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December 18, 2020
- Draft Government Decision on Outposts Provides for Expropriating Private Palestinian Land for the Settlements & Retroactively Legalization of 43 Outposts
- Knesset Advances Bill to Grant Retroactive Legalization to 65 Outposts
- Tender Published for 290 Units in the Gilo Settlement, More to Come
- New Evidence Showing Settler Council Funds Illegal Outposts via Amana; Petition on Amana Funding to be Heard by High Court in Coming Days
- Israel Sovereignty Movement Launches New Campaign for Annexation
- Israel’s Escalating Assault on Palestinian Life in Area C
- Bonus Reads
by Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Draft Government Decision on Outposts Provides for Expropriating Private Palestinian Land for the Settlements & Retroactively Legalization of 43 Outposts
Peace Now has reported the details of a draft government decision on outposts, which Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz is currently holding back from coming up for a Cabinet vote (despite the fact that one of his key advisors reportedly helped draft the decision). With the measure blocked in the Cabinet, proponents of the legalization effort may try to bypass the government by going for Knesset approval of a bill to accomplish a similar goal (see below).
With respect to the details of the initiative: contrary to previous reporting on the matter, the effort does not relate to outposts built illegally on “state land,” but rather deals with 43 illegal outposts built either entirely or partially on land that is privately owned by Palestinians. According to Peace Now, the draft government decision seeks to:
- Establish a new mechanism for expropriating privately owned Palestinian land for the outposts/settlements. The decision calls for the recruitment of 17 staff (5 real estate coordinators, 3 legal advisers, 2 real estate department workers, 5 planning bureau workers and 2 coordinators) who would be tasked with finding legal means by which to declare private Palestinian land to be “state land” if there is an outpost built on it. According to Peace Now, the new staff will use recommendations from the Zandberg report and of Attorney General Mandelblit to accomplish this goal. To review, the 2018 Zandberg report suggested that, in order to legalize outposts, the government can and should (thorough explanation of these points can be found here):
- Implement the “market regulation” principle to its fullest extent.
- Expropriate of privately owned Palestinian land for “public use.”
- Adopt a principle of flexibility in defining “adjacent areas.”
- Establish new, official settlements (in the case where outposts cannot be regulated based on the prior three points).
- End the work of the Israeli “Blue Line Team,” which maps the legal status of land in the West Bank.
- Allow regional Settlement Councils to provide municipal services to (currently) unauthorized outposts.
- Approve 31 outposts as “neighborhoods” of existing settlements that are fully authorized by the Israel government. By doing so, Israel hopes it might avoid international consternation involved in establishing new settlements. Despite the legal turn of tongue, the authorization of outposts as new neighborhoods of existing settlements should be understood as the establishment of new settlements, especially but not solely because in many if not most cases the outposts are not contiguous with the built up part of settlements or even within the recognized borders of settlements’ Master Plans. For a list of these outposts, see the Peace Now report.
- Approve the authorization of 12 independent outposts, creating 11 fully fledged new settlements. For a list of these outposts, see the Peace Now report.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The proposed resolution awards a prize for systematic delinquency and gives the green light for the continued takeover of Palestinian land in a way that would never have been considered legal within Israel proper. Beyond the value and moral damage that the decision produces, it promotes the de facto annexation of the West Bank, without public debate and against the wishes of most Israeli citizens who breathed a sigh of relief with the cancellation of the annexation plans. The fact that the government found it appropriate to allocate tens of millions of shekels for the move, precisely in the midst of an economic crisis, also shows how flawed and distorted its priorities are, as well as its contempt for the electorate. It can still be stopped. We hope that the government will show responsibility and avoid the move. ”
In light of Benny Gantz’s delay in granting approval to a draft government decision on outposts, the Knesset has advanced a bill to grant retroactive legalization to 65 outposts (distinct from the initiative described above). The bill – introduced by far right-wing MK Bezalel Smotrich (Tkuma) and the Land of Israel Lobby (which he chairs), passed its first reading on December 16th. It will need to pass three more readings before becoming law. Smotrich said he hopes to expedite the next three readings before the year’s end (i.e. next week), while continuing to call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to approve a government decision on the matter.
The legislation would, if passed, require the government to treat the 65 outposts as if they were legal – and would direct the government to complete the formal legalization process for the outposts within two years. In the interim, the state would be obligated to connect the outposts to Israeli municipal utilities like water, internet, phone, and also allow the granting of mortgages to settlers living on land.
