Settlement Report: December 20, 2019


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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December 20, 2019

  1. Israeli Court Rules Sumreen Family Can Temporarily Temporarily Stay in East Jerusalem Home
  2. Judge Reopens Case Over Sale of Church Properties in Jerusalem’s Old City of to Settler Organizations
  3. Vying for Likud Leadership, Gideon Sa’ar Pressures Netanyahu on E-1 Settlement, Area C Annexation, and Evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar
  4. Visiting Harvard, Former Jerusalem Mayor Promotes Settler-Palestinian Business Projects
  5. UN: Since passage of UNSCR 2334 Three Years Ago, Israel Has Continuously Expanded Settlements
  6. In First, Delegation of UN Ambassadors Tour Israeli Settlements, Praise Settlement Industrial Zones
  7. Pompeo Slaps Back After Members of Congress Send Letter Objecting to Shift in U.S. Settlements Policy
  8. Bonus Reads

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Israeli Court Rules Sumreen Family Can Temporarily Temporarily Stay in East Jerusalem Home

The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that the Sumreen family is permitted to remain in their East Jerusalem home as the court considers the family’s appeal against a lower court ruling that granted ownership of their home to the Jewish National Fund, which has worked in concert with the radical settler group Elad to gain control of the property. 

The Sumreen family has been forced into the battle over its legal ownership of the home after the state of Israel, prompted repeatedly by the JNF, declared the Sumreen’s home to be “absentee” property. After that designation – which was not communicated to the Sumreen family – Israeli law permitted the state to take over the rights to the building. The state then sold the rights to the home – located in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem – to the JNF in 1991. The Jewish National Fund has pursued the eviction of the 18-member Sumreen family since then. Israeli courts ruled in favor of the Sumreen family’s ownership claims to the home for years, until a September 2019 ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court granted ownership of the family’s home to the JNF, a decision the family immediately appealed to the Jerusalem District Court. 

A full history of the saga involving the Sumreen family – which is similar to dozens of other Paelstinian homes in Silwan that were declared Absentee Property in the 1990s – can be found on the Peace Now website here.

Judge Reopens Case Over Sale of Church Properties in Jerusalem’s Old City of to Settler Organizations

On November 28th, the Jerusalem District Court ruled to reopen a high profile case which previously awarded the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim ownership rights to three historic church properties in the Old City of Jerusalem. The court made the decision because shell companies involved in the real estate transaction failed to respond to a court requests. Jerusalem District Judge Tamar Bar-Asher also ordered Ateret Cohanim to pay the church $14,400 (NIS 50,000) to cover legal expenses.

In June 2019, the High Court ruled in favor of Ateret Cohanim’s ownership claims to the three buildings. That ruling was promptly challenged by the Greek Patriarchate, which claimed to have new evidence showing Ateret Cohanim’s forgery of key documents and its payment of bribes to obtain the property. The original Jerusalem District Court ruling acknowledged that there were problems in the transaction, but found that the church failed to prove its allegations of bribery and corruption.

The legal battle over the properties dates back to 2004, when the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate agreed to sell the three properties to a foreign real estate company under three separate contracts. It did so not knowing that the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim was behind the transaction. News of the sales made headlines in early 2005.

Upon the revelation that Ateret Cohanim was the real buyer, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was deeply embarrassed and immediately sought to retain control of the properties. The Patriarchate alleged that the transactions involved corruption and bribery, arguing that the legal documents had been signed without permission by a finance employee. Dismissing the church’s arguments, this week the Supreme Court upheld prior rulings that the signatures on the lease documents were valid, with the finance employee acting as a legal proxy of the Patriarchate.

The Greek Orthodox Church has received significant blowback from the sale of these properties. In January 2018, Palestinians protested in Bethlehem in an attempt to block the arrival of Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations.

Vying for Likud Leadership, Gideon Sa’ar Pressures Netanyahu on E-1 Settlement, Area C Annexation, and Evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar

On December 10th, Gideon Sa’ar launched his campaign to challenge Netanyahu as the head of the Likud party by touring the E-1 settlement site on the outskirts of Jerusalem. With press following his every move, Sa’ar promised to build E-1, implement Israeli sovereignty over Area C, and evict the bedouin residents of the village of Khan al-Ahmar, located in the shadow of the E-1 site. All three of his promises are key longrunning asks of the powerful settler movement, which has been a pillar of support for Netanyahu despite its displeasure with Netanyahu’s delay in delivering on those specific promises.

