Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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April 12, 2019
- In Largest Settlement Surge Since Trump, Israel Advances Plans for 3,659 Settlement Units – Including Plan to Retroactively Legalize the Haresha Outpost
- Housing Ministry Publishes Tenders for 956 Settlement Units
- Ariel Medical School Gets Approval, But Faces Two High Court Petitions
- Settlers Celebrate Right-Wing Election Victory
- AirBnb Reverses Settlement Policy
- U.S. Ambassador Friedman Touts East Jerusalem Settlement Business as “Path to Peace”
- Bonus Reads
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In Largest Settlement Surge Since Trump, Israel Advances Plans for 3,659 Settlement Units – Including Plan to Retroactively Legalize the Haresha Outpost
Following up on FMEP’s reporting last week, on April 4th the Israeli Civil Administration Higher Planning Council (the body responsible for regulating all construction in the occupied West Bank) advanced plans for at least 3,659 settlement units, including a plan to retroactively legalize homes in the unauthorized Haresha outpost.
This is the largest batch of settlement plans advanced at one meeting by the High Planning Council since President Trump took office in January 2017; previous High Planning Council meetings (which happen every three months, per a reported agreement with the U.S. Administration) advanced plans on the order of 1,000 to 2,000 units.
Of the total units advanced on April 4th, the High Planning Council granted final approval for 1,226 new settlement, to be built entirely on the west side of the Israeli separation wall. These are:
- In Beitar Illit:
- 31 new units
- A 100 room building for the elderly, or a hotel
A new pedestrian bridge over privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlers to use on the Sabbath (when observant Jews do not drive, and had to walk a long route in order to reach other parts of the settlement).
- 603 new units in Maale Adumim
- A plan to retroactively legalize residential units in the Sde Bar settlement; Peace Now has not yet verified how many units are involved in this plan. Sde Bar was first established as an outpost of the Nokdim settlement in 1998, but Israel granted full approval to that outpost, recognizing it as an educational institute and a full-fledged settlement, in 2005. Settlers recently built a residential neighborhood there without Israeli authorization. The plan approved by the council on April 4th will grant retroactive authorization to those residential settlement units.
- 289 new units in the Alon settlement, located on the Palestinian side of the separation wall within sight of the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin village that Israel is prepared to forcibly relocate. There are plans to expand the neighboring Kfar Adumim settlement to takeover the land where Khan al-Ahmar currently stands.
- 110 new units in the Givat Zeev settlement.
- 108 new units in the Etz Efraim settlement.
- 85 new units in the Karnei Shomron settlement.
Of the total units advanced on April 4th, the High Planning Council also approved for deposit for public review plans for 2,433 new settlement units, the majority of which (1,198) will be built on the east side of the Israeli separation barrier, including:
- 1000 units in Efrat
- A plan to retroactively legalize 720 units in the Haresha outpost. This is part of the Israeli government’s ongoing efforts to retroactively legalize the outpost, which hinges on Israel’s ability to build a legal access road to the outpost. The Israeli government has found several creative solutions to that problem – like building a tunnel or building a bridge – all of which will undoubtedly infringe on the property rights and livelihoods of the Palestinian land owners.
- 210 units in Shiloh – expanding the footprint of the settlement to its north
- 147 units in Ariel.
- 147 units in Mitzpe Yericho.
- 114 units in Elon Moreh.
- 73 new units in Beitar Illit (in addition to the final approvals covered previously).
- 66 units in Oranit.
- 42 more units in Givat Zeev.
- 32 units in Beit Arie.
- 7 new units in Rehelim.
- An unverified number of new units in the following settlements: Paduel, Karnei Shomron, and Elkana.
Peace Now said in response:
“Netanyahu has decided, officially or unofficially, to annex the West Bank to Israel, otherwise one cannot explain the promotion of thousands of units for Israelis in the Occupied Territories. The construction of the settlements only makes it harder to end the occupation and to get to a two states peace agreement and is bad for the Israeli interest to remain a democratic and secured state.”
Housing Ministry Publishes Tenders for 956 Settlement Units
On April 4th the Israeli Ministry of Housing and the Israel Lands Authority met and published tenders for the construction of 956 new settlement units, including commercial complexes; 106 tenders are for plans in settlements east of the separation barrier. These units are in addition to the 3,659 units advanced this week by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Council (discussed above).
The published tenders are:
- 250 units in the Elkana settlement.
