Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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February 1, 2018
- Minister to Vote on Havat Gilad Legalization this Weekend
- De Facto Annexation Proceeds: Bill Will Extend Israeli Sovereignty to Settlement Universities
- Israeli Army to Take Control Over East Jerusalem Neighborhoods Cut Off by the Barrier
- New West Bank Bypass Road Opens “New Era in Settlement”
- European Union Says Israel is Using Tourism to Legitimize Settlements
- Israeli Expansion Plan Threatens Flood Out (Literally) Palestinian Town
- Yesh Din Report Slams the Israeli Civil Administration
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that the Israeli Cabinet will vote on a resolution declaring the government’s intention to retroactively legalize the Havat Gilad outpost at their next weekly Cabinet meeting, scheduled for February 3rd.
At the last such meeting on January 28th, Netanyahu declined to put Havat Gilad on the agenda. He blasted a number of his own ministers who have criticized him in the press for the delay, which Netanyahu called “tactical.” Netanyahu’s Likud Party even issued a harsh statement in response to Defense Minister Liberman’s public statements, saying:
This is Bayit Yehudi’s [Jewish Home’s] well-known method once again at play – demanding the prime minister to do something they know he is going to do anyway, so they could later present it as their achievement. The bill will be raised next week, just as it was agreed with the bill’s sponsor, Defense Minister Lieberman.
The Jerusalem Post notes that this will be the fourth time since 2009 that Netanyahu’s government has retroactively legalized an outpost, the first three outposts being Bruchin, Rehalim, and Sansana. FMEP has previously reported on efforts by the Defense Ministry to retroactively legalize an additional 70 outposts, and FMEP has also covered the battle over the Netanyahu government’s “Regulation Law,” which was passed in early 2017 to pave the way for legalization of 55 unauthorized outposts and 4,000+ illegal settlement structures, by appropriating thousands of dunams of Palestinian private land.
Peace Now published a comprehensive case for why it would be a grave mistake for the government to legalize the Havat Gilad outpost. They write:
The legalization of the outpost would signal that the government does not intend to advance a final peace agreement, but rather only to extend Israel’s hold on the West Bank and to prevent the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state alongside an Israel with secure, internationally recognized borders. By working to authorize the outpost, the government is encouraging violations of the law, as well as sending a clear message to the settlers that such criminal acts pay off.
On January 29, a bill to bring settlement universities under Israeli domestic law passed its first reading in the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sport Committee. The bill aims to extend the authority of Israel’s Council of Higher Education to include schools located in settlement, which currently fall under a separate authority, as required by the norms of occupation. While Israeli policies are often extended to the settlements on an ad hoc basis through military orders issued by the Civil Administration, which is the arm of the IDF that is for all intents and purposes the sovereign ruler over the occupied territories, this bill capitalizes on the momentum created by a new Knesset policy that formalizes the process by which Israeli domestic law is extended over the settlements, in affect extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and therefore annexing it.
The authors of the policy have unabashedly stated that their goal is to annex the settlements, and even all of Area C, to Israel. One of the authors, MK Shuli Mualem Rafaeli (Jewish Home) said, “Alongside the academic importance of the law there is also a clear element of imposing sovereignty, and I am proud of both.”
The new bill is specifically connected to the opening of a state-of-the-art medical school in the Ariel settlement, funded in part by billionaire American financier Sheldon Adelson. As FMEP reported last June, Ariel University became an accredited Israeli university in 2012, following significant controversy and opposition, including from Israeli academics. It has since been the focus of additional controversy, linked to what is a clear Israeli-government-backed agenda of exploiting academia to normalize settlements. 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 attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
The Israeli army announced that it plans to take full security control over two East Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been walled out of the city of Jerusalem by the Israeli separation barrier. The move was justified by saying that there has been in increase in terror attacks carried out by Palestinians with Israeli identification cards (Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem carry Israeli ID cards).