In a swipe at Netanyahu, Sa’ar said:

“The struggle for E-1 is a struggle for the heart of Israel,” Sa’ar said. “Netanyahu out of all people, who built the Har Homa neighborhood [in Jerusalem] despite international pressure, should be building here. The rule for Har Homa should be the rule for E-1 and Givat Hamatos [in Jerusalem].” And, “In Khan al-Ahmar, as in the rest of Area C, the question is simple. Who is in control – Israel, or the Palestinian Authority, which is using aide from the European Union to create facts on the ground? The Supreme Court has rejected appeals against [Khan al-Akhmar’s] demolition four times.The future of Judea and Samaria will be determined by actions, not words. Evacuate Khan al-Akhmar immediately. A solution needs to be found for the residents, but you have to understand that the issue here is not just about the residents, the question is who is the sovereign here and what will be the future of Area C as a whole, and here we need to take clear, continuous action.”

The E-1 settlement plan still needs to receive final approval from the Israeli High Planning Committee, the body of the Civil Administration which regulates all construction in the West Bank. The plan has been approved for public deposit, but until this juncture Netanyahu has kept his finger off the trigger – keeping the plan from being deposited.

A week after his E-1/Khan al-Ahmar tour, Sa’ar launched a second attack on Netanyahu’s failure to deliver on major Jerusalem-area settler demands. Touring the Givat Hamatos settlement site in East Jerusalem, Sa’ar said:

“The future of Jerusalem will be decided through actions, not words…this location has strategic significance…Construction here will damage the territorial contiguity that the Palestinians are striving for and will be a barrier to the establishment of a Palestinian state. That is why there is also diplomatic pressure, European mainly, to prevent construction for Jews here….The demographic balance between the Jewish majority and Arab minority over the last decade has changed for the worse.”

The Givat Hamatos settlement has been approved but not constructed. Sa’ar’s assertion of the strategic significance of Givat Hamatos is correct; located in the southern part of East Jerusalem, Givat Hamatos has long been called a doomsday settlement by parties interested in preserving the possibility of a two-state solution. If Givat Hamatos is built, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction, severing its connection to the West Bank.

if built the settlement will severe any territorial connection between the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood and the West Bank – leaving the neighborhood completely encircled by Israeli construction. Terrestrial Jerusalem’s Danny Seidemann writes:

In short, Givat Hamatos is not just another detrimental settlement; it is a game-changer. While it is a smaller project, its implications are no less problematic than those of E-1 – something very much recognized by the Palestinians. The key difference is this: while global opposition has been rallied against E-1, far less attention and opposition has been devoted to Givat Hamatos. Most importantly, with E-1 there is a tripwire. Should Netanyahu decide to proceed on E-1, there will be up to a year to stop him. With Givat Hamatos there will be no warning, and the damage will be mostly immediate.”

Seidemann speculates that Netanyahu, under an ever-increasing amount of pressure both politically and personally, specifically increasingly likely to move forward with settlement plans for the E-1 settlement and forcibly evacuating the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin village.

Seidemann writes

“Netanyahu is fighting for his political life and is determined to avoid criminal prosecution and prison time. There is very little he will not do in order to remain Prime Minister under indictment. His failure to approve E-1 and to evacuate Khan al Ahmar has become a rallying point for the settler right, with periodic advertisements appearing in the right wing press calling on him to implement both. The fact that he has refrained thus far from carrying out both these schemes is testimony to the impact that EU engagement on these issues. Sensing Netanyahu’s vulnerability, Sa’ar is attempting to use E-1 and Khan al Ahmar to embarrass and pressure the Prime Minister, and to shift votes to himself. Under circumstances like these, Netanyahu may find the price of ignoring Sa’ar’s pressure to be greater than the anticipated harsh EU response.”

Visiting Harvard, Former Jerusalem Mayor Promotes Settler-Palestinian Business Projects

Likud MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat recently lectured at Harvard Business School, a platform he used to promote “economic peace” schemes that normalize settlements in the name of boosting the West Bank economy. Arutz Sheva, the settler-run media outlet, reports that Barkat’s speech included a push for joint economic projects between Israelis living in the West Bank (settlers) and Palestinians. Arutz Sheva writes:

“He [Barkat] further advanced his vision for increased economic cooperation with the Palestinian workforce via a plan to develop increased ‘industrial clusters’ throughout Judea and Samaria along the lines of those which already exist in places like Barkan and Mishor Adumim.”

Barkat’s language aligns with the work of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce – an Orwellian-named business scheme FMEP has tracked from its emergence – and the growing attention to and support for its work in U.S. Congress. 