- 195 units in the Ariel settlement.
- 118 units in the Ofarim settlement.
- 112 in the Alfei Menashe settlement.
- 111 units in the Oranit settlement.
- 62 in the Adam (Geva Binyamin) settlement, located east of the separation barrier.
- 50 in the Emmanuel settlement.
- 44 units in the Maale Ephraim settlement, located east of the separation barrier.
- 14 units in the Beitar Illit settlement
As Peace Now explains, “some of the tenders are for units that were published in previous tenders but were not sold. The new tenders mean that the government is currently seeking to promote and build those units although failed to do so in the past.”
Ariel Medical School Gets Approval, But Faces High Court Petition
On April 12th, the Israel Higher Education Council voted to approve a new medical school in Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. This approval contravenes the normal practice of the council, in that it ignores a vote to reject the school by the Higher Education Council’s own professional subcommittee. The medical school is slated to open this fall with significant financing from American casino magnate (and Trump supporter/financial backer) Sheldon Adelson.
However, the High Court of Justice is set to hear a petition regarding the unusual and scandal-ridden process by which the school gained approval at various stages of the planning process. The petition was filed by two Israeli academics – Prof. David Harel of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Prof. Alon Harel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – asserting that the approval “casts a heavy shadow on the decision making process in higher education.” It is unclear how the outcome of the petitions might affect the newly approved plan to open the medical school this fall.
Settlers Celebrate Right-Wing Election Victory
Settlers are mostly celebrating the results of Israel’s April 9th elections (in which West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians could not vote), which delivered incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu an opportunity to form and lead the next government.
As has come to be expected, Netanyahu made an 11th hour election pitch by promising to start the process of annexation if he was reelected. Settlers received Netanyahu’s annexation promise and his reelection with predictable enthusiasm. The Yesha Council released a congratulatory statement saying:
“This morning we can say with certainty: In the face of all the campaigns and manipulations, the people of Israel chose the right. The people expressed their loyalty to the Land of Israel and chose in favor of applying Israeli sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. We congratulate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his election, and look forward to the establishment of a strong and broad right-wing government. In the next Knesset, too, we will continue to build, expand, legalize and jointly develop Israeli communities in the region.”
Not all settlers believe that Netanyahu will deliver on his promise to annex the settlements, but generally speaking, settlers dismiss the “will he/won’t he” debate (perhaps correctly) as a political decision that does not impact the reality of their presence on the ground.
Peace Now issued a sharp statement on the election results:
“Now the settlement lobby and its re-elected backers in the Knesset are doing what they know best – extorting and manipulating to save Netanyahu from prosecution in exchange for his compliance in working toward annexation. We at Peace Now were never relying on the election to change reality, but rather see grassroots public engagement as the only way to build pressure on the government. Now that Netanyahu has let the annexation genie out of the bag with his pre-election rhetoric, we stand even more equipped to go on the offense by showing fellow Israelis the bleak future the settler lobby and its Knesset backers are leading us, and what viable alternative path Israel can take toward a more prosperous, democratic, secure future.”
AirBnb Reverses Settlement Policy
On April 9th, AirBnB announced that it had reversed its decision to remove rental listings located inside of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite previously acknowledging that settlements “are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” and that the listings there “contribute to existing human suffering.”
AirBnB’s new announcement acknowledges (again) that settlements are “central to ongoing tensions,” but says it will nonetheless continue to allow those listings to remain on their website. Giving a nod to the controversial nature of this decision, AirBnB promised to donate all profits derived from West Bank settlement listings to humanitarian groups, but it conspicuously specified that these will be humanitarian groups working in other parts of the world (as opposed to with the Palestinians).
Omar Shakir, the Israel/Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch – which issued a significant and damning report on the issue of tourism being used to normalize occupation – tweeted in reaction:
“Disappointing @Airbnb decision reverses their stance to fully respect rights. Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings does nothing to remedy ‘human suffering’ they’ve acknowledged causing. By continuing to do business in settlements, they remain complicit in abuses.”
