Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
October 16, 2020
- No Annexation, No Problem – Israel Advances Nearly 5,000 New Settlement Plans, Including New Settlement South of Jerusalem
- Plan for 570 Units in East Jerusalem Settlement Approved for Deposit
- Israel Approves Construction of Elevator at Tomb of the Patriarchs
- Israel Delivers Confiscation Notices to Palestinians Living in the Heart of Hebron
- Palestinians Report Newly Established Outposts & Land Confiscations
- Targeting Palestinians Construction in Area C: State Devotes $6 million to Mapping Program
- In First, Palestinian Authority Courts to Hear Lawsuits Against Settlers
- NF, Elad Face International Heat Over Sumarin Family Eviction Case – Will it Matter?
- Report: U.S. Will Not Back De Jure Annexation Until 2024 [Friedman Says 2021 in Play]
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
No Annexation, No Problem – Israel Advances Nearly 5,000 New Settlement Plans, Including New Settlement South of Jerusalem
During meetings held October 14th and 15th, the Israeli High Planning Council advanced plans for a total of 4,948 new settlement units. Of that total, plans for 2,688 units were granted final approval and plans for 2,260 units were approved to be deposited for public review (a late stage in the planning process). The latter approvals include a plan to build a new settlement, “Har Gilo West,” just beyond Jerusalem’s southern border. In addition, the Council granted retroactive approval to 340 existing illegally-built settlement units in the unauthorized outposts of Peni Kedem and Tapuach West, paving the establishment of two new official West Bank settlements (through post-facto legalization of the illegal outposts).
These were the first meetings of the High Planning Council since February 2020, at which time settlement planning was put on pause in favor of attempting to implement annexation plans as designed by Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” Under annexation, authority over the settlement planning/approval process could have been shifted from the Israeli Civil Administration (the branch of the Israeli Defense Ministry, in charge of the administration of affairs in the West Bank, – i.e., Israel’s occupation) into Israel domestic planning mechanism. Such a shift has long been a goal of settlers and their political allies.
In addition to advancing construction of new residential settlement units, the High Planning Council also advanced plans for the construction of new settlement projects that support tourism, further entrench the permanency of settlements, and that continue the exploitation of West Bank land and resources.
With the huge advancement of settlement plans this week, the Israeli government has advanced plans for 12,159 settlement units so far in 2020. With over two months to go, the settlement watchdog group Peace Now reports that this is already the highest total number settlement advancements in any year since Peace Now began tracking totals in 2012. Peace Now also reports that it is possible that the High Planning Council will convene one more time before the year ends.
The High Planning Council approved for public deposit a plan to build 560 units at the Har Gilo West settlement site, located just south of Jerusalem. The Council is treating this plan as merely an expansion of the existing Har Gilo settlement, but in actuality it represents the construction of a new settlement on Jerusalem’s southern border, as the two areas of construction (Har Gilo and Har Gilo West) would not be contiguous. The plan for 560 units in Har Gilo West is part of a larger plan to construct around 952 units in the new settlement, extending the its borders right up to the Jerusalem municipal boundary, with dire consequences for the long-beleaguered Palestinian village of Al-Walajah.
The discussion on October 14th further revealed that, in order to build Har Gilo West, Israel plans to extend the separation barrier in that area to completely encircle al-Walajah, which is surrounded on three sides by the separation wall already. The new section of the barrier would be a 7-meters high concrete slab along the western edge of the built-up area of Al-Walajah. That would leave Al-Walajah completely encircled by the separation barrier and Israeli construction beyond it.
Ir Amim explains:
“In the past decade a series of Israeli moves have taken over more and more of Al-Walaja land and gradually isolating it. These are now culminating with the intention to construct the new settlement on the land reserves on the western side of Al-Walaja and to extend the separation barrier so as to complete the encircling of the village. As Al-Walaja will turn into an isolated enclave which lacks an outline plan its residents will be especially vulnerable to increasing home demolitions and other Israeli sanctions. Since the village will separate the new settlement from the existing Har Gilo we are likely to see increasing Israeli actions against Al-Walaja and its residents which will put their future existence at risk.”
