***NOTE: This week the Israeli government unleashed a massive wave of approvals to advance plans for settlement construction — in excess of 2,000 units — in highly sensitive and strategically significant areas deep inside the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. More approvals/advancements are expected in the coming weeks. See below for detailed coverage of the individual plans, keeping in mind both the significance of each approval on its own, and as part of the overarching Israeli government agenda clearly intending to both prevent any possibility of a Palestinian state and to further the march toward formal annexation of the West Bank. Also keep in mind, importantly, that there has been zero public push back from the Trump Administration against this surge, which comes on the heels of Ambassador Friedman’s statement last week that Israel will never be required to remove any settlements.***
August 24, 2018
- Settlement Wave, Part 1: High Planning Council Advances Plans for 1,004 Settlement Units (96% Located Deep in the West Bank)
- Settlement Wave, Part 2: Housing Ministry Published Tenders for 420 Settlement Units
- Settlement Wave, Part 3: Jerusalem District Committee Advances Plans for 603 Settlement Units in East Jerusalem
- Settlement Wave, Part 4: More Settlement Construction Coming Soon
- U.S. Stands by Israeli “Intentions” on Settlements
- State Tells High Court: We Can Annex the West Bank – International Law Be Damned
- This Week in Ariel: Settlers Celebrate 40 Years, A Construction Boom, A Medical School, & An Evangelical “Leadership Camp”
- Amana (the Official Settler Movement) Moves Its HQ to Sheikh Jarrah
- Settlement Gains in East Jerusalem Result in Palestinians Self-Demolitioning Their Homes
- Bonus Reads
Settlement Wave, Part 1: High Planning Council Advances Plans for 1,004 Settlement Units (96% Located Deep in the West Bank)
On August 22nd, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council (the body in the Israeli Defense Ministry responsible for regulating all construction in the West Bank) advanced plans for 1,004 new settlement units, 96% of which are located deep inside of the West Bank. Of the total, 620 units were approved for deposit for public review and 382 units were given final approval for construction.
As reported by Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, the plans approved for deposit for public review (totalling 620 units) are:
- 370 units in the Adam settlement (aka Geva Benyamin). This project was urged on by Defense Minister Liberman following a stabbing attack in the settlement, which resulted in one death and injuries to three others. The 370 units are part of a larger plan for 1,000+ units that will, if built, connect the Adam settlement to two large settlements in East Jerusalem (Neve Ya’akov and Pisgat Ze’ev) that are on the Israeli side of the separation barrier (the route of the barrier juts far beyond the 1967 Green Line to include Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Ya’akov on the Israeli side while the Adam settlement is on the West Bank side). If the larger plan is implemented, the Adam settlement will have built up areas on both sides of the separation barrier, which could (in all likelihood) present Israel an opportunity to re-route the barrier around Adam — which would de facto annex even more West Bank land to Israel and further choke off Palestinian East Jerusalem from the West Bank to its north. [Note: FMEP’s Lara Friedman and Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran published an op-ed in Haaretz in 2008 warning of this plan – you can read that background here].
- 85 units in Karnei Shomron settlement. Israel has repeatedly confiscated as “state land” located between Karnei Shomron and the Palestinian village of Qalqilya (which is literally surrounded on three sides by the separation barrier). In November 2017, Israel began clearing landmines from that “state land” in order to prepare for settlement construction. At the time, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said that the new construction in the Karnei Shomron area will bring “a million Jews [to] live in Judea and Samaria in the future.”
