Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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December 5, 2019
- In The Heart of Hebron, Israel Begins Starts Planning New Settlement
- Targeting East Jerusalem (Center): Israel Begins Work to Triple Size of Nof Zion Settlement
- Targeting East Jerusalem (South): Moving Ahead with 3 Plans to Expand Gilo
- Targeting East Jerusalem (North): Plans Readied for New Settlement on Ramallah’s Outskirts
- Jerusalem’s Settler-Backed Cable Car Project Challenged in High Court
- Settler Leaders’ Endorse Netanyahu…and Netanyahu Govt Approves New Funds for Settlers
- Israeli Government Funnels Nearly USD $270 Million of Surplus Taxpayer Funds to Settlements Each Year (in addition to regular budgets)
- Joint U.S.-Israel Research Project Will Include Ariel Settlement University
- Not the Onion: Israeli Govt Sold Palestinian Land to a Settler Org & Now Pays Rent to the Settlers
- Settler-Run Business Council Asks US Congress to Fund Settler-Palestinian Projects
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Contact Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org
On December 1st, acting Defense Minister Naftali Bennet announced that he had ordered the start of the planning process for a new settlement in downtown Hebron that will double the number of settlers living there. The plan calls for the demolition of the historic Palestinian wholesale market – consisting of shops belonging to Palestinians who hold the properties under what Israel has, until now, recognized as protected tenancies.
Under the plan, the historic Palestinian market will be replaced with new structures that will include 70 new settlement units located above the new ground floor. Bennet boasted the the project will double the number of Israeli settlers living in Hebron. The site of the planned settlement is located on Shuhada Street in the heart of Hebron, a street that serves as the perhaps the clearest example of Israel’s apartheid-like military administration of the city, as detailed in a recent report by B’Tselem.
In announcing the directive, Bennett made clear the strategic and symbolic importance of the new Hebron settlement, saying it:
“will create a territorial continuation from the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, and double the number of Jewish residents in the city.”
The plan to build a settlement at the site of the Palestinian wholesale market – which Israel closed 25 years ago following the 1994 Baruch Goldstein massacre of Palestinians worshipping at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque (detailed history here) – is not new. In fact, it has been a goal of settlers for years, the realization of which has been because previous Israeli governments were less willing to brazenly reverse Israel’s longstanding recognition of the tenancy rights of the Palestinian-run Hebron Municipality (which built the market) and the Palestinian vendors who rent market stalls from it.
Such calculations changed following the election of President Trump and his administration’s open support for the settlers and their agenda. In November 2018, Avigdor Liberman and Ayelet Shaked (at the time the Defense Minister and the Justice Minister, respectively) worked together to issue a new Defense Ministry legal opinion, which argues that, based on claims of Jewish ownership of the land prior to the 1929 Hebron riots and massacre of Jewish residents, the state of Israel has the authority to override the tenancy rights of the Hebron Municipality to build a settlement. This legal opinion paved the way for Bennet’s announcement – long awaited by settlers – this week. In this context, the vague commitment Bennet offered as part of his decision to promote the settlements plan – in which he promised that the rights of Palestinians on the ground floor “will be preserved as they are today” – rings hollow.
Bennet and Shaked’s plan marks a significant expansion of the government’s use of the legal principle that allows Jewish Israelis to reclaim properties that were owned by Jews prior to 1948, as an extension of the Jewish right of return. Peace Now writes:
“The basis of the settlers’ demand for the establishment of a settlement in the wholesale market is that the land was owned by Jews before 1948… If the Israeli government accepts the claim of the landowners to right to return to their land taken in 1948, it will undermine the Israeli claim that the Palestinians’ right of return inside Israel need not be implemented.”
Upon Bennet’s announcement this week, former Justice Minister Shaked reminded Israelis of her role in changing Israeli legal interpretations in order to build the new settlement:
“As justice minister I worked for two years to free the land from a legal entanglement in which it was for many years, and the neighborhood had waited about a year for the defense minister’s approval. Bennett’s courageous decision will boost the Jewish community and develop the city.”