Peace Now slammed the army’s move, noting:
The government insists that East Jerusalem should be part of Israel’s capital, yet it walls off 140,000 residents–1/2-2/3 of which are Israeli citizens–and brings in the army after the radicalization brought on in no small part by years of neglect and discrimination bear fruit. Once again the government has deceived the public by talking about “United Jerusalem” while practicing segregation
Until now, the the Israeli police department was the only permitted security presence in Shuafat refugee camp and Kafr Aqab, both of which are legally parts of Jerusalem, even though they were left on the West Bank side of the separation barrier. The Palestinian Authority is not allowed to operate in East Jerusalem (including these neighborhoods), which Israel annexed following the 1967 war. Israel’s isolation and systematic neglect of these East Jerusalem neighborhoods has come at an extraordinarily high cost for Palestinian residents.
Israeli officials joined together for the opening of a new bypass road for Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the first major new bypass road opened in 20 years. And this is only the start: the road is the first of five new bypass roads that Netanyahu promised to build under pressure from settlers, who pushed the Prime Minister to expedite funds for projects the settlers claimed were needed for their security. The new Israeli-only road will link several settlements located deep inside the northern West Bank to cities inside Israel (i.e., within the Green Line), while bypassing Palestinian towns.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was clear about the importance of the road and what it means for the future of Israeli settlement construction. Netanyahu said,
Returning to our homeland – that’s what we’re doing here, in the heart of the Land of Israel … This is a festive day. It’s a festive day for Samaria, a festive day for the State of Israel.This bypass road is part of the system of bypass roads that we are building throughout Judea and Samaria that serves the residents of Judea and Samaria and the residents of the entire State of Israel
Not to be outdone, Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, a municipal body for settlements in the West Bank, put it even more bluntly saying that this is,
the beginning of a new era in settlement…It is impossible to overstate the importance of these bypass roads and the importance of transportation routes for settlement. They are the keys to the development of settlement.
At the ceremony, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan announced that the government will begin paving two more bypass roads in the coming weeks.
[2/2/2018 Update] Last year, B’Tselem documented Israeli construction of the bypass road Netanyahu christened this week. In order to build the road, Israel uprooted olive trees belonging to the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. Documenting the olive tree destruction, B’Tselem wrote in January 2017:
This work is being carried out as part of the decision made by the military and the Civil Administration to build a bypass road to replace the section of Route 55 that runs through a-Nabi Elyas. Route 55 originally served as the main link between Nablus and Qalqilya and was one of the major traffic arteries in the West Bank. Over time, as settlements expanded, it also became essential to settlers, as it connects several large settlements with Israel’s coastal plains and central region.
The decision to build the bypass road was first made in 1989, with the goal of sparing settlers the need to drive through the village of a-Nabi Elyas. However, it was not pursued until September 2013, when the Civil Administration planning institutions began the planning process. In October 2015, the project was expedited due to pressure by the settler leadership: According to Israeli media reports , Prime Minister Netanyahu promised the heads of the settlement local councils that the road would be built after they had set up a protest tent in October 2015, following the attack that killed Naama and Eitam Henkin.
On 21 December 2015, the head of the Civil Administration issued an expropriation order for 10.4 hectares of land earmarked for the bypass road. The order noted that the new road will “serve the public good” and improve mobility between Nablus and Qalqilya. In March 2016, the Palestinian village councils and landowners petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) against the expropriation, on the grounds that the road will not serve all residents of the area but only settlers. On 16 November 2016, the HCJ denied the petition after accepting the state’s claim that the road is intended to serve the entire population of the area.
The seizure of the land and uprooting of olive trees have severely harmed the landowners, who have lost a source of income and a major financial asset, as well as an open space that served all local residents for leisure and recreational activities.
The state argued that the road is meant to serve Palestinians in the area, too, in order to comply with the provisions of international law, which allow the occupying power to expropriate land within the occupied area in two circumstances only. The first is a specific military need related to the occupied territory itself, and the second is promoting the wellbeing of the residents of the occupied territory.
In a leaked report, European Union officials said that Israeli archaeological and tourism projects in East Jerusalem are “a political tool to modify the historical narrative and to support, legitimacy and expand settlements.”
The Guardian, which saw the annual report written by the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem, lists settler-run excavation sites, the proposed cable car project (which FMEP has reported on repeatedly), and national parks in East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s mission to change facts on the ground.
