Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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December 2, 2022
- Supreme Court Upholds Israeli Govt’s Discriminatory West Bank Land Allocation Practices
- New Section of Jerusalem’s “Tunnels Road” Set to Open
- Shaked’s Parting Gifts to Settlers: Money & the Atarot Settlement
- New Al-Haq Report Centers “Settler Colonial” Legal Framing & What it Requires of Remedies
- Smotrich Secures Broad Powers Over Settlements & Area C Construction
- Ben Gvir’s New Power in East Jerusalem & the Erasure of the Green Line
- Bonus Reads
On November 23rd the Israel Supreme Court dismissed a petition that challenged Israel’s land allocation practices in the West Bank. The petition – which was brought by Peace Now on behalf of affected Palestinians – sought to stop the construction of a new settlement — known as E-2/Givat Eitam — on a strategic hilltop just south of Bethlehem, which Palestinians know as a-Nahle. With the Court’s dismissal of the petition, construction of the E-2/Givat Eitam can now go forward. As a reminder, this new settlement will significantly expand the Efrat settlement in the direction of Bethlehem. It will also effectively cut Bethlehem off from the southern West Bank and complete the city’s encirclement by Israeli settlements.
In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court avoided tackling the merits of the petition’s central argument — i.e., that Israel’s practice since 1967 of allocating 99.76% of all “state land” in the West Bank for the exclusive use/benefit of Jewish Israeli residents of the West Bank is discriminatory (the petition argued, in effect, that to cure this discriminatory practice, the “state land” on which the E-2/Givat Eitam settlement is planned should instead be allocated to Palestinians). Instead, the Court urged the State to propose a “compromise” offer to the Palestinians (an offer that consisted of a tiny portion of the lands in question), and then dismissed the petition after the Palestinian petitioners rejected that offer.
Peace Now said in response to the Court’s decision:
“It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court, which is supposed to protect the underprivileged and strive for equality, chose to avoid responding to the central claim of the petitioners, according to which the allocation is tainted with severe discrimination and inequality, was made solely to serve the settlement project as part of an allocation policy which completely separates the Palestinians from land resources. Everything must be done to stop this dangerous plan, which will seriously harm the chance for peace and the development capacity of the Bethlehem area. The land must be allocated instead to the Palestinians who live there.”
Adv. Michael Sfard, who represented Peace Now and the Palestinian landowners in this petition, further stated:
“The allocation to Efrat is a clear expression of the apartheid allocation policy, and this is what we argued before the court. Unfortunately, the court chose not to deal with the argument but to ignore it.”
As a reminder, Israel has declared a total of 16% of land in the West Bank – including nearly half of all land in Area C – as “state land” – that is, land over which Israel does not recognize any legal ownership. Israel has, in turn, systematically used “state land” to establish and expand settlements. Peace Now points out that Israel’s use of “state land” declarations is, at best, confusing, writing:
“Which “state” are we referring to? The West Bank is not part of the state of Israel, even according to Israeli law. We prefer to refer to it as “public land” which the occupier is responsible for managing to the benefit of the public. In practice, the state of Israel has used these lands virtually exclusively for the benefit of one public – the Israeli public.”
As the Association for Civil Rights in Israel explains:
“Israel holds state land in an occupied territory as a trustee, and must do everything possible to preserve and develop it for the benefit of the local Palestinian population. The very use of state land for the purpose of building settlements and/or developing infrastructure and industrial zones not in favor of the Palestinian population constitutes a violation of international law.”
Al-Monitor reports that a final section of the discriminatory “Tunnels Road” in Jerusalem – on which Palestinians are prohibited from driving — will open soon, after years of construction which included Israel confiscating Palestinian land. The Tunnels Road connects settlements to the south of Jerusalem seamlessly to Jerusalem and is part of Highway 60, which Israel has already begun work to widen, which runs from Jerusalem all the way to the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron.
Explaining the Tunnels Road, the non-profit organization Who Profits – which documents the complicity of corporations in the occupation – wrote in January 2021:
“The Tunnel Road, a section of Route 60 on which Palestinian vehicles are prohibited from traveling, connects the southern part of the West Bank to Jerusalem, bypassing the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. The road passes directly under the Palestinian town of Beit Jala and provides access to Jerusalem without coming into view of the surrounding Palestinian villages and neighborhoods. The Tunnel Road is emblematic of the “territorial labyrinth created by the Oslo Accords”20 —while the tunnel and the bridge are in Area C (under full Israeli control), the valley above, through which the bridge passes is in Area B (under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control), and the Palestinian town below the tunnel is in Area A (under full Palestinian control)…One of the project’s objectives is to facilitate the lifting of restrictions on the construction of new housing units in surrounding cities, including the Beitar Illit settlement.”