In reaction to Bennet’s order, Peace Now said in a statement:
“This is very bad news for Israel: bad morally, bad for the security, and bad in terms of the political chances for peace. The settlement in Hebron is the ugliest face of Israel’s control in the Occupied Territories. In order to maintain the presence of 800 settlers among a quarter of a million Palestinians, entire streets in Hebron are closed to Palestinians, denying them freedom of movement and impinging on their livelihoods.”
On November 8th, the Israeli government began construction work to expand the settlement enclave known as Nof Zion, located in the middle of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukaber. The project will add 182 homes to Nof Zion, tripling its size and turning Nof Zion into the largest settlement enclave inside a Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood (surpassing the Ma’ale Zeitim settlement in Ras al Amud, on the Mount of Olives).
Ir Amim writes:
“Establishing and expanding state-backed settler enclaves like Nof Zion within Palestinian neighborhoods not only erodes the fabric of these communities, but further reinforces Israeli control of East Jerusalem and foils the possibility of a future political resolution on the city. This phenomenon is exemplified by the acceleration of settlement initiatives in the Old City Basin aimed at further embedding Israeli sovereignty of this area through a constellation of state-sanctioned residential and touristic settlement sites, as illustrated by Ir Amim’s map, ‘Settlement Ring around the Old City.’ “
Though the Nof Zion settlement currently has 91 units built, in 1994 the Israeli government originally approved plans for a total of 395 units. However, the first phase of construction bankrupted the developer and the remaining building permits were never issued. A drama ensued over the fate of the project, after a Palestinian-American made a bid to buy the development rights. His winning bid was ultimately blocked by right-wing Israelis [with a key role played by Jerusalem settler impresario Aryeh King], who objected to the sale of the property – in a Palestinian neighborhood – to an Arab. Plans then stalled.
In September 2017, rumors emerged that the government was set to issue 176 building permits for the already-approved project. According to Ir Amim, those permits were ultimately issued in April 2019.
According to Ir Amim, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee has approved an outline plan to build 290 new units in the Gilo settlement, located in southern Jerusalem between the isolated Palestinian East Jerusalem neighbrohood of Beit Safafa and the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Ir Amim reports that the proposed new units will be built within an already built-up area of the settlement, meaning that this plan (unlike the Gilo southeast plan and/or the Har Gilo west plan) will not expand the footprint of the Gilo settlement.
According to Ir Amim:
“The plan is designated for an area in Gilo directly along the planned route of the Jerusalem Light Rail’s green line currently under construction, which will significantly ease access between the neighborhood/settlement and West Jerusalem.”
In approving the outline plan, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee dismissed objections to the plan by a Palestinian family that had fought to prove their ownership of the land. In fact, the committee did not even consider the petition, ruling instead that the question of ownership was beyond the court’s purview – demonstrating yet again the culpability of Israeli courts in the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.
Additionally, on November 27th, the Local Planning Committee discussed two more plans to expand the Gilo settlement. The first plan, calls for the construction of 1,444 new settlement units in the northern part of the Gilo settlement adjacent to Beit Safafa. The second plan calls for the construction of 110 units and would, if implemented, expand the footprint of the Gilo settlement eastwards towards the West Bank city of Beit Jala. Ir Amim reports the plan is being pushed by a private company.
Ir Amim comments:
“Together all three plans will significantly increase the number of Israelis living over the Green Line in Gilo, while also extending the settlement territorially. These plans are being promoted in tandem with the massive road infrastructure developments in the area, including expansion of Route 60 as well as work on the planned route of the Jerusalem Light Rail’s green line. Road infrastructure projects are part and parcel of the settlement enterprise and are used to lay the groundwork for future settlement expansion. Not only will these developments expedite traffic between Gilo and West Jerusalem, but it will ease access between the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Jerusalem.”
On November 28th, the news outlet Israel Hayom reported that the Minister of Construction and Housing is preparing a plan to build a new settlement in East Jerusalem at the site of the disused Atarot airport. The site is located just north of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina and extends to the southern border of Ramallah. The plan reportedly outlines 11,000 new settlement units. If implemented, this plan would be the first new government-backed settlement established in East Jerusalem since the construction of Har Homa in the 1990s.
