Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
November 13, 2020
- Anticipating Biden, Part 1: Givat Hamatos Tender Expected Soon
- Anticipating Biden, Part 2: Israel Rushes to “Legalize” Illegal Settler Construction
- Anticipating Biden, Part 3: Israel Issues Permits for 96 Units in Ramat Shlomo Settlement
- Anticipating Biden, Part 4: What Else Might Be Coming Down the Pike?
- Pompeo To Visit Settlement, A First for a U.S. Secretary of State
- Emek Shaveh on Status of Settler-Backed Tourism Projects in East Jerusalem
- Normalization or Annexation? Settlers Go to UAE to Talk Business
- Peace Now Reflects on Four Years of Trump
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Peace Now reports that Israel is on the precipice of publishing the tender for the construction of the Givat Hamatos settlement in East Jerusalem. The publication of the tender for 1,077 units in the approved-but-as-yet-not-started Givat Hamatos settlement has been delayed three times. Government sources have indicated to Peace Now that the tender will be published this week; a government official told Haaretz that the tender will be issued ahead of the swearing in of Joe Biden in January 2021. Upon Peace Now breaking this news, Ir Amim’s researcher Aviv Tatarsky visited the site of the future settlement and noted heavy machinery at work. A person at the site self-identified as a member of the Israel Antiquities Authority and told Tatarsky that the work being done was to check the area for antiquities (if antiquities are present at the site, it will delay/complicate any construction).
Givat Hamatos has long been regarded as a doomsday settlement by parties interested in preserving the possibility of a two-state solution, assuming that Jerusalem will need to be divided and shared. If the Givat Hamatos settlement is built, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction, severing its connection to the West Bank.
Terrestrial Jerusalem – in addition to providing a detailed history of the Givat Hamatos settlement plan and a great explanation of the tender process – writes on the timing of this news:
“It is highly unlikely that the timing of this is unrelated to the complex and sensitive situation that exists after the US elections and before the inauguration of President Biden. The Trump administration has not objected to, and at times has been supportive of Israeli settlement expansion. Under the Trump Plan, all of Jerusalem, including Givat Hamatos, are destined to remain under exclusive Israeli sovereignty. The awarding of tenders in the interregnum between the Trump and Biden administrations would not augur an auspicious beginning to Netanyahu’s relation with the Biden administration. Still, Netanyahu seems to assume that what he can do this week (as far as DC is concerned) will be far more costly to him as of January 20. And if he succeeds with Givat Hamatos, the final approval of E-1 is much more likely.”
Ir Amim writes:
“Although there is yet no official announcement on the opening of bidding for the Givat Hamatos tenders, Peace Now’s information must be seriously taken into consideration. After years that Israel has been forced to stay construction on the new settlement of Givat Hamatos, these two months before the turnover of the US Presidential Administration will be a critical period. We believe that Israel will try to make the most of this time to advance motions that it believes that the incoming administration will oppose. Due to the sensitive nature of the site, the opening of the tender for Givat Hamatos is one of the first on the list of settlement construction that Israel is bound to advance.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is spearheading an effort to expedite the retroactive legalization of at least 1,700 illegally built structures in settlements across the West Bank, including notoriously radical and violent outposts like Yitzhar. The other settlements and outposts reportedly slated to receive approvals from the Israeli government are Beitar Illit, Modi’in Illit, Maale Adumim, Ariel, Ateret, Halamish, Adora, and Otniel. The process of granting retroactive legalization to illegal construction both in settlements and in illegal outposts has been an ongoing effort from within and outside of the Bibi government for decades, and has adopted a renewed urgency during the Trump-Bibi era – especially now that Trump is poised to exit the White House in January 2021. In fact, Jerusalem Post reports that granting authorization to 70-100 outposts is at the top of the settlers’ lobbying agenda as the Trump days dwindle.
