Settlement & Annexation Report: July 21, 2023


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

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July 21, 2023

  1. “Dizzying” East Jerusalem Settlement Activity Continues: Israel Approves Givat Hamatos Building Permits & Schedules Discussion to Double Its Size
  2. Israel Expands West Bank Annexation via Archaeology, Including Construction of 4-7 New Settler Tourism Sites
  3. Smotrich Prepping Plans to Expand Campaign Against Palestinian Construction,  With Aim to Expand Authority to Areas A & B
  4. Israel Opens First High Tech Campus in “Silicon Wadi” East Jerusalem Project
  5. Knesset Pushes Bill to Directly Fund Settlements
  6. Another Palestinian Bedouin Community Coerced to Leave Homes By Settler & State Terrorism
  7. In the Press: Bibi Denies Reports of “Settlement Freeze” Promise to Biden, Talks His Vision of Peace
  8. Smotrich Claims Credit for U.S.-Israeli Tensions
  9. Bonus Reads

“Dizzying” East Jerusalem Settlement Activity Continues: Israel Approves Givat Hamatos Building Permits & Schedules Discussion to Double Its Size

Ir Amim reports that Israel has continued its “dizzying pace” of settlement advancements in East Jerusalem, this week granting approval to four building permits for the yet-to-be-built Givat Hamatos settlement, and take an irregular step to advance a new plan – called “New Talpiot” – that would serve to massively expand the fully-approved plan for Givat Hamatos settlement.

The four building permits were issued on July 16th and will allow the foundation to be laid for several buildings in the Givat Hamatos settlement – which, if built, will be the first new settlement to be built in East Jerusalem in over two decades. The buildings (which will require separate building permits to be issued) will have a total of 900 units. The Israeli government has approved a plan to build a total of 2,610 settlement units in the Givat Hamatos settlement. 

In addition, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is set to convene on Monday, July 24th to discuss a plan referred to as “New Talpiot Hill” that will, if approved and constructed, expand double the number of housing units in the Givat Hamatos settlement and increase its land mass by 40%, stretching Givat Hamatos eastward towards the settlement of Har Homa. The Givat Hamatos A project is directly adjacent to the area of the New Talpiot Hill project. The plan provides for 3,500 new settlement units and 1,300 hotel rooms – the latter posing a direct competition to the Palestinian tourism industry in nearby Bethlehem. The plan also calls for five synagogues and two mikvehs, clearly showing that the construction is designed to serve Israeli Jews although the neighboring Palestinian communities are suffering an acute housing crisis.

Ir Amim further notes that Israel is carrying out land registration on plots of land implicated by the New Talpiot Hill plan, a process which Israel has weaponized as a tool of settlement expansion.

Ir Amim writes:

“Together, Givat Hamatos A and New Talpiyot Hill along with concurrent settlement advancements in the area are cumulatively sealing off East Jerusalem’s southern perimeter from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank. These measures likewise further fracture the Palestinian space and deplete all remaining land reserves in the area for Palestinian development. Such conditions severely undermine the prospects of an agreed political future of Jerusalem, while depriving Palestinians of their fundamental right to housing and shelter.”

Israel Expands West Bank Annexation via Archaeology, Including Construction of 6-7 New Settler Tourism Sites

On July 17th the Israeli government approved a three-year $33 million (NIS 120 million) plan to take control over archaeological sites throughout the West Bank, including plans to establish 4-7 new settlement tourist sites. The approval of this plan is the fulfillment of a commitment made in the government’s coalition deal, which called for 

The plan has several alarming components, including:

  • Nearly $3million allocation of monitoring alleged antiquity destruction by PAlestinians and the Palestinian Authority, as well as for enforcement activities such as demolitioning Palestinian construction near antiquity sites.
  • The construction of 4-7 new tourist installments at archaeological sites throughout the West Bank  – the first being a new site at the “Hasmonean Pools” near Jericho. On this, Peace Now explains:

“The Hasmonean Palaces are located in Area C, adjacent to the Palestinian city of Jericho, which mostly falls under Areas A and B. Currently, access to the site passes through Area A. Beyond the site development, the goal of the program is also to enable access and regulate the movement of Israeli visitors from Area C into the site itself. In the past, there have been reports of plans to build a bridge over Area A to allow Israelis to reach the site.”

