Settlement & Annexation Report: February 3, 2023


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

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February 3, 2023

  1. Following Neve Yaakov Attack, Settlers Rampage & Bibi Vows to “Strengthen Settlements”
  2. Bibi Requests 9th Delay in Khan Al-Ahmar Case, New Deadline for War Crime is June 1st
  3. West Bank Settler Population Tops 500k According to Settler Group
  4. Bonus Reads

Following Neve Yaakov Attack, Settlers Rampage & Bibi Vows to “Strengthen Settlements”

On January 28th, the Israeli security Cabinet approved several measures in response to the mass shooting perpetrated by a Palestinian targeting Jewish Israelis in the East Jerusalem settlement of Neve Yaakov. The measures – which inflict severe and collective punishment not only on the family of the Palestinian gunman but on Palestinians more broadly – include a general commitment to “strengthen settlements”.

In announcing the measures, Netanyahu said

“we will decide soon on steps to strengthen settlement in Judea and Samaria in order to make it clear to the terrorists who seek to uproot us from our land that we are here to stay.” 

Netanyahu’s vague commitment likely did not satisfy Cabinet Ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, both of whom issued specific calls for settlement deliverables. Smotrich reportedly pressed for the construction of the E-1 settlement and for the approval of every settlement plan pending with the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council.

Ben Gvir suggested granting immediate authorization to seven outposts – that number chosen to “honor” the seven Israelis who were killed in the attack. The outposts Ben Gvir identified are:

  • Avigail and Asael in the South Hebron Hills.
  • Shaharit, Tel Zion and Givat Harel in the northern West Bank
  • Avnat and Kedem Arava in the Jordan Valley

Additionally, Israel Hayom reported on January 25th (prior to the Neve Yaakov attack) that the government is close to finalizing a “mini annexation plan.” Leaks about the plan suggest that the government is prepared to:

  • Immediately convene the High Planning Council to approve some 18,000 new units;
  • Moving forward, convene the High Planning Council once a month, rather than every three months, which has been the schedule since the Obama years;
  • Create a new planning body to handle non-residential construction on an expedited and streamlined process. This body would meet even more regularly, perhaps every few weeks;
  • To simplify the approval process for residential settlement construction so that it only requires the approval of two entities instead of the current five;
  • There was also discussion of a significant change in how Israel will handle West Bank infrastructure projects, to begin taking into account Palestinians in its assessments of the population infrastructure projects would benefit – a change that, if adopted, can be viewed as an act of clear de facto annexation.

While the government ponders which settlement plans it will advance in the wake of the Neve Yaacov attack, settlers have taken matters into their own hands, inflicting violence and destruction across the West Bank. Wafa reported 144 settler attacks on Saturday January 27th alone. 

All told, 35 Palestinians were killed by Israelis in January 2023, making it the deadliest month for Palestinians since the conclusion of the Second Intifada. +972 Magazine reports:

Out of the 35 Palestinians killed in January of this year, 25 were killed during Israeli military raids in areas of the West Bank under Palestinian control, mostly in the Jenin refugee camp. Five Palestinians were killed while they allegedly attacked or tried to attack soldiers or settlers; three were killed during protests that were unrelated to the army’s raids; one Palestinian was killed during a search at a checkpoint; and another Palestinian was killed while he allegedly ran away from such a search…Six of the 35 killed were minors, while the average age of the dead was 26 years old. Twenty were from the Jenin area, most of whom were killed in the refugee camp. In total, 23 of the dead, including all six minors, were from the northern West Bank.”

Bibi Requests 9th Delay in Khan Al-Ahmar Case, New Deadline for War Crime is June 1st

On February 1st, the Israeli government submitted its ninth request to the Supreme Court seeking to delay publishing its plan to forcibly relocate the Khan Al-Ahmar bedouin community from its land just outside of Jerusalem. In requesting a four-month delay, the government reiterated its commitment to expelling Khan Al-Ahmar, saying it just needs more time to formulate its plan.

The government justified its request by citing the lengthy period of time it took for the new government to be established, but Israeli press also speculate that Netanayhu bowed to international opposition to the pending war crime. Indeed, the State’s request cited the potential diplomatic ramifications of the plan as a basis for further delay.

Hebrew media further report that Netanyahu had to overrule two of his Cabinet members – Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – who have long derided previous governments for failing to destroy Khan Al-Ahmar. Smotrich was once the head of the organization (Regavim) which is behind the 2009 petition to force the government to destroy the village, which lacks Israeli building permits (permits that are nearly impossible to receive from Israel). Smotrich is now in charge of enforcing building regulations in the West Bank.

Eid Abu Hamis, one of the leaders of the battle against the evacuation, explained the personal cost of the 14-year battle his village has fought:

“We are living in one house like sardines. Me, my children and my grandchildren, but 800 meters from me [in Kfar Adumim] everyone lives in a house of their own. We are 14 people in a house of 120 square meters. It’s not okay that in Beit El, [where the offices of the Civil Administration are located] Ben-Gvir will decide. We need to sit people down and help them, they should come look at us in the eyes.”

The Friends of Jahalin organization responded to the state’s request for an extension, saying: 

“The state should not be satisfied with the extension request. It should adopt the preexisting plan that was designed by the experts and submitted by the previous government. The plan called to legalize the community land without disrupting its way of life by relocating it to nearby state land. It is tragic that the state has given in to the demands of a small group of settlers that live nearby for so long, who want to live in a purely Jewish area and are leading us to an insane situation which will end up with all of us on trial in The Hague and damage Israel’s international reputation. The people calling to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar are a prime example of ‘the landlord’s lament’ – the same people who set up illegal settlements near Khan al-Ahmar, are now crying ‘destroy the Khan, it’s illegal.'”

Sarit Michaeli, Spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, said in response to the latest delay:

“Obviously it’s better than nothing, and important that Netanyahu/Smotrich understand the limitations of power. However – the demand must be a full moratorium on demolitions & evictions of Pals, in area C & East Jerusalem. Otherwise, we will be in the same place in 4 months.”

West Bank Settler Population Tops 500k According to Settler Group

According to a pro-settlement group which tracks settler populations, there are now more than 500,000 Jewish Israelis living in the West Bank, and the group projects that number will grow to reach the 1 million mark in 2047. 

The report counts 502,991 settlers in the West Bank, a 2.5% rise from January 2022 and a 16% rise over the past five years. These figures do not include East Jerusalem settlements, and it is unclear how the report handles outposts, which do not appear on the lists. 

Celebrating the half a million mark, the report’s author Baruch Gordon says:

“We’ve reached a huge hallmark. We’re here to stay.”

According to the report, the settlements which have seen the most growth over the past 12 months are:

  • Mevo Dotan, Eli Zehav, Bruchin, Nofim, in the northern West Bank 
  • Nokdim, located near Bethlehem
  • Negohot in the South Hebron Hills.
  • Bet Haarava, Mevuot Yericho, and Naama in the Jordan Valley.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians” (AP)
  2. “Jewish National Fund: A century of land theft, belligerence and erasure” (Middle East Eye)
  3. “Expansion of Abraham Accords should not be tied to illegal settlements, US senator says” (Middle East Eye)
  4. “West Bank Settlements Have Highest Percentage of Gun Owners, New Data Shows” (Haaretz)