- 84 units in the Kiryat Netafim settlement, located about half way between the Ariel settlement and the cluster of settlements close to the 1967 Green Line that are slated to be united into a “super settlement” area (Oranit, Elkana, Shiva Tikva, and others). The expansion of Kiryat Netafim will go towards creating a contiguous corridor of Israeli settlements stretching from sovereign Israeli territory, though the super settlement, to Ariel. As FMEP has repeatedly said, the Ariel settlement is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel (with a finger of land running through settlements like Kiryat Netafim) will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
- 52 units in the Beit El settlement. This is the second major approval for new units in Beit El in 2018, with a third plan for 300 more units coming soon, according to Israel Hayom. The construction boom is being hailed by the settler-aligned Arutz Sheva outlet, which wrote that the plans will increase the size of Beit El by 65%. If any of the units are constructed it will be first new, government-sanctioned construction in Beit El in over 10 years. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is closely associated with the Beit El settlement, having donated to and fundraised for it prior to his appointment as ambassador (including in his capacity as the President of the American Friends of Beit El, reportedly from 2011 until he became ambassador).
- 29 units in the Otinel settlement, located south of Hebron. MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) lives in Otinel.
Plans that gained final approval, meaning no additional formal approvals are required to move ahead with construction (totalling 382 units) are:
- 168 units in the Tzofim settlement, located on the Israeli side of the separation barrier, but jutting towards the Karnei Shomron settlement, which also received advancements this week. See the section on Karnei Shomron, above, for context and news regarding this area of settlements.
- 108 units in the Nofim settlement, located on the Israeli side of the separation barrier but jutting towards the Karnei Shomron settlement, which also received advancements this week. See the section on Karnei Shomron, above, for context and news regarding this area of settlements.
- 56 units in the Barkan settlement, located near the Kiryat Netafim settlement. Both Barkan and Netafim are located about half way between the Ariel settlement and the cluster of settlements slated to be united into a “super settlement” area (Oranit, Elkana, Shiva Tikva, and others). See the section on Kiryat Netafim, above. for context and news regarding this area of settlements.
- 44 units in Ma’ale Adumim, the mega settlement just east of Jerusalem.
- 6 units in the Avnei Hefetz settlement, located southeast of the Palestinian city of Tulkarem.
Notably, Netanyahu intervened to remove two items from the High Planning Council’s agenda, both of which would have led to the retroactive legalization of illegal outposts. Those plans are:
- A plan to retroactively legalize the Ibei Hanahel outpost, which is a non-contiguous “neighborhood” of the Ma’ale Amos settlement, located deep in the southern West Bank. The plan would have allowed the outpost to be demolished and then rebuilt legally with residential units, transforming the outpost into a new, fully authorized settlement.
- A plan to build an education center in the Nofei Prat South outpost, which is a non-contiguous“neighborhood” of the Kfar Adumim settlement, located northeast of Jerusalem. The land on which the project would be built is located just 1.5 km away from the Khan Al-Ahmar Bedouin community – the same one that the Israeli government plans to forcibly evacuate in order to cleanse the area of Palestinians and expand settlements. The outpost was established by the Haroeh Ha’ivri (“the Hebrew Shepherd”) nonprofit association, which is funded by the Israeli Education Ministry.
In response to Netanyahu’s directive to remove these two items from the agenda, the heads of the Knesset’s “Land of Israel Lobby,” Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Yoav Kisch (Likud), said that the Prime Minister should “ act with greater rigor to promote settlement, rather than doing the opposite.”
Settler leaders were also unsatisfied with the High Planning Council’s overall numbers. Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council (a municipal body for settlements in the northern West Bank), said:
“We are happy about every new house in Samaria, but we have to tell the truth. Hundreds of housing units are not enough for an area that constitutes 12% of the State of Israel…We expect the government to step in the gas, stop worrying about what they will say overseas, and develop this beautiful region.”
On August 23rd, one day after the Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council advanced a huge tranche of settlement plans (detailed above), the Israeli Housing Ministry published tenders for a total of 425 settlement units (under plans previously approved by the High Planning Council).
Those tenders include:
- 211 units in the Ma’ale Efraim settlement, located in the Jordan Valley.
- 54 units in the Givat Ze’ev settlement, located north of Jerusalem.
- 52 units in the Beit Aryeh settlement, which comes in addition to the the publication of tenders for 511 units in the settlement last week.