Barkat has enjoyed a close relationship with Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter for years, and has spoken at Harvard at Porter’s invitation at least once before.

UN: Since passage of UNSCR 2334 Three Years Ago, Israel Has Continuously Expanded Settlements

Nearing the three-year anniversary of the passage of UNSCR 2334 condemning Israel’s settlement activities, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.N. Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that Israel has not ceased the expansion of settlements. They reported that since passage of UNSCR 2334, Israel has approved plans for 22,000 new settlement units and have issued 8,000 tenders for settlement construction. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said:

“The existence and expansion of settlements fuel resentment and hopelessness among the Palestinian population and significantly heighten Israeli-Palestinian tensions. In addition, they continue to undermine the prospects for ending the (Israeli) occupation and achieving the two-state solution by systematically eroding the possibility of establishing a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.”

In First, Delegation of UN Ambassadors Tour Israeli Settlements, Praise Settlement Industrial Zones

At the invitation of Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, twenty-three ambassadors to the UN participated in a delegation to Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank, marking the first time a UN delegation has taken an official delegation to the settlements. Participants included UN ambassadors from Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Guatemala, and Haiti.

The tour included a stop at Barkan settlement industrial zone, which appears to have won support from at least one UN Ambassador for economic peace schemes that, in the name of coexistence and prosperity, entrench the occupation and exploitation of Palestinian workers and their economy. 

The Ambassador from Bosnia, Sven Alkala, said

“We have seen Arab and Israeli coexistence in factories and we think this is a very important project. By buying these products, we can give peace a real chance.”

As FMEP has previously explained, for decades Israel has used industrial zones as another tool to expand and deepen control over West Bank land and natural resources. Industrial zones perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources), and that it is Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Importantly, jobs in industrial zones – often the only jobs available for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that prevents the development of any normal Palestinian economy – are widely viewed by Palestinians as a double-edged sword. The Israeli group Who Profits recently explained:

“Israeli Industrial Zones constitute a foundational pillar of the economy of the occupation. They contribute to the economic development of the settlements, which are in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, while relying on the de-development of the Palestinian economy and the exploitation of Palestinian land and labor…The Industrial Zones in the oPt form part of a practice of ‘financial annexation’ which is an essential component of the broader policy of annexation taking place.”

Pompeo Slaps Back After Members of Congress Send Letter Objecting to Shift in U.S. Settlements Policy

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to criticisms against the Trump Administration’s settlement policy announcement launched by a group of 106 Congressional Democrats, calling the positions they were defending “foolish.” The Democratic letter to Secretary Pompeo, rather than making the case for a principled stance against Israeli settlement activity, focused on the suggestion that the Trump administration is out of step with bipartisan U.S. policy on settlements, as well as the fact that settlements run afoul of international law. 

Responding to the signers of the letter, Pompeo (unsurprisingly) disagreed with both assertions. He went on to use the Democrats’ arguments as a springboard for writing his own largely ahistorical version of the history of U.S. settlements policy, and for re-hashing a number of highly creative arguments challenging the view that settlements are illegal — arguments formulated and promulgated by a handful of ideological legal experts who have for decades defended all Israeli activities related to the occupation.

Praising Sec. Pompeo’s letter, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman succinctly summarized Pompeo’s letter, saying:

“In his response to the 106 congressmen, Secretary Pompeo lays to rest the criticism that the Administration’s determination with regard to Israeli settlements was contrary to law or inconsistent with bipartisan policy. Indeed, the administration’s decision, in reversing secretary Kerry’s unfortunate statement in support of UNSCR 2334, restores the United States to its historic and appropriate role in mediating the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Expansion of Nof Zion in the heart of Jabal Mukkaber”  (Terrestrial Jerusalem)
  2. “Renewed effort to advance Atarot settlement” (Terrestrial Jerusalem)
  3. “Palestinians plan legal steps to stop new Hebron settlement” (Al Monitor)
  4. “Despite Court Order, Israeli Army Denies Palestinian Landowners Access to Evacuated Settlement Site” (Haaretz)
  5. “Fearing Investigation, Israel Says Hague Has No Jurisdiction in West Bank or Gaza” (Haaretz)
  6. “High Court: Israel Police Handling of Palestinian Complaint ‘Troubling, to Say the Least’” (Haaretz)
  7. “France to support Palestinian agriculture in West Bank areas under Israeli control” (Al-Monitor
  8. “UN: Israel has advanced 22,000 housing units in West Bank” (AP)
  9. “Bennett, the Battle for Judea Has Been Decided” (Haaretz)
  10. “Local settlers despair as Hilltop Youth moves in” (Ynet)