In a deeply researched report on how Israelis uses infrastructure projects (like roads) as a means for settlement expansion and annexation, Breaking the Silence explains:
“While Israeli authorities justify many of the projects described in this document by claiming that they serve both the settler and the Palestinian populations in the West Bank, it is important to note that these roads are designed with Israeli, not Palestinian, interests in mind. Many of the roads that are technically open to Palestinian traffic are not intended to lead to locations that are useful to Palestinians.16 Instead, these roads are primarily designed to connect settlements to Israel proper (and thus employment and other services) via lateral roads, rather than to connect Palestinian communities to one another. Further, roads intended to connect Israeli settlements to Jerusalem (many of which are currently under construction) do not serve West Bank Palestinians outside of Jerusalem, as they are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a permit. In addition, an extensive system of checkpoints and roadblocks allows Israel to control access to bypass roads and the main West Bank highways, and it can restrict Palestinian access when it so chooses.
This prejudice against Palestinian development is even starker when one considers that, according to an official Israeli projection, the expected Palestinian population in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2040 is 4,600,000 individuals. Even if the vision of settler leaders to arrive at 1,000,000 settlers is realized by 2040, the Palestinian population would still be four times the size of the settler one. Despite this discrepancy, priority is still given to settler infrastructure 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.”
Arutz Sheva (a settler-run media outlet) reports that outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is making a final push on two key settler initiatives during her final days in office.
First, Shaked has changed the criteria under which localities qualify for economic development funding from the government — in order to enable the funds to go to settlements and settlement bodies. According to the report, Interior Ministry sources stated that settlements will receive around 25% of recipients of these funds in 2022.
Second, Shaked has been working to secure final approval for the construction of the Atarot settlement before leaving office. And while final approval won’t happen before her time in office ends, the plan is getting close to finalization. According to Arutz Sheva, an environmental impact study (ordered in December 2021) is the only outstanding item preventing the plan from finalization, and the report is expected to be finished around three months from now.
As a reminder, the Atarot plan calls for a huge new settlement on the site of the defunct Qalandiya Airport, located on a sliver of land between Ramallah and Jerusalem. 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 an Israeli city surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north. Geopolitically, it will have a similar impact to E-1 in terms of dismembering the West Bank and cutting it off from Jerusalem. For more on the Atarot settlement plan, please see here.
Commenting on the most recent reporting on Atarot, an anonymous source confirmed the geostrategic importance of the Atarot area, saying that, “this is about securing Israel’s hold on northern Jerusalem”.
The Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq this week published a new, deeply researched legal report, entitled “Israeli Apartheid: Tool of Zionist Settler Colonialism”. The report was endorsed by several other prominent Palestinian civil society groups including Al-Mezan and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.
Al-Haq, echoing decades of Palestinian scholarship, has described the situation in Palestine as “apartheid” for decades. With the recent mainstreaming of the apartheid framework (most notably with the adoption of the term by Btselem, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International), this new report is an important contribution, in that it documents and explains why it is important to understand the situation of Palestine as a case of settler colonialism. Al-Haq writes:
“In this report, we analyse Israeli apartheid as a tool of Zionist settler colonialism. We do so in order to bring forward the eliminatory and population transfer logic of Israel’s apartheid system and its effort to displace and replace the indigenous Palestinian people on the land of Palestine. Palestinians have advocated for applying established decolonisation praxis in countering Israeli apartheid, recognising apartheid as a form of settler colonialism rather than pursuing a notion of ‘liberal equality’ without decolonisation…While we are encouraged by the growing global recognition of Israeli apartheid, we note that Zionist settler colonialism and its eliminatory and population transfer logic remain missing from recent analyses and reports on apartheid by Israeli and international human rights organisations such as Yesh Din, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. It is this gap that the present report seeks to fill.”
On December 1st, Netanyahu announced a coalition deal with the Religious Zionist Party, the far-right, pro-annexationist party headed by Bezalel Smotrich. Under the deal, Smotrich will be named to the powerful post of Finance Minister for two years. In addition, Smotrich will be in charge of appointing a deputy Defense Minister with specific authority over settlement matters within the Civil Administration and COGAT (Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories) — in effect giving Smotrich far-reaching powers over settlements and issues like land registration, settlement construction, and the demolition of Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank. Channel 12 News in Israel reports that Smotrich is likely to name himself to this key role.