  • The construction of a heritage center to showcase West Bank artifacts, with the possibility of building a new archaeological museum somewhere in the West Bank (location not determined).
  •  Surveys and excavatations.

Emek Shaveh and Peace Now both note that this new $33 million project comes in addition to the $9 million dollars in funding that the government approved in May 2023 to develop and “renovate” the archaeological site of Sebastia, located near the Palestinian village of Sebastia, north of Nablus in the heart of the West Bank. The project includes plans to pave a new access road for Israelis to reach the site, which they currently have to access by traveling through the Palestinian village of Sebastia, which will increase and entrench Israeli control not only over the site itself but the surrounding area – effectively weaponizing archaeology as a tool for dispossession.

Emek Shaveh said in a statement:

“With Bezalel Smotrich responsible for the Civil Administration and Jewish Power in charge of the Ministry of Heritage, the archaeological sites are weaponized more than ever before as a means for justifying ‘touristic settlements’, significantly entrenching and expanding the occupation and have become a central component in the present government’s steps towards advancing annexation. Along with massive settlement expansions, settler violence and legislation, the development of heritage sites in the West Bank will give control over substantial public areas and transform the multi-layered historical character of the area beyond recognition.

Although the plan is titled “an emergency plan for protection of antiquities”, only 10 million NIS of a budget of 120 million NIS are actually earmarked for defending sites against antiquity theft. Most of the budget is allocated to acts that constitute de facto annexation of the West Bank in complete violation of international law and the Oslo Accords. It is quite clear that for the current government the plan is yet another component in its efforts to thwart any possibility for a two-state solution and establish a biblical theocracy. We call on the international community to hold the State of Israel accountable to its own commitments under the Oslo accords, to the Two States Solution and to international law.”

 Peace Now said in a statement

“The Israeli government continues to settle in the West Bank in every possible way and continues to strengthen the friction with the Palestinian population. Investing over 150 million NIS in new tourist settlements implies exploiting archaeology in the West Bank to promote settlements and adversely affect Palestinians. Instead of investing in archaeological and tourism sites within Israel, the Israeli government continues to prioritize the settler minority over millions of Israelis. Investing in new settlements under the guise of heritage in the West Bank is a divisive move that harms Palestinians, distances peace and the two-state solution, and also undermines Israel’s tourism potential.”

As background, in January 2021, the Israeli government committed funding to a new settler initiative to surveil archeological sites under Palestinian control. While the objective of protecting antiquities might appear uncontroversial and apolitical, the true (and transparently self-evident) objectives behind this effort are: to support yet another pretext to surveil and police Palestinians; to establish and exploit yet another means to dispossess Palestinians of their properties; to expand/deepen Israeli control across the West Bank; and to further entrench Israeli technical, bureaucratic and legal paradigms that treat the West Bank as sovereign Israeli territory. It is the result of a campaign that has taken place over the past year in which settlers have escalated their calls for the Israeli government to seize antiquities and “heritage sites” located in Palestinian communities across the West Bank, especially in Area C, which Israel today treats as functionally (and legally) indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory. Funding committed by Israel for West Bank “heritage sites” should be understood in this context

Previous victories for the settlers in this same arena include the Israeli Civil Administration’s issuance in 2020 of expropriation orders – the first of their kind in 35 years – for two archaeological sites located on privately owned Palestinian property northwest of Ramallah. The settlers’ pressure is also credited as the impetus behind the government’s clandestine raid of a Palestinian village in July 2020 to seize an ancient font. 