Gantz is reportedly working with his fellow Blue & White party member and Defense Ministry official Michael Biton to secure approvals for these illegal structures using the “market regulation” principle as a legal basis for doing so. As FMEP has documented, the “market regulation” principle (explained in detail here) is the brainchild of Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit, and it stipulates that illegal settler construction that was undertaken in “good faith” (i.e. without any involved parties having knowledge that the land upon which they built without permits was/is Palestinian land) is eligible for legalization. The 1,700 structures that Benny Gantz has reportedly identified as eligible are said to have been built by the settlers with the state’s support on land that was believed at the time to be “state land,” but was later discovered to be either owned by Palestinians or to fall outside the borders of state land declarations. Arutz Sheva suggests that there are no known claims by Palestinians on the land. [Reminder: as the occupying force in the West Bank, Israel has a duty to correctly record and protect land status, its failure to do so is now being used as a basis for which to strip Palestinians of their property rights in favor of the settlers].
While pushing for full authorization to be granted to all outposts and illegal settlement structures, settlers have also prepared additional policy options for Netanyahu should the clock run out on the Trump Administration’s pro-settlement posture (10 weeks and counting). For example, Netanayhu might consider issuing a government decision declaring that all outposts are legal in principle, irrespective of the details of each case, and leaving the means and process of retroactive legalization to be dealt with down the road (with the outcome predetermined). Another option the settlers suggest is to have Netanyahu allow all outposts to be connected to Israeli state utilities.
On November 10th, the Jerusalem Municipality issued building permits for the construction of 108 units in East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo settlement. A municipality source told Kan radio that planning authorities are planning even more approvals for Ramat Shlomo ahead of Biden’s swearing in ceremony in January 2021.
Israel’s approval of new units in the Ramat Shlomo settlement carries a special connection to incoming U.S. President Joe Biden. The new building permits are part of a larger plan for 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo (tenders for almost all of which have now been published that was announced by Israel in 2010, during a visit to Jerusalem by then-Vice President Joe Biden. The timing of that announcement, and the inflammatory nature of settlement approvals in East Jerusalem (which the Obama Administration pressured Israel to halt), sparked outrage and prompted Biden to issue harsh criticism of Israel while on the ground. The incident earned the 2010 Ramat Shlomo plan the nickname the “Biden Plan.”
Peace Now writes:
“A building permit is the last hurdle before construction can begin; after the plan is approved and the tender is completed, the winning contractors prepare detailed program for the construction of the buildings and they have to go through a bureaucratic permit procedure in the Jerusalem municipality. Normally the issuance of a building permit would not have reached the news, but because of the political sensitivity, and the special history of President-elect Biden with Ramat Shlomo, the issue made headlines. It is not impossible that there was someone who hurried to issue the permits right now, but it is possible that this was done in accordance with the normal pace of bureaucratic progress.”
Haaretz reports that Israeli authorities in Jerusalem have been ordered to expedite the planning process for several East Jerusalem settlement projects (in addition to the Givat Hamatos and Ramat Sholomo settlement plans, detailed above). Included in the rush are reportedly orders to move quickly on plans for:
- The Atarot settlement. Israel’s plan to build the Atarot settlement in East Jerusalem can be approved for deposit for public review, having been introduced formally by the Israeli government in February 2020. The plan, which has been rumored since 2007, calls for up to 9,000 residential units aimed for ultra-Orthodox Jews (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 6, this means housing form 54,000 people), as well as synagogues, ritual baths (mikvehs), commercial properties, offices and work spaces, a hotel, and a water reservoir. If built, the Atarot settlement will effectively be a huge Israeli enclave, surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north. The settlement is slated to be built on the site of the now defunct Atarot airport, which is an important commodity and, during pre-Trump negotiations, was promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. It is located at the northern tip of East Jerusalem next to the Qalandiya checkpoint – an area that the Trump Plan would be located entirely inside the state of Israel, and therefore subject to the complete control of Israeli authorities (the Trump Plan seems to suggest it would be the site for a Palestinian tourism zone).
- The Har Homa E settlement. Israel’s plan to expand the Har Homa settlement to the east, via a plan called “Har Homa E” can also be approved for deposit for public review. The construction in Har Homa E would solidify a continuum of Israeli settlement construction along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem, detaching East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and completing the encirclement of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.
In addition, settler leaders are calling on Netanyahu to allow the Higher Planning Council – the body within the Israeli Defense Ministry which regulates all construction in the West Bank – to meet one final time in 2020. The High Planning Council could advance plans for thousands of settlement units across the West Bank through various stages. This could include – to the delight of settlers – a greenlight for the construction of the E-1 settlement on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. In March 2020, plans for the construction of the E-1 settlement were deposited for public review, and can now be given final approval by the High Planning Council (assuming that the comment period – normally only 60 days – is closed).
