Settlement & Annexation Report: February 5, 2021


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.

February 5, 2021

  1. Pending Eviction of Palestinian Family in Silwan Delayed (at least briefly) by Israeli Court
  2. E-1 Settlement Remains on the Agenda
  3. The Numbers Prove It: Israel Systematically Denies Palestinians the Right to Build (on their own private land) in Area C
  4. Israel Hopes to Continue Procedure for Settlement Advancements Established Under Trump
  5. Bonus Material

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Pending Eviction of Palestinian Family in Silwan Delayed (at least briefly) by Israeli Court 

On January 31st, the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction delaying the eviction of the Palestinian Shweiki family from their longtime home in the Batan al-Hawa section of the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The injunction is set to expire on February 8th, the day after the deadline set by the Court for the Shweiki family to respond to the latest filing by Ateret Cohanim, the settler organization that is seeking the family’s eviction. Ateret Cohanim is also seeking the eviction of some 84 additional Palestinian families (a total of 700 people) in Batan al-Hawa.

Israeli courts have repeatedly upheld Ateret Cohanim’s claim to own a large swath of land in the tiny Batan al-Hawa neighborhood – which now being litigated on a house-by-house manner with Palestinians attempting to remain in their homes. The most recent court ruling in favor of Ateret Cohanim was in November 2020. The group’s claim is based on having gained control of the historic Benvenisti Trust, which oversaw the assets of Yemenite Jews who lived in Silwan in the 19th century. In 2001 the Israeli Charitable Trust Registrar granted Ateret Cohanim permission to revive the trust and become its trustees, (following 63 years of dormancy). In 2002, the Israeli Custodian General transferred ownership of the land in Batan al-Hawa to the Trust (i.e., to Ateret Cohanim). Since then, Ateret Cohanim has accelerated its multifaceted campaign to remove Palestinians from their homes, claiming that the Palestinians are illegally squatting on land owned by the trust.

Palestinians have challenged the legitimacy of the Benvenisti Trust’s claims to the currently existing buildings, saying that the trust only covered the old buildings (none of which remain standing) and not the land, but the courts have so far rejected their argument.

Peace Now, the settlement watchdog group, said in a statement this week:

“We will not remain silent as the government helps settler groups, under the auspices of a discriminatory law, wage a racist struggle to evict Palestinian families from their homes, with the aim of “Judaizing” East Jerusalem. This will be a protest for justice, equality and morality. A direct line connects the corruption threatening Silwan and the corruption in Balfour. When our neighbors are in danger of displacement, it is our duty to stand up and prevent it.”

E-1 Settlement Remains on the Agenda

The Local Planning Committee of the Maaleh Adumim settlement has scheduled a meeting to discuss the E-1 settlement plan on February 14th, and has summoned the anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now to attend that meeting. Peace Now, along with Ir Amim and the Association of Environmental Justice in Israel submitted a formal objection with the Civil Administration against the E-1 plan in August 2020. While the Maale Adumim Local Committee does not have authority to approve the E-1 plan, the February 14th meeting is yet another step towards approval, which must be granted by the Israeli Civil Administration. The Civil Administration has yet to schedule its own discussion of the E-1 plan, but may do so at anytime.

Long called a “doomsday” settlement by supporters of a two-state solution, construction of the E-1 settlement would sever the West Bank effectively in half,  foreclosing the possibility of drawing a border between Israel and Palestine in a manner which preserves territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. The “Sovereignty Road” has long been Israel’s answer to that criticism, with Israel arguing that it will replace territorial contiguity with limited “transportational continuity” – via a sealed road that is under Israel’s total control (meaning they can cut off passage through it at any time). Just last month (January 2021),  Netanyahu promised to increase funding for the Sovereignty Road as part of the drive to get E-1 constructed.

Ir Amim writes:

“Construction in E1 not only deals a death blow to the prospects of a sustainable Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, but will likewise lead to the displacement and dispossession of some 3,000 Palestinians living in Bedouin communities in the area, including Khan al-Ahmar.”