In June 2020, the “Guardians of Eternity” group began surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archaeological sites, looking for Palestinian construction (barred by Israel in such areas) that they could then use as a pretext to demand that Israeli authorities demolish it. The group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit of the Israeli Civil Administration (reminder: the Civil Administration is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which since 1967 has functioned as the de facto sovereign over the West Bank). The Archaeology Unit, playing its part, then delivers eviction and demolition orders against Palestinians, claiming that the structures damage antiquities in the area.

And one more reminder: in 2017, Israel designated 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The “Guardians of Eternity” group, not coincidentally, is an offshoot of the radical Regavim organization, which among other things works to push Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction (on Palestinians’ own land) that lacks Israeli permits (permits that Israel virtually never grants).

Smotrich Prepping Plans to Expand Campaign Against Palestinian Construction, With Aim to Expand Authority to Areas A & B

At a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Bezalel Smotrich revealed several plans that intensify and expand Israel’s annexation of the West Bank,, including plans to extend Israeli civilian operations – specifically the demolition of Palestinian construction – into Areas A & B.

Most drastically, Smotrich said that he is preparing a plan – expected to be approved within a month –  that would allow him to direct the demolition of Palestinian buildings in Areas A & B which are determined to be a “security threat.” Smotrich told the Knesset that Israel’s ability to operate in Areas A & B are “key” to national security, and that he is working on plans to create a new unit within the Border Police which will be assigned specifically to construction law enforcement. This would be yet another advancement of Israel’s de facto annexation of the entire West Bank, which is increasingly focused not just on solidifying Israeli sovereignty over Area C but on Areas A & B as well. Haaretz notes that the Knesset Committee spent more time discussing Areas A & B than Area C. It should be noted that the Knesset Committee was convened to discuss what the Israeli government and the settlers believe to be “The Palestinian Authority’s takeover of open areas in Judea and Samaria” — a completely warped narrative of what is transpiring in the West Bank, where Israeli settlements are expanding while Palestinian are facing apartheid conditions. As admitted by an Army officer at the hearing, the Israeli military rejects 90-95% of Palestinian building requests while granting 60-70% of settler building requests

During a discussion of the Palestinian construction, Smotrich said his plan would also see Israel declare activities by Palestinian Authority to be a “foreign hostile activity,” which would prompt Israel to seize funds from the PA. 

Smotrich also discussed two projects being prepared by the Jewish National Fund to plant trees on 2,500 acres of West Bank land. Smotrich talked about this tree-planting operation as a means of annexation, saying: “The [PA] actively works to seize lands. We need to do the same thing….[This means] legalization, construction, agriculture. “ This news comes the same week Israeli operated tractors were filmed uprooting Palestinian owned olive trees near the village of Tarkumiya.

As a reminder, in his role as a civilian minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of the Civil Administration, Smotrich is already empowered to order demolitions in Area C (powers which had previously been held by Israel’s military) — powers which he has wielded aggressively. As defined by the Oslo Accords, Areas A & B constitute 40% of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority is assigned responsibility for civilian administration matters, like construction. Smotrich’s moves only underscore Israel’s erasure of any meaningful distinction between these areas, which has also been evidenced by routine military incursions into Nablus and Jenin, Israeli activity around antiquity sites under PA control, and more. 

Israel Opens First High Tech Campus in “Silicon Wadi” East Jerusalem Project

The Times of Israel reports that Israel celebrated the opening of its inaugural  high tech workspace that is part of the “Silicon Wadi” project, under which Israel aims to establish a major high-tech hub along the western side of East Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood. While touted as a plan that will benefit Palestinians, its implementation has required the eviction of many Palestinian businesses in the area. 

The new $2.8million (NIS 10 million) tech campus is a free workspace for Israeli and international high tech companies, and it has the capacity to host 250 workers with workstations, meeting spaces, and other available services. Four companies have already began working out of the new building.

You can read Ir Amim’s in-depth reporting on the Silicon Wadi project here.