The Atarot airport site is an important commodity and it was previously promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. Developing the site into a settlement would deprive a future Palestinian state of the only airport in the West Bank, dismember Palestinian neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, and sever East Jerusalem from a Palestinian state on this northern flank of the city (acting like E-1 on Jerusalem’s northeast flank, and like Givat Hamatos on Jerusalem’s southern flank).
The Atarot settlement plan dates back to 2007; it was pursued by the Israeli government in 2012 but shelved under pressure from the Obama administration. The plan came back into consideration in April 2017 (a few months following the inauguration of President Trump) when it was rumored to be included on Netanyahu’s master blueprint of settlements for which he was seeking U.S. approval. It was expected to be announced in May 2017 on the occasion of the Jerusalem Day celebration, but was not.
Commenting on the plan when it was under discussion in 2012, Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran observed:
“Not only that this plan might severely harm the future Palestinian State, destroying the only airport in the West Bank, but it will also cut between East Jerusalem and Ramallah at the heart of many Palestinian neighborhoods: Shu’afat and Beit Hanina in the South, Bir Nabala, Al Judeira, Al Jib, Rafat and Qalandia in the West, Ar-Ram, Dahiyat al Bareed and Jaba’ from the East, and Qalandia Refugee Camp, Kafr ‘Aqab and Ramallah from the North. It seems that what the Givat Hamatos plan is meant to do in the South of Jerusalem (to cut between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem), this plan will, god forbid, do at the North of it. The goal of this plan is clear: to prevent the possibility of a Palestinian State in the West Bank, and thus to kill the two states solution.”
Led by the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh, a coalition of architects, archeologists, and other professionals has filed an appeal to Israel’s High Court of Justice seeking the withdrawal of a settler-promoter plan to build a cable in East Jerusalem. The plan received approval from the Israeli Housing Cabinet on November 4, 2019.
Emek Shaveh explains the nature of this appeal:
“Our Claims: The plan was approved by a transitional government which was not authorized to do so; This alleged transportation plan was not assessed according to the Ministry of Transportation’s accepted standards; The decision was made based on misleading simulations…Since the High Court of Justice is unauthorized to discuss planning issues, other than the legality of the procedure, the points that were discussed in the public objection, signed by 450 people including 70 public figures, is not included in the appeal…The cable car is a grotesque idea and catastrophic for a unique city such as Jerusalem. It is unclear why the Israeli government needed to approve an irregular, controversial project at the cost of hundreds of millions of shekels in its last days. The fact that senior professionals from all the relevant fields – architects, historians, geographers, tourism specialists and archaeologists – need to turn to the High Court of Justice to prevent it shows, more than anything, that the process of approving the project was unprofessional.”
Though the appeal is limited to a procedural challenge – based on the jurisdiction of the High Court over such matters – Emek Shaveh’s objections to the plan relate to the design of the plan and the negative impact that will result if the plan is implemented. As FMEP has repeatedly covered, this Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center – in the Silwan neighborhood, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route). The scheme is intended to further entrench settler control, via archeology and tourism sites, inside the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Non-governmental organizations including Emek Shaveh, Who Profits, and Terrestrial Jerusalem have repeatedly discredited the government’s contention that the cable car serves a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
On December 1st, the Israeli Cabinet approved a USD $11.5 million security package for the settlements. According to Haaretz, USD $9.9 million of the funds are allocated as a one-time grant to regional settlement councils; the remaining $1.6 million is reportedly earmarked for the construction of “first aid stations.”
In a meeting with Yesha Council leaders prior to the approval of the funds – during which the Yesha Council leaders offered their continued endorsement of Netanyahu amidst the ongoing Israeli political upheaval (in which Netanyahu is fighting for his political life and, likely, to stay out of jail) – Netanyahu promised:
“We are continuing to strengthen the settlement movement and help it. They won’t uproot us from here.”
Shortly after the cabinet’s vote, MK Ayman Odeh sent a letter to Israeli Attorney General Mandelblit requesting an inquiry into the constitutionality of the move, commenting that the sequences of events:
“raise[s] a grave suspicion of a budget allocation [was made] in exchange for a political favor.”