Regarding the petition, Peace Now said:

“Construction in E1 is considered essentially fatal to the prospect of a two-state solution because it divides the West Bank into two – a northern and a southern region – and prevents the development of the central Ramallah-East Jerusalem-Bethlehem metropolis in the West Bank. Even from an Israeli development and planning perspective, a settlement in E1 will do more harm than good and it may lead to the weakening of Jerusalem economically and socially.”

The Numbers Prove It: Israel Systematically Denies Palestinians the Right to Build (on their own private land) in Area C

In a new report based on data provided by the Israeli government, Peace Now documents how from 2019-2020, the Israeli Civil Administration approved plans for 16,098 new units for Israeli settlers in Area C, in addition to  issuing construction permits for at least an additional 2,233 settler units. During this same period, Israel approved plans for only 265 units for Palestinian communities in Area C. The disparity in planning approvals and permits is not new, tracking with trends over the past decade. Peace Now data shows that from 2009-2018  just 98 construction permits for Palestinians were issued.

Israel’s refusal to allow for Palestinian construction in Area C is accompanied by Israel’s concerted effort to police and demolish “illegal” Palestinian construction there (reminder: when Israel refuses to issue construction permits, Palestinians are put in the position of having to build illegally to meet the population’s basic need for shelter). Peace Now data shows that from 2019-2020 Palestinians filed 313 petitions to stop demolition of structures in Area C. Israel only accepted ONE of those petitions.

These shocking (but not surprising) figures must be understood as part of the ongoing campaign — by settlers and the Israeli government — to entrench and expand Israel’s control over (and de facto annexation of) the entirety of Area C – some 60% of the West Bank. To that end, in September 2020  the Israeli government allocated 20 million NIS ($6 million USD) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C (which, as just noted, Israel has been aggressively demolishing). This funding further empowers 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 repeatedly hosted forums to discuss the alleged (by Greater Israel advocates) “Palestinian takeover of Area C.” Consistent with this framing (which is predicated on the idea that Area C belongs to Israel and must be defended against Palestinian efforts to steal it), 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 (e.g., preventing “illegal” Palestinian construction, preventing foreign projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area, clearing out Palestinians, expanding settlements, consolidating state-built settlement infrastructure).

Israel Hopes to Continue Procedure for Settlement Advancements Established Under Trump 

As the Biden Administration continues to take shape, Israel Hayom reports that Israeli officials intend to propose maintaining the arrangement it had in place with the Trump Administration with regards to settlement planning and construction. Under that arrangement, Israel agreed to condense its settlement announcements into four tranches each year, and allowed the Trump Administration to review the plans Israel would be advancing ahead of time, with the understanding that the U.S. would tolerate some settlement activity. Although press reports regarding the Trump arrangement suggest that the U.S. also limited Israel’s ability to build freely in the West Bank by requiring new settlement construction to be adjacent to existing settlement construction (i.e. Israel cannot build anywhere), it in fact did no such thing.

As things stand today, it is not clear where the Biden Administration will end up on the issue of settlements. A report issued last week by the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs’ David Makovsky made the case for the Biden Administration to adopt a policy closely resembling the one Israel Hayom says Israel officials are asking for. Another report, issued a few weeks ago by the Center for New American Security (CNAS) articulates a similar policy as an “option” that the Biden Administration might consider. 

FMEP’s Lara Friedman analyzed these recommendations and what they would mean, if adopted by the Biden Administration, in a detailed Twitter thread (part 1 here, Part 2 here), closing with the observation: 

“…What’s being recommended is US shift from principled opposition to settlements (consistent with intl law, intl consensus, the principles on which the entire peace process is based, etc) to …[the] US giving a green light for unlimited settlement of parts of the West Bank, alongside continued *impotent* opposition to settlements everywhere else. History has demonstrated where such a policy leads, & it’s not to increased viability/credibility of the two-state solution. Or peace.”

Bonus Material

  1. “Webinar: Shrinking Space in Area C” (ELSC)
  2. How Do You Say Ku Klux Klan in Hebrew?” (Haaretz // Michael Sfard)
  3. The State Fills Israel’s High Court With Lies About Palestinians in the West Bank” (Haaretz // Amira Hass)