Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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December 13, 2019
- Jerusalem Municipality Advances Plans to Retroactively Legalize Settler Buildings in Jerusalem’s “Peace Forest” [While the State Continues Demolition Crusade Against Palestinian Homes There]
- Bennet Tries Blackmailing Hebron Municipality into Accepting New Settlement Plan
- High Court Asks State to Consider (Maybe, Just Maybe, but Not Necessarily) Allowing Palestinians to Access their Land
- New ICC Report Expresses “Concern” Over Israeli Annexation; Palestinian Groups Slam Report as Legitimizing the Fragmentation of Palestine
- Netanyahu and Pompeo Discuss [or didn’t discuss?] Jordan Valley Annexation
- Bonus Reads
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Jerusalem Municipality Advances Plans to Retroactively Legalize Settler Buildings in Jerusalem’s “Peace Forest” [While the State Continues Demolition Crusade Against Palestinian Homes There]
Ir Amim reports that on December 10th the National Planning Committee approved a request (submitted by the Jerusalem Municipality but steered by the radical settler group Elad) that would, in effect, rezone Jerusalem’s “Peace Forest” in order to green light the retroactive legalization of Elad’s illegal construction there, while also allowing Elad to continue building there at the direct expense of Palestinians living literally nextdoor. Ir Amim explains:
“During the discussion, a presentation was made by the municipality, revealing the scope of the plans for the area, which will essentially turn the residential neighborhoods of Jabal Mukkaber, Silwan and A-Thuri into so-called touristic sites. According to the presentation, grassy areas and recreational facilities are slated for the area of Wadi Yasul, a Palestinian neighborhood located on the south-eastern edge of Silwan [which is] currently under threat of wide-scale home demolitions and the potential displacement of 500 residents. The amendment to the forest’s designation will not only retroactively legalize all of Elad’s unpermitted building in the area, but it will bolster the organization’s hold and enable it to continue to expand their touristic settlement operations in the forest.”
Underscoring the the systematic discrimination in planning policies and enforcement facing Palestinians in Jerusalem, Israeli officials have consistently refused to grant building permits for Palestinians to build on their own land in the area designed as the “Peace Forest” and have actively pursued demolitions against the Palestinians living there. In April 2019, the state began demolishing Palestinian buildings in the “Peace Forest” in an area known as the Wadi Yasul neighborhood. The reason for the demolitions: the buildings lack legally-required Israel-issued building permits, i.e. the buildings had the same legal status as Elad’s tourist buildings, but the two face vastly different treatment by Israeli authorities.
Rather than demolishing Elad’s buildings in the same manner as Palestinian construction, the Israeli government is working hand in hand with the settlers to pursue every avenue to allow the retroactive legalization of Elad’s illegal construction. Even more brazenly, in tandem with the demolition of Palestinian homes in the area, Israeli officials have been working with the Elad to rezone the “Peace Forest” [something it refused to do for Palestinians] in order to allow the Elad to build more infrasture in the forest, including a tourist zipline and a promenade meant to connect settlement eclaves in the area.
Haaretz previously explained how Jerusalem authorities have repeatedly assisted Elad in its illegal activities:
“At first the NGO simply trespassed and built illegal structures there [the “Peace Forest”]. But things changed and gradually various local and national bodies – including the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Land Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the JNF – began to grant Elad assistance. This assistance has included granting building permits retroactively, allocating land to the group without a proper bidding process, and generous funding to the tune of tens of millions of shekels… It has been sponsoring activities in the Peace Forest since 2005, despite the fact that it has no ownership rights there or permits from the ILA (the legal owner of the land, which was expropriated from private Palestinian owners).”
Ir Amim explains:
“The scope of settlement projects in the vicinity of Wadi Yasul – and the breadth and depth of state support awarded to Elad, including authorities’ overt efforts to retroactively legalize unpermitted building – illuminate the stark discrimination in planning that empowers the expansion of radical settlement inside Palestinian neighborhoods while putting their native residents at risk of displacement.”
On December 1st, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet sent a letter to the Hebron Municipality giving the Municipality 30 days to sign off on Israel’s plan to build a new settlement over an historic Palestinian marketplace in downtown Hebron, and threatening that the state will initiate legal proceedings to strip the Municipality of its protected tenancy rights in the marketplace if it does not accept the plan.
“The Israeli custodian of government and abandoned property in the West Bank claims that government has a legal basis to evict the municipality from the market and as a practical matter, to lift its standing as a protected tenant since the municipality has another marketplace at its disposal (the location of the other marketplace was not specified). The letter states that the municipality will retain its rights to the new property’s ground floor if it doesn’t oppose the plan…Samer Shehadeh, who represents the municipality, claims that Israel needs the municipality’s consent for its proposed plan because the protected status rights include the entire site, including air rights to build additional floors or demolish existing buildings. He disputes that there are legal grounds for rescinding the municipality’s standing as a protected tenant. ‘This letter is akin to a threat and an attempt to pressure the municipality to grant its consent to the move, but it will never happen,’ he said.”
