Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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December 8, 2017
- Israeli High Court Orders Government to Submit Second Defense of the “Regulation Law”
- Yesh Din Petitions for a New Hearing on the Amona Outpost Case
- Ofra Settlement Moves to Retroactively Legalize Intentional and “Accidental” Land Theft
- B’Tselem: “Made in Israel – Exploiting Palestinian Land for Treatment of Israeli Waste”
- U.N. Database Documenting Businesses Operating in Settlements Nears Completion
- U.S. Official: Trump Proclamation Does Not “Change” U.S. Policy on East Jerusalem Settlements
- Jared Kushner’s Pro-Settlement Involvement: The Story Is Still Unfolding
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit’s problematic argument against the constitutionality of the “Regulation Law” submitted to the court last week, the Court has now ordered the State to submit a new defense of the law by February 25, 2018. In light of the Attorney General’s opposition to the law, the government has hired a private attorney to defend it. The State’s attorney, Harel Arnon, has already submitted one defense of the law in August of this year, but now he must submit a second response explaining why the law should not be struck down on constitutional grounds.
While the court hears arguments, it has extended a temporary injunction against the use of the Regulation Law, which has been frozen since August. The “Regulation Law” seeks to provide a legal basis for retroactively legalizing outposts and settlement structures that were built without permission or permits from the Israeli government. Peace Now estimates that the Regulation Law could pave the way for the legalization of 55 Israeli outposts, 4,000 illegally constructed settlement units, through the seizure of thousands of dunams of Palestinian agricultural land.
In October 2017, Israeli courts finally published the legal opinion behind a 2016 ruling against a plan to relocate the Amona outpost to a nearby plot of privately owned Palestinian land. Though the court ruled against the legality of the plan, the argument articulated in the freshly published document appears to show the Court accepting, for the first time, the argument that Israel can seize Palestinian private lands for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers. This argument is now being recycled in many other cases of illegal construction in the West Bank, including in the decision to retroactively legalize an access road leading to the Haresha outpost that was built on land that is proven to be privately owned by Palestinians.
In response, Yesh Din (which filed the original petition against the Amona plan) launched a new petition this week asking for a new hearing, arguing:
The reasoning of the Amona plan verdict establishes that the Military Commander has the authority to make temporary use of private Palestinian, even if such use serves the Israeli population exclusively, and that the Supervisor of Abandoned Property in the Civil Administration may initiate dissolution of partnership proceedings for Palestinian land, despite being a temporary trustee of this land only.
Evidence that these are precedent setting rulings came about a week after the reasoning was issued. Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit’s opinion regarding the access road to the outpost of Haresha noted that until the verdict, Palestinian land could not be expropriated for the benefit of Israelis alone, but that following the judgment, such a move became possible.
In late November 2017, Yesh Din petitioned the High Court on behalf of Palestinian landowners who challenged the Amona plan, asking for a further hearing by an extended panel in the judgment issued by Justice Salim Joubran, to decide on these two issues.
Based on the ruling in the Haresha case, Israel is moving to retroactively legalize a sewage treatment facility near the Ofra settlement that was built on land privately owned by Palestinians. The Civil Administration will consider advancing plans to that affect during a hearing of the High Planning Committee on December 6th [no news as of publication on 12/7].
The history of the Ofra sewage treatment plant is rife with scandal, including the public admission by the head of the powerful Binyamin Regional Council, Pinchas Wallerstein, that he knew the plant was being built on land owned by Palestinians. When Avi Roeh succeeded Wallerstein as the head of the Binyamin Regional Council, Roeh was caught issuing falsified building permits for the construction of the plant (the Binyamin Regional Council does not have the authority to issue building permits). Wallerstein and Roeh were later sued by the Palestinian land owners for trespassing; neither man denied the allegation and both were fined (minimally) by the High Court of Justice for their actions related to the sewage plant.
The Israeli NGO Yesh Din has led two petitions against the construction of the Ofra sewage plant. In the first, filed in 2009, Yesh Din asked the court to demolish the plant and return the lands to the Palestinian owners; the court partially accepted the demand and said that the plant cannot be operated until all legal proceedings are resolved. It also ruled that the plant must serve both the Ofra settlers and nearby Palestinian communities. The second petition, filed in 2014, challenged the Court’s decision to only fine rather than prosecute Wallerstein and Roeh for an offense they admitted to: trespassing. The Court rejected this petition, ruling the fines were sufficient.
As a reminder, the Ofra settlement is also battling to retroactively legalize the use of land inside of the settlement they “mistakenly” seized from its Palestinian owners.
In a timely report (see above), B’Tselem has published documentation of how Israel exploits its position as an occupying power to build waste treatment plants that treat Israeli-generated waste in the occupied West Bank, where environmental regulations are less strict. This is done in contravention of international law. The report observers:
Like other countries, Israel has a system in place for treating the waste generated in its territory. However, as this report reveals, a significant portion of this system is located outside Israel’s sovereign borders, in the West Bank. Abusing its status as an occupying power, Israel has set out less stringent regulations in industrial zones in settlements and even offers financial incentives such as tax breaks and government subsidies. This policy has made it more profitable to build and operate waste treatment facilities in the West Bank than inside Israel…
Israel is effectively having it both ways: seemingly increasing the amount of waste it treats, it actually does so by diverting the risks and pollutants onto Palestinian land and people…
Waste treatment in the West Bank is simply one more facet of the exploitative policy Israel has practiced consistently for fifty years now, using Palestinian space and people to further its own interests. As part of this policy, Israel treats the West Bank – and particularly Area C, where it retained full control under the Oslo Accords – as an area meant to serve its needs exclusively, as if it were its sovereign territory.
