Settlement & Annexation Report: September 1, 2023


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

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September 1, 2023

  1. Israel Allocates Lands to WZO in order to Expand Two Settlements
  2. Government Delays Smotrich’s New $185 Million Plan to Expand Settlements
  3. During Time as Tourism Minister, Yariv Levin Poured Money into Settlement Projects
  4. Bonus Reads

Israel Allocates Lands to WZO in order to Expand Two Settlements

Peace Now reports that on August 27, 2023, the Israeli government directed the allocation of state lands near two settlements (Mevo’ot Yericho and Amichai) to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, which will, in turn, allocate the lands to the settlements for expansion. In addition to the concerning expansion of the two settlements, the might signal the government’s intention to formalize the authority of the Settlement Division – a private, non-state entity –  to manage the legal process of allocating state lands to settlements and outposts across the West Bank to settlements.

As a reminder, the Settlement Division is a body within the WZO established in 1971 and fully funded by the Israeli government. It serves as a channel by which the government can establish settlements – legally and illegally – in the occupied territories, while avoiding the rules, regulations, and transparency requirements to which government entities are bound. The Israeli government assigned management responsibilities to the WZO for over 60% of the land in the West Bank which the government declared to be “state land” (90,000 acres/400,000 dunams). The WZO has then given that land to settlers to build settlements and secretly funnel government money to illegal outposts. However, Peace Now reports that in recent years the government has “refrained from granting new lands to the Settlement Division, opting for limited and specific allocations instead. The recent decision signifies a noteworthy shift, indicating the government’s intent to formalize the process of land management in the territories by officially outsourcing it to the Settlement Division.”

Peace Now reminds that the Israeli government has attempted once before to formalize the role of the WZO’s Settlement Division as a legal entity charged with managing and allocating West Bank land. When a bill proposing that move was discussed in the Knesset, it was strongly criticized by then Israeli Deputy Attorney Dina Zilber who said:

“This is about relinquishing the state’s fiduciary obligations in the region and effectively elevating the Settlement Division to a governing body with sweeping authority over land in Judea and Samaria. Land management is one of the most significant authorities that should remain under state control… given that we’re operating in an area controlled by the military commander, an area defined as under belligerent occupation in international law… this territory should be managed by the military commander with consideration for both short-term dynamics and the interests of the protected population, which, in the majority of cases in Judea and Sam aria, happens to be the Palestinian population. Consequently, there’s a collision between short-term considerations and permanent settlements. When a clear governmental authority, originally the responsibility of a proper governmental body, shifts to a non-governmental entity, it’s a concerning change. Here, significant funding is also in play… at the moment, we’re in a situation where the same entity serves as a vital resource manager, funded by the government, but lacks oversight and transparency, providing reports only in hindsight. It wields control over hundreds of thousands of dunams.”

Peace Now said in a statement:

“Allowing the Settlement Division to manage these lands in the occupied territories is comparable to entrusting a fox with guarding the henhouse. This essentially amounts to privatizing land management, which is inconsistent with democratic governance and is unlawful within occupied territories according to international law. The Settlement Division has previously been directly implicated in the appropriation of Palestinian private lands and continues to assist settlers in acquiring extensive lands within the territories, often without public tenders and behind closed doors. It operates autonomously, ignoring the governmental oversight bodies that are supposed to supervise its activities. Despite facing severe criticism from the State Comptroller and the Legal Advisor to the Government in the past, the Netanyahu-Smotrich administration has opted to persist in this direction and formalize the process.”

The settlements that are set to expand – Amichai and Mevo’ot Jericho – are especially notable settlements because of their political contexts and sensitive locations.

The Amichai settlement was approved for construction in 2017, making it (at that time) the first new settlement formally approved by the Israeli government in 25 years. The settlement is located  in the heart of the northern West Bank, in the Shiloh Valley, in an area of settlements that are designed to form an uninterrupted corridor of Israeli control connecting sovereign Israel to the Ariel settlement, through the isolated Shiloh Valley settlements, all the way to the Jordan Valley. In so doing, It will completely bisect the northern part of the West Bank. Aerial imagery from 2021 show the massive growth Amichai has enjoyed in the years that followed its establishment, a previously empty hilltop with cultivated fields nearby have been transformed into a sizable suburban neighborhood. In addition to new construction, Amichai was also massively expanded, subsequent to its initial construction, when the Israeli Civil Administration announced that its plan to retroactively legalize the Adei Ad outpost by significantly expanding the borders of the Amichai settlement to turn Adei Ad into a (non-contiguous) neighborhood. In effect, this was a slight-of-hand by Israel to turn the Adei Ad outpost into an entirely new official, legal settlement. Now, the settlement is set to expand yet again, at the continued cost to Palestinians from the nearby village of Turmus Ayya on whose land Amichai was established and whom settlers from the Amichai outpost and others nearby routinely harass and terrorize.

The Mevo’ot Yericho settlement is located in the Jordan Valley just north of Jericho.  Established illegally as an outpost, the Israeli government granted retroactive legalization to it 2019, just two days before an election. One of Netanyahu’s most prominent campaign pitches was to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley, of which the legalization of Mevo’ot Yericho was a part. Prior to the government’s decision to legalize Mevo’ot Yericho, Israeli Attorney General Mandleblit had to rescind his earlier objection to the timing of the approval (during an election campaign), apparently having been convinced that granting retroactive legalization to the outpost was an “urgent” matter. According to a source who spoke to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu convinced Mandleblit of the plan’s urgency by informing him that the Trump’s “Deal of the Century” will put outposts, including Mevo’ot Yericho, at risk for evacuation, and that Israel must “combat” the plan before it is published.

Government Delays Smotrich’s New $185 Million Plan to Expand Settlements

Ynet reports that the Israeli government has temporarily paused consideration of a proposal by Bezalel Smotrich to invest some $185million (700 million NIS) into a variety of projects that will enable the rapid growth of settlements, including establishing new settlements, the retroactive legalization of 155 outposts, and building an airport in the northern West Bank.

Ynet further reports that the faces opposition from the Israeli Shin Bet as well as the United States..

During Time as Tourism Minister, Yariv Levin Poured Money into Settlement Projects

Peace Now has published data and analysis on Yariv Levin’s four year tenure as the Israeli Minister of Tourism (2016-2019), during which time he oversaw the investment of $245 million (NIS 929 million) into “tourism” projects in the West Bank. The amount of funds invested in settlement projects amounted to close to half (46%) of the tourism budget for the entire country. 

As a reminder, Israel’s development of tourism sites in the West Bank is part and parcel of its settlement enterprise, and perpetuates land theft, annexation, and the systematic violation of Palestinian rights.

The Peace Now report finds:

  • Over 37% of the development budget, nearly 350 million shekels, was allocated to projects associated with the right-wing and settler organization of Elad, operating in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
  • 84.3% of the investments in Jerusalem went to the Elad settler organization. 
  • In the settlements (excluding East Jerusalem), approximately 70% of the funds submitted for approval to the Ministry of Tourism were approved, while in Israel, only 20% were approved.

For a detailed examination of the projects Levin invested in, please see Peace Now’s report.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Smotrich Takes to PR to Publicize Israeli Demolitions of Palestinian Structures in West Bank” (Haaretz)
  2. “Settlers Killing Palestinians: A History of Impunity” (Haaretz)
  3. “Palestinians blame settler attacks for emptying of 3 West Bank villages” (The Times of Israel)
  4. “Palestinian fears grow amid rising Israeli settler attacks” (BBC)