Knesset Pushes Bill to Directly Fund Settlements

The Israeli Knesset is advancing a bill that will allow Israel to transfer tax revenue to the settlements, therefore bringing the settlements under direct Israeli law (an act of de facto annexation, illegal under international law) and further subsidizing the settlement enterprise. Even though the Israeli government has funded settlements from the outset, it has not permitted tax revenue sharing and has typically tried to hide other direct lines of funding to the settlements through non profits and other intermediaries.

The Combatants for Peace told Haaretz: 

“The Netanyahu government has already ceased even trying to hide the institutionalization of apartheid. MK Asher’s reckless bill is another way to transfer budgets and to support the settlement enterprise and perpetuate the oppression and dispossession of Palestinians. What they can’t get in through the door, they’re trying to get in through the window – the main thing is to keep building.”

Another Palestinian Bedouin Community Coerced to Leave Homes By Settler & State Terrorism

B’Tselem reports that the al-Baq’ah Palestinian bedouin village was forced to abandon its village lands located west of Hebron under daily violence inflicted upon it by nearby settler outposts, and decades of harassment by the Israeli state.

The village’s decision to leave comes less than one week after the IDF demolished a water cistern used by all six families living in al-Baq’ah for personal and agricultural work. The villages told B’Tselem researchers that they are fleeing the village in fear of their lives. 

B’Tselem writes:

“Al-Baq’ah joins the nearby communities of Ras a-Tin and ‘Ein Samia, which have already been driven off their lands over the past year under the same circumstances: Israel’s policy creates oppressive, unreasonable living conditions that leave residents of these communities with no choice but to abandon them. Relying on more official means (settlement building, extreme restrictions on Palestinian construction, a prohibition on infrastructure and demolitions), and on less official ones (settler violence against Palestinians), the policy has one goal: taking over more and more Palestinian lands and handing them over to Jewish hands, and it is applied against other communities still living in the area. Forcible transfer is a war crime, even if the state perpetrates it not by forcing people onto trucks but by putting so much pressure on them that their lives become unbearable and they cannot help but leave their homes and lands.”

In the Press: Bibi Denies Reports of “Settlement Freeze” Promise to Biden, Talks His Vision of Peace

Axios reports that on a July 17th call, Netanyahu informed President Biden that he does not expect to advance any more settlement planning, construction, or outpost “legalization” through the end of the 2023 year. Netanyahu issued a statement denying these reports, however Haaretz reports that Netanyahu contradicted that statement during private briefings for members of his staff and foreign journalists.

Separately, in an interview with podcaster Lex Fridman, Netanyahu provided a fresh look at what his vision of a “peace” deal is, explicitly saying that no settlements or settlers (no matter their location) would be uprooted, and that settlers would remain under Israeli sovereignty. He went on to reject Palestinian sovereignty.

Smotrich Claims Credit for U.S.-Israeli Tensions

In an interview with the settler-allied Arutz Sheva outlet (aka Israel National News), Smotrich made a few eye-opening remarks on his policies and motivations, saying:

“Our mission first and foremost is to provide security to the citizens of Israel in the settlements and all over the country. When we talk about the fight against terrorism there are two legs: the first is the development of the settlements and strengthening our grip on the territories of the Land of Israel. After all, terrorism is designed to weaken our grip – and our true answer that will eradicate it and make terrorism futile – will be further construction. When you look at Judea and Samaria, this government is building, regulating, developing, both in construction and in infrastructure on an unprecedented scale….quite a lot of the tensions that exist between the American administration and the Israeli government – and these are tensions between friends and partners and we manage these disputes with respect – stem from the policy that I am leading as a minister in the Ministry of Defense in the settlements with the full backing of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “How settlers justify their pogroms” (Shabtay Bendet in +972 Magazine)
  2. “I was handcuffed and blindfolded for reporting on settler violence” (Basel Adra in +972 Magazine)
  3. “‘The escalation is frightening’: Jerusalem Christians fear for their future“ (+972 Magazine)
  4. “Israeli Soldiers Protect the Settlers, Then Attack Us Activists” (Illana Hammerman in Haaretz)