Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
July 24, 2020
- Annexation Watch: Gantz Pushes for Status Quo, Bibi Hints at New Elections
- 2020 is on Track to Be Record Year for East Jerusalem Settlement Growth
- A Bump in the Road for Plans to for Settler Yeshiva in Sheikh Jarrah
- IDF Demolishes Outpost (After it was Relocated Near to Israeli Army Base)
- Israel Starts Construction to Expand the Ibei Hanachal Outpost
- Israeli Plans for Wadi Al-Joz in East Jerusalem, Including the “Silicon Wadi” Project, Expected to Advance
- Israel “Recovers” Religious Relic from Palestinian Village
- Greenblatt: Trump Plan has 60-80 Pages of Conditions on/for a Future Palestinian “State”
- Bonus Reads
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Three weeks after July 1 – the date when it officially became open season for Israel to annex West Bank land – there has still been no movement toward a formal act of annexation by the Israeli government (though de facto annexation continues unabated). This week, two reports further churned up the “will it happen/won’t it happen” speculation machine.
First, a July 19th report suggests that Benny Gantz, Israel’s Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister, is pushing Netanyahu to delay annexation plans in order to focus all of the government’s efforts on combating the resurgence of the coronavirus across the country. The report further suggests Gantz is appealing for the government to focus on expanding existing settlements and building infrastructure that serves settlers (and theoretically Palestinians as well, though such projects serve to entrench the presence of settlers) — in effect, setting aside de jure annexation to pursue de facto annexation more energetically.
Second, reports on July 22nd circulated the rumor that Netanyahu intends to go to elections in November – a move which would collapse any cooperation with Gantz and potentially could hinder Netanyahu’s ability to advance annexation. On the other hand, such a move could also free Netanyahu from the constraints of the unity deal, as well as from the U.S. (alleged) condition that Gantz must consent to Netanyahu’s annexation plan before receiving a U.S. greenlight. Netanyahu denied this report later in the week.
Ir Amim published a review and analysis of official settlement data from the first six months of 2020, showing that a total of 3,514 settlement units were advanced for settlements in East Jerusalem. If this pace continues, Ir Amim reports that 2020 will set a new record for East Jerusalem settlement activity (the current record is held by 2012, the year Palestine was recognized as a non-member state by the United Nations General Assembly and Israel retaliated by accelerating its de facto annexation of Palestinian land via settlement growth, including in East Jerusalem).
Notably, the plans advanced so far this year include many of the most controversial settlements on the drawing board – like Givat Hamatos, E-1, and new enclaves within Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Beit Hanina.
In Amim writes:
“The scope and significance of the plans that were advanced in the last six months shows Israel’s determination to consolidate its control – both in terms of demography and territory – over the whole of East Jerusalem and further into Greater Jerusalem. This is seen especially as settlement construction increases in the areas connecting East Jerusalem and Greater Jerusalem (ex: Har Homa E and Givat Hamatos) and the creation of massive facts on the ground such as in the case of the E-1 plans. Thus, Israel is laying the groundwork for the official annexation of Greater Jerusalem. In parallel, these facts on the ground serve to entrench the detachment of East Jerusalem from the West Bank and further fracture the Palestinian space in and around Jerusalem. Combined, these steps threaten to deal a death blow to Palestinian aspirations in Jerusalem, the possibility for two capitals in the city, and a two-state solution…[the number of settlement advancements] signal a leap in settlement advancement in East Jerusalem, both in terms of quantity of housing units as well as in the advancement of new settlements in the most sensitive areas where, for years, Israel had to refrain from doing so due to international pressure.”
See the paper for details on the plans advanced so far in 2020. The paper concludes with this brief recap of 2020 settlement activity:
- A tender for construction of 1,077 housing units in the new settlement Givat Hamatos was published.
- Master plans for adding 6,100 housing units in new settlements of Har Homa E and Givat Hamatos. For 500 of these housing units, a detailed outline plan was also advanced at the District Committee.
- Two detailed outline plans with a total of 144 housing units in two settlement compounds in the Palestinian neighborhood Beit Hanina were approved for deposit as well as a dormitory for dozens of Yeshiva students in Sheikh Jarrah.
- Nine detailed outline plans were advanced with a total of 2,870 housing units inside the built-up area of East Jerusalem settlements.
Ir Amim reports that on July 21st, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee unexpectedly delayed making a final decision on settler plans for a new Jewish religious school (yeshiva) and dormitory – named the Glassman Campus project – at the entrance of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, located in East Jerusalem. The Committee was expected to make a final decision on the plan at this meeting, but instead ordered a new report assessing the needs of the neighborhood, to be prepared within 60 days. The Court’s order comes after groups, including Ir Amim, submitted objections to the plan that detaied the classroom shortage in Palestinian neighborhoods, due in part to the lack of available land to build on.