- 42 units in the Ariel settlement. See reporting below for extensive coverage of the many reasons settlers in Ariel are celebrating this week.
Settlement Wave, Part 3: Jerusalem District Committee Advances Plans for 603 Settlement Units in East Jerusalem
In addition to the tranche of settlement plans advanced by the Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council and the tenders published by the Housing Ministry (detailed above), the Jerusalem District Committee deposited for public review (one of the final steps before approval) plans for a total of 608 new settlement units in East Jerusalem, with 345 units slated for the Gilo settlement and 263 units in the Ramot settlement.
On the plan for the Gilo settlement, Ir Amim explains:
“The Gilo plan is being promoted in tandem with development of the new Green Line branch of the Light Rail (construction of which was launched in May), which will be built adjacent to the settlement expansion. This sequencing of events once again exemplifies a pattern of the state investing billions of shekels in transportation infrastructures to allow for extensive construction beyond the Green Line.”
As Ir Amim notes, this week’s advancements come on the heels of Israel’s August 15th decision to publish tenders for 603 units in Ramat Shlomo, and its June 2018 advancement of plans for 1,064 settlement units in the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement — bringing Israel’s two-month total of settlement advancements in East Jerusalem to 2,275 units.
As a reminder, approvals/advancement of settlement plans is not the only ongoing threat to Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Settlers and settler-run organizations continue their campaign to take over sensitive areas in East Jerusalem neighborhoods neighborhood – like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah – and to create more settler run tourist sites – like the Jerusalem cable car, the Kedem Center, the Abu-Tor footbridge, the Yemenite “heritage center,” and more – to erase the visibility of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, pending legislation in the Knesset seeks to gerrymander the borders of Jerusalem to create a Jewish majority by annexing settlements and cutting out Palestinian neighborhoods from the borders of the city. Sounding the alarm on all of these trends, Ir Amim writes:
“It is vital that the traditional calculus of settlement building be readjusted to a) treat these coordinated efforts to consolidate control of the Old City and surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods with the same urgency afforded to settlement building throughout the whole of East Jerusalem; b) ensure a holistic response that regards private settlement inside the Old City Basin and touristic settlement not as individual phenomena but as multiple elements of a unified and politically lethal strategy.”
In addition to the plans for 1,004 units that were advanced this week by the High Planning Council, the 425 tenders published by the Housing Ministry, and the 608 units advanced in East Jerusalem (all detailed above), this week saw reports that additional plans are expected to advance soon. Those are:
- Ir Amim reports that on September 2nd, the Jerusalem District Committee is expected to discuss a plan to build a six-story building in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in which at least 75 families face eviction by radical settlers, with the backing of the Israeli government and courts. For detailed reporting on the building, plans for which were deposited for public review in May 2018, see FMEP reporting here.
- Peace Now reports that tenders are expected to be issued (having already been marketed) for more units in the Adam (Geva Binyamin) settlement. If true, this will be another step towards uniting Adam to the East Jerusalem settlements – the details of which are covered above.
- Peace Now also notes that a plan for 300 units in Beit El is expected to be advanced. This comes in addition to the 52 tenders issued for Beit El this week.
- The Times of Israel reports that plans for hundreds of additional settlement units will soon be marketed for construction by the Defense Ministry. These plans received final approval before this week’s High Planning Council meeting. A Civil Administration official hinted that the plans will be marketed for the Alfei Menashe and Ma’ale Efraim settlements. [NOTE: This reporting was before the subsequent publication of tenders for 211 units in Ma’ale Efraim, covered above.]