Long called a “doomsday” settlement by supporters of a two-state solution, construction of the E-1 settlement would cut the West Bank effectively in half, foreclosing the possibility of drawing a border between Israel and Palestine in a manner which preserves territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. It would likewise consolidate the isolation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank. In combination with the recent advancements on Givat Hamatos and new tenders for Har Homa, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Greater Jerusalem settlement construction announcements – leading up to the third round of Israeli elections – have crossed red lines (in the eyes of the international community) that Netanyahu didn’t dare cross in the past.
Axios reports that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to visit the Golan Heights and the West Bank settlement of Psagot during his trip to Israel next week, which would make him the first Secretary of State to visit either the Golan Heights or a West Bank settlement. The visit, already being hailed by settler leaders, yet again conveys U.S. support for the legitimacy of Israel’s settlement enterprise, and Israel’s sovereignty over its settlements.
Pompeo is said to be planning a visit to the winery in Psagot which named a wine after him in celebration of the Pompeo Doctrine – the Pompeo announcement that erased decades of U.S. policy opposing settlements. The Psagot settlement also played host to the first time (known to the public) that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman visited a settlement, when he attended a wedding at the very same winery in May 2017. The Psagot Winery has been at the center of a broad global effort to push nations to treat Israeli settlements as indistinguishable from sovereign Israeli territory, with the winery involved in international legal battles over how Israeli businesses located in the settlements are required to label their products. Psagot Winery insists that it has a right to mark its products as “Made in Israel” (in effect asserting Israeli sovereignty over the settlements); and international actors including the European Court of Justice have ruled that the labels must accurately indicate that such products are made in the West Bank (i.e. outside of Israel’s borders).
Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh tweeted:
“We deplore US Sec. of State Mike Pompeo’s intent to visit the illegal settlement of Psagot, built on lands belonging to Palestinian owners in Al-Bireh city, during his visit to Israel next week. This dangerous precedent legalizes settlements & a blow to int’l legitimacy/ UN Res’s.”
The Psagot settlement is located just east of Ramallah, and was built with the support of the Israeli government, with the clear goal of restricting the potential growth the nearby Palestinian village of Al-Bireh. Haaretz, relying on the expertise of settlement expert Dror Etkes, explains the history of Psagot:
“Established in 1979 to compensate settlers for the withdrawal from Sinai required of Israel in the peace treaty with Egypt, one of the aims of Psagot was to stifle neighboring El Bireh. In 1967, the latter had a population of 8,000 spread over an area of 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres). Today its population is 82,000 – but its area has shrunk to about 10,500 dunams. At one spot, only 30 meters separate the crowded Palestinian city from the settler homes. Etkes relates that Psagot was originally situated on a hilltop (psagot means peaks or summits in Hebrew) at a site that Israel had classified as state land. Treish explains that the land was purchased from its owners in 1965 by the city government of East Jerusalem, then under Jordanian control, for the construction of a summer resort for wealthy vacationers from Kuwait. The 1967 war, in which East Jerusalem came under Israeli control, torpedoed that plan, however, and thereafter the land became “the territories of [Jerusalem Mayor] Teddy Kollek,” in Treish’s words – or “state territory,” in Israeli settlement parlance. Over the years, Etkes notes, the original 140 dunams allocated to Psagot expanded to 655 dunams. Etkes has maps on his computer that show the takeover stage by stage – a brief history of dispossession – all of it, of course, under the auspices of the Israeli authorities, along with the addition of mobile homes, security barriers and so on. Land that had been part of the master plan of El Bireh became the Psagot settlement…Etkes tweeted, “The owners of the Psagot winery owe its success to several factors: to the IDF, which built the fence around Psagot; to the Civil Administration, which did not evict them; to the police, who did not place them on trial; to the billionaire Falic brothers [from Miami, Florida] who came in as partners in the winery; and to the Israel Water Authority, which allocated them tens of millions of cubic liters of water for irrigation.””
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Husam Zomlot tweeted in reaction:
“Unthinkable yet unsurprising. Israeli colonial settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal before and after Pompeo’s visit. All the visit does is make the Trump administration complicit with war crimes.”
