Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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July 6, 2023
- Israel Advances Plans for 5,700 New Settlement Units, Making 2023 (after just 6 months) A Record Year for Settlement Growth
- No Surprise – Settlers Get Away with More Illegal Construction Under Smotrich
- UN Updates Database of Companies Doing Business in the Settlements
- Peace Now Report on Effect of Smotrich’s “Settlement Administration”
- Who Profits Documents Role of Israeli National Water Company in Perpetuating Occupation
- Bonus Reads
Settlers continue to build on their campaign to annex the Jordan Valley. At an event held at the Knesset on June 28th, a group of Israeli lawmakers launched the “Jordan Valley Sovereignty” lobby, aimed at passing legislation during the current Knesset term that will annex the Jordan Valley to Israel. Three ministers participated in the event, Minister of Agriculture Avi Dichter, Minister of Settlement and National Mission Orit Struk, and Minister of the Negev and Galilee and National Resilience Yitzhak Wasserlauf. The effort was encouraged on by the head of the World Zionist Organization, Yaakov Hagoel, who said: “We need to implement sovereignty…the sooner the better,”
The group, led by MKs Dan Illouz (Likud) and Yossi Taieb (Shas), presented a plan for annexation written by Kobi Eliraz and Atty. Eran Ben-Ari. No details of the plan have been reported. Eliraz previously served as an adviser on settlement affairs to the Israeli Defense Minister from 2015-2019, but was fired by Prime Minister Netanayhu, a move which upset settlers who broadly respected and trusted Eliraz to advance their agenda.
Minister of Settlement and National Missions Orit Struk said at the event:
“Our government is doing a great deal to develop the Jordan Valley in many areas, but our goal, ultimately, is sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, and this is anchored in the coalition agreements; it all depends on this lobby’s resolute action, and I trust you to act in such a way that they will set the wheel in motion so that it will be impossible not to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. We will be here to support you and stand behind you so that you will succeed in this goal, G-d willing.”
Head of Jordan Valley Council David Elhayani said:
“In December 1981, the Begin government approved, in one day, in three readings in the plenum, the law applying Israel’s law and jurisdiction over the Golan Heights, when the government actually established sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The law passed with a majority of 63 members of the Knesset, eight of whom were members of the opposition. In today’s situation, I cannot help but wonder why this is not happening now. In the present government, there are 64 members of the Knesset from the Right; it is years since we have had such a right-wing government committed to its electorate. I tell you, do not miss this historic opportunity. Apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley in the present Knesset. This is your duty.”
As a reminder, annexation of the Jordan Valley has, in the past, garnered serious effort from the Israeli government. During his 2019 campaign, Netanyahu announced that he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley if reelected, and presented an error-ridden map explaining how he would annex the area without annexing a single Palestinian. His plan called for the annexation of an area which constitutes nearly a quarter of the area of the West Bank (22.3%) where (at the time) 30 settlements and 18 outposts had been established. Peace Now estimated 20% of the targeted land (62,000 acres) is privately owned by Palestinians – a fact that Netanyahu did not even mention, much less explain how he would address. After being elected, Netanyahu faced international opposition to the plan, and in order to quiet the criticism while saving face with his base – Netanyahu formed an inter-ministerial task force dubbed the “Sovereignty Committee” to design a plan for the annexation of the Jordan Valley.
Haaretz reports that ever since Bezalel Smotrich became responsible for civil affairs in the West Bank, the Israeli military has almost entirely abandoned its already paltry efforts to curtail illegal settlement construction. In 2022, Israeli authorities demolished an average of 25 buildings per month, but since February 2023 (when Smotrich took power), that figure dropped to just 2. The trend is hardly a surprise, given Smotrich’s long standing support for the outposts, and his open encouragement of granting retroactive legalization to every outpost (thereby rewarding illegal settler construction instead of punishing it) since taking office.
Since taking power, Smotrich has routinely also intervened on a number of occasions to prevent the IDF from carrying out outpost evacuations, most recently in the case of the outpost called HaMor. Haaretz reports Smotrich also intervened in several other cases in order to stop the IDF from evacuating and demolishing illegal settler construction, including:
- In February 2023, Smotrich temporarily halted the evacuation of a vineyard near the settlement of Shiloh.
- In May, Smotrich stopped the demolition of new illegal construction at the Adei-Ad outpost.
- Also in May, the demolition of a structure that settlers built at the Ein Rashash spring in the Jordan Valley was stopped by Smotrich’s associates, a structure which was likely built by the settlers in an attempt to take over control of the spring from Palestinian shepherds.
An anonymous official in the Defense Ministry told Haaretz:
“For a while now, there has effectively been no Israeli enforcement. Once, enforcement was an internal IDF issue. Now almost everything gets sent to the Settlements Administration.”