When asked for comment on the various major settlement announcements, the U.S. State Department said that the Trump Administration believes the Israeli government has clearly demonstrated an intent to “adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration” – a statement that suggests unequivocally that the Trump Administration has given a green light for massive settlement expansion across the length and breadth of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Notably, on the same day that the bulk of the settlement announcements were made, President Trump’s National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton, was on the ground in Jerusalem. Not only did he offer no comment or criticism of the settlement announcements, he very publicly joined Israeli politicians and settlers leaders for dinner in East Jerusalem, dining in the “City of David National Park,” the archeological/touristic/residential site in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan that is run by the radical Elad settler organization. As FMEP has repeatedly covered, the Elad settler organization is spearheading a government-aided campaign to evict Palestinians from their homes in Silwan, replace them with Jewish Israeli settlers, and transform the neighborhood into a Biblical tourist site emphasizing exclusively the area’s Jewish history.
The head of the Peace Now Settlement Watch program, Shabtay Bendet, told Al-Monitor:
“The situation on the ground is changing rapidly…Restraints on construction in the settlements have been lifted. The Americans don’t care…”
On August 7th, the state’s private attorney Harel Arnon submitted a second brief [Hebrew] to the High Court of Justice in defense of the settlement “Regulation Law.” In it he argues that the Knesset is not bound by international law and has the right to apply its own laws outside of its borders and annex land, if it wishes.
“The mere application of a certain Israeli norm [law] to an anonymous place outside the state does not necessarily make that anonymous place part of Israel. The Knesset is not restricted from legislating extra-territorially anywhere in the world, including in the region, the Knesset can legislate in Judea and Samaria.”
The brief also argues:
“The Knesset is permitted to impose the powers of the military commander of the West Bank region as it sees fit. The Knesset is permitted to define the authorities of the military commander as it sees fit. The authority of the government of Israel to annex any territory or to enter into international conventions derives from its authority as determined by the Knesset…[and] the Knesset is allowed to ignore the directives of international law in any field it desires.”
Lawyers representing Adalah responded:
“the Israeli government’s extremist response has no parallel anywhere in the world. It stands in gross violation of international law and of the United Nations Charter which obligates member states to refrain from threatening or using force against the territorial integrity of other states – including occupied territories. The Israeli government’s extremist position is, in fact, a declaration of its intention to proceed with its annexation of the West Bank.”
Harel was ordered to submit a second defense of the bill in response to a petition filed by Adalah and Al-Mezan on behalf of seventeen local Palestinian authorities. The petition argues that the Regulation Law violates international law and that the Knesset cannot enact laws over the West Bank where the majority of the population is Palestinians (who are not Israeli citizens and cannot vote).
The High Court of Justice is widely expected to strike down the “Regulation Law,” but has yet to make a ruling. Just last week, Arnon made the case that the recently passed Nation-State Law, which makes “Jewish settlement,” a “constitutional value,” can help him defend the settlement law before the High Court.
For ongoing tracking of the Regulation Law and other annexation trends in Israel, see FMEP’s Annexation Policy Tables.
This Week in Ariel: Settlers Celebrate 40 Years, A Construction Boom, A Medical School, & An Evangelical “Leadership Camp”
Haaretz published a lengthy report this week on the history of the the Ariel settlement – which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month – and the dramatic spike in construction in the settlement in 2018. Even before tenders were issued for 42 new units this week (see above), plans for 839 units had already been approved during the first eight months of 2018, compared to tenders for fewer than 5 units each of the past three years. One of the original settlers of Ariel said:
“During the Obama years, everything here was frozen. But thanks to Donald Trump, we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Not only has Ariel seen a massive surge in construction advancements this year, but the settlement broke ground on a new medical school heavily financed by U.S. casino magnate, and Trump backer, Sheldon Adelson (who this week gave $25 million to the GOP to help it keep the Senate, and in May gave the GOP $30 million to help it keep the House). Many settler leaders and Israeli officials, as well as Adelson and his wife Miriam, were in Ariel this weekend to attend a dedication ceremony for the medical school, despite ongoing controversy around its accreditation under domestic Israeli law. Prime Minister Netanyahu was notably absent from (and reportedly was not invited to) the ceremony, fueling rumors regarding the growing disaffection between him and Adelson.
