Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement & Annexation Report. To subscribe to this report, please click here.
October 23, 2020
- Following Wave of New Settlement Approvals, Israel Advances Plans for New Settler Bypass Roads
- Settler Violence (Predictably) Spikes During Olive Harvest, IDF (Predictably) Fails to Intervene
- Settlers Establish New Outpost in Jordan Valley to Expand Maskiyot Settlement
- Israel Increasing Demolitions of Palestinian Construction in Second Half of 2020
- The Return of Economic “Peace” Schemes: Judea and Samaria Business Council Holds Virtual Summit, Praises Abraham Accords as Model for “Peace”
- CONFIRMED: Tekoa Settles Illegally Built on Palestinian Land
- Friedman Reiterates Trump Admin Support for Settlements & Outposts
- Bonus Reads
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This week Israeli authorities advanced plans for the construction of three new settler bypass roads. The advancement of the plans comes just a week after the High Planning Council advanced plans for the construction of 4,948 new settlement units (in addition to the retroactive legalization of hundreds of existing units and approval of 4 major non-residential settlement construction projects).
Specifically, a special committee within the Israeli Finance Ministry approved a tender for the construction of the Huwwara Bypass Road, a new road designed to enable settler traffic from the Nablus area to bypass the the Palestinian village of Huwwara (which is an area with heavy traffic congestion from daily commuters) in order to more easily/directly access Jerusalem. This bypass road has long been a top priority for the settlers, who have complained about the long commute to Jerusalem and the limit this puts on the potential for growth of Nablus-area settlements; the radical/violent Yitzhar settlement will benefit from the bypass road, along with the settlements of Har Bracha, Itamar, and Elon Moreh. Building the road also gained urgency for the settlers after the release of the Trump Plan’s conceptual map, which left the area where the road is slated to be built within the borders a future Palestinian “state.”
Peace Now told FMEP via email:
“This bypass road was primarily built for the far-flung Israeli settlements around Nablus. As we see throughout the West Bank, when road infrastructure is improved for settlements, they grow rapidly, sometimes even doubling in size in the space of a decade. This bypass road will entrench the occupation, not to mention violate Palestinian rights as protected rights holders under international law.”
In addition to the Huwara bypass road, Ir Amim reports that the Israeli Civil Administration deposited for public review two plans for the construction of settler bypass roads in the Greater Jerusalem area (plans “YOSH-938” and “YOSH-926”). Now that plans have been deposited for public review, a 60-day public comment period has opened, after which the Civil Administration can grant final approval for the construction of these two new settler bypass roads.
The first of the Jerusalem-area plans deposited for public review this week relates to the area south of Jerusalem. This plan will enable the permanent legalization of an existing bypass road – Road 385 – which connects the Har Gilo settlement to the area south of Bethlehem area, by bypassing the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja, located just south of Jerusalem (part of Al-Walajah is in fact inside the expanded Jerusalem Municipality border). That road is built on privately-owned Palestinian land that Israel seized 25 years ago via a military confiscation order. In order for the road to become a legal (in the eyes of the Israeli planning law) access road to the site of the future Har Gilo West settlement, the plan for which was approved for deposit last week, the land on which the road was built needs to be permanently seized by Israel. This plan, along with the construction of Har Gilo West and Givat Hamatos, will leave Al-Walaja completely encircled by Israeli settlements and settlement infrastructure. Ir Amim reports how Israel plans to justify and carry out this land seizure, and its impacts:
“the Israeli Civil Administration wishes to justify its confiscation of Palestinian private lands needed for the construction of the road by claiming that it will also serve Palestinian traffic. This claim would clearly be false as the road only leads into Jerusalem along a route from which Palestinian traffic is blocked by Israeli checkpoints. Furthermore, as previously reported by Ir Amim, Israel is planning to relocate the checkpoint on this road farther away from Jerusalem and closer to Walaja. The planned expansion of Har Gilo by 560 housing units – an addition which will more than double the current size of Har Gilo – is located adjacent to Al-Walaja from the west and will result in the village’s complete isolation. Israel constructed the Separation Barrier in a route that surrounds Al-Walaja on three sides very close to the built-up area of the village; this has left the village only with the possibility to develop westwards where the barrier is not built. These lands on the west side of Al-Walaja are now targeted for the new settlement which, along with the Separation Barrier, will complete the encirclement of Al-Walaja in all directions. The village has already lost more than a thousand dunams of land which were cut off by the Separation Barrier and declared by Israel as the Nahal Rephaim National Park. The Separation Barrier, National Park, and planned settlement combine to turn Al-Walaja into an isolated enclave cutoff from the Bethlehem area while they serve as a connection between Jerusalem and the settlements to its south.”