MK Odeh asked whether the security package had been properly reviewed by government professionals. Condemning the disbursal of funds, Odeh said:
“Netanyahu has done the two things that he loves, at the same time, is appropriating public funds for his personal benefit and expanding the settlement enterprise in order to deepen the occupation. It is unconscionable for the head of a transitional government to use the money belonging to all of us to buy the support of the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements for his public battle against the legal system. I demand that the allocation be canceled and its funds directed into the program to curb domestic violence, which has been waiting for funding since its approval in 2017.”
Israeli Government Funnels Nearly USD $270 Million of Surplus Taxpayer Funds to Settlements Each Year (in addition to regular budgets)
According to data from the Israeli Finance Ministry, obtained and analyzed by Peace Now, the Israeli government is using its surplus funding to invest in the growth and entrenchment of settlements — to the tune of nearly $270 million each year. The figure does not include regular funding that goes towards the normal maintenance and security of the settlements.
The data shows:
- There has been a 50% increase in surplus funding for the settlements since 2017 (i.e. the inauguration of President Trump).
- 2017 expenditure: NIS 1.650 billion
- 2018 expenditure: 1.4 billion
- The first quarter of 2019 data indicate another increase.
- The settlements receive ~12% of all Interior Ministry’s grants to all local authorities (including Israel proper), despite representing less than 5% of the total Israeli population.
The Israeli government produces these figures (which, ironically, make a hard distinction between Israel proper and the settlements – a policy of differentiation which the government is very much trying to fight) to comply with a U.S. condition on loan guarantees set in 1990s by Republican President H.W. Bush. At the time, the U.S. administration made an effort to penalize Israel for its settlement activity by deducting the amount spent by Israel for non-security-related settlement costs from the total value of U.S. loan guarantees available to Israel. The condition therefore required the Israeli government to calculate and inform the U.S. every few months regarding its settlement-related expenditures. Peace Now reports in detail on how the Israeli government makes that calculation (spoiler: it’s an estimate) and what is included in it (spoiler: it does not include all of the ways the Israeli government directly funds the settlement enterprise).
Importantly, Peace Now notes that:
“as of September 2018, following the recognition of the Trump administration in annexing the Golan Heights, the Finance Ministry stopped reporting to Americans on investment in Israeli communities in the Golan Heights. At the same time, the first quarter figures for 2019 indicate record expenditures in the settlements, with NIS 390 million (between January – March 2019), compared with an average of NIS 354 million in each quarter in 2018 (including the Golan).”
Commenting on the figure, Peace Now said in a statement:
“State figures themselves show that Israel continues to invest huge capital in developing settlements at the expense of development within Israel. The government’s decision this week to add another NIS 34.5 million in grants unique to the local authorities in the settlements indicates that the government has lost all self-regard for serving the Israeli public at large. With a transitional government on the verge of new elections and close to the end of the fiscal year, the government finds it appropriate to add millions of shekels to the indulgence that is already being given to settlement authorities that receive, according to Treasury figures, close to three times the proportion of their population.”
Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis is reportedly expected to sign an historic agreement in the coming weeks that will establish a new joint research project between American and Israeli universities which will, for the first time, include an Israeli university located in a settlement – Ariel University. Minister Akunis told told the Israeli news outlet Israel Hayom (owned by Sheldon Adelson, who not coincidentally is a key financial backer of Netanyahu, Trump, and Ariel University) that the new agreement:
“is a direct result of the American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Secretary of State Pompeo’s declaration that the settlements in Judea and Samaria do not violate international law.”
For more analysis of the recent announcement by the Trump Administration, see last week’s Settlement Report.
Not from the Onion: Israeli Govt Sold Palestinian Land to a Settler Org & Now Pays Rent to the Settlers
Peace Now reports that the Israeli government sold unofficially expropriated (i.e., stolen) land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to the radical Amana settler organization for $262,000 (a fraction of its value). But the story gets better: the Israeli government is now paying $224,000 per year in rent to Amana – the settler organization – for use of a single floor of a building built on the land.
The details of this Kafka-esque story – laid out below – show yet another means by which the Israeli government not only assists settlers in acquiring privately owned Palestinian land, but continues to line the pockets of settlement groups working to take more land from Palestinians.
