Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 16, 2019
- Israel Is Playing A Dangerous Game of Politics With the “Status Quo” on the Temple Mount
- Report: Netanyahu Predicts Trump’s Will Endorse Annexation Ahead of September Elections
- Ministry of Housing Pumping Millions Into Student-Led Settlement Organization in the Jordan Valley
- Israeli Govt Welcomes FTA with South Korea, Despite Korean Insistence on Respecting the Green Line
- Pro-Settlement Legal Attack Dog Sends Letter to ICC Attempting to Show Why Settlements Are Legal
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several recent events and statements suggest that Israeli officials – facing another round of elections next month – are increasingly willing to directly violate the status quo that has, for the most part, reigned on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount since even before 1967.
First – in a shocking and dangerous decision, last week Netanyahu reversed decades of Israeli policy by announcing that Israel would not only allow Jews to ascend the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif during one of the most important Muslim holidays, Eid al Adha, but that he would allow Jewish prayer at the holy site (see this Ir Amim brief explaining restrictions on non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount) – decisions which fundamentally alter the status quo. These policy shifts – and the resulting presence Jewish religious extremists, many active with the Temple Mount movement – predictably led to clashes between Israeli policemen and Palestinians, who arrived in force after being urged to defend Al Aqsa Mosque by the Muslim Waqf and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
Subsequent to the clashes, rather than tamping down incendiary rhetoric, many senior Israeli ratcheted up the tension by calling for Israel to change to the status quo. Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said:
“I think there is an injustice in the status quo that has existed since 1967. We need to work to change it so in the future Jews, with the help of God, can pray at the Temple Mount..This needs to be achieved by diplomatic agreements and not by force.”
Erdan’s caveat, that the change must come through diplomacy, was quickly batted down by Jordan, which is Israel’s cooperating partner in maintaining the status quo. In addition to sending a private letter of protest to Isareli officials, the Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted:
“We completely condemn Israel’s violations of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. The occupation authorities’ absurd actions and attempts to change the status quo in occupied Jerusalem will only lead to the conflict being exacerbated and the situation blowing up, threatening international peace and security. We call on the international community to assume its responsibilities and pressure Israel to stop its violations.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz supported Erdan’s comments, and went further to suggest that Israel can act unilaterally. Katz said:
“It is Minister Erdan’s right to put a suggestion on the table for discussion. He didn’t force it but rather set it down. But the sovereignty is the State of Israel’s.”
Yonathan Mizrahi, the Executive Director of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO focused on combating the politicization of archaeology, wrote:
“The responses by Israeli politicians to the events at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif this week reveal that the Temple Movement has succeeded in both getting the attention of the media as well as receiving newfound support from the right. Smotrich’s backing, of course, is nothing new; in 2015 he submitted a bill to the Knesset that would allow Jews to pray freely at the Temple Mount. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who reiterated his support for changing the status quo, has also repeatedly backed the movement…The presence of Jewish worshippers entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif during Eid al-Adha signals not only a change in the status quo between Israel and the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the custodian of Haram al-Sharif, but also in the way right-wing voters themselves view the Temple Movement, which just a few years ago was considered fringe, even among the settlers. If the right manages to stay in power after these elections, there is no doubt that the status quo will continue to come undone.”
Ir Amim said in a report on the events last weekend:
“Not only does this underscore an acute disregard by the Israeli authorities for the sanctity of Muslim holy days and exclusive Muslim worship rights to Al Aqsa, but it further signals capitulation to Temple Movement demands and constitutes a flagrant breach of the status quo, which affirms only Muslims hold worship rights and Jews are visitors. According to what is implied by the status quo, in such a coalescence of events, the exclusive worship rights of Muslims to the TempleMount/Haram al-Sharif take precedence over the visiting arrangements afforded to non-Muslims.”
Earlier this year, on Jerusalem Day in July 2019, the Temple Mount activists and politicians pushing to change the status quo struck another significant victory – providing an even earlier signal that the Israeli government was no longer strictly respecting the status quo. Terrestrial Jerusalem reported at the time:
“[Israeli] Police initially announced that, as in the past, they would not allow entrance of non-Muslims to the Mount in the final days of Ramadan, Jerusalem Day notwithstanding. They conveyed their decision to the High Court, in response to a suit filed by the Temple Mount movements to grant them access to the site on that day. However, on the morning of Jerusalem day, the police reversed their position, and to everyone’s surprise (including the Temple Mount activists themselves), they allowed 120 settlers Temple Mount activists to enter the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif, in spite of the customary practice whereby only Muslims are allowed to ascend the Mount in the closing days of Ramadan. As expected, violent disturbances erupted and the police closed the gates of the Al Aqsa mosque, triggering additional clashes.”
In March 2019, tensions again flared – this time over the move by the Islamic Waqf to re-open Bab al Rahme. Ir Amim explained at the time:
“Seizing on the current unrest, Temple Movement activists are ratcheting up pressure on the government, raising highly contentious demands that have not been publicly aired for years. Framing the reopening of Bab al-Rahma as a breach of the status quo, they have demanded a lifting of the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif as well as the opening of a synagogue at the holy site. In fact, Bab al-Rahma was an active site within the Holy Esplanade that was closed by the Israeli government sixteen years ago for reasons that are no longer germane, not because its use constitutes a violation of the status quo. The prime minister himself, following violence at the holy site in 2015, averred that ‘Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount.’ Despite Temple Movements’ misrepresentation of events as a breach of the status quo, the framing has proven effective in garnering support within the right wing media and political establishment. Various members of Knesset are now demanding a tough stance from the government, including re-closure of the Bab al-Rahma site. In a television interview this morning, Likud member Avi Dichter declared that Israel will not allow another mosque on the Temple Mount (in reference to Muslim prayers being conducted inside Bab al-Rahma).”