The second of the Jerusalem-area plans deposited for public review this week relates to the area north and east of Jerusalem. It is designed to enable settler traffic bypass the Palestinian villages of Al-Ram, Qalandiya, and Ramallah (including a new tunnel under the Qalandiya checkpoint which Palestinians must pass through on foot to access Jersusalem) in order to more easily access Jerusalem. This plan specifically serves a cluster of settlements, located deep inside the West Bank, that Netanyahu has dubbed a “fourth settlement bloc” in an effort to designate the area as one over which Israel will never relinquish control. This “bloc” includes the settlements of Adam, Kochav Yaakov, Ofra, and Beit El – almost all of which received construction approvals last week (as a reminder, Beit El is the settlement which Ambassador David Friedman has long supported, serving as the head of the US organization supporting Beit El until just before he was named ambassador).
In order to construct this new bypass road, Israel will need to expropriate privately owned Palestinian land, and justifies doing so on the patently false claim that the road will provide a benefit both to Palestinians and to settlers. Ir Amim explains:
“…the Civil Administration claims that the road will also serve Palestinian traffic and for that purpose an interchange nearby Qalandia will connect it to the road to Ramallah. But when examining the schedule for construction of the road, it is clear that this interchange is scheduled to be operational only in the year 2040 – many years after the road serving settler traffic is scheduled to open. The fact that Israel is advancing large scale plans for 20 years into the future demonstrates Israeli intentions regarding its control of the area for decades to come.”
Regarding even further consequences of this new bypass road, Ir Amim writes:
“The planned road will also cut through the A-Ram and Qalandia area between A-Ram and Ramallah. Today there are no settlements in this area nor is settler traffic passing through it. It is telling that during the discussion the planners explained that the route of the road was designed to pass a distance away from the Kochav Yaakov settlement and close to the town of A-Ram. As in many other cases, this means that the road leaves a large area next to the settlements enabling its future expansion, while its construction will serve to limit the possibility of A-Ram’s future development.”
As has become the norm, Israeli settlers have stepped up their violent aggression against Palestinians and their property during the current olive harvest season (which comes in January and October each year). Yesh Din has documented 25 violent incidents since the beginning of the harvest season, with Haaretz reporting on data that shows 5 violent assaults against Palestinians and the destruction of 62 olive trees during the first week of harvest alone.
Ghassan Daglas, who monitors settlement activity for the Palestinian Authority, told Haaretz:
“This year we are seeing larger groups, sometimes dozens at a time, entering the groves, causing damage and attacking while the army looks on. From year to year they only reduce the territory where Palestinians are allowed to harvest, and at the same time the settlements grow larger and during harvest time this leads to violent confrontations. It’s intolerable, we don’t have the tools to handle this. If you’re looking for a key sign of what occupation is about, it’s what’s happening in the olive groves.”
To closely follow the violent incidents, here are the key groups to follow:
- Yesh Din’s Facebook page, and staff on Twitter:
- B’Tselem’s website and newsletter;
- OCHA oPt’s essential newsletter.
WAFA news reports that settlers from the Maskiyot settlement in the Jordan Valley have built a new structure just west of the settlement in order to keep and tend to their livestock. Aref Daraghmeh, a local activist, called this practice of unauthorized settlement construction a “silent policy of eating up more Palestinian land”.
Last week FMEP covered a separate report concerning yet another new settler outpost in the Jordan Valley. This illegal – but as of yet un-demolished – settler construction stands in sharp contrast to Israel’s escalating policy of demolitions against unauthorized Palestinian construction (undertaken by Palestinians on their own lands), discussed in the next section.
In a new report, the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq notes how the monthly average number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian property in the occupied Palestinian territory has nearly doubled – from a monthly average of 31 demolitions from January to June to a monthly average of 58 demolitions from July through September. Both figures are much higher than previous years – which saw an monthly average of 30 demolitions in 2019 and 22 in 2018.
Al Haq writes:
“this policy of unlawfully demolishing Palestinian buildings and structures, taken alongside many other similarly unlawful policies and actions, reveal Israel’s intention to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities from their homes. Settlement construction and expansion, exploitation of natural resources, restricting movement and access, the application of a discriminatory planning policy, and the virtual impossibility of obtaining building permits create a coercive environment for Palestinians, which amounts to direct and indirect forcible transfer, prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention and which may constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity.  Moreover, having their properties demolished and destroyed, the Palestinian people are deprived of their right to develop their resources, and are ultimately denied from exercising their right to self-determination.”
The Return of Economic “Peace” Schemes: Judea and Samaria Business Council Holds Virtual Summit, Praises Abraham Accords as Model for “Peace”
The Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce (JSCC) – a settler-creeated, settler-led body that promotes itself as a joint Israeli-Palestinian model for advanceing economic peace (despite lacking any meaningful buy-in from the Palestinian business community) – recently co-hosted a virtual conference entitled the “Israeli-Palestinian Economic Forum” (IPEF 2020). During the conference, the JSCC’s President Avi Zimmerman announced that two companies were selected to receive $150,000 in kick-start funds (one is an Israeli-run renewable energy company and the second is a Palestinian-run digital health company). Zimmerman further announced plans to launch a “Israeli-Palestinian business accelerator” in early 2021.