Along with AirBnB’s policy reversal, it settled several lawsuits filed against AirBnB in U.S. courts. FMEP President Lara Friedman tweeted on this important element:
“And just like that, US courts let themselves becomes weapons used to legitimize the violation of intl law, the re-definition of ‘lsrael’ to mean ‘all the land between the river and the sea,’ & the re-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ to mean ‘refusal to endorse/normalize occupation.’ This is part of a broader trend that very few people are paying any attention to, which is a dangerous mistake. By the time folks wake up it will likely be too late. [link to: https://forward.com/opinion/417058/opinion-the-surprising-new-battleground-in-the-war-against-palestinian/]”
The Center for Constitutional Rights – which recently intervened in the legal cases involving AirBnB – issued a response saying:
“We are dismayed that Airbnb has caved to the legal bullying of Israeli settlers and re-listed properties in illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Airbnb’s decision reflects an alarming lack of commitment to human rights. When we filed counterclaims on behalf of the Palestinians who actually own the land the listed properties unlawfully sit on, we laid out the international and domestic law violations committed by the settlers, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In backing down from its decision not to list properties in occupied Palestinian territory, Airbnb is in breach of its international human rights obligations, and is discriminating against Palestinians.”
Amnesty International – which also published a report on the complicity of online rental companies who list properties in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – said in response to AirBnB:
“Airbnb’s decision to continue to allow accommodation listings in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a reprehensible and cowardly move that will be another devastating blow for the human rights of Palestinians…Airbnb are trying to absolve themselves by stating they will donate the profits from these listings to charity, but that fails to change the fact that by continuing to drive tourism to illegal settlements they are helping to boost the settlement economy. In doing so, they are directly contributing to the maintenance and expansion of illegal settlements, a breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime under Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Airbnb had a clear opportunity to make the right decision to uphold human rights and use their influence to set a precedent in the tourism industry. Instead, they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand – ignoring blatant evidence that they are helping to fuel violations that cause immense suffering to Palestinians. Airbnb’s reversal demonstrates why we can’t just rely on companies to take the right decisions, and that we need governments to fulfil their obligations by intervening and passing laws obliging their companies to respect human rights.”
U.S. Ambassador Friedman Touts East Jerusalem Settlement Business as “Path to Peace”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman tweeted his support for the new Rami Levy mall, located in the Atarot settlement industrial zone within sight of Ramallah but inside the security barrier and within Israel’s municipal border, as expanded by Israel after the 1967 war.
“Great morning at the new Atarot Mall in northern Jerusalem, anchored by a Rami Levy Supermarket. Was given a tour by Rami Levy himself. Israelis and Palestinians working, shopping and doing business together — a simple path to peace!”
FMEP President Lara Friedman tweeted in response:
“Amb Friedman & co’s special notion of peace, based on racist notion that unlike Jews who for 1000s of years refused to forsake their history/narrative, Palestinians will be beaten into submission or bribed into giving up basic human demand for freedom & equal rights.”
When the Rami Levy mall opened in January 2019, FMEP explained:
“The massive new mall is the crown jewel of the shopping empire built by Israeli businessman Rami Levy, who already operates a network of supermarkets in settlements. Like all of Levy’s projects (and settlement industrial zones in general), the new mall is branded as a socially-conscience, ‘coexistence’-building business initiative, with Levy and government officials praising the fact that the new mall will attract both Israeli and Palestinian shoppers and be home not only to Israeli businesses, but to to a few Palestinian-owned/operated businesses as well.”
The ‘coexistence’ argument is dismantled by the Israeli watchdog group Who Profits, which explained:
“The Jerusalem mall would mark a new stage in Levy’s involvement in the occupation economy…[which] began with providing services to Israeli settlers and continued with the exploitation of Palestinians as a cheap labor force in his supermarkets. He now appears to be turning his attention to massive construction projects on occupied Palestinian land and the exploitation of a Palestinian captive market in the East Jerusalem…Rami Levy is in a position that would allow him establish a large mall on “virgin land” because the Israeli authorities have prevented Palestinian businesses from competing with Israelis. Levy’s plan would take advantage of the fact that Palestinians do not have other large-scale retail facilities. A flourishing market in Bir Nabala was destroyed by Israel’s wall in the West Bank. And venturing into West Jerusalem is not an option for Palestinians, most of whom live below the poverty line. Although there is every likelihood that the Israeli authorities will portray Levy’s mall as beneficial to Palestinians, there are important facts to be remembered. Palestinians entering his mall will not be exercising the right of a consumer to informed choice. Rather, they will be captive clients — belonging to an occupied people.”
- “Democracy, Israeli Style” (New York Times)
- “Jerusalem is Finally Unified, In Opposition to this Plan” (Haaretz)