Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
July 17, 2020
- Smotrich & Israel Land Caucus Introduce Annexation Bill
- After Settlers Protest, Netanyahu Delays Vote on Government Bylaws
- More Rumors on Annexation, But No Announcement
- Gantz to Issue Tender for Settler Project at Hebron Holy Site
- IDF Helps Fortify New Outpost on West Bank’s Highest Hilltop
- Bonus Reads
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On July 13th, MKs Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) and Haim Katz (Likud), co-chairs of the Israel Land Caucus — a pro-Greater Israel body within the Knesset — filed a bill in the Knesset to have Israel both annex all of its settlements in the West Bank and preserve its control over Area C (in anticipation of future annexation). The bill is modeled after a January 2018 resolution passed unanimously by the Likud Party (with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s consent), a fact used by the authors of the new bill as incontrovertible proof that the bill should easily receive backing from the government and be quickly passed by the Knesset. The Israel Land Caucus is calling on Netanyahu to bring the bill up for a vote in the Security Cabinet this Sunday (July 19th), and its co-authors have requested that the legislation be fast-tracked in the Knesset.
A spokesman for the Israel Land Caucus told The Jerusalem Post that the bill calls for Israel to unilaterally annex all settlements, outposts, and roads. Though the bill’s authors do not have a map to show the exact areas the bill will annex, they say their plan does not leave any settlements or outposts as isolated enclaves. Additionally, the bill would bring the entirety of Area C more directly under Israel’s control by requiring Palestinians to gain the approval of the Israeli security cabinet (as opposed to the Israeli Civil Administration) for any construction there. It would also ban international organizations and governments from conducting activities and projects in Area C. Taken together, these changes in the status of Area C, with Israel’s civilian government in effect asserting its direct authority over the area, would functionally amount to a form of formal annexation of the area. [It’s worth noting here that the European Union, Denmark, and the Palestinian Authority just announced $6.63 million in funding for 16 projects for Palestinians in Area C, including new schools, electricity networks, and water reservoirs.
Speaking about the bill, MK Smotrich said:
“A few years ago, our caucus placed sovereignty laws in front of the Knesset and made the issue one of the central issues on the agenda of the Israeli government. Unfortunately, the government’s promises of sovereignty so far have not been fulfilled and the proposal in Netanyahu’s plan creates a de facto Arab state in the heart of the country. This is not what we had in mind. The bill we have presented today is the long-awaited sovereignty and it will remove the folly of two-states from the agenda. We must have cooperation between all right-wing elements in the coalition and opposition to advance this bill and we act together to advance it for the continuation of the Zionist vision.”
Following public protest by Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council (a settlement municipal body), Netanyahu canceled plans for the Security Cabinet to vote on procedural bylaws which theoretically might have empowered Benny Gantz to block Likud’s annexation plans (bearing in mind that it is by no means certain he would choose to do so). As a reminder, under the existing coalition agreement, Gantz does not have the power to block a vote on annexation; the proposed bylaws would have clarified that consensus between Netanyahu and Gantz is required to advance items on the government’s agenda.
After Dagan raised the alarm about the issue with Israeli media, the bylaws were quietly removed from the Cabinet’s July 12th agenda.
Dagan argued that the proposed bylaws would have torpedoed:
“the possibility of applying sovereignty in the coming months as promised by the prime minister, because Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz has already stated he would not agree to apply sovereignty without negotiations with the Arab world, and that is not possible at this time.”
Netanyahu is reportedly facing pressure from the Trump Administration to get Gantz on board with annexation, even as settlers demand that Netanyahu moves forward on annexation without Gantz, per the coalition agreement.
Starting before July 1st, Israeli officials have been saying privately that the U.S. is pumping the brakes on Israel’s annexation plans. This week, Yariv Levin – a Likud party leader, Speaker of the Knesset and a member of the Israeli mapping and negotiation team working with the U.S. – reportedly said in private conversations that, at the moment, the Americans are “not listening” when it comes to Israel’s annexation plans. At the same time, reports continue to suggest that the U.S. is pushing Netanyahu to hold off on annexation until Benny Gantz agrees to the plan and its timing.
The American side has been notably silent this week, neither rebutting Israeli suggestions that annexation has been delayed nor fulfilling promises of an anonymous U.S. official that Trump would make a decision on the matter this week. David Schenker – the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (formerly at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, one of the Trump Admin’s favorite think-tanks) – told the German Marshall Fund that Netanyahu is facing pressure from his supporters who support annexation but are opposed to the Trump Plan’s vision for a Palestinian non-state entity. Schenker said:”We’re [the U.S] calling on the Israelis not to do anything that would preclude the implementation of the vision.” And further cast doubt on whether annexation will happen on Trump’s watch, saying, “It wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t see anything, but I think that the prime minister would like to do something.”
On July 13th, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz announced that he will expedite the planning process for a settler-backed project to install accessible infrastructure (including an elevator) at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Gantz will reportedly issue a construction tender for the project soon. Emek Shaveh reports that Gantz’s announcement was pressured by settlers, who claimed the Civil Administration was dragging its heels on advancing the project.
The period during which the public can file objections to the plan closed on July 13th (the same day as Gantz’s announcement). Two objections were filed: One by Emek Shaveh (read more here) and a second by the Palestinian-run Hebron Municipality. Gantz’s objection suggests that neither is being taken seriously.
+972 Magazine reports that on June 26th settlers established a new outpost on privately owned Palestinian land just north of Nablus. Since then, they have been assisted by the Israeli army in securing the outpost. On July 7th, the IDF brought in bulldozers to construct a dirt barrier in order to prevent Palestinians from accessing the area, which includes terraced agricultural land that Palestinians have cultivated for decades. Palestinians have also reported seeing IDF soldiers escort settlers to and from the outpost. The outpost consists currently of two mobile homes and an animal shed.
The outpost is built on the top of the highest hilltop in the West Bank, Mount Ebal, on land owned by Palestinians from the nearby town of Asira al-Shamaliya. Since the outpost was established, Palestinians have gathered every Friday to protest against the settlers living there – protests which have been met by the IDF with tear gas and stun grenades. The mayor of Asira al-Shamaliya was injured by a tear gas canister but vowed to continue demonstrating against the outpost every Friday until it is dismantled.
Dror Etkes, founder of the settlement watchdog group Kerem Navot, told +972 Magazine:
“This cannot happen without some kind of coordination with the army, when the outpost is near one of the most central army bases in the West Bank. There is no chance the army is not involved in one way or another.”
- “Jerusalem highway construction aims to modernize traffic flow around historic city” (JNS)
- “Palestinian Workers Forced to Sleep in Trash-sorting Plant Because Employers Feared Coronavirus Lockdown”(Haaretz)
- “How I Ended Up Staying at an Isolation Hotel in a ‘Jerusalem Settlement’” (Haaretz)
- “United Israel Appeal says won’t invest in projects beyond Green Line” (Israel Hayom)
- “Tech leaders say West Bank annexation would be catastrophic for Israel” (CTech)
- “Dutch threaten fine for stores selling Hebron wine with ‘made in Israel’ tag” (The Times of Israel)
- “EU, Denmark, PA will build 16 projects including schools in Area C” (MEMO)