Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 9, 2022
- Israel Advances Givat HaShaked Settlement Plan in East Jerusalem
- Israel Delays (for now) Consideration of E-1 Settlement
- Israel Planning to “Legalize” 30+ Shepherding Outposts in Massive Land Grab
- Israel to Request Another Delay in Demolition of Khan al-Ahmar
- IDF Issues Orders to Keep Settlers Out of Ramat Migron Outpost Area
- IDF Removes Amichai Settlement Tower
- Yesha Council Elects New Leader
- Settlement Schools are Flourishing
- Bonus Reads
On September 5th, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee advanced plans to build a new settlement in East Jerusalem, to be called “Givat HaShaked.” The plan provides for 700 housing units (in 4 highrise towers and several six-story buildings), a school, and commercial buildings –all to be built on a highly sensitive and geopolitically critical sliver of land located within the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. The plan was approved for public deposit, an advanced stage in the Israeli planning process. The plan for Givat HaShaked is unprecedented, according to the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, in that it is the first settlement of this size that that Israeli government will establish within a Palestinian neighborhood. Beit Safafa is already in the process of being completely surrounded by Israeli development (for Jewish Israelis) — most notably with final approval of the Givat Hamatos settlement plan, for which tenders were issued in January 2021.
The Israeli NGO Ir Amim also points out that, while the government goes to great lengths to find a way to squeeze in several high rise towers to house Israelis in East Jerusalem, there is no parallel effort to address the decades-long lack of planning and approvals for Palestinian communities. Ir Amim writes:
“Givat HaShaked is also a flagrant example of the breadth and depth of housing and planning discrimination in the city. While Givat HaShaked is intended for land located along the built-up area of Sharafat, it is not designated for the community’s development needs, but rather a new housing project for Israelis over the Green Line in Jerusalem. Construction of this new settlement will likewise stand in stark contrast to the existing Palestinian neighborhood, dwarfing and engulfing Sharafat with high-rise apartment buildings – the likes of which Israeli authorities refuse to promote or approve for Palestinian areas. In a similar fashion, the remaining land reserves on the eastern side of Beit Safafa, which could have been used to address the neighborhood’s housing needs, were depleted to advance construction of the Israeli settlement of Givat Hamatos.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked celebrated the advancement, telling Arutz Sheva:
“As I promised, despite all the pressures from at home and abroad, the Givat Hashaked plan was approved today by the district committee. This plan is located in the heart of Jerusalem and is unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area as well as all over the city. This is an important plan that will lead to an increase in the supply of housing units, employment areas and public buildings for the well-being of the residents.”
As a reminder, the Israeli government has been sitting on plans for Givat HaShaked for decades, but has refrained from implementing them because doing so would require the government to seize a sizeable amount of land in East Jerusalem, some of which is privately owned by Palestinian residents of Sharafat (a section of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa). Other parts of the land proposed to be used for the Givat HaShaked settlement plan are managed by the Israeli General Custodian (but neither owned or claimed by the government of Israel) – a fact Ir Amim calls “highly unusual and seemingly marks a new phenomenon.” The Israeli General Custodian is empowered by the State to act as a caretaker of land that has unknown ownership until the heirs are located. In an attempt to explain why the General Custodian has the authority to approve a plan for construction on land that the State does not own, the Israeli Justice Ministry told Haaretz that the plan for Givat HaShaked increased the value of the land and that “by law, the administrator general is obligated to care for the assets under his management in a way that will benefit their private owners.” This answer implies, bizarrely, that if and when Palestinian heirs are located, they will be somehow better off with their land having been used to build a settlement.
Another important facet of how Givat HaShaked is being advanced now is the decision by the Israeli government in late 2020 to initiate a (typically secret) registration process for land in East Jerusalem, including in the Sharafat area. At this time, it is unknown whether the land managed by the General Custodian in Sharafat (and designated for the new settlement) has been – or is in the process of being – registered. On that uncertainty, Ir Amim writes:
“…in the event that it is the same location [where formal land registration has taken place], this move would constitute yet another brazen example of how the settlement of title procedures are repeatedly being used to aid state authorities and settler groups in taking over more land in East Jerusalem…Although portrayed as a measure to ostensibly benefit Palestinian residents, there has been grave alarm that these [land registration and settlement of title] procedures would in fact be exploited to confiscate Palestinian land for political purposes, leading to the expansion of Jewish settlement and widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city.”