Peace Now writes:
“The current plan of 952 housing units to be advanced will create a brand new neighborhood that will be larger than the existing settlement, and will exploit the land cut off by the West Bank barrier to further break up the western Bethlehem metropolitan area, including the land connecting al-Walaja and the town of Battir, as well as Battir and Bethlehem. This land also constitutes some of the only uninhabited fertile land reserves for Bethlehem, which currently is cut off by the West Bank barrier to its immediate north and west.“
FMEP has repeatedly documented various Israeli efforts to seal off al-Walajah from Jerusalem. Residents of al-Walajah have fought the growing encroachment by the nearby Etzion settlement bloc and the Israeli government’s attempt to de facto annex the bloc as part of “Greater Jerusalem.” Ir Amim explains several prongs of this effort, including a particularly unbelievable section of Israel’s separation barrier planned to almost completely encircle the village, to turn its valuable agricultural land into an urban park for Jerusalem, and construction of a highway that will connect the Etzion settlement bloc to Jerusalem with Israeli-only bypass roads.
The High Planning Council approved for deposit two plans that would, if implemented, have the effect of retroactively legalizing two outposts – bestowing upon those outposts legitimacy in the eyes of Israeli law and, in effect, establishing two new, official settlements. Those plans are:
- Pnei Kedem: A plan to grant retroactive legalization to 120 units in the Pnei Kedem farm outpost by recognizing the outpost as a “neighborhood” of the Metzad/Asfar settlement. This is despite the fact that the two areas of construction are non-contiguous. Pnei Kedem is located halfway between Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern West Bank. Settlers were particularly gleeful about this plan being advanced
- Tapuach West: A plan to grant retroactive legalization to 133 units in the Tapuach West outpost, located south of Bethlehem.
The High Planning Council also advanced plans for the construction of new settlement projects that support tourism, further entrench the permanency of settlements, and that continue the exploitation of West Bank land and resources.
The Council granted final approval to:
- A plan for new shops and an educational site (to include an agricultural farm) in the Kochav Yaakov settlement – located between Jerusalem and Ramallah; and,
- A plan to grant retroactive authorization to a motor park and 120 hotel rooms in the Petza’el settlement, located in the Jordan Valley. As FMEP has covered in the past, this state-of-the-at racetrack and hotel complex is being built partially on land that the Israeli army previously declared a closed firing zone, a designation which resulted in the forcible displacement of Palestinians who lived there. The land remains under this designation today. Rather than halting the construction of this complex, the Israeli authorities instead created a Master Plan for the area in order to enable even more construction in the area.
Plans the Council granted final approval for public deposit include:
- A plan for an industrial zone near the Mishor Adumim settlement; and,
- A plan to build a new commercial area and 50 hotel rooms in the Maale Adumim settlement;
Included in the total number of units receiving final approval and/or retroactive legalization (3,028 units) are (in descending order of number of units): [map]
- 382 units in the Beit El settlement, located in the heart of the northern West Bank. This includes retroactive legalization for 36 units which had been previously built without authorization and the construction of 346 units in highrise buildings with 9 or 10 floors (building up, not out in Beit El) [as a reminder, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has deep ties to the Beit El settlement];
- 357 units in the Geva Benyamin (Adam) settlement, located just north east of Jerusalem, just beyond the separation barrier. Israel has been steadily building the Adam settlement in a manner meant to unite the settlement more seamlessly with East Jerusalem settlements and infrastructure, erasing the Green Line;
- 354 units in the Nili settlement, located in the northern West Bank;
- 213 units in the Shiloh settlement, including the retroactive legalization of 21 units built without required approvals. The Shiloh settlement is located in the central West Bank;
- 211 units in the radical and violent Yitzhar settlement, including some retroactive authorizations (exact number not specified) as well as approval for public buildings. Yitzhar, located just south of Nablus, is associated with the Hilltop Youth movement – and a string of illegal outposts in the area associated with repeated attacks on Palestinians and their property;
- 205 units in the Nokdim settlement (actually approved for the Kfar Eldad settlement, which is officially within the jurisdiction of Nokdim), located south of Bethlehem;
- 200 units in the Metzad settlement (also known as Asfar), including the retroactive legalization of an unspecified number of existing units built without necessary approvals;
- 160 units in the Kochav Yaacov settlement, located east of Ramallah;
