Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
January 15, 2021
- Tender for Givat Hamatos Settlement Construction Delayed
- Israel Expected to Advance Plans for (At Least) 684 Settlement Units, Grant Retroactive Approval to Outposts
- Netanyahu Promises to Boost Funds for “Sovereignty Road”
- Settlers Escalate Campaign for Outposts Legalization
- Israel Sets Up New Hotline to Assist Settler Surveillance of Palestinian Construction in Area C
- Key Quotes from U.S. Amb. Friedman on His Way Out the Door
- Bonus Reads
by Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On January 15th, the Jerusalem District Court issued a temporary injunction against the issuance of the tender for construction of 1,257 units in the Givat Hamatos settlement, slated to be built in East Jerusalem. Givat Hamatos has long been regarded as a doomsday settlement by parties interested in preserving the possibility of a two-state solution, assuming that Jerusalem will need to be divided and shared. If the Givat Hamatos settlement is built, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction, severing its connection to the West Bank.
The injunction comes in response to an emergency petition submitted on January 14th by 25 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with the assistance of the Israeli NGO Ir Amim. The petition argues that the conditions of the tender represent “severe housing discrimination” in that non-Isareli citizens are ineligible for the government subsidized housing planned for Givat Hamatos. Rather than seeking to stop the construction of Givat Hamatos, the petition asks the government to correct these discriminatory conditions so that Palestinian residents are also welcome to purchase homes in Givat Hamatos.
The tender was scheduled to be published on January 18th (2 days before the inauguration of Joe Biden as the new U.S. president). The injunction delays that publication and orders the government to respond to Ir Amim’s petition by January 21st.
Ir Amim explains the petition’s claims in detail:
“40% of the homes [planned for Givat Hamatos] will be allocated to individuals who are eligible for a government subsidized housing scheme. To qualify, individuals must be a non- homeowner and an Israeli citizen, which entirely precludes EJ Palestinians, as the vast majority do not hold citizenship but rather permanent residency. Not only are they excluded from an affordable subsidized housing option, but only 60% of the apartment supply offered to an Israeli citizen is available to a Palestinian resident, which discriminates on two planes. The petition therefore calls for the following remedies:
1 – to grant Palestinian residents eligibility to qualify for the subsidized apartments on Givat Hamatos,
2 – Instruct the state to consider equitably allocating a significant number of affordable apartments to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem,
3 – Postpone the apartment marketing process for a period of no less than six months to allow for interested Palestinian Jerusalem residents to apply for eligibility for the subsidized housing scheme, or
4 – To cancel the subsidized housing scheme and rather sell all apartments on the free market, making them accessible to all…
East Jerusalem Palestinians already suffer from acute housing shortages and suppression of residential development stemming from long-standing discriminatory planning and building policies. Since East Jerusalem’s annexation in 1967, not one neighborhood has been built for Palestinians, while only 8.5 % of Jerusalem is zoned for their residential use despite them constituting nearly 40% of the city’s population. 1/3 of the land in East Jerusalem was confiscated to build Israeli neighborhoods/settlements. If and when residential outline plans are approved for existing Palestinian neighborhoods, they only allow for a few hundred housing units versus thousands of housing units in Israeli neighborhoods across the city.”
Terrestrial Jerusalem’s Daniel Seidemann comments:
“This is far from over, and one can never estimate the life expectancy of an injunction like this, but this is very good news. As matters stand the tender process regarding Givart Hamatos will NOT end on January 18, and the bids will not open.”
Israel Expected to Advance Plans for (At Least) 684 Settlement Units, Grant Retroactive Approval to Outposts
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Higher Planning Council (which oversees all construction in the occupied West Bank) is expected to meet on January 17th to advance plans for at least 684 – but potentially 850 or more – settlement units across the West Bank, while also advancing the retroactive legalization of two outposts. These approvals will come only days before the inauguration of Joe Biden as the new President of the United States, a changing of the guards expected to temper U.S. support and approval for settlement construction.
An additional report by Middle East Eye reports that on January 13th the Israeli planning authorities in Jerusalem advanced plans for 400 units in the Gilo settlement and 130 units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement, both located in East Jerusalem. FMEP will provide more details when those reports are confirmed.