Regarding the land Amana is now renting to the government, Israel intended to expropriate the land in question from the Palestinian Abu Ta’ah family following the 1967 war. However, the government went ahead and gave the land to the Amana settler organization, and Amana began construction on it, before the process of expropriation was complete – in effect giving the settlers what was still, legally, private Palestinian land. In order to complete the expropriation of the land from the Abu Ta’ah family – which remained the legal owner of the land and fought against the expropriation and Amana’s construction there – the government had to actually retroactively change how the plot of land was registered and sign a retroactive expropriate order.
Peace Now told Haaretz:
“After it received the land that was expropriated in a dubious process without a tender, Amana is profiting in three ways: It built a luxurious office building for itself in the midst of a Palestinian neighborhood; it also strengthens the settlement it built by bringing in Israeli visitors to the welfare office inside the Palestinian neighborhood; and has treated itself to a nice income of about a million shekels a year at our expense and with the help of state and municipal institutions.”
Ashraf Jabari and Avi Zimmerman, the Palestinian and Israeli co-founders of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, recently met Members of Congress while in Washington, D.C. Their goal: to seek support and funding for their joint projects in the West Bank, in the name of supporting peace and coexistence.
Zimmerman said of the trip:
“we now embark on the implementation process by welcoming private and public investments to partner with the businesses that are generating impact for generations to come. Representatives from both Houses and parties were highly responsive, and impressed that we have already begun with strategic planning for private investments.”
As FMEP has repeatedly explained, economic “coexistence” initiatives like the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce (JSCC) seek to normalize, entrench, and reward Israeli settlements while perpetuating Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources). Congressional support for such initiatives could mean U.S. taxpayer dollars going directly (and publicly) to the settlements.
Zimmerman and Jabari were hosted on Capitol Hill by Heather Johston, the Executive Director of the US-Israel Education Association (USIEA). The USIEA is a American evangelical group deeply involved in supporting and normalizing settlements, working in partnership with the Israeli government. It is also works with the Family Research Council to lead Congressional delegations to Israel and runs a bible camp in the Ariel settlement. Boasting of her warm relations on Capitol Hill, Johnston recently spoke to the press about her work to promote the JSCC in Congress:
“Just about everyone on Capitol Hill accepts and recognizes the unique relationship between the U.S. and Israel. It is critical that members of Congress and the Senate have a clear and all-encompassing picture of reality in Israel and how the country and its citizens relate to their neighbors. This visit by Zimmerman and Jabari to Capitol Hill not only introduces members of Congress and the Senate to a phenomenon that is not widely known about but also to untapped opportunities of advancing prosperity and stability in the Middle East.”
Commenting on Jabari and Zimmerman’s recent meetings on Capitol Hill, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) – who led an August 2019 Congressional delegation funded by USIEA, which was hosted by Jabari in his Hebron home – told The Hill:
“Sheikh Ashraf Jabari told us the economic relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is basic, strong, and can’t be separate. In a strong bipartisan way, we should be supporting the grassroots movement for economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s foundational to achieve peace in the region.”
McMorris Rogers and her delegation are not the only Members of Congress who have been warming up to the concept of peace through joint economic “coexistence” schemes like the JSCC. In early March 2019, U.S. Senator James Lankford incorrectly suggested that Congress had already allocated funding for the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Congress. Despite the error, his statement signalled that there are concerted, ongoing conversations in Congress regarding economic peace schemes.
In addition to Members of Congress, Jabari and Zimmerman enjoy close and warm relations with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who has repeatedly met with and promoted the JSCC’s work. Amb. Friedman’s support first came into public view in October 2018 when Amb. Friedman attended an event convened by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce. Then, in February 2019, Amb. Friedman spoke about economic co-existence initiatives at a conference hosted by the JSCC and US-Israel Education Association. Speaking to the press at conference, Ambassador Friedman said the goal of the forum is to “encourage business development in Judea and Samaria, encourage the prosperity of people who live there, most of them Palestinian residents.”
- “Israel Limits West Bank Farmers’ Access to Lands Near Green Line” (Haaretz)
- “Forbidden: The West Bank land Israel locks away from Palestinians.” (Middle East Eye)
- “100-plus Democrats sign letter criticizing new US stance on Israeli settlements” (JNS)
- “ Israel Limits West Bank Farmers’ Access to Lands Near Green Line” (Haaretz)