For a deep dive into land registration in East Jerusalem, please listen to a new FMEP podcast featuring Kristin McCarthy (FMEP) in conversation with Amy Cohen (Ir Amim).
The Israeli Higher Planning Committee of the Civil Administration has again delayed its consideration of the E-1 settlement plan, which was scheduled to be taken up at the Committee’s September 12th meeting. The E-1 settlement is considered a “doomsday” settlement for much of the international community that still hopes to negotiate a two state solution. This same committee was previously scheduled to take up the E-1 plan on July 18th – days after U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Jerusalem. The Israeli government intervened to postpone the meeting, rescheduling it for September 12th – the hearing that has now also been delayed.
Peace Now said in response:
“This is welcome news, but we wish to see E1 taken off the table completely. E1 is lethal to the two-state solution, highly detrimental to Palestinian freedom of movement and to connection between different parts of the future Palestinian state. The Israeli government, and in particular Minister of Defense Benny Gantz (in whose jurisdiction these decisions lie), must take the plan off the table completely.”
This repeatedly delayed meeting promises to be a decisive one for the long-pending E-1 plan, and could result in the Committee granting final approval to the highly contentious plan. Barring intensive outside pressure, additional postponement of the hearing seems highly improbable, given the Israeli domestic politics and the upcoming national election.
As a reminder: in its current form, the E-1 plan provides for the construction of 3,412 new settlement units on a site located northeast of Jerusalem. The site is home to several Palestinian bedouin communities, including Khan al-Ahmar, which Israel has already undertaken to forcibly displace (many attempts). Long called a “doomsday” settlement by supporters of a two-state solution, construction of the E-1 settlement would sever East Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland, preventing East Jerusalem from ever functioning as a viable Palestinian capital. It would also cut the West Bank effectively in half, isolating the northern West Bank from the southern West Bank and foreclosing the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity.
Israel’s “answer” to the latter criticism has long been to argue that Palestinians don’t need territorial contiguity, and that new roads can instead provide “transportational continuity.” To this end, Israel has already built the so-called “Sovereignty Road” – a sealed road that enables Palestinians to pass through, but not to enter, the E-1 area. That road is wholly under Israel’s control (meaning Israel can cut off Palestinian passage through it at any time). In January 2021, then-Prime Minister Netanyahu promised to increase funding for the “Sovereignty Road” as part of the drive to get E-1 built.
And another reminder: there have been attempts to promote the E-1 plan since the early 1990s, but due to wall-to-wall international opposition, the plan was not advanced until 2012, when Netaynuahu ordered it to be approved for deposit for public review (a key step in the approval process), ostensibly as payback for the Palestinians seeking recognition at the United Nations. Following an outcry from the international community, the plan again went into a sort of dormancy, only to be put back on the agenda by Netanyahu in February 2020, when he was facing his third round of elections in the two years. Also, as a reminder: under the Trump Plan (which the Biden Administration has yet to comment on), the area where E-1 is located is slated to become part of Israel.
Haaretz reports that the Israeli Civil Administration is in the midst of a years-long process of drafting new protocols that will allow the State to “legalize” settlers’ claims to huge areas of the West Bank (mainly in Area C) that settlers have de facto seized through illegal shepherding activities (grazing settler-owned flocks of sheep, etc on the land). The Civil Administration is working to “legalize” this land theft in areas where the land in question is categorized by Israel as “State land.”
The phenomenon of “shepherding outposts” has been extensively documented by the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, which has identified it as currently the “most significant mechanism for dispossessing Palestinian communities” in the West Bank. According to Kerem Navot’s May 2022 report, entitled “Wild Wild West,” settlers have taken control of nearly 7% of Area C of the West Bank (around 60,000 acres) via 77 of these grazing outposts.
The Haaretz Editorial Board – in a piece entitled “Settler Crime Always Pays” – writes:
“Once again, the settlers have proved that Jewish crime in the territories always pays. The Civil Administration began formulating the draft regulation about two years ago, against the background of the increase in the number of these outposts. The proper response to the growing number of farms established illegally would have been to see to their removal and to step up enforcement. Instead, the agency bowed down to the settler masters and seeks to cut the law to fit their vices…It must be hoped that he [Gantz] recognizes that it is a looting mechanism designed to take control of more and more of Area C, to prevent Palestinians from working their land and to reduce their living space.”