FMEP will confirm the details of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council meeting in next week’s Settlement Report. Based on what is known today, the settlement units expected to receive final approval include:
- 152 new units in the Shavei Shomron settlement, located in the northern West Bank – northwest of Nablus;
- 123 new units in the Itamar settlement, located southeast of Nablus in a cluster of notoriously violent settlements and outposts;
- 66 new settlements units in the Oranit settlement, located in the northern West Bank, in the “seam zone” between the 1967 Green Line and the Israel separation barrier (constructed along a route designed to keep as many settlements as possible on the Israeli side of the wall/fence);
- 24 new units in the Karnei Shomron settlement, located in the northern West Bank east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya. Israel is planning to continue expanding Karnei Shomron with the stated goal of bringing 1 million settlers to live in the area surrounding the settlement;
- Expansion of the Barkan Settlement Industrial Zone, located in the northern West Bank and a part of a strand of settlements leading from Israel proper all the way to the Ariel settlement in the very heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel and the settlements between Ariel and Israel proper have long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to connect Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces. For background on this industrial zone and others, see here.
The settlement units slated to be advanced to the planning stage of depositing for public review include:
- The retroactive legalization of 212 existing units in the Nofei Nehemia outpost, which if implemented would have the effect of retroactively legalizing the outpost as a neighborhood of the Rehelim settlement. The Nofei Nehemia outpost is a fair distance from the Rehelim settlement and is not contiguous with the built up area of Rehelim, making Nofei Nehemia – if authorized – more properly understood as a brand new settlement rather than an expansion of an existing settlement (as the Israeli government would want one to believe). The Nofei Nehemia outpost is located east of the Ariel settlement in the very heart of the northern West Bank.
- 107 new units in the Tal Menashe settlement, located on the tip of the northern West Bank. Tal Menashe is technically a neighborhood of the Hinanit settlement, though the built up areas do not connect. Notably, the plans for 107 units would, if implemented, “dramatically increase” the size of the Tal Menashe settlement, which is the settlement where Esther Horgan – who was murdered by a Palestinian in late December 2020 – lived. Israeli government officials have made it a clear policy to advance settlement construction in response to deadly attacks on settlers by Palestinians, an approach publicly endorsed by current U.S. Ambassador David Friedmam. Tal Menashe is situated in the “seam zone” between the 1967 Green Line and the Israel separation barrier, which was constructed along a route designed to keep as many settlements as possible on the Israeli side of the wall/fence.
- An unknown number of units in the Havot Yair outpost with the intention of granting retroactive legalization (under Israeli law) to the entire outpost. The Havat Yair outpost is located near the Karnei Shomron settlement in the northern West Bank, east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya.
Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization told Reuters:
“[Israel’s advancement of settlement construction] is an attempt to race against time and benefit from the last days of the current U.S. administration.”
Peace Now said in a statement:
“By promoting hundreds of settlement units, Prime Minister Netanyahu is once again putting his personal political interests over those of the country. Not only will this settlement activity erode the possibility for a conflict-ending resolution with the Palestinians in the long-term, but in the short-term it needlessly sets Israel on a collision course with the incoming Biden administration. For eight years as vice president, Biden and the rest of the Obama administration gradually became more irritated and willing to spar with Israel over settlements, and for the past four years Biden has watched Netanyahu stroke Trump’s ego to promote policies meant to undermine the very foundations for a two-state solution. Although supporting more settlement activity may be a shrewd way to attract votes over the increasing number of rivals to his right, Netanyahu is gambling with Israel’s all-important relationship with its US ally.”
It’s worth noting that current Israeli Defense Minister (and increasingly disgraced Blue & White party leader) Benny Gantz, following the publication of the High Planning Council’ agenda for settlement construction, announced that his office had taken “preliminary steps” towards the approval of Palestinian construction plans in communities located in Area C of the West Bank (some 60% of the West Bank which Israel exercises unilateral civil and security control over, and which is the focus of the most intense settler campaigns for de jure annexation). The Times of Israel reports that those plans include: the expansion of the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja (located south of Jerusalem and surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation barrier), the expansion of Hizma (located on the northern border of the Jerusalem municipal boundary), approval of a new hotel in the Bethlehem area (note: Bethlehem itself is not in Area C), a hearing on plans for a hotel in Beit Jala (located on the eastern border of Bethlehem, 75% of land belonging to Beit Jala was designated as Area C under the Oslo Accords), and a hearing on the retroactive legalization of farming buildings in al-Fara (located in the northern West Bank). Commenting on Gantz’s announcement of these Palestinian plans, Bimkom researcher Alon Cohen-Lifshitz told told The Times of Israel:
“This is like mocking the poor. Most of the plans are from 2012. They’re all very small in terms of their land use and do not allow for [further] development.”