- 140 units in Kerem Reim settlement – located north west of Ramallah. Peace Now has repeatedly challenged the illegal construction of the Kerem Reim outpost, which the Israeli government retroactively legalized by declaring it a neighborhood of the Talmon settlement even though the areas are non-contiguous. Though a court rejected one Peace Now petition, there is an ongoing case against the Amana settler organization which Peace Now alleges engaged in illegal activities to build the outpost;
- 132 units in Kfar Adumim settlement – located east of Jerusalem and less than one mile from the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community which the state of Israel is seeking to demolish;
- 106 units in the Ma’ale Shomron settlement, located east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya;
- 84 new units in the Shima settlement, including retroactive legalization of 14 existing units;
- 74 units in the Yakir settlement – located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line deep into the West Bank;
- 64 units in the Telem settlement – located west of Hebron;
- Retroactive legalization of 18 units in the Psagot settlement – located east of Ramallah, and home to the Psagot Winery;
- Retroactive legalization of 2 units in the “Givon Hadasha” settlement;
Plans which were approved for deposit for public review include (in descending order of number of units):
- 629 units in the Eli settlement, including the retroactive legalization of 61 units – located south of Nablus and southeast of the Ariel settlement in the central West Bank. Though the Eli settlement previously received Israeli government approval, a “Master Plan” – which officially zones land for distinct purposes (residential, commercial, public) – has never been issued for Eli, meaning all construction there is illegal under Israeli law;
- 560 units in the Har Gilo settlement located just south of Jerusalem (covered in detail above);
- 286 units in the Har Bracha settlement – located just south of Nablus. If implemented, these new units will double the size of Har Bracha;
- 179 units in the Einav settlement – located northwest of Nablus;
- 148 units in the Rimonim settlement – located between Ramallah and Jericho in the Jordan Valley;
- A plan to grant retroactive legalization to 133 units in the Tapuach West outpost, thereby granting approval to the outpost itself (discussed above);
- A plan to grant retroactive legalization to 120 units in the Pnei Kedem outpost by recognizing the outpost as a “neighborhood” of the Metzad/Asfar settlement although the two areas of construction are non-contiguous. Pnei Kedem is located between Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern West Bank;
- 82 units in the Karnei Shomron settlement – located in the northern West Bank east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya. Israel is planning to continue expanding Karnei Shomron with the stated goal of bringing 1 million settlers to live in the area surrounding the settlement.;
- 75 units in the Shimaa settlement, including the legalization of 14 units previously built without authorization;
- 52 units received retroactive legalization in the Kfar Adumim settlement;
- 35 units in the Efrat settlement – located south of Bethlehem. As a reminder, Efrat is located inside a settlement block that cuts deep into the West Bank. Efrat’s location and the route of the barrier wall around it, have literally severed the route of Highway 60 south of Bethlehem, cutting off Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the southern West Bank. The economic, political, and social impacts of the closure of Highway 60 at the Efrat settlement (there is literally a wall built across the highway) have been severe for the Palestinian population;
- 14 units (in one building) in the Maale Mikmash settlement – located east of Ramallah;
- 10 units in the Barkan settlement – located about half way between the Ariel settlement and the cluster of settlements slated to be united into a “super settlement” area (Oranit, Elkana, Shiva Tikva, and others).
- 7 units in the Peduel settlement – located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line into the very heart of the West Bank and on towards the Jordan Valley; and,
The High Planning Council met only after settlers, who represent a key ally of the embattled Prime Minister, pressured Netanyahu to allow it. Settlers have spent months decrying what they understood to be a freeze on settlement constructed inflicted upon them by Netanyahu. Gush Etzion Regional Council Head Shlomo Ne’eman said:
“Sometimes we take our prime minister to task, which we feel is justified as a result of our disappointment in postponing the application of sovereignty over our country. But now something tangible is happening – we are building and developing our communities, and of course, the highlight of today is the full registration in the Land Authority of the young community of Pnei Kedem, 20 years since it was established.”
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said:
“This is a happy day for Samaria. [New construction] in Har Bracha, Yitzhar, Einav and Tapuach is another step on the way to a million residents in this beautiful region of the country…While we’re very content with today’s developments, I call on the Prime Minister not to stop here. We’re overfilled with joy, but it is a drop in the ocean with sovereignty falling off the agenda. The expectation now is that construction and strengthening of the settlement movement will increase tenfold.”