According to another recent report in Haaretz, Ariel university is illegally dumping construction debris on land that Israel acknowledges is not “state land.” The dump site is outside of the so-called “Blue Line” which the Israeli government uses to demarcate the land that it considers “state land.” Since the dump site is not within the Blue Line, it is likely on land that even the government of Israel recognizes as being privately owned by Palestinians. Anti-settlement watchdog and founder of Kerem Navot, Dror Etkes, commented:
“It’s not surprising that Ariel University, which is the only university in the world built and existing by military order, has adopted the standards accepted in the West Bank involving the takeover of private Palestinian land.”
According to a third Haaretz report, the Israeli Education Ministry has signed a contract to sponsor 3,000-4,000 Israeli high school students of Ethiopian descent to take part in a leadership training program located in Ariel. The program, called “JH Israel,” was founded by American evangelical mega-church pastors Bruce and Heather Johnston, the latter of whom also runs the U.S. Israel Education Association, a pro-Israel, pro-settlement, non-profit group which works with the Family Research Council to lead Congressional delegations to Israel. The JH Israel website says its mission is to help Jewish Israeli students who are “disconnected from the roots of their faith” to establish “a deeper connection to God by embracing their biblical and cultural heritage.” The website also says that Ariel is “at the forefront of biblical prophecy unfolding in modern Israel.”
As FMEP has repeatedly documented, Ariel is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to connect Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
Peace Now Settlement Watch Director Shabtay Bendet spoke to Haaretz about the future of the Ariel settlement and the (other) significant repercussions of opening the new medical school. Bendet said:
“Most places in Israel don’t get recognized as cities unless they have 20,000 to 30,000 residents. Ariel became a city when it had just 11,000 residents. Why was this so significant? Because maybe you can uproot a settlement, but you don’t uproot a city. The same holds true for the university. Why was it so important for him to get it accredited? Because when a place has a university, that means it’s established — no pulling it out of the ground….By creating a buffer between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank it makes any future Palestinian state unviable. But besides that, it is also causing damage in the present because its continued expansion impinges on the ability of the surrounding Palestinian villages to develop and grow.”
The Ynet news outlet reports that the Amana settler organization – the official body of the settlement movement, operating since the 1970s – has moved into its new headquarters in the heart of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where settlers are continuing to wage a displacement campaign against Palestinian residents. Though Amana has owned the plot of land since 1992, various legal challenges and incredibly sensitive geopolitical considerations have slowed construction of the building, called the “Amana House” (see a detailed history here).
Regarding the strategic implications of the location, Ynet reports:
“Amana says the new headquarters will help bolster the territorial contiguity of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem.”
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) who previously served as the CEO of Amana, commented that the organization’s relocation:
“constitutes a significant reinforcement to the (Jewish) settlement in east Jerusalem and the bolstering of the Jewish territorial contiguity in the area.”
Several settlement plans are currently proceeding in Sheikh Jarrah, underscoring the strategic location and goals of settler activity in Sheikh Jarrah. As covered previously in this report, Israel is expected to advance a plan for a 6-story office building for settlers, located at the entrance to the neighborhood. Across the street from that building, a highly consequential plan for a new religious school (the Glassman yeshiva) was approved for deposit for public review in July 2017. The goal is clear: to unite the enclaves of settlers living inside of the Palestinian neighborhood by creating a contiguous area of settlement that connects to West Jerusalem, thereby cementing an immovable Jewish Israeli presence in a key Palestinian neighborhood – closing off the possibility of evacuation under a future peace deal.
OCHA reports that two Palestinian homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina were self-demolished after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of settlers’ ownership claims. OCHA writes:
“In recent decades, Israeli settler organizations, with the support of the Israeli authorities, have taken control of properties within Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, and some 180 Palestinian families are currently facing eviction cases, filed mainly by settler organizations.”
- “How Israeli Right-wing Thinkers Envision the Annexation of the West Bank” (Haaretz)
- “Let’s Admit It: The Settlers Have Won and We Have Lost” (Haaretz)