With the passage of UN Resolution 2334, member states voted to uphold a legal distinction between Israel and the occupied territories. That important vote necessarily brought renewed attention to the way trade, business, banking, and other bilateral relationships with Israel must be examined in order for member states to comply with their own legal obligations and principles. In the words of the resolution, member states voted to “distinguish in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
In parallel, at the beginning of 2018 the UN is due to release a database (which may turn out to be merely a report) looking at businesses that operate in settlements, in contravention of international law. The creation of the database is the result of a resolution taken by the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 24, 2016. Its purpose is to assist member states in complying with their legal obligations under international law. Israel and the United States are fighting tooth-and-nail against the publication of the database, labeling it an anti-Israel “blacklist.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has often used the database to bludgeon the UN, calling it an anti-Israel forum and threatening to leave the UN Human Rights Council if it isn’t reformed. However, as international legal scholar Valentina Azarova explains:
The UN database is a mechanism to document, report, and engage primary interested parties. It does not have the mandate to adjudicate the responsibility of concerned parties, nor to act as a coercive tool of law enforcement. Thus, commentators who refer to it as a “blacklist” misrepresent it and undermine its legitimacy.
This week prominent Israelis mobilized in support of the databases’ publication, saying:
[we] believe that the international community has a crucial and urgent role to play in order to redress the Israel/Palestine fast deteriorating conflict. We believe that to serve that end, it is essential that the international community will act against the settlement policy of the Government of Israel, which bars any resolution of this conflict.
The following exchange happened during the 12/7/17 State Department Daily Briefing with Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs:
QUESTION: Thank you. What is the current policy of the U.S. administration towards Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem?
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: As – this decision had no impact on any issue other than the recognition or acknowledgment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
QUESTION: No. But so could you —
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: I’ve answered your question.
QUESTION: Could you follow up what the policy therefore is, even though it has not been enacted?
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: I’m not going to restate the policy at this point.
QUESTION: Well, can I just ask you then are you accepting the premise of the question that construction in East Jerusalem is settlement activity? I don’t believe that it’s (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: What I am stating is an affirmative. The President’s decision was a recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The President made clear issues that touch upon the boundaries of sovereignty or final status issues are not addressed by his decision.
QUESTION: I get it. The question is one of terminology.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Fine.
QUESTION: You called construction in the West Bank settlement activity, but not necessarily construction in East Jerusalem. That’s just construction. It hasn’t traditionally —
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: The President’s decision did not touch on those issues.
To date, the U.S. has not publicly commented on East Jerusalem settlements, even though there have been massive, game-changing, new settlement announcements made by the Netanyahu government in the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. The only public statement the U.S. has made on settlements (and repeats whenever the occasion arises) is that the U.S. does not believe settlements are an impediment to peace, but that settlement construction is not helpful in achieving that goal. As reported by FMEP in late October, the U.S. policy on Israeli settlements is rumored to be a 4-part “don’t surprise us” understanding; point #4 stipulates that there is no limit to construction on East Jerusalem settlements as long as the U.S. is given advance notice and the new construction is adjacent to existing settlement units.
The news broke this week that Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior advisor to President Donald Trump, failed to disclose his executive leadership of an organization that supported the construction of a yeshiva (a Jewish religious school) in the Beit El settlement. Kushner is currently leading the Trump administration’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Kushner served as co-Director of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 to 2015, during which time the foundation gave at least $38,000 towards the construction project in Beit El. The settlement is the same one that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman has long supported (Friedman was the longtime president of the American Friends of Bet El; according to the organization’s website, he “resigned from all his positions and involvement with Bet El on March 23, 2017, upon accepting his position as US Ambassador to Israel”).That same Kushner foundation also donated $15,000 to Etzion Foundation and $5,000 to Ohra Stone Foundation (both of which operate in settlements), in addition to $298,600 donated to the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces.
In other news, it was discovered that another Kushner family charity, Kushner Companies Charitable Foundation, donated at least $18,000 to the American Friends of Beit El gala dinner this week. While this charity is “solely controlled” by Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, FMEP’s Lara Friedman notes,
Under normal circumstances you would expect someone who has a background of activism related to Israel to be working very hard to take a step back from that to show that he can be a credible mediator. Not only is that not the case, it’s the opposite.
This week also revealed that during the time of the Trump transition period (election day to inauguration day), Kushner unsuccessfully worked to convince Russia to oppose U.N. Resolution 2334, on which the Obama Administration abstained (enabling it to pass) in December 2016. Some suggest that in doing so, Kushner and others working with him may have violated the Logan Act – which prohibits unauthorized citizens from interfering in foreign policy against the interests of the United States. Kushner’s involvement in these efforts was revealed (or confirmed, rather) in connection with the ongoing Special Counsel’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Yossi Alpher of Americans for Peace Now said it best:
In historical perspective, we will look back and recall that the settlements cause, already a disastrous symbol of Israel’s decline as a Jewish and democratic state, was also sullied by being caught up in a host of illegal, unethical and plain outrageous acts of collusion with Russia by Trump and his entourage.
- “Could Settlers Stay in a Future Palestinian State?” (Al-Monitor)
- “Israel Arrests 20 Palestinians in Fracas with Hiking Settlers” (Times of Israel)
- “Secret amendment of Israeli order could cost 300 Palestinians their homes (Al-Monitor)
- Statements by FMEP grantees on President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem (FMEP)
FMEP has long been a trusted resource on settlement-related issues, reflecting both the excellent work of our grantees on the ground and our own in-house expertise. FMEP’s focus on settlements derives from our commitment to achieving lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, and our recognition of the fact that Israeli settlements – established for the explicit purpose of dispossessing Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of land and resources, and depriving them of the very possibility of self-determination in their own state with borders based on the 1967 lines – are antithetical to that goal.