Peace Now responded to Bennet’s letter, saying:
“The legal acrobatics have reached new heights when it comes to expanding the settlements. Ethical standards are being trampled to satisfy an extremist minority that wishes to deepen control and entrench the apartheid that exists in the Hebron settlement. This is an additional example proving the extent to which the occupation is messianic.”
On December 9th, the Palestinian Fatah party led a general strike in Hebron to protest Israel’s plan.
High Court Asks State to Consider (Maybe, Just Maybe, but Not Necessarily) Allowing Palestinians to Access their Land
On December 11th, the Israeli High Court of Justice asked the state to consider allowing Palestinian landowners to access their land which was previously stolen from them by settlers who built the Amona outpost. The state was given 15 days to consider and respond to the court’s request.
The illegal Amona outpost was evacuated by Israel in February 2017. Since then, the Israeli Civil Administration has classified the site as a “closed military zone,” preventing Palestinian landowners (whose legal ownership of the land Israel officially recognizes) from accessing their land. At the same time, Israeli settlers have repeatedly returned to the area attempting to reestablish the Amona outpost, and have even held IDF-protected celebrations there.
In January 2019, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din launched a legal petition to reverse the military order, restore access to the land for Palestinians, and enforce orders prohibiting settlers from trespassing on the land. In response, the state claimed that the order was meant to prevent friction between Palestinians and settlers (in effect, Palestinians are being barred from access to their own land in order to placate settlers who stole the land from them in the first place). The recent ruling was given in response to this case.
New ICC Report Expresses “Concern” Over Israeli Annexation; Palestinian Groups Slam Report as Legitimizing the Fragmentation of Palestine
On December 5th, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) released a report providing an update on all the current inquiries before the court, including a section on the nearly 5-year preliminary investigation into “The Situation of Palestine.”
In the report, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda states that the preliminary investigation is nearly complete (a statement she also made in the 2018 version of the same report), and, notably, expressed concern about Israel’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley. The latter remark reportedly prompted Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit to warn Netanyahu that moving forward with his plan to annex the Jordan Valley is likely to trigger the opening of investigations into IDF officers and Israeli settlers.
At the same time, Palestinian rights groups slammed the new report on several counts, most substantively centered on the report’s treatment of the Gaza Strip as separate from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In a lengthy and detailed statement, civil society groups Al-Haq, Al Mezan, and PCHR said:
“Our organizations reject and condemn in the strongest manner what can only be described as a territorial reordering by the Office of the Prosecutor, in describing the West Bank and East Jerusalem as under the ‘control’ of Israel, and therefore occupied territory, while presenting the Gaza Strip separately as an area of ongoing hostilities. This assessment is manifestly out of step with agreed international positions on the status of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as comprising the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967, as determined by the myriad of UN Human Rights Council Resolutions, UN General Assembly Resolutions, UN Security Council Resolutions, the in-depth findings of UN Commissions of Inquiry, and an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. Our organizations remind that the territory of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is internationally recognized as one territorial legal unit. We further remind that the failure to include the status of the Gaza Strip as occupied territory resiles from previous reports of the Office of the Prosecutor, which consider that ‘the prevalent view within the international community is that Israel remains an occupying power in Gaza despite the 2005 disengagement’. As such, the report feeds into Israel’s fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory, for the purposes of its colonialist territorial expansion, a fragmentation that is further entrenched by the application of different legal regimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, the denial of freedom of Palestinian movement through its construction of Annexation Wall and checkpoints in and around the West Bank and Jerusalem, military walls, fences, buffer-zones, watchtowers and drone surveillance surrounding and imprisoning over 2 million people in the Gaza Strip, where Israel also retains undisputed control over the territorial water and airspace. Additionally, Israel’s continued effective control over all Palestinians through, inter alia, the Population Registry, denial of family reunifications, denial of return of Palestinian refugees, denial of freedom of movement of people, goods and services throughout the occupied territory, and the division of the Palestinian population through a discriminatory ID system, have fragmented families for decades throughout the OPT.”
Following their meeting on December 4th in Portugal, Israeli PM Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a diplomatic tiff over whether the two discussed Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley.
Briefing reporters immediately following their meeting, Netanyahu said that they discussed annexation:
“[I] discussed with Pompeo the annexation of the Jordan Valley. Clearly it will be easier [if the Jordan Valley is annexed under] a government and not a transitional government which is much more complicated, we are looking for solutions.”
Responding to inquiries prompted by Netanyahu’s statement,, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said:
“there was no annexation plan, full or partial, for any part of the West Bank was presented to – by Israel to the United States during the meeting.”
Cutting straight through the American diplomatic denial, Netanyahu clarified by telling the press that they did not discuss an annexation plan but they did discuss annexation:
“I want American recognition of our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley…It was said that we had not discussed a formal plan and that was true, but the issue was raised and I raised it with Secretary of State Pompeo and I intend to raise the issue with the Trump administration.”
As of this writing, there has been no further clarification from the United States.
- “When the Settlement Bloc Expands” (Haaretz)