Peace Now responded to the approvals in a statement saying:
“While Israel reels from its second lockdown and economic distress, Netanyahu is promoting construction in isolated settlements that Israel will have to evacuate. Instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf states and promoting peace with the Palestinians, he is distorting Israel’s priorities and catering to a fringe minority for these settlement unit approvals that will continue to harm future prospects for peace. We call on the Defense Minister and the Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz to veto these plans. Far from a ‘settlement freeze,’ the right has been complaining about, the expected settlement approvals announcement next week prove that the settlement enterprise under Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank. The move also will be the first major demonstration of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s bowing to the ‘Greater Israel’ settlement agenda that would in reality bring about a permanent undemocratic one-state reality. By doing so, Israel will be signaling to the world its bi-partisan support for the end to the concept of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state – the paradigm that until now has largely shielded Israel from formal pressure over its 53-year occupation. The settlement enterprise is not in Israel’s national or security interest, and is a strategic mistake at the international level.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh denounced the approvals, saying:
“Every settler unit constitutes a plan to annex our land.”
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement:
“We warn against this Israeli policy that will lead the region to the brink of the abyss, and we call on the international community to intervene immediately and urgently to pressure the Netanyahu government to stop this settlement madness that totally eliminates any real opportunity to achieve a just and comprehensive peace to end the occupation and establish the independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders.”
UN High Representative Josep Borrell said in a statement:
“In recent days, Israel has announced a significant expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank, in areas in and around Jerusalem. These plans, which foresee the construction of close to 5.000 housing units, jeopardise the viability and territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian State as the outcome of a negotiated two-state solution, in line with the internationally agreed parameters. Settlements are illegal under international law. As stated consistently, the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. Settlement activity threatens current efforts to rebuild trust, to resume civil and security cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis and to prepare the ground for an eventual resumption of meaningful and direct negotiations. The Government of Israel should reverse these decisions and halt all continued settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem and sensitive areas such as Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and E1. The period from March to August 2020 also saw a spike in demolitions or confiscations of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU reiterates its call on Israel to halt all such demolitions, including of EU-funded structures, in particular in light of the humanitarian impact of the current pandemic. Against the background of normalization of relations between Israel, UAE and Bahrain, Israelis and Palestinians should seize this opportunity and take urgent steps to build confidence and restore cooperation along the line of previous agreements and in full respect of international law.”
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement flagging concern over the advancements, saying:
“We are concerned about the reports of Israel’s settlement advancements in the occupied West Bank and will continue to follow developments closely, as the Israeli High Planning Committee finalizes its meetings tomorrow. The Secretary-General has consistently reiterated that all settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace. We urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from such unilateral actions that fuel instability and further erode the prospects for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”
Ir Amim reports that on September 22nd, the Jerusalem District Committee approved for deposit for public review a detailed plan providing for the construction of 570 units in the Har Homa E settlement, located in East Jerusalem. Taken together with the pending construction of the nearby Har Gilo West settlement (discussed in the section above), the Palestinian village of al-Walajah stands to be completely encircled by Israeli settlements.
If implemented, this plan will extend the Har Homa settlement westward, in the direction of the site of the as-of-yet-unbuilt Givat Hamatos settlement. Ir Amim explains:
“If realized, Har Homa E together with construction in Givat Hamatos will connect Har Homa to Gilo creating a contiguous Israeli settlement area that will disconnect East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank.”
Ir Amim also reminds us that the Jerusalem District Committee previously approved a Master Plan for a total of 2,200 units in Har Homa E. The plan for 570 units approved for deposit in late September represents the first detailed plan under this Master Plan allows for. Plans to build the remaining units permitted under the Master Plan are not yet being advanced.
Emek Shaveh reports that on September 29th the Civil Administration granted final approval to a plan to build accessible infrastructure, including an elevator, at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarch in Hebron — a plan which requires Israel to seize land from the Islamic Waqf. As of this writing, Emek Shaveh is considering whether to challenge that approval.
Regarding the significance of the plan, Emek Shaveh said:
“One need not be an archaeologist or architect to review the council’s plan and understand that it is destructive in a manner which is unprecedented. We are convinced that the plan, as approved, would never have been promoted had it not been driven by political motives.”
