Settlement & Annexation Report: March 3, 2023


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

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March 3, 2023

  1. Israel’s Makes Clear No Concessions Were Made in Aqaba Agreement, Settlements & Annexation Will Proceed
  2. Settlers Invade Evyatar Outpost Site as Calls for Legalization Grow
  3. Israel Advances Massive Expansion of Nof Zion Settlement Enclave in East Jerusalem
  4. Settlers Terrorize Huwara with IDF Assistance & Political Support
  5. Israeli Comptroller Wants Israel to Finish the Wall, Fortify Settlement Industrial Zones
  6. Bonus Reads

Israel’s Makes Clear No Concessions Were Made in Aqaba Agreement, Settlements & Annexation Will Proceed

On February 26th, the United States, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Israel released a joint statement in which Israel agreed it will not “discuss new settlement construction plans for four months and will not authorize any new outposts for six months.”

To be clear, this statement is first and foremost a concession by the US, the PA, Egypt, and Jordan – in that it implicitly agrees that Israel may go ahead, after four months, with discussing new settlement construction plans, and after six months with authorizing any new outposts.

And equally clear: the “limits” in this agreement do not represent concession on the part of Israel. As has been Israel’s regular practice, the Higher Planning Council (the body within the Defense Ministry that oversees construction planning in the West Bank) has convened on a quarterly basis since the Obama Administration days, so agreeing to “stop discussion” for four months doesn’t delay or freeze anything, as much as it gives Israel “credit” for the standard pause between convenings. Likewise, with respect to Israel’s commitment to not authorize any new outposts for six months  — as FMEP has already described, this is by no means a limitation on Israel’s ability to authorize outposts through the trick of calling them “new neighborhoods” of existing settlements. It’s also clear that this agreement has no bearing on the massive advancement of settlement construction and approval of new settlements undertaken by the Israeli Security Cabinet and Higher Planning Council over the last two weeks.

Prime Minister Netanyahu himself made it abundantly clear that the Aqaba statement will not constrain, restrain, or delay Israel’s advancement of settlement construction and outpost authorization. Netanayhu tweeted: “There isn’t and there will not be any construction freeze…Constructions and authorization in Judea and Samaria will continue according to the original schedule of the Higher Planning Council.”

Bezalel Smotrich, Finance Minister & Minister of the newly created “Settlement Administration” in the Defense Ministry that has power over planning in the West Bank, posted a tweet saying:

“I have no idea what they talked about or didn’t talk about in Jordan…I heard about this superfluous conference from the media just like you. But one thing I do know: there will not be a freeze in the construction and development of settlements, not even for one day (this, on my authority). The IDF will continue to counter terrorism in all areas of Judea and Samaria without any limitation (we will confirm this with the cabinet). It’s very simple.”

Settlers Invade Evyatar Outpost Site as Calls for Legalization Grow

On February 26th, dozens of Israeli settlers illegally invaded and stayed overnight at the site of former Evyatar outpost, in an attempt to reestablish the outpost —  an action settlers say was in response to a nearby shooting attack in which a Palestinian gunman killed two settlers near the Palestinian village of Huwara. The IDF – under the command of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant – attempted to quickly remove settlers from the area the night they arrived, but were reportedly unable to do so until the next day (because the settlers refused to leave and the IDF apparently lacked the will to force them). 

The Israeli coalition government – as part of the coalition deal – explicitly agreed to retroactively legalize Evyatar as a new settlement, but it was not one of the ten outposts granted legalization by the Israeli Security Cabinet on February 12th. Settlers and their allies have since poured on the pressure seeking to convince the govenment to greenlight the reestablishment of Evyatar. 

Itamar Ben Gvir – who demanded the fate of Evyatar be included in the coalition agreement – convened a meeting of his party members at the site of Evyatar after the settlers were evacuated, and noted that he had attempted to appeal to Netanyahu to stop the evacuation. Ben Gvir said he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister that day, pleading to allow the settlers to stay and for the outpost to be legalized as a means of fighting terrorism. Ben Gvir was one of many Israeli lawmakers from within the governing coalition to call for legalization. Settlements and National Missions Minister Orit Strock said on radio, “The return to Evyatar is our mission and we intend to fulfill the agreement to return very soon.” On Feb. 28th, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich publicly promised the legalization of Evyatar. 