The plan to build the yeshiva and dormitory (which would house dozens of young religious settlers), as well as another project for a 6-story building in the same area, aim to strengthen Israeli settlers’ hold on the neighborhood. Once built, settlements will literally flank both sides of the road leading into Sheikh Jarrah, advancing the settlers’ goal of cementing the presence of the settlement enclaves inside of Sheikh Jarrah by connecting them more seamlessly to the neighborhood’s periphery and to West Jerusalem.
Ir Amim writes:
“This unexpected decision is of great importance. It creates a significant obstacle to the approval of the Yeshiva plan and requires the Municipality to describe in detail the needs of the Palestinian neighborhood. Also, the decision is a clear expression of the fact that settlements in East Jerusalem come directly at the expense of the basic needs of Palestinians in the city.”
Located just north of Jerusalem’s Old City, Sheikh Jarrah has endured years of aggressive settlement activity by radical settlers via various means, including using Israel’s court system to strip Palestinians of their ownership rights. Sheikh Jarrah’s plight was featured in a 2013 film by Just Vision, “My Neighborhood.” Just Vision also produced “Home Front,” a series of video interviews with the Palestinian residents and Israeli activists fighting together against settlement expansion in Sheikh Jarrah. For more on Sheikh Jarrah and the protest it sparked, 972+ Magazine has a compilation of resources online here.
Following media reports about the IDF’s complicity in establishing an illegal outpost on privately owned Palestinian land near Nablus (FMEP reported on this last week), on July 19th the settlers relocated their outpost to an area declared by Israel to be “state land” next to an Israeli army base. While Israeli security forces had spent weeks tolerating and even assisting in the establishment of the new outpost when it was located on Palestinian land, after it was moved to the new site near the IDF base , the IDF moved to promptly demolish it on July 21st.
The settler who is behind this new outpost, Yedidya Meshulami, is well known for his eccentric, illegal, and dangerous (and, if committed by a Palestinian, undoubtedly arrest-worthy) acts. In 2019, Meshulami nearly flew his helicopter into an IDF transport plane conducting a training exercise in the Jordan Valley (he was charged with several crimes involved with illegally flying his helicopter and endangering lives in West Bank airspace, which is controlled by the Israeli military). A former IDF reserve pilot, in March 2018 Meshulami attempted to take control of the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah by landing his helicopter nearby, declaring “I don’t care what they do to me, I’ll take it [the checkpoint] over.” Following his arrest and release to house arrest, the IDF confiscated two helicopters and an ultralight plane from Meshulami’s personal airstrip, which he built illegally in an outpost near the Itamar settlement, south of Nablus.
Meshulami lives in an unauthorized outpost called “Alumot” near the settlement of Itamar, south of Nablus. Meshulami helped establish the outpost in 1996 after serving in the Israeli Air Force and, despite lacking permits, he personally built an airstrip in the outpost in 2013. According to reports this week, Israeli security forces had previously revoked Meshulami’s pilot license for flying over the West Bank without a permit.
Middle East Eye reports that Israel – in the midst of fighting a surge of coronavirus cases, deciding on annexation, and possibly heading to elections again this fall – has begun clearing land for the expansion of the Ibei Hanachal outpost, located between Hebron and Bethlehem in the southern West Bank. Palestinian leaders from the village of Kasin, to which the land the outpost is built on historically belonged, told reporters that settlers have already moved caravans into the newly razed land and that new electricity poles have been recently installed.
Ibei Hanachal was established illegally by settlers in 1999, but was granted retroactive approval as a neighborhood of the Ma’ale Amos settlement by the Israeli government in August 2019. Declaring illegal outposts to be neighborhoods of settlements – even outposts that are not contiguous with the built up area of the settlement, as is the case with Ibei Hanachal – is one of the legal mechanisms that Israel has found to retroactively “legalize” illegal outposts – that in effect creates new settlements.
Israeli Plans for Wadi Al-Joz in East Jerusalem, Including the “Silicon Wadi” Project, Expected to Advance
In a new paper, Bimkom provides details on the status of two major projects Israel is advancing for the Wadi Al-Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem..
The “Silicon Wadi” project – which made it into Israeli headlines a few weeks ago – is at a “conceptual phase” at this point, with little official data available. But it is known that the plan is being advanced as a Master Plan, a planning avenue that does not permit the public to offer objections. Master Plans also do not require the government to specify an exact number of units to be built, leaving open the possibility of further construction. This project is located in the northern section of Wadi al-Joz.