Emek Shaveh has previously provided critical context as to why this plan is not really, or not fully, being advanced out of humanitarian concerns, explaining:
“Israel’s decision to seize responsibility for the site from the Hebron municipality and the Palestinians sends a clear political message that Israel is reneging on agreements that were signed with the Palestinians in Hebron. Beyond the precedent that will enable the settlers in the future to demand additional changes at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, this is also a precedent that could play out at other sites under the responsibility of the Islamic Waqf. Experience has shown us that what begins in Hebron percolates into other places including Jerusalem. It begins with a seemingly rational demand to benefit the disabled or the general public and evolves into a new status quo. The expected change in Hebron has not escaped the attention of members of the Temple movement and they will know how to present their demands to the government. If Israel can repudiate agreements with the Palestinians in Hebron and expropriate land from the Waqf, it would seem that accepting what appears to be the far more modest demands by the Temple movement to pray or to walk about the Temple Mount complex freely is not so far-fetched. In the reality of Hebron and East Jerusalem, a change involving only several meters at a historic or holy place is not free of political considerations and often it is part of long-term strategy. While it is necessary to tend to the needs and interests of persons with disabilities, the extremists who presume to speak on their behalf must be prevented from forging Israeli policy, even if it is only a matter of a lift and an access path.”
Read Emek Shaveh’s full analysis here: “Humanitarianism Hebron Style.”
The Palestinian media outlet WAFA news reports that several Palestinians living in the Tel Rumeida section of downtown Hebron were handed confiscation notices from the Israeli authorities, informing them that the State of Israel had confiscated 17 plots of land, including land privately owned by Palestinians.
Tel Rumeida is a part of Hebron located directly in the city center, considered H2 by the Hebron Accords giving Israel full control of security in that area. B’Tselem estimates that there are around 700 settlers living in enclaves amongst approximately 34,000 Palestinians in H2. The Israeli army heavily protects those settlers, and has implemented an apartheid system of segregated movement and checkpoints, most notably in the area of Shuhada Street.
Near Nablus, Palestinians report that the settlers installed mobile homes and a small farm in an attempt to establish a permanent presence on a new plot of land. The settlers are reportedly in the process of connecting the new outpost to the Elon Moreh settlement via roads and water supply. Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors Israeli settlements on behalf of the PLO, told WAFA that the specific area has seen even wider road construction recently, which he sees as an effort to create more seamless contiguity between settlements in the Nablus area and the Jordan Valley. The construction comes at the direct expense of the Palestinian village of Beit Dajani, which has historically owned the land where the outpost and roads are being built.
Near Hebron, WAFA reports that an Israeli settler erected a tent with and Israeli flag on privately owned Palestinian land near the Birin village.
In the Jordan Valley, WAFA reports that settlers set up a caravan on land on which they began planting trees about three months ago. The settlers also reportedly dug a well at the site.
On October 15th, Israel reportedly announced its intention to confiscate large tracts of land (11,000 dunums) adjacent to the Jordan Valley settlements of Rotem, Maskiyot, and Mesovah. This confiscation, according to Palestinian settlement watcher Qasem Awwad, was presented by the Israeli authorities as a move to add land to natural reserve areas, but seems clearly to be linked to efforts to expand settlements and their control over land in the area.
Despite COVID and the suspension of Israeli’s unilateral annexation of vast tracts of land in the West Bank, the Israeli government — at the urging of settlers and their allies — is continuing its push to consolidate its control over all aspects of life in Area C (the over 60% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control).
OCHA has documented an acceleration in the Civil Administration’s demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank over the summer, documenting the demolition of 389 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the West Bank. As a result of those demolitions, 442 Palestinians were made homeless. OCHA further reported that In just the month of August, 205 Palestinians lost their homes, the highest single month total since January 2017. In addition, Israel continues to issue more demolition notices, including against Palestinians living in a cave near Jenin, and against a newly constructed school for bedouin children located east of Ramallah.
To further this effort, on September 10th the Israeli government allocated $6 million USD (20 million NIS) for the newly created Settlement Affairs Ministry to survey and map unauthorized Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, which Israel and its settlers have been aggressively demolishing in an effort to rid the area of Palestinians. Haaretz reports that this is the first time that the state budget has included funds specifically for a land survey in the West Bank. The state also allocated an additional $2.8 million (9.5 million NIS) to an existing grant program specifically for settlement municipalities to cash in on. As a reminder, virtually all Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank is unauthorized, because Israel almost universally refuses to give Palestinians permission to build in Area C even on land that Israel recognizes as owned by Palestinians.