Predictably, settlers responded with vitriol to the rumor of plans to regulate (i.e., post-facto legalize) Palestinian construction in Area C. A spokesman for the Young Settlements Forum (“young settlements” is a new euphemism for illegal outposts that has been catching on in Israeli politics) said:
“There is no limit to this cynicism. The defense minister and the prime minister want to legitimize the illegal Palestinian takeover of Area C in violation of political agreements, and remove from the agenda the regulation of Israeli settlements that have been built on state land.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised to allocate an additional $4 million USD (NIS 14 million) or more to the construction of the so-called “Sovereignty Road.” The road is a key element in Israel’s plan to build the E-1 settlement east of Jerusalem and its larger ambition to annex (de facto or de jure) a huge area of West Bank territory located between Jerusalem and Jericho.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu met with Benny Kashriel, mayor of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement (located adjacent to the E-1 site), along with Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Finance Minister Israel Katz to discuss the matter this week. During the meeting, Bibi made the verbal commitment to allocating additional funds to see that the road is built.
Peace Now responded to the news:
“Netanyahu’s election campaign is costing Israel a very heavy price. Once again, he is using the election period to try to impress key Likud supporters by promoting a plan that could eliminate the possibility of a two-state solution. The planned road will allow Israel to cut the West Bank in two, build E1 and the separation barrier, and close the door on the possibility of developing a sustainable Palestinian state.”
For decades, construction of the E-1 settlement – which is now actively advancing through the planning process – has been adamantly opposed by the international community. A key criticism of the plan is that it would effectively cut the West Bank in half — thereby preventing any two-state solution. 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).
If built, a section of the Palestinian-only road is projected to run under the separation barrier (which is not currently built in this area). The rest of the road will run relatively adjacent to the route of the planned separation barrier, in order – in the words of former Defense Minister Bennet – to prevent Palestinian traffic from coming “near Jewish communities.” This new section of road connects to the infamous “apartheid road” (aka, the Eastern Ring Road) which has a high wall down the middle dividing Israeli and Palestinian traffic, and which was opened for Palestinian traffic in January 2019.
In March 2020, then Defense Minister Naftali Bennet gave final approval for the “Sovereignty Road” plan, at the time giving lip service to the idea that the plan will benefit Palestinians (even as it further cuts them off from Jerusalem, takes more land, and cuts the West Bank in half). At the same time, he made clear his real objective. stating:
“[the road] will improve the quality of life for residents in the area, avoid unnecessary friction [for Israelis] with the Palestinian population and most importantly — allow for continued [settlement] construction. We’re applying sovereignty [to the West Bank] in deeds, not in words.”
Peace Now has previously explained the issue with Israel’s design:
“The new road is intended to allow Palestinians to pass under the route of the separation barrier, and to travel ‘inside’ the Adumim Bloc along a wall without entering the ‘Israeli’ side, as in a kind of tunnel. Once the road is paved, Israel can then claim that construction in E1, and the construction of the barrier around the Adumim bloc does not sever the West Bank because the Palestinians have an alternative transport route. This argument is preposterous. A thin line of road connecting separate territorial sections–transportational contiguity–does not meet the needs for territorial viability for the development and livelihoods of Palestinians in the critical Ramallah-Jerusalem-Bethlehem metropolitan area. Without actual territorial contiguity, an independent Palestinian state cannot be established and prosper, and therefore a two-state solution cannot be reached.”
Kan radio reported that Defense Minister Benny Gantz told settlers that he remains opposed to issuing retroactive authorization to dozens of outposts in one fell swoop, but will instead prefers that each outpost go through a legal process individually in order to gain legalization.