On March 2nd, newly minted MK Tzvi Sukkot (Otzma Yehudit) – a criminal settler who replaced Smotrich upon his resignation from the Knesset to serve in the Cabinet – set up a tent at the site of Evyatar, calling it an parliamentary bureau. Sukkot’s “office” is ostensibly protected from removal by the IDF because of diplomatic immunity, and has been rewarded with a 500-person battalion of IDF officers deployed to the area in order to protect it. Sukkot also joined the settlers on March 26th who illegally invaded the area and stayed overnight in defiance of IDF attempts to clear the settlers from the outpost. Sukkot said:

“I set up my office here in Evyatar in order to monitor the implementation of the coalition agreement signed with our party, from up-close. This is one ‘stone’ on the way to our complete return to the community, as was agreed and as must be.I am working with all my might to ensure that the government keeps its promises and establishes a permanent community here.”

As a reminder, settlers agreed to temporarily leave the site of the Evyatar outpost in 2021 under terms of a government-brokered deal in which the government promised to undertake an “investigation” into the status of the land. That investigation has reportedly been concluded, and found that part of the land the outpost was illegally built on is “state land,” and part is privately owned by Palestinians. This report agrees with a 2022 opinion issued by then Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit supporting the retroactive authorization of Evyatar. The government deal with settlers also stipulated that the settlers’ illegal construction at the site would be left in place (i.e., did not demolish it) — including buildings and roads —  while the government carried out its investigation into the status of the land. In this way, the “compromise” left the outpost intact and allowed Israel to maintain complete control over the site during the “survey” process, clearly signaling that the government’s objective was never to enforce Israeli law, but, rather, was always about finding a legal and political “solution” to enable it to launder the settlers’ illegal actions and accommodate their demands. Indeed, the terms of the Evyatar “compromise” made clear that the government was confident that it would find a pretext on which to assert that the land on which the outpost stands is “state land,” which can be used by the state as it sees fit (which nearly 100% of the time means, will be used to benefit the settlers).

The Evyatar outpost was built illegally by settlers on a hilltop that Palestinians have long known as Mt. Sabih, land which has historically belonged to the nearby Palestinian villages of Beita, Yatma, and Qablan. Evyatar became a recurring headline news story mostly as a result of the determined effort by Palestinians from the nearby village of Beitar to protest the outpost and to resist the Israeli government’s efforts to retroactively legalize it. Palestinians staged regular protests near the site of Evyatar outpost, which resulted in no fewer than seven Palestinian protesters dying as a result of the harsh and violent actions by the IDF to quash the protests. 

Israel Advances Massive Expansion of Nof Zion Settlement Enclave in East Jerusalem

Ir Amim reports that the Jerusalem Local Planning Committee convened on March 1st and recommended approving a plan for public deposit (a last step before final approval) that would, if approved, massively expand the Nof Zion settlement enclave, located inside the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber. The Committee is set to reconvene on March 6th to actually approve the plan for public deposit.

Ir Amim writes

“After being postponed several times over the past few months, including in January, reportedly due to the US National Security Advisor’s visit to the region last month, the Israeli authorities are clearly hellbent on advancing this plan. The re-scheduling of this plan along with the resumption of promotion of the E1 plans follows swiftly on the heels of continuous empty commitments by the Israeli government to temporarily freeze settlement advancement among other measures to reduce tensions…Beyond its geopolitical implications, this is yet another example of the severe discrimination in urban planning and housing in East Jerusalem. Despite the plan being designated for the entrance of Jabal Mukabber, it is not intended for the community’s development needs, but rather the expansion of a Jewish settlement in the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood. It should be noted that Jabal Mukabber has been among the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem with the highest number of demolitions per year. Just today, the Israeli authorities razed a home in Jabal Mukabber, displacing a family, including two children.”

The plan – called “Nof Zahav” – would allow for 100 new residential units and 275 hotel rooms in the settlement enclave, which currently consists of 95 units, plus another  200 under construction. In order to provide sufficient land for this expansion, the Jerusalem Planning Committee is simultaneously advancing another plan to relocate an Israeli police station [the Oz station], currently located on the border of Jabal Mukaber, to a new site across the street. This will leave its original location free for the planned expansion of Nof Zion, while the new site will become a massive new Israeli security headquarters. Ir Amim filed a petition against the police station plan, arguing that it is an affront to the planning needs of the local community and that it represents a continuation of Israel’s systematic, city-wide discrimination against the housing, educational, and service-based needs of Palestinian neighborhoods. A decision on the police station relocation plan is expected soon. 

Settlers Terrorize Huwara with IDF Assistance & Political Support

Settlers committed a pogrom against Palestinian village of Huwara on February 26th. For eight hours, hundreds of settlers attacked Palestinians and their property, causing terror, far-reaching destruction, hundreds of injuries, and at least one death.