As a reminder, in February 2023, Netanyahu reached a coalition deal to change the way Israel exercises authority over the West Bank. The new arrangement represents the extension of Israeli civilian/domestic authority over the entire West Bank. As such, it represents Israeli annexation of the West Bank, even without formal declaration of annexation. Specifically, authority in the West Bank will no longer be the hands of the Isareli Defense Minister, but is now split between Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (acting in his capacity as a “Minister in the Defense Ministry”). While the agreement takes pains to leave a tiny amount of power over West Bank civilian affairs with the Defense Minister in order to maintain a thin veneer of compliance with international law (the only authority left to Gallant with respect to “civilian” affairs will be to demolish illegal settler activity “in case of security and irregular events,” and even then, Smotrich must be given advance notice of any such demolition), in effect Smotrich is the new reigning sovereign over the West Bank via the newly established “Settlement Administration” within the Defense Ministry, which he appointed Yehuda Eliahu to lead (Eliahu and Smotrich co-founded the radical settler group Regavim) . This “Settlements Administration” enjoys virtually total autonomy and unchecked power, with almost no accountability to anyone in the Israeli Ministry of Defense (Gallant in principle can overrule Smotrich’s decisions but must put his reasoning in writing after first meeting with Smotrich to hear his case, and even then, Gallant cannot issue any order to overrule Smotrich). Importantly, the agreement allows Smotrich to systematically apply Israeli law over the settlements.
On June 30th, the United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights released an update to its 2020 database identifying businesses involved in building, maintaining, securing, and servicing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The original database listed 112 companies found to be conducting business with Israeli settlements, the updated database removed 15 companies and did not add any new companies.
In a statement on the update, Al-Haq, Amnesty International, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights Watch, and International Service for Human Rights said:
“…we welcome the fact that the Office of the High Commissioner has finally published an update on 30 June. We are heartened to see that, according to the report’s analysis, fifteen businesses may have ceased conducting reportable activity during the reporting period, though note that some companies may have adjusted their business structures to avoid falling within the definition of reportable activity. Indeed, this demonstrates the significant impact the database can have in encouraging and promoting compliance with international law. We are concerned, however, that the Office of the High Commissioner has not undertaken the work to identify new businesses that began, during the reporting period, to conduct reportable activity. Such a one-sided approach is not consistent with the mandate of providing a comprehensive update to the Council and runs the risk of being abused by business actors seeking to avoid listing.”
As a reminder, on February 12, 2020, following nearly four years of delay, the UNHRC published a (non-comprehensive) database of businesses involved in building, maintaining, securing, and servicing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The database was requested by members of the Council in March 2016, in order to assist member states in complying with international legal obligations with regards to doing business with companies involved in activities which violate the human rights of people around the world.
Peace Now has published a new report that reveals the exact details of the agreement signed by Bezalel Smotrich, Yoav Gallant, and Netanyahu to create the new “Settlement Administration” for Smotrich to take control over settlement affairs. The extent of Smotrich’s power has until now been unclear, but as Peace Now writes there is a larger significance to the establishment of this new body which wields such vast authority, writing:
“…beyond the personal question of who is responsible for the mechanism and who will implement it, and what their political obligations are, the establishment of the Settlements Administration is not merely a symbolic or political process but instead constitutes as annexation of the oPt and their direct management by the Israeli government. Moreover, it involves a nationally-based separation within the same governing entity between Israeli settlers, who are managed by one body, and Palestinian residents, who are managed by another body. This is one of the characteristics of an apartheid regime.”
The report – entitled “Annexation Under the Radar: The Establishment of the Settlements Administration under Minister Bezalel Smotrich” – is available online.
In a new report entitled, “Dried Up: Mekorot’s Involvement in the Israeli Occupation”, Who Profits examines the role Israel’s nationa water company plays in facilitating the dispossession and displacement of Palestinian communities on both sides of the Green Line, and its role in facilitating settlement expansion in service of an Israeli water sector contingent on the exploitation of occupied natural resources, and the violation of Palestinian and Syrian rights.
Who Profits writes:
“Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, is a central facilitator of this embedded dispossession, systematically denying adequate Palestinian access to water, leading to structured dependency and the captivity of the Palestinian water sector. In a world increasingly concerned by the disastrous impact of global warming and water scarcity, Mekorot plays an integral role in the development of the Israeli occupation economy by positioning Israel as a global leader in the development of innovative technological solutions to global issues.”
- “73 Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem for First Half of 2023 Mark Highest Number since 2018” (Ir Amim)
- “Israeli settlers burn Palestinian crops in Hebron: PA” (Al-Monitor)
- “US Embassy invites Binyamin Council head to July 4 celebration” (Arutz Sheva)