Notably, the bill enjoys broad support in the Knesset and passed by a 60 to 40 vote. Support for the bill includes Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Naftali Bennet’s Yamina Party, and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party. And, despite official opposition to the bill, Gantz allowed four members of his Blue & White Party to vote in its favor – showing that there might be an even broader base of support. As part of its campaign to push the bill forward, a Knesset committee devoted to legalizing all outposts ran a survey of 502 Israeli adults that found 73% of respondents who identify as “centrist” or support the Blue & White party are in favor of the outpost legalization bill.
Commenting on passage of the bill in its first reading, the Land of Israel Lobby said:
“A huge majority of the elected Knesset members support the moral and humane process of regulating the young settlements.”
Ir Amim reports that the Israel Lands Authority published a tender for the construction of 290 new units in the Gilo settlement, located in southern Jerusalem between the isolated Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa and the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Ir Amim reports that the proposed new units will be built within the built-up area of the settlement, meaning that this plan will not expand the footprint of the Gilo settlement.
Ir Amim further reports that Israeli authorities are advancing two more plans to expand Gilo:
- On December 21st, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee discussed a plan to build 253 new settlement units in Gilo. If implemented, the construction would expand the footprint of Gilo eastwards towards the West Bank city of Beit Jala.
- Another plan for 464 units in the Gilo settlement has been scheduled for final discussion on January 4, 2021. This plan would replace and add to existing apartments in the settlement.
New Evidence Showing Settler Council Funds Illegal Outposts via Amana; Petition on Amana Funding to be Heard by High Court in Coming Days
Days before the High Court will once again takes up a petition seeking to bar governmental funding from going to the radical Amana settler group – which is engaged in illegal outpost activity – a new trove of documents has once again proven that settler councils have been secretly funneling money to Amana, explicitly to support the establishment and development of illegal outposts.
This week, after a year-long battle led by the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel, the Gush Etzion Regional Council (a settler body governing settlement affairs in part of the southern West Bank) was forced to release documents that revealed its financial relationship with Amana, the largest and most powerful settler organization devoted to advancing settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Those documents show how the Council diverted nearly $500,000 (1.6 million shekels) in 2018 and 2019 to Amana directly in support of the establishment and development of illegal outposts.
The financial relationship between settler councils and Amana is not entirely new information (see here), but these newly-released documents specifically reveal that Amana is behind the recent trend of establishing farming outposts. As Peace Now has previously explained, these agricultural/farm-based outposts enable a small number of settlers, with few resources, to take over large tracts of land by grazing cattle in the area. These settlers often push Palestinians off that land, sometimes violently. Peace Now has documented the establishment of at least 35 such agricultural outposts since 2006.
The new documents show that the Council’s funds were earmarked specifically to support these farming outposts, including over $250,000 (900,000 shekels) for their development. The docs also show that the Council paid 20% of the salary of a full time Amana staff “coordinator” for these outposts. The documents further showed the Council directed ~$195,000 (NIS 632,065) to the Makhrour outpost, ~$31,000 (NIS 100,733) in the Tekoa agricultural outpost, and ~$16,000 (NIS 52,650) in the Pnei Kedem agricultural outpost (for the purchase of a truck).
The data comes at an interesting time, given the expectation that the High Court will soon hold a hearing on a petition regarding government funding to Amana. To review, in February 2019, Peace Now submitted a petition seeking to bar settler regional councils from funding Amana, arguing that Amana engages in illegal activity and should therefore not be eligible to receive funds from the government whose laws it is violating. The petition also notes that legally, public entities cannot transfer money to private organizations like Amana. In December 2019, the High Court said that while this petition is pending any government funding of Amana must receive the Court’s approval first. The case is scheduled for a hearing this Sunday, December the 20th.
Peace Now wrote:
“Amana and the regional councils in the territories have established a sophisticated mechanism to exploit the public coffers for illegal activity and to create facts on the ground. There is no limit to the chutzpah of the settlement heads. On one hand, they build outposts, with far-reaching diplomatic consequences, with public funds, and on the other hand, they cry to the government and ask for their criminality ==to be retroactively legalized. What a responsible and fair government needs to do is shut the spigot to Amana and immediately evacuate the illegal outposts.” And, “the regional councils and Amana go to great efforts to hide the information about their financial sources and illegal activities. Even with the legal process in Peace Now’s petition against granting support money to Amana, the councils have refused to provide basic information on the amount of funds transferred to Amana and their use. Amana received tens of millions of shekels from the regional councils every year, and the information received about the activities in Gush Etzion in 2018 and 2019 is just the tip of the iceberg. Peace Now uncovered the mechanism behind the illegal outposts in its “Unraveling the Mechanism behind Illegal Outposts” report which describes the operation by local authorities in the West Bank, together with Amana and the Settlement Division, to support illegal outposts and construction in the settlements, but not all financial sources have been clarified. The support by the Gush Etzion Regional Council is only a small part of Amana’s multi-million shekels operation in this illegal activity, with far-reaching ramifications for Israel’s future.”
