tunneling under the Qalandiya checkpoint (for settlers only) and connecting that tunnel via a new sections of several highways in the area (Highway 45, Highway 443, Highway 935). This will allow settlers (only) to bypass the notoriously congested Hizma checkpoint.
      4. And, expanding the Jerusalem light rail to service East Jerusalem settlements.
    3. Building the “Sovereignty Road” near Ma’ale Adumim. This road would be for Palestinians, designed to divert Palestinian traffic around the Maale Adumim and E1 settlement areas in preperation for massive settlement growth. This road has emerged as the Israeli government’s defense for its plans to build the E-1 settlement, which critics say will sever the West Bank in two. Israel, via this road plan, argues that Palestinians will continue to have “transportational contiguity” despite losing territorial contiguity.

For a full reporting on all of the infrastructure projects being advanced by Israel in the West Bank, see the full report.

The authors write:

“ The ultimate vision of the road and transportation projects currently planned and underway in the West Bank involve entrenching the segregation between Israeli settlers and Palestinians. These infrastructure projects, of course, do not provide for “separate but equal” development but are rather guided primarily by the interests of the settler population and come at the expense of Palestinian 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.“

Bahrain Backtracks On Annexation Recognition…As UAE Openly Embraces Settlers

This week, Bahrain clarified that it will not import goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank or Golan Heights (making the question of how such products are labeled moot). The policy clarification reverses comments made by a Bahraini trade official late last week that seemed to offer Bahrain’s de facto recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements, and follows significant backlash for those comments.

Taking a different approach, this week the UAE — which previously welcomed a high-profile visit by a settler delegation — doubled down on its approach of actively embracing commercial ties with settlements. On December 8th, the Jerusalem Post reported that the UAE-based FAM Holding company has signed a deal with a settlement vineyard – the first time such a deal has been made between a UAE business and the settlements. The deal provides for the UAE to import goods from the Tura Winery (in the Rehelim settlement), the Har Bracha Winery (in the Har Bracha settlement), and the Arnon Winery (near the Itamar settlement), as well as Paradise Honey. 

Yossi Dagan, the head of the settler Samaria Regional Council, called the deal “a national-strategic achievement for the State of Israel” saying it is a:

“significant part of a strategic process to strengthen Samaria — in the number of residents, in infrastructure and culture. We’re working hard, consistently, and in any location, to turn Samaria into an economic powerhouse — another glass ceiling shattered!”

Discussing/rationalizing the deal, the head of Dubai’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry adopted longstanding hasbara talking points that paint doing business with settlements as a way of helping the Palestinians. According to the Times of Israel, he: 

“noted that Israeli factories provide work for tens of thousands of Palestinians and said the hope is to assist the Palestinians economy rather than harm it.”

As a reminder, “benevolent occupation” is an old hasbara argument founded on the view that Palestinian should appreciate the opportunities settlements provide for employment, even as those same settlements and the occupation deny them dignity, human and civil rights, freedom of movement and access to their own lands, and self-determination –and in parallel, deny them any chance to develop a productive Palestinain economy that could provide them employment and economic opportunities. For a an examination of this old hasbara line, see: Sodastream, ScarJo, and the Myth of Benevolent Occupation

Along these same lines, Avi Zimmerman – leader of the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce & Industry” – is once again touting the fiction that the success of settlement businesses benefits Palestinians. According to the Times of Israel’s reporting, Zimmerman said that, “in the spirit of symmetry” he is working to:

“find opportunities for Palestinian businesses to benefit from the accords as well, in the short term through partnerships with Israeli businesses and in the long term through large-scale environmental and infrastructure projects that incorporate both populations.”

Again, as a reminder, economic “coexistence” initiatives like the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce & Industry” are, in fact, efforts to normalize, entrench, and reward Israeli settlements while perpetuating Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources). Labelling such initiatives as “coexistence” programs or suggesting that Palestinians should welcome the benefits of settlement economies is perverse.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israel’s Tony Soprano Policies in the West Bank“ (Haaretz // Michael Sfard)
  2. “Firing zones, Highway 10 to open to hikers on Hanukkah” (Jerusalem Post)
  3. Highways to Annexation: Across the West Bank, Israel Is Bulldozing a Bright Future for Jewish Settlers” (Haaretz)
  4. “Peace for Peace? Israel-Morocco Deal Is Occupation in Exchange for Occupation” (Haaretz)