Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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April 10, 2020
- Gantz/Netanyahu Agree to Annexation in (Likely Failed) Unity Talks
- IDF Builds New “Temporary” Outpost as Quarantine Site for Extremist Settlers
- Bonus Reads/Watches
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Negotiations resume today, Friday April 10th, between Likud and Blue & White over the formation of the next Israeli government, following an unexpected breakdown in negotiations earlier this week (over the particulars of a new judicial appointment process). Prior to that disruption, Netanyahu and Gantz came to an agreement on how and when the unity government will advance annexation: The arrangement would allow Netanayhu to bring an annexation plan to the Knesset for a vote as early as July 10th (with or without Gantz’s support), on two conditions: 1) that Israel “consults” with the U.S. and, 2) that the plan is implemented in coordination with other international players.
As of this writing, it remains completely unknown whether there will be a Gantz-Netanyahu agreement that allows the formation of a unity government. Some analysts are suggesting that Netanyahu at this point has little incentive to respect even the minimal compromises he had reportedly agreed to with Gantz. This is because with Gantz’s move to negotiate unity — which effectively dismantled his own party — Netanyahu may have concluded that another round of elections will, finally, deliver him, an outright victory.
Regardless, the tentative agreement on annexation that Gantz and Netanyahu arrived at prior to the breakdown is hugely significant for the future of annexation. Clearly, Netanyahu’s position on annexation carried the day (perhaps aided a little by outside politicking of the Yamina Party, which put pressure on Gantz to relent on the issue of annexation). Not only did Gantz agree to annexation in principle, he accepted a sped-up timeline for that annexation and also dropped his demand that the plan be coordinated with the King of Jordan – a concession which essentially renders the second condition of the agreement with Netanyahu (that annexation be coordinated with other international players) a moot point.
The agreement also reportedly allows Blue & White Party members to vote against the annexation plan in the Knesset, but does not give Gantz veto power to prevent the bill from being presented to the Knesset. This arrangement allows Gantz (and his Blue-White colleagues) to vote against an annexation plan while knowing that the plan will likely pass in the Knesset. Assuming the plan for a rotation of the office Prime Minister is actually implemented, Gantz could use such a vote to try to cast himself as a reasonable, moderate partner to engage the Palestinians and the international community — which could come in handy if Trump is no longer the U.S. President and if Israel’s neighbors are enraged over annexation.
Settlers both celebrated and criticized the reported agreement, expressing support for Netanyahu’s annexation demands (and exerting pressure for him to go farther with them), while at the same reminding political leaders that the Trump Plan falls short of their own hopes for annexation (i.e., annexation of the entire West Bank). In this vein, the pro-Greater Israel “Sovereignty Movement” came out with an outright rejection of the announced Gantz-Netanyahu agreement in annexation, saying:
“application of sovereignty must correspond exclusively to Israeli interests and the Zionist vision and not to the Trump plan that ulltimately leads to a Palestinian terrorist state.”
The Yamina Party, headed by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, expressed concern about waiting until the summer months to move forward with annexation, given how close this brings such a decision to U.S. elections. They insisted that annexation must happen more urgently. Bennet and Shaked were critical of the Trump Plan when it was released because it slowed and limited the scope of Israel’s annexation and because it provided for the opportunity (however farcical) for a Palestinian state.
Back in the U.S., nearly 140 US Jewish leaders sent a letter to Gantz and fellow Blue-White politician Gabi Ashkenzi urging them “not to use the need for unity in the face of emergency to create a different crisis for Israel by moving forward on unilateral annexation.”
At the same time, 11 members of Congress (all Democrats) issued a statement re-affirming opposition to Israeli unilateral annexation of West Bank land. It reads:
“As strong supporters of Israel and the United States-Israel relationship, we are deeply concerned by reports that the coalition government being formed in Israel intends to move forward with unilateral annexation of West Bank territory. This runs counter to decades of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy and to the will of the House of Representatives as recently expressed in H.Res.326, which opposes unilateral annexation and explicitly warns against the dangers of such an effort for peace in the region and Israel’s security.
Amidst the current global health pandemic and financial crisis, we urge all parties involved in the formation of a new government not to create an additional crisis by agreeing to move forward with unilateral annexation, the effects of which could yield additional catastrophic consequences for all parties in the region and beyond.
At this sensitive and critical time, we support a return to a two-state framework and urge all parties to refrain from commitments or actions, such as unilateral annexation, that undermine the possibility of serious, good faith, bilateral negotiations, which still represent the surest path to a durable peace.”
A group of 20 “Hilltop Youth” settlers – i.e., members of the extremist, lawless, violent settler movement that has been dubbed “a Jewish ISIS” – used violence to successfully coerce the Israeli military into establishing a new outpost for them in the Jordan Valley. The hilltop youth base their operations out of the Yitzhar settlement in the north-central West Bank (learn more about Yitzher here).
The story began when a member of the group tested positive for COVID-19 and exposed the others. Consistent with Israel’s COVID-19 policies, Israeli authorities sought to move the group into a quarantine facility inside Israel. The settlers refused to comply with the government’s quarantine regulations, first refusing to be taken to a Jerusalem hotel for quarantine (after they learned they would be required to stay in separate rooms). The government then agreed to let them be quarantined together at a facility in the southern part of Israel — but the settlers changed their mind en route, rioting while be transported to the quarantine site (doing significant damage to the government-provided bus, including reportedly breaking all or most of the windows).
Instead of prosecuting the group for their defiance of Israeli law and its COVID-19 policies, the IDF instead opted to give in to the settlers’ demands for special treatment, establishing a new outpost where they are being allowed to quarantine together (in violation of Israeli quarantine rules). The IDF, which is supplying the group with food and lodging, told The Times of Israel that the outpost – referred to as a makeshift quarantine facility – is “temporary,” but years of experience with West Bank settlement policies suggest that what is at first called “temporary” almost always turns into something permanent. The IDF likewise said there will be an investigation into the settlers’ criminal actions (with respect to rioting and destruction of property — and here, too, long experience suggests that the settler youth will never be held to account).
To make the matter even more outlandish, the head of the IDF, Major General Nadav Padan, was forced into self-quarantine after coming into contact with the member of the group who tested positive, which set the chain of events detailed above in motion.
- “COVID-19 & The Settlements” (FMEP Webinar)
- “Settlers hurl stones at group of Palestinian farmers, rights group says” (The Times of Israel)
- “Annexation looking less likely to happen due to coronavirus crisis” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Israel settlements turn Palestinian house into cage” (MEMO)
- “Water Authority warns settlement wastewater exposes Palestinians to coronavirus” (WAFA)