As a reminder: Israel has a legal responsibility under international law regarding stewardship of “state land” held under its occupation. As the Association for Civil Rights in Israel explains:
“Israel holds state land in an occupied territory as a trustee, and must do everything possible to preserve and develop it for the benefit of the local Palestinian population. The very use of state land for the purpose of building settlements and/or developing infrastructure and industrial zones not in favor of the Palestinian population constitutes a violation of international law.”
Facing a September 11th deadline to complete the forcible relocation of the Khan al-Ahmar community from their longtime lands just east of Jerusalem (an act that would constitute a war crime), Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has become just the most recent Israeli premier to ask the Court for an extension. As a reminder, the High Court has ordered the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, which it declared to be illegally built (i.e., lacking Israeli building permits that are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain).
The Israeli High Court imposed a deadline on the State to demolish Khan al Ahmar in response to a petition filed by the right-wing pro-settler group Regavim, which sued the government for failing to carry out the demolition of the community in the wake of the Court’s ruling that the community was built illegally. That demolition order has been pending since 2018. The Court granted several delays to the Netanyahu government, and one to the Bennett government. When granting the government another delay in September 2020, the Court said that it would not be granting any more delays. It then granted several more delays, most recently in July 2021, ostensibly due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Prior to becoming Prime Minister, Lapid opposed the State’s plan to forcibly relocate Khan al-Ahmar. Reports suggested that the government has been preparing a plan that would entail the demolition of the Khan Al-Ahmar, followed by (bizarrely) the rebuilding of the community some 300 meters from where it currently stands.
After three weeks of repeatedly demolishing the “Ramat Migron” outpost, only to have settlers rebuild it, the IDF has issued a new order declaring the area a “closed military zone” — apparently in hopes of barring settlers from entering the area. The order is effective for only one month. As a reminder: The IDF already viewed it as illegal for settlers to enter the area (which is why the IDF arrested settlers in the area last week), so it is not clear (at least as of this writing) what is different about this new order.
The IDF informed the settlers of the new order as they were in the process of constructing buildings at the Ramat Migron site. Settlers have already vowed to continue fighting to establish a settlement on the hilltop.
On September 8th, Israeli authorities demolished a tower built by settlers on land that has been allotted to the Amihai settlement, located in the Shiloh Valley in the northern West Bank. Settlers built the tower apparently in order to surveil a nearby Palestinian village where new homes are being built. Settlers have already vowed to rebuild the tower.
The Amichai settlement was approved for construction in 2017, making it at that time the first new settlement formally approved by the Isareli government in 25 years. 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.
The Yesha Council – an association of heads of settlements and regional council leaders that acts as the settler lobby to the government – has elected a new chair, Shlomo Ne’eman. Ne’eman is set to take over the post from David Elhayani.
Ne’eman has earned his stripes as the chairman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. Upon his election (he was unopposed), Ne’eman said:
“The first task before us is to strengthen the sovereignty and the Jewish presence in the region. This is the time to unite against those who seek our harm, the Palestinian Authority and other terrorist organizations that fight us with guns and knives, as well as with plows and concrete pumps, and to continue working to develop and strengthen Israeli settlement in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.”
According to a newsletter issued by the Friends of Beit El Settlement (an organization that former Ambassador David Friedman used to chair), as the new school year starts there are 86,000 children living in settlements and enrolled in 270 elementary schools across the West Bank. In addition, the newsletter reports that 35,000 settler students attend ~200 post-elementary schools. Gloating, the newsletter boasts:
“Beautiful numbers like these don’t just happen on their own. We can barely imagine the amount of idealism and effort and self-sacrifice over the course of decades, under severely difficult economic and security conditions, that has gone into the Yesha enterprise.”
- “Settlement Org Eyes a New Target, and Israeli Authorities Go Out of Their Way to Help” (Haaretz)
- “IDF preparing to use armed drones in West Bank operations” (The Times of Israel)
- “U.S. Examining Allegations Against Israel’s Orthodox West Bank Battalion” (Haaretz)