The Settlement Affairs Ministry is a new creation of the current coalition government, and is headed by Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud). The funding for the Settlement Affairs Ministry to conduct a survey of unauthorized Palestinian construction in Area C further empowers a domestic Israeli body to exert extraterritorial sovereignty over Area C – in effect, treating the area as land already de facto annexed by Israel. While technically the occupied territories are administered by the Israeli Civil Administration (a body within the Defense Ministry), Israel has spent decades bringing the administration of the territories (specifically the settlements and Area C) ever more directly under direct Israeli sovereignty (de facto annexation).
In the lead up to the allocation of funds for this new survey of Palestinians life in Area C, the Knesset hosted two committee discussions the political outlook of which was clearly indicated in the stated subject of the meetings: “the Palestinian takeover of Area C.” Consistent with this framing (which is predicated on the idea that Area C belongs to Israel), and pushed by outside groups, many members of the Knesset have criticized the Israeli government’s allegedly lackadaisical approach to preserving State interests in Area C (i.e., clearing out Palestinians, expanding settlements, consolidating state infrastructure). Reportedly, Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue & White) sent a letter to the committee specifically addressing the Knesset’s outrage over European humanitarian assistance projects for Palestinians in Area C. In the letter, Ashkenazi not only celebrated the reduction of European projects over the past year, but validated settlers’ insinuations regarding the nefarious nature of European assistance for Palestinians, saying that any European activity in the West Bank lacking Israeli permission is “an attempt to define a border.” Ashkenazi also said that Israel will not compensate European donors for confiscated equipment or the demolition of European-funded projects that lack Israeli permission (like in the case of schools built with European funding, and solar panels donated to bedouin communities lacking power).
At one Knesset hearing, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) suggested that a solution could be to empower the settlements with the ability to demolish Palestinian construction they believe to be unauthorized. Smotrich’s partymate Ayelet Shaked (former Justice Minister) suggested that the government should appoint a project manager tasked with preventing a Palestinian takeover of Area C.
As noted above, Israel has long denied Palestinians the ability to build in Area C. To fully understand what is happening, it is worth reviewing B’Tselem’s excellent explainer:
“Israel’s planning and building policy in the West Bank is aimed at preventing Palestinian development and dispossessing Palestinians of their land. This is masked by use of the same professional and legal terms applied to development in settlements and in Israel proper, such as “planning and building laws”, “urban building plans (UBPs)”, “planning proceedings” and “illegal construction”. However, while the planning and building laws benefit Jewish communities by regulating development and balancing different needs, they serve the exact opposite purpose when applied to Palestinian communities in the West Bank. There, Israel exploits the law to prevent development, thwart planning and carry out demolitions. This is part of a broader political agenda to maximize the use of West Bank resources for Israeli needs, while minimizing the land reserves available to Palestinians….
In the West Bank, the potential for urban, agricultural and economic development remains in Area C. Israel uses its control over the area to quash Palestinian planning and building. In about 60% of Area C – 36% of the West Bank – Israel has blocked Palestinian development by designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks; by allocating land to settlements and their regional councils; or by introducing prohibitions to the area now trapped between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line (the boundary between Israel’s sovereign territory and the West Bank).
Even in the remaining 40% of Area C, Israel restricts Palestinian construction by seldom approving requests for building permits, whether for housing, for agricultural or public uses, or for laying infrastructure. The Civil Administration (CA) – the branch of the Israeli military designated to handle civil matters in Area C – refuses to prepare outline plans for the vast majority of Palestinian communities there. As of November 2017, the Civil Administration had drafted and approved plans for only 16 of the 180 communities which lie in their entirety in Area C. The plans cover a total of 17,673 dunams (1 dunam = 1,000 square meters), less than 1% of Area C, most of which are already built-up. The plans were drawn up without consulting the communities and do not meet international planning standards. Their boundaries run close to the built-up areas of the villages, leaving out land for farming, grazing flocks and future development. Since 2011, seeing that the Civil Administration did not draft plans as it is obliged to do, dozens of Palestinian communities – with the help of Palestinian and international organizations and in coordination with the PA – drafted their own plans. Some of the plans covered communities or villages located in full in Area C and others covered places only partly in Area C. As of September 2018, 102 plans had been submitted to the Civil Administration’s planning bodies, but by the end of 2018, a mere five plans – covering an area of about 1,00 dunams (or about 0.03% of Area C) – had received approval.
