Settlement & Annexation Report: February 23, 2024


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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February 23, 2024

  1. Israel Announces Plans for 3,000+ New Settlement Units In Retaliation for Terror Attack Near Ma’ale Adumim; Ben Gvir Pushes for More Retaliatory Measures
  2. U.S. Reportedly Consider More Sanctions on Settlers, Revoking “Pompeo Doctrine”
  3. ICJ Hears Arguments on Israeli Occupation
  4. Peace Now Dissects Proposed 2024 State Budget
  5. Bonus Reads

Israel Announces Plans for 3,000+ New Settlement Units In Retaliation for Terror Attack Near Ma’ale Adumim; Ben Gvir Pushes for More Retaliatory Measures

On February 22nd, Bezalel Smotrich – who is both the Israeli Finance Minister and the de facto governor of West Bank settlements – announced that he is advancing plans for over 3,000 new settlement units in response to a terror attack perpetrated by three Palestinians near the Ma’ale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem. Smotrich said that he will convene the High Planning Committee next week to advance the plans, calling the settlement announcements a “security response to the attacks.”

Smotrich said that the government has greenlighted plans for:

  • 2,350 new units in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement located just east of Jerusalem;
  • 300 new units in the Kedar settlement, just east of Ma’ale Adumim; and,
  • 694 new units in the Efrat settlement – units which can receive final approval. Efrat is located south of Bethlehem, inside a settlement block that cuts deep into the West Bank. Efrat’s location and the route of the barrier wall around it, have literally severed the route of Highway 60 south of Bethlehem, cutting off Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the southern West Bank. The economic, political, and social impacts of the closure of Highway 60 at the Efrat settlement (there is literally a wall built across the highway) have been severe for the Palestinian population.; and,

In his announcement, Smotrich emphasized the annexation intent behind these announcements, saying:

“May every terrorist planning to harm us know that lifting a finger against Israeli citizens will be met with a death blow and destruction in addition to the deepening of our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel.”

As a reminder, Smotrich is in effect the reigning sovereign over the West Bank via the newly established “Settlement Administration” within the Defense Ministry, which he appointed Yehuda Eliahu to lead (Eliahu and Smotrich co-founded the radical settler group Regavim) . This “Settlements Administration” enjoys virtually total autonomy and unchecked power, with almost no accountability to anyone in the Israeli Ministry of Defense. In June 2023 the Israeli Cabinet approved a measure to expand Bezalel Smotrich’s authority over construction in existing settlements by significantly shortening the planning process and removing almost any role for Israeli politicians in that process, a lever which – for decades – has been utilized by successive Israeli governments to intervene in settlement planning usually in consideration of pressure from the international diplomatic community. Under the new procedures, political approval is only needed once at the very beginning stage of the planning process, whereas for the past three decades political approval was needed at each and every phase.

Israeli National Security Minister Ben Gvir pushed for the government to respond with more than just settlement approvals, calling for more restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank in addition to more weapons for Israeli citizens.  Speaking at the scene of the attack, Ben Gvir said:

“The right to life for Jewish residents in the West Bank is more important than the freedom of movement for residents of the Palestinian Authority. I expect there to be more and more barriers here, there will be restrictions. We need to come to an understanding that our enemies are not looking for excuses. They only want to harm. I will fight for restrictions – it’s good that the prime minister accepts my principled position.” And on weapons: “A very big disaster was avoided here thanks to the fact that all the police officers have weapons and the citizens have weapons. There were those who criticised me for that, but I think that today everyone understands that weapons save lives.”

U.S. Reportedly Consider More Sanctions on Settlers, Revoking “Pompeo Doctrine”

According to press reports, the United States is preparing to issue sanctions against “several” more Israeli settlers, after having sanctioned four settlers earlier this month. A source told The Times of Israel that the next round of sanctions will target “higher-profiled Israeli extremists” but not Israeli government officials.

Two U.S. officials further leaked that the Administration is also considering revoking the so-called “Pompeo Doctrine” in response to Israeli steps to significantly expand its footprint in the West Bank (i.e. land on which settlements are constructed). The “Pompeo Doctrine” established as U.S. policy that Israeli settlements are not “per se inconsistent with international law.” It was issued by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November 2019 in a reversal of decades of American policy. 

ICJ Hears Arguments on Israeli Occupation

Starting on February 19th, the International Court of Justice opened six days of hearings on the legality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (unrelated to the recent genocide case). After the hearings conclude, the Court is expected to finalize a nonbinding, advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s occupation – which will likely take several months.

Israel has rejected the validity of the ICJ’s case, and has refused to participate – though the Deputy Legal Advisor for the Israeli Foreign Ministry is in attendance. Fifty other states are expected to participate – including the United States, Britain, and Germany launching defenses of Israel’s actions, and South Africa, Algeria, Belgium, and the Palestinians arguing that the occupation is illegal. South Africa – which lodged a new complaint accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza weeks ago –  argued that Israeli control over the West Bank is colonial and amounts to Apartheid, saying that Israel should dismantle its settlements and pay reparations to Palestinians. All states arguing that Israel’s occupation is illegal highlight that the occupation has lost any illusion of being temporary.

To further unpack this case and its impacts (as well as the distinction between the ongoing case against Israeli officials lodged at the ICC), you can listen to FMEP’s podcast, “The Quest for Justice for Palestine at the ICC and ICJ: Where Things Stand Today & Why it Matters” featuring Lara Friedman (FMEP) and Vito Todeschini i (legal expert in human rights law, international humanitarian law and international accountability, focusing on Palestine/Israel and the wider MENA region). [3/29/2023]

Peace Now Dissects Proposed 2024 State Budget

Peace Now reports that the Israeli government is poised to approve a 2024 state budget that allocates a substantial amount of state funding to the settlement enterprise. Peace Now examined the only available draft – which is incomplete and not detailed – that the proposal includes:

  • $203 million (737 million NIS) in budget allocations to the settlements (a $107 million increase from last year);
  • An additional $112 million (409 million NIS) for specific settlement plans, which are:
    • The Sebastia archaeological site;
    • Elad tourists sites in East Jerusalem;
    • The “preservation of antiquities” in the West Bank; and,
    • A plan to strengthen Israeli control over the Old City Basin
  • $1 million (3.6 billion NIS) for roads in the West Bank servicing settlements. This is 20% of all funds allocated to Israeli road development);
  • $3 million (12 million NIS) for “special grants” to settler municipal authorities;
  • $5.5 (20 million NIS) for agricultural farms, many of which are illegal outposts in the West Bank; and,
  • Additional funds for further specific settlement projects including:
    • A “Heritage Center” at the Sebastian train station;
    • Developing the Hirbet Arqed archaeological site;
    • Development of the Hasmonean Palaces site and related projects;
    • Compensation for Israeli settlers who face higher export fees than their colleagues based in internationally recognized Israeli territory;
    • Security for 3,000 settlers located in East Jerusalem settlement enclaves inside of Palestinian neighborhoods.

Please see Peace Now’s report for more granual detail on the plans contained within these budget categories.

Bonus Reads

  1. East Jerusalem on the Eve of Ramadan and Municipal Elections” (Peace Now)
  2. “Olive harvest 2023: hindered access afflicts Palestinian farmers in the West Bank” (OCHA)
  3. “Netanyahu vows to maintain security control over Gaza, West Bank” (Al Andalou)
  4. “Online fundraisers for violent West Bank settlers raised thousands, despite international sanctions” (AP)