Emek Shaveh has published a concise update on settler-backed tourism projects that are currently advancing in East Jerusalem. Aside from the cable car project (on which work is beginning, despite a pending court case), most of the projects detailed are not closely followed by the media, have not recently been in the news, or are not widely known about. The report covers progress on:
- A cafe and cultural center in Abu Tor belonging to the Elad settler organization. The cafe opened in 2019, after Elad evicted a Palestinian family and renovated the space. Named “House in the Valley,” the cafe is uncoincidentally located adjacent to the site of a planned new pedestrian footbridge designed to expand Elad’s tourist infrastructure across the area. Specifically, that footbridge will connect Abu Tor (a mixed but segregated neighborhood) with Elad-run tourist sites and settler homes in the Palestinian Silwan neighborhood, located just outside the Old City’s Dung Gate, in the shadow of the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. Emek Shaveh reports that an Israeli court rejected a petition against the footbridge earlier this year.
- New agricultural tourism projects on Palestinian land in the Ben Hinnom Valley. Emek Shaveh reports that two weeks ago Israeli authorities announced plans to develop agricultural terraces in the area that mimic ancient farming practices (practices that Palestinians use to this day). This work is related to land that Israel had previously seized from Palestinians for “gardening purposes.”
- Ateret Cohanim’s plan to build a “Yemenite Cultural Center” in Silwan. Emek Shaveh reports that Ateret Cohanim recently brought several organizations interested in competing to become the curator of the settler organization’s “Yemenite Cultural Center” on a tour of the building (i.e., a settler enclave masquerading as a heritage center). Ateret Cohanim is behind a campaign that could evict as many as 700 Palestinians from their homes in Batan al-Hawa, where the Center is located. Like many other properties in Silwan, Ateret Cohanim maneuvered, with the help of the Israeli government, to gain control of the building by reviving an ancient Yemenite land trust that owned the land centuries ago, and has since been pursuing the eviction of Paelstinians who have lived on that land for generations. The Israeli government allocated $1.2 million to the “Yemenite Cultural Center” project, which was launched in August 2018, even as Palestinians continued to challenge the legitimacy of Ateret Cohanim’s claim to the land.
- Two Elad-Promoted Projects in East Jerusalem’s Peace Forest. Emek Shaveh reports that Elad is in the process of renovating a new tourism center that will serve as the starting point for the zip line project – also promoted by Elad – in the Peace Forest in East Jerusalem. Secondly, the Israeli Finance Ministry has reportedly agreed to finance the development of camping grounds in the Peace Forest. As a reminder, Israel has previously issued demolition orders to Palestinians building on their own land in the area designated by Israel as the “Peace Forest,” even as it has re-zoned the area to accommodate settler projects.
As FMEP has explained, Elad and Ateret Cohanim – along with the whole of the Israeli government, which enables and promotes their efforts – have undertaken a politically and ideologically-motivated project to hide, marginalize, and erase the presence and history of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population in and around the Old City. They have done so in large part by developing and controlling tourist attractions and infrastructure in the area. Those projects are designed to further entrench settler activities and tourism sites inside Silwan, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. As a spokesman for Elad once proudly declared, “Our aim is Judaize East Jerusalem”),
To the shock and dismay of Palestinians, the UAE played host to a delegation of Israeli settlers for discussions of commercial opportunities between the two parties. In so doing, the UAE has given legitimacy, as an Arab state, to the role that settlement businesses and industrial zones play (and will play) in the economy of the West Bank – something that entrenches the permanency and profitability of Israel’s occupation.
In the wake of the signing of the Abraham Accords, settler businesspeople have returned to proudly hawking their economic peace “coexistence” model, which purports that settlement businesses actually benefit Palestinians because they provide employment opportunities. In fact, settlers who are promoting business cooperation with the Palestinians — and now the Emiratis — are in fact promoting the normalization, entrenchment, and the rewarding of Israeli settlements, while perpetuating Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory and its population (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources).
In a new report – entitled “Greenlighting De Facto Annexation: A Summary of Trump’s Impact on the Settlements“ – Peace Now takes a look at the totality of Israel’s de facto annexation of West Bank land over the past four years of the Trump Administration. The report’s main findings are:
- The number of plans promoted in the settlements increased 2.5 times compared to the previous four years – 26,331 housing units were promoted in the settlements in the years 2017-2020, compared to 10,331 housing units in the years 2013-2016.