Or Sadan, a lawyer with the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel, said in a statement:
“The information that was received from the Gush Etzion Regional Council emphasizes, once again, the importance of the Israeli Freedom of Information Law. The information shows how public funds are being transferred to activities beyond the Green Line, with questionable legality. The fight against this kind of activity must be based on solid information directly from public authorities.”
The Israeli Sovereignty Movement – an Israeli nongovernmental organization- has launched a new campaign pushing for Israel to move ahead with unilateral annexation of the West Bank before the inauguration of a new U.S. president. On the first night of Hanukkah, the Sovereignty Movement co-hosted a virtual event titled “Lighting Sovereignty over the Jordan Valley,” drawing participation of 30 government officials, including the government’s coalition chairman Miki Zohar (Likud). The event was also sponsored by the US-based Zionist Organization of America, the settler group Regavim, the Israel Forever Foundation, and Americans for a Safe Israel.
At the event, the hosts touted new polling that shows 56% of the general Israeli public supports the annexation of the Jordan Valley, including 80% of respondents who identify as “right-wing.”
The Sovereignty Movement – an offshoot of the Women in Green organization – has established and expanded its influence over Israeli politicians and public discourse over the past two years. Nadia Matar, one of the co-founders, told JNS:
“[the] overwhelming majority of the Israeli public believes that sovereignty should be applied over the Jordan Valley, and now that the left is once again raising the issue of the ‘two-state solution,’ the focus should be on the application of sovereignty.”
At the event, MK Zohar said:
“I think that Israel should work towards applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and also take the opportunity to advance the application of sovereignty over many communities in Judea and Samaria, if not all of them. It’s an opportunity that might not present itself again.”
Directly from OCHA [emphasis added by FMEP]:
“In November, the Israeli authorities demolished, forced people to demolish, or seized 178 Palestinian-owned structures across the West Bank: this is the highest such figure in a single month since OCHA began systematically documenting this practice in 2009. This month’s incidents resulted in the displacement of 158 people and otherwise affected the livelihoods or access to services of over 1,000 others. All structures, except for one demolished on punitive grounds, were located in Area C or East Jerusalem and were targeted due to a lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.
Of the affected structures, 43 had been provided as humanitarian aid, for a total cost of 82,000 euros. It is the largest number of EU-funded structures targeted in a single month since January 2017, bringing the total number of such structures demolished or seized since the start of 2020 to 114.
About 50 per cent of all structures targeted this month were in small herding communities in sections of Area C designated closed for Israeli military training (‘firing zones’). The largest such incident took place on 3 November in Humsa Al Bqai’a, in the northern Jordan Valley, where the Israeli authorities demolished 83 structures, or about three-quarter of the community, including 29 structures provided as humanitarian aid. A total of 73 people, including 41 children were displaced as a result, but have been able to remain in the area following the delivery of emergency shelters and other assistance.
Additional 13 structures were targeted in the Massafer Yatta area of Hebron, most of which is also declared a ‘firing zone’. This included a donor-funded water network, part of which had already been dismantled in October, which served some 700 people from four communities. This incident took place on 25 November on the basis of an expedited procedure (Military Order 1797), while legal partners were presenting the case in court, to try and halt the removal of the network.
Nearly 30 per cent of Area C, where 38 Palestinian communities (5,000 people) are located, is designated as ‘firing zones’. These communities, many of which have existed in the area since prior to the start of the Israeli occupation, have limited access to basic services and are at heightened risk of forcible transfer. At east ten unauthorized Israeli settlement outposts are also located either partially or completely in ‘firing zones’.”
Read the full OCHA report here.
- “Deprived a Voice: An Investigation into Shrinking Space in Area C” (Al-Haq)
- “After 60 years, East Jerusalem Palestinians face eviction under Israeli settler rulings” (Reuters)
- “Palestine’s Cultural Property and the Israeli Occupation” (PLO-NAD)
- “Tourism and Israel’s Settler Colonial Project Seeking Ethical Alternatives” (Al-Shabaka)
- “‘Temporarily Uprooted’ Gaza Settlements Among ‘Miracles’ in Israeli Learning Kits” (Haaretz)