Reports on August 15th provided yet another suggestion that the Israeli government is no longer committed to respecting the Temple Mount status quo. At the time of reports, Israel was still expecting to allow a congressional delegation led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib into the country, and was apprehensive about the delegation’s plan to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. According to an anonymous Israeli official, the government was planning to:
“make sure there’s apparent Israeli sovereignty over the site, they’ll demand Israeli police go in with them, and not just the Waqf officials.”
The Hebrew-language outlet Zman Yisrael (a sister outlet of The Times of Israel) reports that Netanyahu is predicting confidently that the Trump Administration will come out publicly in support of Israeli annexation of West Bank settlements ahead of the upcoming Israel elections. An anonymous source inside the Prime Minister’s office told the outlet:
“Ahead of the elections, something will happen. President Trump will repeat the statements by Friedman and Greenblatt in his own words. It will likely be dramatic.”
The White House declined to comment on the story [not confirming but also not denying] and an official from the Prime Minister’s office called the report “incorrect.” However – as the Times of Israel article notes – two of the three American officials crafting the so-called “Deal of the Century” have already gone on record supporting Israel’s future annexation of areas in the West Bank, and both are prominent, unapologetic supporters of the settlement movement.
The Jewish News Syndicate reports that the Israeli government has granted nearly $3 million (5 million NIS) to the Kedma organization, which pays for young Israelis to live in “student villages” located inside of Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.
Kedma founder Tirael Cohen told JNS:
“In the Zionist story, the decision was made to protect borders not through tanks or checkpoints only, but through activist communities living on the border. They are the real security of Israel…borders define who we are spiritually…We are still fighting for our physical and spiritual existence, and now we have the opportunity to create the identity of the state for the future.”
With government funding, Kedma provides highly subsidized housing and a yearly stipend of 10,000 shekels ($2,900) to students participating in its program. The program requires student residents to volunteer 300 hours per year on projects around the settlement, helping establish and grow an Israeli presence there. Kedma has already built 5 “student villages” (housing 30-50 students each) located in the Jordan Valley. Cohen reports that an estimated 70% percent of Israelis who live in the “student villages” choose to live in settlements after completing the program.
According to Ynet news, next week Israel will sign a massive, historic free trade agreement with South Korea that excludes the Golan Heights and West Bank settlements from the deal’s economic benefits.
If signed, this will be the first time Israel signs a free trade agreement explicitly excluding settlements, though the government has signed on to various other bilateral agreements – including 2012 cooperation program with the European Union and a 2017 labor deal with China – which draw a hard distinction between Israel and its settlements.
In drawing that line, South Korea is defying Israel’s ever-escalating campaign to erase the Green Line, normalize annexation, and in so doing eschew any consequences of violating international law.
As context, Israel’s anti-boycott law rejects any distinction between Israel and settlements, and Israel vehemently rejected Europe’s policy calling for differentiation between Israel and settlements. Consist with the Israeli campaign, under President Obama, Congress passed into law two separate bills that intentionally conflate Israel and settlements and make it a priority for U.S. trade negotiators to challenge the policies of U.S. trade partners if they fail to do the same.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) European counterpart, the European Center for Law and Justice, sent a letter to the International Criminal Court – which has been conducting a preliminary investigation into the possibility of opening a war crimes probe into Israel’s settlement for the past four years – arguing not only that Israeli settlements are perfectly legal under international law, but that Israel is the victim of Palestinian Apartheid policies in the West Bank. The ACLJ is a pro-settlement legal attack group headed by Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer of President Trump.
The letter, makes three claims:
- The land is, in fact, Israel’s.
- For the sake of argument, even if you do not believe the land is Israel’s, then it is disputed land – which Israel is allowed to settle.
- Israel cannot be said to be occupying the land because the State of Palestine does not exist.
The ACLJ/ECLJ is not the first pro-settlement legal organization to attempt to convince the ICC of Israel’s blamelessness. In March 2019, UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) and the New York-based Lawfare Project submitted a brief to the ICC outlining their claim that the court has no jurisdiction over Israeli actions vis a vis the settlements.
Unsurprisingly, the policies of the Trump Administration and Israel have aligned neatly the ACLJ and its like-minded allies in their campaign to stop the ICC from opening an investigation into Israeli settlement crimes. On March 17, 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened ICC staff with travel restrictions and financial sanctions if the court opens a probe into Israel. In September 2018, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened to sanction the ICC, citing the court’s consideration of the settlement issue as a primary justification for those sanctions. In November 2018, the Israeli Attorney General threatened to launch, according to the Jerusalem Post, a “public legal campaign, aggressively contesting [the ICC’s] jurisdiction” over the issue.
- “Liberal Zionists, Face the Facts: There’s Already Only One State From the River to the Sea” (Haaretz)
- “Engineering a Jewish majority’: Palestinian villagers driven out by Israel’s ‘green’ policies” (Middle East Eye)
- “Settlers Defiant After Canadian Court Rules Their Vineyards Aren’t in Israel” (Times of Israel)