Prior to the coalition deal being announced, Smotrich had pressed Netanyahu to give him direct power over the Civil Administration by changing the chain of command so that the head of the Civil Administration reported directly to Smotrich on non-defense-related matters. At the time, Haaretz reported that Smotrich had a keen interest in overseeing Israel enforcement of construction regulations and demolitions in Area C, reporting:
“Smotrich is particularly interested in the unit of the [Civil Administration] that oversees illegal construction in the West Bank and has said that he would make it a priority to address illegal Palestinian construction in Area C – the area under full Israeli control. The unit oversees construction in Area C by both Jews and Palestinians, and the priorities of the unit are currently set by the defense minister and the head of the IDF’s Central Command. Smotrich is interested in changing that.”
Smotrich has in many ways led the effort by settlers and their allies to more aggressively enforce Isreali building law against Palestinians construction in Area C. It is worth recalling that Smotrich is a co-founder of Regavim, a radical settler group that works to dispossess Palestinians of their land and property in the West Bank by “helping” the Israeli government to enforce planning and building laws. Ironically, Smotrich currently lives in the Kedumim settlement in a house that is located inside of an enclave of privately owned Palestinian land that is not included in the settlement’s Master Plan, making it illegal even under Israeli law.
As a reminder, Area C is the 60% of the West Bank where Israel enjoys total authority and in which Israel has systematically denied Palestinian building rights, while promoting the expansion of settlements and unauthorized outposts, and in parallel systematically demolishing Palestinian un-permitted construction.
The discriminatory enforcement of construction laws is part of the continuing efforts of Israeli settlers and the Israeli government to entrench and expand Israel’s control over (and de facto annexation of) the entirety of Area C. Notably, in September 2020 the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for a newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C — construction (by Palestinians on Palestinian land) which Israel has been aggressively demolishing. In addition to funding the expansion of policies that systematically discriminate against and dispossesses Palestinians in Area C, this funding has further empowered a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already annexed by Israel.
The Knesset has also to a great extent adopted the narrative of settlers and pro-settler organizations — a narrative predicated on the idea that Area C belongs to Israel and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to steal it (framing that in effect dismisses the legitimacy of any Palestinian landownership in Area C). The Knesset has repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by settlers and their allies/advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C.” Consistent with this framing and pushed by outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s alleged failure to robustly “defend” Israel’s rights/ interests in Area C — demanding that the government do more to prevent and demolish “illegal” Palestinian construction (even as it refuses to issue permits for Palestinians to build “legally), that it must prevent foreign projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area, that it must clear Palestinians out of areas targeted by settlers, and that it must do more to expand settlements and consolidate state-built settlement infrastructure.
Kahanist politician Itamar Ben Gvir is still expected to receive the (newly renamed and expanded) Ministry of National Security, which would put him in control of Israeli police both in Israel and in the West Bank. Ir Amim has published a new – and essential – analysis detailing the various powers and projects that will come under the control of Ben Gvir and his party.
Among other things, Ir Amim points out that, as part of his expanded portfolio, a body called the Land Enforcement Unit will come under Ben Gvir’s control. Ir Amim calls this body “the most aggressive of the various state bodies who carry out home demolitions,” noting that it operates in Al-Walaja and other Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem where mass displacement is being carried out at the settlers’ direction.
In a powerful piece on Ben Gvir’s new power, +972 Magazine’s Natasha Roth-Rowland explains how the roles of Ben Gvir and Smotrich in the new government fundamentally mean that Israel is annexing the West Bank:
“…Ben Gvir’s reported appointment is also reflective of the ongoing dissolution, at least as far as the Israeli government is concerned, of the Green Line: both in how the security logic and mechanisms of the occupation continue to seep over from the West Bank, and in how Israel has painstakingly dismantled the political and legal distinctions between the territories under its control. The resulting one-state reality has created parallel processes by which the occupied territories have come to be understood as an established part of Israel “proper,” while the area within the Green Line is increasingly seen as a restive territory in need of active subjugation. Under these conditions, Ben Gvir’s new mandate is not only to help maintain the ongoing colonization of the West Bank and imprisonment of Gaza, but also to help “re-colonize” Israel itself. The very naming of Ben Gvir’s trans-Green Line authority as “national security” is also an act of rhetorical annexation — one that would be reinforced should Smotrich get his wish for West Bank settlements to be removed from the jurisdiction of the Civil Administration, the bureaucratic arm of the military government in the occupied territories, and come under “regular” government control, which even right-wing media outlets have labeled as a form of annexation.”
- “UN: Israeli controls in Area C costing West Bank Palestinians $2.5 billion per year” (The Times of Israel)
- “Homesh rabbi indicted for residing in illegal settlement outpost” (The Times of Israel)
- “Ben Gvir’s dream ministry brings Kahane’s vision one step closer” (+972 Magazine)