Settlers have been encamped in front of the Prime Minister’s office for nearly two weeks demanding for the passage of a government decision for large scale retroactive legalization of as many as 70 outposts. That decision has been drafted but has been held up by Defense Minister Gantz; In December 2020, Knesset introduced a bill to circumvent Gantz’s opposition and grant authorization to 65 outposts.
Some of the protesting settlers began a hunger strike in hopes of escalating their demands for outpost authorization. Numerous politicians and officials have visited the encamped settlers to show solidarity, including aspiring Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the encamped hunger strikers, saying:
“Netanyahu, authorize the young settlements [outposts] now in these coming 10 days. If you don’t do it, when I am the prime minister, I will do it.”
Haaretz reports that in November 2020 the Israeli Civil Administration (the body within the Israeli Defense Ministry tasked with coordinating all civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank) created a new hotline for settlers wishing to report their suspicions of “illegal” Palestinian construction in the West Bank (on the Kochav Ya’akov settlement website, the new phone service is called a “snitch line”).
Amira Hass reports in Haaretz that the Civil Administration’s announcement of the “snitch line” said:
“Have you seen Palestinian construction work that looks to you to be suspicious and unauthorized? Have you encountered a sanitation hazard created by Palestinians who disdain the law? From now on you have a ‘snitch-line’ of your own. Call at any hour of the day and submit a complaint about it. Every day there will be a summary of the complaints and a display of what was examined and what was confiscated in the event that there was improper conduct. Good luck.”
Testing whether the new hotline was exclusively for Israeli settlers reporting on Palestinians, the Palestinian-led NGO Haqel tried reporting illegal construction by the settlers. In response, the Civil Administration said that the “coordination office representatives sent someone to check what’s going on.”
The new hotline is yet another victory in the campaign by settlers to stop Palestinian construction in Area C, and push Palestinians out altogether. In November 2020, in addition to razing an entire Palestinian community, Khirbet Humsa, and tightening the noose on Khan Al-Ahmar – the Israeli government advanced plans to begin a land registration process in Area C as a means by which the state can declare more West Bank land to be “state land,” a way to retroactively legalize unauthorized settlement construction there (as well as put more land off limits to Palestinain construction and even render some existing Palestinian construction illegal).
Additionally, on September 10th the Israeli government allocated $6 million USD (20 million NIS) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized (by Israel) Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, which Israel – egged on by settlers – has been aggressively demolishing in an effort to rid the area of Palestinians. Haaretz reports that this is the first time that the state budget has included funds specifically for a land survey in the West Bank. The state also allocated an additional $2.8 million (9.5 million NIS) to an existing grant program specifically for settlement municipalities to cash in on. As a reminder, virtually all Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank is “unauthorized,” because Israel almost universally refuses to give Palestinians permission to build in Area C even on land that Israel recognizes as owned by Palestinians.
The Settlement Affairs Ministry is a new creation of the current coalition government, and is headed by Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud). The funding for the Settlement Affairs Ministry to conduct a survey of unauthorized Palestinian construction in Area C further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already de facto annexed by Israel. While technically the occupied territories are administered by the Israeli Civil Administration (a body within the Defense Ministry), Israel has spent decades bringing the administration of the territories (specifically the settlements and Area C) ever more directly under direct Israeli law (de facto annexation).
The Knesset has also repeatedly hosted forums to discuss “the Palestinian takeover of Area C.” Consistent with this framing (which is predicated on the idea that Area C belongs to Israel), and pushed by outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s allegedly lackadaisical approach to defending Israel’s rights/ interests in Area C (i.e., preventing “illegal” Palestinian construction, preventing foreign projects that support Palestinians’ presence in the area, clearing out Palestinians, expanding settlements, consolidating state infrastructure). Reportedly, Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue & White) sent a letter to the committee in October 2020 specifically addressing the Knesset’s outrage over European humanitarian assistance projects for Palestinians in Area C. In the letter, Ashkenazi not only celebrated the reduction of European projects over the past year, but validated settlers’ insinuations regarding the nefarious nature of European assistance for Palestinians, saying that any European activity in the West Bank lacking Israeli permission is “an attempt to define a border.”