The second project being advanced in Wadi al-Joz is referred to as the “Eastern Business District,” to be located near the Old City walls. This project is in a much more advanced stage of the planning process, and Bimkom expects it to be deposited for public review in the near future. This project is in the heart of the Palestinian city center, and calls for awarding 80% of all planning rights in the area for commercial, tourism, and business development. The plan also grants legalization to unauthorized structures in the area, but does not allow for further residential development. On this, Bimkom explains:
“This ratio of mixed use is problematic because it does not address the housing crisis in Palestinian East Jerusalem, and moreover, it does not address the basic interest of citycenter planning: the creation of a balanced mixed-use environment, in which housing development is generally considered as an important stimulus for development. In other parts of the Jerusalem today, along the route of the light rail, a 50-50 ratio is the accepted policy.”
Explaining the significance of the two plans in context of Israel’s settlement activities across the city, Bimkom writes:
“The abovementioned plans, alongside other large scale plans currently under consideration for East Jerusalem (such as the plan for development alongside the American Road, see here), demonstrate the current Israeli Planning Policy in East Jerusalem: public uses are being addressed — and huge areas are being allotted for commerce and business — while residential needs are being left unanswered (if they are addressed they are generally unimplementable).”
In a covert pre-dawn operation on July 20th, the Israeli Civil Administration entered the Palestinian village of Tuqu’ and took a Byzantine-era baptismal font. The font was allegedly stolen by antiquity thieves in the year 2000 from an archeological site next to the Tekoa settlement (which was built on lands historically a part of Tuqu’), and retrieved in 2002 by Palestinian residents of Tuqu’. The font has been on open display next to the village Mayor’s home for the past 18 years, with Israel taking no interest in the matter until now.
Emek Shaveh explains important context of the Civil Administration’s sudden interest in the font:
“This operation follows on the heels of increased complaints by the settlers that the Civil Administration is not doing enough to prevent what they claim is systematic and ideologically driven antiquities theft. The settlers have been claiming that traces of a Jewish past in the area are being destroyed and that all antiquities sites should be placed under Israeli control. Emek Shaveh and the Mayor of Tuqu’ have written to the Civil Administration with a demand to return the antiquity to the village and its residents. The Civil Administration is responsible for the protecting the interests and welfare of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and is not meant to act as an agent on behalf of the settlers who believe they should be the sole custodians of the areas’ antiquities.”
Adding to settler efforts described by Emek Shaveh, a new settler group calling itself “Shomrim Al Hanetzach” (“Guarding Eternity”) recently began surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archeaological sites in order to call in Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction in these areas. The new group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit in the Israeli Civil Administration (the military body by which the government of Israel regulates all planning and building in 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. As a reminder, in 2017, Israel declared 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The new group is, not coincidentally, an offshoot of the radical Regavim organization, which among other things works to push Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction that lacks Israeli permits (permits that Israel virtually never grants).
The new group has also raised public alarm about the Trump Plan, alleging that hundreds of biblical sites in the West Bank are slated to become Palestinian territory. The group’s leaders accuse the Palestinian Authority of mismanaging the sites and they accuse Palestinians of looting them. The group is demanding that Israel annex all the sites.
In response to the theft of the font from Tuqu’, PLO Spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi released a statement saying:
“A hallmark of Israel’s system of colonial occupation and oppression has been its disdainful attempts to erase Palestinian presence, culture and heritage, including the illegal appropriation and theft of heritage sites and artifacts. This systemic policy of plunder is a war crime that must not go unpunished. In the past weeks, Israel has taken other illegal steps targeting Palestinian heritage sites, including sealing off the entrance of Jabal Al-Fureidis (or so-called Herodium) in the Bethlehem District to restrict the access of Palestinians to the site, which Israel has illegally appropriated as an “Israeli National Park”. Israel has also repeatedly targeted other historical and archaeological sites, including UNESCO Heritage sites in Palestine such as the Old City of Jerusalem, the Battir terraces in Bethlehem, and the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. Israel must be held accountable for its egregious war on Palestinian heritage and its attempt to appropriate our history and pillage historical artifacts that are an integral part of Palestinian and world history. UNESCO and its Director General, Ms. Audrey Azoulay, have a moral and official duty to speak out and protect Palestinian heritage. Their continued silence in this regard is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility.”
In a new interview with Army Radio, former U.S. negotiator Jason Greenblatt proudly touted the fact that the Trump Plan has 60-80 pages of stipulations Palestinians must agree to and satisfy before it could meet the U.S. conditions for recognizing Palestine as a “state.” It’s always worth reiterating: the Trump Plan in no way provides for a real state in any sense of the term; it at best offers the Palestinians a conditional non-state entity over which Israel would enjoy almost total control. Greenblatt said:
“[the] phrase we used in the peace efforts is a realistic Palestinian state that complies with 60-80 pages of important criteria. [This criteria is what] differentiates the peace plan we released from the past efforts. There’s a lot of criteria for them to establish a state, as there should be.”
- “Two Palestinian Cyclists Injured in Alleged Assault by West Bank Settlers” (Haaretz)
- “B’Tselem investigation: Settlers assault Palestinians and file false reports against them; military arrests the victims” (B’Tselem)