Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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February 2, 2024
- Israel’s High Planning Council Convenes for First Time in 2024, Promotes Plan for Expanding Givat Ze’ev
- Conference Planning for Gaza Resettlement Draws Israeli Ministers
- Biden Issues Executive Order on Settler Violence
- Bonus Reads
Israel’s High Planning Council Convenes for First Time in 2024, Promotes Plan for Expanding Givat Zeev
Peace now reports that the High Planning Council – the body within the Israeli Defense Ministry which oversees planning and construction in the West Bank, and is under the authority by minister Bezalel Smotrich – met for two days this week, January 31st and February 1st, marking its first meeting in 2024.
On February 1st, the Council reportedly considered a plan to build 68 new settlement units in the Givat Ze’ev settlement, located south of Ramallah in an area that is on the Israeli side of the barrier.
In 2023, the High Planning Council promoted plans for 12,349 new settlement units (not including East Jerusalem) which was a record high since Peace Now began systematically recording such figures in 2012. Bezalel Smotrich gained nearly unilateral authority over the High Planning Council in 2023, while also receiving approval from the Israeli Cabinet to significantly shorten the planning process for settlement construction. Importantly, the shortened planning process removed any significant role for Israeli politicians to intervene – a lever which designed and used successive Israeli governments to throttle settlement planning in response to internal and/or international pressure.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The Netanyahu-Smotrich-Ben Gvir government continues its destructive construction in the West Bank, adding to the illegal construction widespread throughout the West Bank in the past year and an unrestrained development across all areas of the Occupied Territories. The government of Israel begins 2024 with a clear signal that it is heading towards eliminating the two-state solution, despite the clear understanding that only this solution can halt the cycle of violence.”
On January 28th over 3,000 people – including no less than 12 Israeli government ministers and 15 members of Knesset – attended the “Conference for the Victory of Israel – Settlement Brings Security: Returning to the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria,” held in Jerusalem. The conference was organized by the Nahala settler organization, which was founded and continues to be ran by Daniella Weiss. At the conference, Weiss suggested Palestinians will eventually choose to leave Gaza after Israel withholds food long enough, saying Palestinians have “lost the right” to live there.
As the title suggests, the conference featured speakers calling for – and actually planning in detail – the reestablishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip, and for the permanent removal (ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from the area. The conference included maps showing where settlers aim to reestablish communities, including in Gaza City, and vendors offered chances for attendees to sign up for relocating to specific settlements.
This was by no means a fringe event. The speakers included not only the far-right ministers like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, but Likud ministers like Haim Katz who said Israel has “opportunity to rebuild and expand the land of Israel” in Gaza. In fact, one third of Netanyahu’s cabinet members attended.
Analyst and pollster Dahlia Scheindlin said:
“We can no longer look at this as some kind of fringe phenomena Even if the idea [of settling Gaza] sounds far-fetched right now, we have to realize that over time, Israel has developed a tradition of beginning with what seem like extreme policies on the margins and [them] then creeping into the mainstream. I would expect that this government over the next number of years will make efforts to increasingly legitimize the idea of Israel occupying the Gaza Strip and rebuilding settlements, and then little by little, try to lay the groundwork to do it.”
Haaretz columnist Alon Pinkas wrote:
“This was not a fringe opposition group: it was the government of Israel in all its political splendor, unabashedly showing its true colors. This was the governing coalition in an orgy of anti-state and antidemocratic euphoria…What you saw was messianic ecstasy and religious fervor in a position of power. What you saw was not merely a theocratic-fascist strain in Israeli society and politics but almost half of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition (27 lawmakers), including five ministers in his government.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu did not attend nor publicly criticize the conference. Indeed, Netanyahu has called for Israel to retain security control over Gaza following the its current war – which the International Court of Justice recently ruled constitutes plausible genocide.
The conference was, however, condemned by left wing members of the Israeli opposition, including Benny Gantz, who said the conference ““harmed Israeli society during wartime, harmed our legitimacy in the world, harmed efforts to create a framework for the return of our hostages.” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said the conference “poses an international damage, undermines potential negotiations, endangers IDF soldiers, and reflects a grave lack of responsibility.”