At one Knesset hearing, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) suggested that a solution could be to empower the settlements with the ability to demolish Palestinian construction they believe to be unauthorized. Smotrich’s partymate Ayelet Shaked (former Justice Minister) suggested that the government should appoint a project manager tasked with preventing a “Palestinian takeover” of Area C.
As noted above, Israel has long denied Palestinians the ability to build in Area C, resulting in many Palestinian structures (including homes, schools, farms, etc) being built without the required Israeli-issued permits. To fully understand what is happening, see B’Tselem’s excellent explainer.
Please read the New York Times feature on David Friedman in its entirety, and the two separate threads (one and two) journalist David Halbfinger tweeted with supplemental material from the interview. A few key quotes regarding U.S. settlement and annexation policy over the past four years are copied below.
On internal Israeli annexation negotiations between Netanyahu and his government coalition partners:
“I was invited.”
On the future of Israel’s de jure annexation of West Bank land:
“They [Israel] can act unilaterally. It’s suboptimal, but at some point, it’s just sort of necessary just to move on.”
On how the U.S. settlement policy over the past four years:
“he agreed with the Israelis that they should build ‘from the inside out’ — to expand settlements ‘with the least amount of damage to the overall footprint. And that’s how they’ve been operating over the last four years’.”
On the opposition to settlement construction by previous U.S. administrations:
“just to kind of virtue-signal that we think the Palestinians should have something more, made no sense to me…[What Israel does inside or outside the settlements is] an internal decision.” And also on the idea of asking for a settlement freeze: “for them [Israel], I think a freeze of construction is the acknowledgment that the land doesn’t belong to them.”
On criticisms of the Trump Plan map:
“We spent months working on ways to achieve contiguity. You can drive from Hebron to Nablus and never see an Israeli. “I used to take the Midtown Tunnel to work every day. If you tell me that there’s a river, that I go under a river, I don’t know that. I never saw the river once. I drove under that thing for 30 years, never saw a river. So I take it on faith that there’s an East River. I’m just saying that we created enough contiguity so that Palestinians could go throughout the West Bank without ever coming face-to-face with the Israelis.”
On the role Israelis played in creating the Trump Plan and map:
“The editorial control was always ours. This was entirely authored by us and almost entirely conceptualized by us.”
On how to get Israelis to buy into future peace talks:
“Peace talks would only gain traction with the Israeli right, he ‘without the accusation that somehow it’s a thief and being asked to return things that it stole. Israel will not and should not come to the table on the basis of being an illegal occupier of stolen land’”
On the current status quo (in which Israel occupies the West Bank and blocakes the Gaza Strip):
“the status quo is not unsustainable, but I think the status quo is suboptimal and should be.”
On the dangers posed to Israeli democracy by permanent occupation:
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Israel’s democracy because Israel’s democracy is the function of the citizens, and these are not citizens of Israel.”
Friedman confirmed that the Trump Plan and normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain held out the “aspiration” of a massive change to the status quo on the Temple Mount in which non-Muslim prayer would be allowed at all areas except Al Aqsa Mosque.
Dismissing any remaining doubt that normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries were contingent on Israel’s permanent suspension of annexation:
“I don’t think it would’ve been appropriate for Israel to, especially without the consensus of the Israeli population, to just give up territory permanently for any agreement with another country,”
He blamed the Israeli left for a tense moment in 2010 between then Vice President Biden and the Israeli government, when Biden arrived in Israel on the same day Isreal announced settlement construction plans:
“The reality here is whenever under the last administration somebody of significance came to visit, the Israeli left would immediately publicize whatever they could find in terms of settlement expansion, to create that friction,”
On his future plans:
“I’m going to stay American-only for at least four years. I want to give myself every opportunity to return to government.” And later, “Finally, there’s talk of his forming an Israel-based pro-settlement group. He hinted: ‘I will stay in the space somehow, but I just don’t know how,’ he said. ‘I’ll try to maintain a voice. I mean, it’s a huge drop-off when you no longer have access to the president’.”
- “[Webinar] ‘Raided and Razed’: West Bank Education under Attack” (FMEP & NRC)
- “‘Does someone have to die for West Bank outposts to be legalized?’” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Land of wine and honey? Israeli settlers export to UAE, to Palestinian chagrin” (Reuters)