The odds of a Palestinian receiving a building permit in Area C – even on privately owned land – are slim to none. Given the futility of the effort, many Palestinians forgo requesting a permit altogether. Without any possibility of receiving a permit and building legally, the needs of a growing population leave Palestinians no choice but to develop their communities and build homes without permits. This, in turn, forces them to live under the constant threat of seeing their homes and businesses demolished.
The impact of this Israeli policy extends beyond Area C, to the hundreds of Palestinians communities located entirely or partially in Areas A and B, as the land reserves for many of these communities lie in Area C and are subject to Israeli restrictions there.
The demand for land for development has grown considerably since the 1995 division of the West Bank: The Palestinian population has nearly doubled, and the land reserves in Areas A and B have been nearly exhausted. Due to the housing shortage, much land still available in these areas is used for residential construction, even if it is more suited for other uses, such as agriculture.
Without land for construction, local Palestinian authorities cannot supply public services that require new structures, such as medical clinics and schools, nor can they plan open spaces for recreation within communities. Realizing the economic potential of Area C – in branches such as agriculture, quarrying for minerals and stone for construction, industry, tourism and community development – is essential to the development of the entire West Bank, including creating jobs and reducing poverty. Area C is also vital for regional planning, including laying infrastructure and connecting Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank.
In contrast to the restrictive planning for Palestinian communities, Israeli settlements – all of which are located in Area C – are allocated vast tracts of land, drawn up detailed plans, connected to advanced infrastructure, and the authorities turn a blind eye to illegal construction in them. Detailed, modern plans have been drawn up for the settlements, including public areas, green zones and, often, spacious residential areas. They enjoy a massive amount of land, including farmland that can serve for future development.
Israel’s policy in Area C is based on the assumption that the area is primarily meant to serve Israeli needs, and on the ambition to annex large parts of it to the sovereign territory of Israel. To that end, Israel works to strengthen its hold on Area C, to further exploit the area’s resources and achieve a permanent situation in which Israeli settlements thrive and Palestinian presence is negligible. In doing so, Israel has de facto annexed Area C and created circumstances that will leverage its influence over the final status of the area.”
For the first time since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, it will allow Palestinians to bring lawsuits against Isareli settlers in Palestinian courts. The Palestinian Authority’s Justice Minister Mohammed al-Shalaldeh announced that the PA had formed a national team to handle these cases, and the team was already working to collect evidence and file suits against settlers who have committed crimes against Palestinians in Hebron and in the village of Burin, located just south of Nablus.
Until this point, no Israeli citizen has been tried in a Palestinian court. Under the Oslo Accords (which established the Palestinian Authority), the Palestinian Authority holds no jurisdication over Israeli citizens – including Israeli citizens living in the West Bank. In May 2020, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA considers all accords and agreements with Israel to be void following Israel’s announcement that it intends to annex large parts of the West Bank in accordance with the Trump Plan. Shalaldeh said that the announcement this week flows directly from Abbas’s decision to free the PA from the Oslo Accords’ provisions.
Explaining how these cases might work, Shalaldeh said:
“The Israeli side will be notified as an occupying power to appear before the Palestinian court…If the [Israeli] side refuses the jurisdiction of the Palestinian courts, formal procedures will be followed and in absentia rulings will be issued, in accordance with Palestinian laws.”
Over the past month, international audiences have directed heightened scrutiny towards the radical settler group Elad and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for the role both organizations have played in spearheading the effort to evict the Palestinian Sumreen family from their home in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Due to the new attention, the JNF is reportedly reconsidering whether or not to carry out the eviction of the Sumreens – an eviction which the organization has pursued since 1991.
JNF donors – along with activists, religious leaders, members of Congress, and Israel prize winners – reportedly began to express concern and outrage over the JNF’s role in the Sumreen case following the September 2020 ruling by Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court against the Sumreen’s claim to the home. In response to the criticism, the JNF (via actions by the Board of its subsidiary organization, Himnuta, which was created to take the lead for JNF in litigating aggressive settlement takeover cases like this) has acted to freeze the eviction process internally, and was scheduled to consider a proposal for freezing the formal legal proceedings against the Sumreens this past week. Himnuta’s decision and deliberations caused conflict with Elad, which had the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court intervene to postpone Himnuta’s Board meeting to discuss the proposal. Elad argues that Himnuta transferred all legal authority over the Sumreen case to their organization, and cannot now interfere in the proceedings. The meeting was subsequently postponed at the request of the Court.