On February 1st, the Biden Administration issued an executive order aimed at punishing Israeli settlers involved in violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The order allows the U.S. to sanction any Israeli found to be “directing, enacting, implementing and enforcing or failing to enforce policies that threaten the peace, security and stability in the West Bank.” The Administration simultaneously announced sanctions against four Israeli settlers, all of whose participation in violence against Palestinians and Jewish activists in the West Bank has been recently documented. Haaretz calls the EO the “most punitive measure ever taken from the U.S. government against Israeli citizens.”
This is an escalation of the U.S. decision to issue visa bans to several dozen violent settlers December 2023. In addition to being banned from traveling to the U.S., the four settlers sanctioned this week will have their assets and bank accounts in the U.S. (if they have any) frozen, and they will be locked out of the U.S. financial system and unable to engage in any commerce with people in the United States.
Axios reports that the U.S. had considered sanctioning Israeli government ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, but ultimately did not. U.S. officials have denied this. Smotrich called the new order an “antisemitic lie.”
Reaction to the Executive Order has been mixed.
Voicin skepticism, political analyst Yousef Munayyer posted on X:
“First, this is significant because it represents, as far as I can recall, the US effort to sanction Israelis over their violations of Palestinian rights.That said, the extent to which it is effective depends a lot on the political will to designate violent Israeli settlers. If done honestly, it could have a significant impact not just on the violent settlers themselves but an entire transnational financing network. That is the test that will tell us whether this is a serious effort at addressing a real problem on the ground or an unserious effort at trying to save face for Biden in an election year with voters appalled at his handling of Palestine.Settler violence has long been a major problem and politically it is among the easiest for the admin to address given the US’s history of opposing settlements in its public statements. But it has taken years for even this action which we still should doubt will be enforced.More of a problem however is that this fits into a liberal Zionist understand of the settlers, not the state, being the problem. It is an off ramp that puts the onus on the settlers while ignoring the elephant in the room; The settlement enterprise is a state enterprise. It won’t take long to find out whether this is a fig leaf or a genuine effort and the designations and the designation process will tell us a lot. However, if the Biden admin thinks that taking lukewarm measures on an issue they should have seriously addressed years ago is going to make voters forget about the genocide they are backing in Gaza they are sorely mistaken.”
Articulating the potential power of the EO, Joel Braunold, Managing Director of the S. Danny Abraham Center, posted on X:
“This is a weapon of mass destruction in the sanctions world and the targeting is extremely broad in who the Sec of State and Treasury have authorities to hit – and by large I mean gigantic. Reports says they will start with a scalpel. Authority gives them ability to target heads of government entities who threaten the peace security and stability of the West Bank or who plan order or direct acts of violence targeting civilians, place civilians in reasonable fear of violence including property destruction or seizure by private actors – this includes leaders of government agencies. The sanction power applies also to U.S. citizens so having a passport doesn’t get you out of it. It’s a full spectrum material support ban meaning any FX, credits payments by or through banks securities etc that touch US jurisdiction. The level of banking risk for anyone in the West Bank who is Israeli just jumped up into a different stratosphere. All Israeli banks are tied into the SWIFT system and have U.S. branches so can’t run afoul. For foundations who have been supporting settlements calls your lawyers. Starting from the moment the State department lists you need significant material support statue vetting and the risk of others being added will have a freezing effect in major ways. More then differentiation this EO opens up possibilities of full sanctioning of major parts of settlement movement up to and including ministers and gov departments should admin go that route.”
Matt Duss, Executive Vice President of Center for International Policy, told Time Magazine:
“Steps like this are a good way to show that they are serious this time. Consequences for Israeli violence against Palestinians—whether in the form of just physical violence, settlement growth, expulsion of families, demolition of homes—that has always been a missing piece in the U.S.-led peace process. There have always and only been consequences imposed on one side, the weaker side, the Palestinian side. So what I think the administration is importantly signaling here is that’s going to change.”
- “Israeli Settler Rampage: Hundreds of Olives Almond, Vine Trees Destroyed in West Bank” (Palestine Chronicle)
- “ The War in Gaza Brings Severe Poverty and Despair to the West Bank” (Haaretz)
- “In the West Bank, Palestinians Struggle to Adjust to a New Reality” (The New York Times)
- “‘We Are Not Very Far From an Explosion’” (The New York Times)