- The number of tenders in the settlements doubled – tenders were published for 2,425 housing units in the settlements, compared with 1,164 housing units in the previous four years.
- Infrastructure and road projects were designed to add another million settlers – In recent years, the Israeli government has begun infrastructure and road projects designed to form the development axis for settlements with an investment of billions of shekels. These include: doubling the “Tunnels Road” (bypassing Bethlehem), Al-Arroub bypass (completing a four-lane road from Jerusalem to Hebron), the Eastern Ring Road from A-Za’ayyim and Anata (AKA “the Apartheid Road), Hawara bypass (south of Nablus), the Qalandiya underpass, Nabi Eliyas bypass and other roads.
- Construction was promoted in places particularly destructive for the prospects of peace, and where Israel did not dare build in the past (due to international opposition).
- Promoted plans will add 100,000 settlers in settlements that Israel will have to evacuate under any realistic 2-state scenario – 78% of the promoted plans (20,629 housing units) are in settlements that Israel will have to evacuate under a two-state agreement (according to the Geneva Initiative model). Major developments include:
- E1 – Plans were deposited for 3,401 housing units.
- Givat Hamatos – A tender was published for 1,077 housing units.
- Hebron – The government has approved the construction of about 100 housing units that will double the number of settlers in the Palestinian city.
- Large expansions in the heart of the West Bank: 1,103 units for settlements surrounding Nablus (Bracha, Elon Moreh, Itamar, Yizhar, Shavei Shomron); 2,687 units in settlements surrounding Ramallah (Beit El, Ofra, Psagot, Kochav Yaacov, Dolev, Talmon and its outposts); 2,279 units in settlements between Ramallah and Nablus (Eli, Shilo, Shvut Rachel and the new settlement of Amihai).
- An explosion of new outposts. – At least 31 new outposts were established during the Trump administration (compared to 9 in the previous four years). In addition, 10 outposts were retroactively legalized (their “regularization” plan took effect), compared to 7 outposts in the previous four years.
- Undermining the Israeli, Palestinian, and international consensus on the parameters for solving the conflict’s core issues and presenting a plan for annexation – The Trump Administration undermined the parameters for resolving the conflict by moving the embassy to Jerusalem while taking the issue “off the table,” canceling UNRWA support and implying that the Palestinian refugees are no longer an issue, and legitimizing settlements. The Trump Plan, published in January 2020, presents a model for Israeli annexation without even minimal Palestinian independence.
- Evacuation of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem in favor of settlers – In the four years of the Trump administration, around 6 Palestinian families in the Muslim Quarter and Sheikh Jarrah were evicted (based on restitution of Jewish property before 1948, while such laws are not afforded to Palestinians), compared to only one family in Silwan in the previous four years. (Removal of Palestinian families, based on settler claims to have acquired their property, continued both in previous years and under the Trump administration).
- Changing the rules of the game to de facto annexation – Under Trump, the Israeli government produced a series of legal opinions approving the expropriation of Palestinian land, contrary to previous rulings (and of course contrary to international law, according to which expropriation of occupied land to serve the interests of the occupier’s population is prohibited), and applying apply administrative laws and procedures over the Green Line in the West Bank, despite it not being officially part of Israel (“from occupation to apartheid”).
Peace Now writes:
“The de facto annexation has manifested itself in high levels of settlement unit approvals, transgressions of informal international red lines in highly sensitive areas like the Jerusalem environs and Hebron, and the building of over 30 new outposts. Consequently, de jure annexation became a legitimate topic in the Israeli and American governments, while Israel has created for itself and the Palestinians a near permanent, undemocratic one-state reality.”
- “As Town Near Jerusalem Expands, This Palestinian Village Could Lose Its Spring” (Haaretz)
- “Court rejects Netanyahu bid to delay Khan al-Ahmar response” (Jerusalem Post)
- “What Trump has in store for Israel, Middle East during final 70 days in office” (The Times of Israel)
- “Should Israel’s Settlers Fear Joe Biden?” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s settlements could test ties with Biden” (AP)
- “Israeli settlers disappointed over Trump’s defeat, worry over Biden” (Al-Monitor)