Al-Haq reports that the IDF not only failed to intervene but actually facilitated the settlers’ rampage in the first place.

Al Haq reports:

“The Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) facilitated the settler attack, effectively laying siege to Huwwara by closing off all the entrances of the town, in advance of the attack, permitting the entrance of hundreds of settlers by foot, and preventing the entry of medics and journalists. During Israeli colonial settler attacks against Palestinians in Huwwara, and other nearby villages, Sameh Aqtash, 37, was killed, a further two Palestinians were shot and wounded, another stabbed, and a fourth beaten with an iron bar, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. The IOF openly accompanied the marauding settler mob, attacking Palestinians with military grade tear gas, leaving 95 Palestinians suffocated from tear gas inhalation.”

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights further reports:

“IOF closed all Nablus’ entrances and tightened the cordon off the village from three directions. Around half an hour later, at least 500 Israeli settlers started to gather at Huwara and Za’tara checkpoints surrounding Huwara village and down to the Yitzhar Bypass Road leading to “Yitzhar” settlement, which cordons off the village from the southwestern side, and amid the attendance of IOF and Israeli officials from the government at the scene. During their demonstration, the settlers intentionally carried out largescale attacks and violence acts against Palestinians and their property, houses, shops, and vehicles, and in Huwara village, and deliberately set them ablaze without any intervention from the IOF to stop them. The settlers’ attacks continued until 23:15, causing bruises to several Palestinians, completely burning 7 houses, 6 cars garages and 34 vehicles and breaking the windows of 25 houses by stone-throwing and the windows of 20 other vehicles were smashed as well.”

Settlers cited the murder of two Israelis – Hillel and Yagel Yaniv earlier in the day as the pretext for the pogrom. The two were killed by a Palestinian gunman on the main road near Huwara. Palestinians noted that this killing was in response to Israel’s military operation the day before in Nablus (near Huwara), in which 11 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 Palestinians were injured.

Bezalel Smotrich – who is effectively the sovereign authority over the West Bank – celebrated the pogrom and incited further genocidal, state-led violence. In a taped interview Smotrich said:

“The Palestinian village of Hawara should be wiped out of the earth. The Israeli government needs to do it and not private citizens”

Following widespread international condemnation, the IDF arrested six (or seven, per other reports) Israeli settlers, all for their conduct against Israeli soldiers (as opposed to for attack on Palestinians). All were swiftly ordered to be released by a Jerusalem court, but the Defense Ministry ordered two of them (one of whom is a minor) to be held in administrative detention (a tool rarely used with respect to Jewish detainees).  According to the Times of Israel, “A senior security official speaking to Channel 12 news claimed the pair were ‘planning and had carried out operations against IDF forces. [They] are extremely dangerous.’ According to Haaretz, a senior security source, possibly the same one, said they were involved in initiating the riots.”

Zvika Foghel,a criminal settler now serving in the Knesset – endorsed the pogrom and incited further violence, saying:

“A Huwara that is burning — that’s the only way we’ll achieve deterrence…We need to stop shying away from collective punishment.”  

The pogrom in Huwara happened one day before the U.S. State Department released its 2021 Country Report on Terrorism, in which for the first time the U.S. said that “Israeli security personnel often did not prevent settler attacks and rarely detained or charged perpetrators of settler violence.” Such facts have been documented by Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups for decades.

Israeli Comptroller Wants Israel to Finish the Wall, Fortify Settlement Industrial Zones

In its annual report released late February 2023, the State Comptroller’s Office slammed a wide range of government bodies for their failure to finish the West Bank separation barrier and over the state of security at settlement industrial zones.

On the separation barrier, the comptroller criticized the government and IDF for abandoning efforts to finish the project, for failing to fix damaged areas of the wall, and for decreasing the presence of the IDF along the barrier route. The Comptroller report said that there were 1.4 million instances of Palestinians crossing the barrier in 2021, about 6,000 per day. In response to the report, an IDF source said that the barrier is expected to be finished in late 2023 (or late 2024) and argued that the barrier is 82% effective except “in areas where it was decided operationally not to fix breakthroughs.” 

The Israeli Comptroller also harshly criticized the lack of fortification of the 35 settlement industrial zones in the West Bank. The report examined seven of the zones, finding deficiencies in the security systems in each. The report recommends the government formulate and fund a plan to improve security.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Israel has quietly annexed the West Bank and Biden stays silent” (Mitchell Plitnick, Mondoweiss – 2/25/23)