The last time FMEP covered the JSCC was in December 2019 when Ashraf Jabari — the Chamber’s only Palestinian member apparently willing to speak publicly — was in Washington lobbying Congress to fund economic peace projects. As a reminder, economic “coexistence” initiatives like the JSCC are in fact efforts to normalize, entrench, and reward Israeli settlements while perpetuating Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources). Congressional support for such initiatives could mean U.S. taxpayer dollars going directly (and publicly) to the settlements.
In addition to the new projects and funding, Zimmerman and many speakers at the summit hailed the Abraham Accords, which were recently signed between Israel, the UAE, and the US. According to reports, as part of the new accords, a joint fund will soon be launched and is expected to finance the renovation of Israeli operated checkpoints throughout the West Bank — in effect, bringing the UAE into the game of financing and normalizing permanent occupation..
Connecting the Abraham Accords to the JSCC’s work, Zimmerman told the JNS news outlet:
“there is a window of opportunity for Israeli-Palestinian economic partnerships to flourish following the monumental Abraham Accords.”
Appearing at the virtual conference, Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Ofir Akunis said:
“peace through economic strength is the right formula for true peace in the Middle East.”
Ashraf Jabari – who even today is still one of the very few (and the most public-facing) Palestinian businessmen to join the projfect – said:
“this is the next stage of Palestinian-Israeli economic cooperation. There are countless opportunities for our neighboring communities to create business partnerships, but there are some who don’t want our shared success to be public. Fortunately, market forces are stronger than politics. Our growing relationships will continue to lead the way.”
Kerem Navot reports that the Civil Administration finally published an updated map of the Tekoa settlement definitively showing that settlers have been illegally (and knowingly) developing land located beyond the settlement’s legal (according to Israel) boundaries. The land in question was confirmed to be outside of Tekoa’s borders in 2000, when the Israeli Blue Line team issued its maps; nonetheless, Tekoa settlers went ahead and built on it anyway.
Kerem Navot contends that the Civil Administration delayed publication of the new map since February 2019, in the hopes that the Knesset’s passage of the Regulation Law would offer the State an avenue for granting retroactive legalization to the illegal construction on private Palestinian land, which amounts to 80 houses, located on 27 plots of land which were widely known by the settlers to fall outside of the settlement’s borders. The Regulation Law was overturned by the High Court of Justice in June 2020, and Israel’s alternative to that law – utilizing the “market regulation” principle, which enables the legalization of illegal construction undertaken by settlers “in good faith” – cannot, in any reasonable interpretation of the concept, be applied to the Tekoa case, since the buildings were constructed by the settlers with full knowledge that the land was not allotted to the settlement.
Kerem Navot writes:
“And what about the settlers who will soon tell everyone that this was, once again, only a mistake, made in “good faith”? What did they know before the work began? Note the answer that the Civil Administration gave in response to an article that was published by a resident of the settlement Tekoa, Yehuda Yifrach, who also serves as Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon’s ‘legal commentator’ (without, of course, properly disclosing that he lives in Tekoa): ‘As for the case mentioned in Tekoa–we emphasize that the council has long known what the correct boundaries are for the declared state land where the settlement is located, and in spite of this, has been granting exceptional building permits for these areas over the last two years.’ “In other words, the Civil Administration basically said that the Gush Etzion Regional Council (which the Tekoa settlement is part of) knew all along that construction was being done on private property that is forbidden to build upon, and chose to build in that area anyway.”
In what should be news to no one, this week U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman once again made it clear that the Trump Administration supports the permanency of all of Israel’s settlements and outposts in the West Bank. Friedman said:
“The position of the United States is that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria will never be evacuated. We will never ask any community in Judea and Samaria to ever disband.”
Addressing why the Trump Administration has delayed recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the settlements in favor of normalization deals with the UAE and others, Friedman said:
“there are Israeli flags flying in Hebron, Shiloh, Gush Etzion, Eli, and under our plan they will be flying there forever, so it is not an immediate concern.”
Friedman made the comments at a conference convened by the Kohelet Policy Forum, the Shiloh Forum, and Israel Hayom – a triumvirate of organizations leading the fight for “Greater Israel” — to discuss (read: celebrate) the signing of the “Abraham Accords” between the UAE, Israel, and the United States.
- “Exclusive: Documents reveal decades of close cooperation between JNF and Elad“ (+972 Magazine)
- “Israeli construction plans for West Bank raise tensions with Europe.” (Media Line)
- “Republicans in Israel chair: I hope Trump will formalize West Bank outposts” (Jerusalem Post)