Elad is also coming under new international scrutiny following the revelation that Roman Abramovitch – a Russian oligarch and naturalized Israeli citizen who also is one of the owners of the renowned Chelsea football club – is Elad’s single largest donor, having anonymously donated over $100 million to the settler group over the past 13 years. The BBC produced an investigative feature report on Abramovitch’s connection to Elad, pointing out that over the past 15 years more than half of Elad’s funding has come from offshore companies in the Caribbean, which are now known to be owned or controlled by Abramovitch. The BBC feature connects Elad to the settlers’ struggle to evict the Sumreen family, and the larger effort to replace Palestinians in Silwan with Jewish Israelis.
Peace Now writes:
“The news about Abramovich’s involvement highlights the injustice Palestinians face at the hands of these settlement groups. Impoverished families are up against the financial weight of a Russian oligarch. NGOs trying to protect these families are delegitimized and their work dismissed for receiving funding from democratic European aid agencies while settler groups rake in vast sums of non-transparent money from offshore Caribbean shell companies. And the JNF is profiting off of all of this. We can’t force Abramovich to stop his funding or the JNF to stop abetting Elad in its settling campaign, but we can make them worry about their reputation. Peace Now has been conducting a campaign inside Israel to call Abramovich out for his devious funding.”
Regarding the revelations of Elad’s funding source, Emek Shaveh writes:
“…the Elad Foundation, through a combined strategy of sponsoring excavations, developing tourism and settling in Palestinian homes, succeeded in recreating Silwan as the Jewish neighbourhood of Ir David (City of David) and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The exploitation of archaeological tourism by the Elad Foundation has become a number one strategy for entrenching Israeli sovereignty over historic Jerusalem. “
The Sumreen family home is located in the middle of what today has been designed by Israel “the City of David National Park.” The area is managed by the radical Elad settler organization, which for years has also been pursuing the eviction of Palestinians from the homes in Silwan. For nearly three decades, the Sumreen family has been forced to battle for legal ownership of their home, after the state of Israel, prompted repeatedly by the JNF, declared the Sumreen’s home to be “absentee” property. After that designation – which was not communicated to the Sumreen family – Israeli law permitted the state to take over the rights to the building. The state then sold the rights to the home to the JNF in 1991. The JNF has pursued the eviction of the Sumreen family ever since. Israeli courts ruled in favor of the Sumreen family’s ownership claims to the home for years, until a September 2019 ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court granted ownership of the family’s home to the JNF, a decision the family immediately appealed to the Jerusalem District Court.
A full history of the saga involving the Sumreen family – which is similar to dozens of other Palestinian homes in Silwan that were declared Absentee Property in the 1990s – can be found on the Peace Now website here.
A series of reports in mid-September suggested that, as part of its commitment to the U.A.E. in exchange for normalization with Israel, the U.S. promised to withhold its recognition of Israeli annexation until January 2024, at the earliest.
The 2024 timeline harkens back to a concept in Trump’s “Deal of the Century” which gave (oh so generously) the Palestinians a four year window to enter into negotiations with Israel on the basis of the Trump Plan’s conceptual map.
Following these reports regarding a 2024 timeline for the U.S. greenlighting Israeli annexation, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman (who has been a champion of annexation) told Israel’s Army Radio that annexation can happen next year. Friedman, pushing back on U.A.E. press leaks seeking to promote the notion that the Abraham Accords stopped annexation, said:
“We said in our statement that sovereignty will be postponed, and this does not mean that it has been abolished, but rather that it has stopped. It has been suspended for a year, maybe more, but it has not been cancelled.”
- “Tourism in the Service of Occupation” (Al-Shabaka)
- “The Status Quo on the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif: Dodging a Bullet (For Now)” (Terrestrial Jerusalem)
- “How Evangelicals Working in Settlements Bypassed Israel’s COVID-19 Entry Ban” (Haaretz)
- “ The March of Folly in the Settlements Continues” (Haaretz)
- “Israeli Students in State-funded Scholarship Program Guard Illegal West Bank Outposts” (Haaretz)