The report covers activity of Israeli settler groups in Silwan (called the “City of David” by settlers and the Israeli government, both of which seek to assert exclusive Jewish heritage there). It is in this area that the Israeli government approved the Kedem Center, a huge tourism complex proposed by the settler group Elad, as the final stop of the Jerusalem cable car project. Silwan is home to 450 hardline settlers, guarded by government-funded private security, living amongst 10,000 Palestinians. The Palestinian population of this area faces home demolitions, land and property seizures, evictions, intense settlement building, and devastating property damage resulting from massive underground excavation projects run by settler-aligned groups with the financing of the Israeli government.
Of the cable car project and the Silwan stop in particular, the report says:
Critics have described the project as turning the World Heritage site of Jerusalem into a commercial theme park while local Palestinian residents are absent from the narrative being promoted to the visitors
[2/2/2018 Update] Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO who has been raising concern about archeological settlement activity in Jerusalem since 2009, issued a statement elaborating on the extent of the threat posed by the type of activity the EU report highlights. They wrote,
Archaeological tourism projects are favored by the settlers as a means of winning the hearts of minds of the Israeli, Jewish and evangelical publics. The EU now recognizes how archaeological sites in East Jerusalem are being used as a political tool to “modify the historical narrative and to support, legitimise and expand settlements”. The City of David in Silwan, the new cable car project, the national parks in Palestinian neighborhoods compliment evictions and house demolitions in marginalising and disenfranchising the East Jerusalem Palestinian public. The difference between “cultural projects” such as the national parks or the City of David and house demolitions is that in addition to the physical displacement, the former also expropriate the narrative, dispossessing the Palestinians from their historical and cultural contexts. When it comes to Jerusalem, narrative is not an abstract issue because in Jerusalem history and questions of present-day sovereignty are intertwined. And when it will come to determining the final status of the city, the question of who “owns” the history of the city will be crucial.
Palestinian residents of Wadi Foquin, a West Bank village located in a valley along the 1967 Green Line, west of Bethlehem, are chronicling how nearby construction in Israel has resulted in unprecedented flooding and the severe depletion of their 11 historic natural springs.
A victim of its location on the Green Line and its lush lands, Wadi Foquin sits between the Israeli city Tzur Haddassah to its west and the ever-growing mega-settlement pf Beitar Illit, to its east. Last year, the Israeli government approved an expansion plan for Tzur Hadassah that extends the city past the Green Line into the West Bank, as reported by the Israeli settlement watchdog Kerem Navot. Wadi Foquin residents say Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit, both of which look down on the valley town, have already created something akin to concrete water slides, shooting rainwater straight into Wadi Foquin and flooding their homes, streets, and businesses, while also preventing the water from replenishing the springs. The expansion is only making matters worse. The Israeli government, for its part, claims that all the proper and required ecological studies have been completed and the plan passes muster and will move forward.
The Israeli NGO Yesh Din released a new report, “Through the Lense of Israel’s Interests: The Civil Administration’s Role in the West Bank.” The report is an in-depth look at the main functions of the Civil Administration, the arm of the Israeli military which is the de facto sovereign in the West Bank. The Civil Administration regulates virtually every aspect of Palestinian life, including travel permits, roads, land, resource extraction, archeology, and of course settlement-related issues. The report examines the role of the Civil Administration and the ways in which its authorities have become a “means of oppression and domination over Palestinians.”
Yesh Din concludes:
The Civil Administration, established to serve “the welfare and benefit of the population” and “for the purpose of operating and providing public services”, betrays its professed role. Instead of ensuring public order and safety in a temporary trusteeship, as required by international law, the Civil Administration uses administrative tools to effect long-term, irreversible changes in the OPT and to impose restrictions and bans on the protected persons, in a severe, systemic and widespread abuse of the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank.
- “More than 200 companies have Israeli settlement ties: U.N.” (Reuters)
- INFOGRAPHIC “50 Years of Occupation: The Security Burden Continues” (Peace Now)
- “After Netanyahu Summons Ambassador, Irish Senate Postpones Debate on Bill Blocking Israeli Settlement Goods” (Haaretz)
- “Ireland to vote on settlement trade sanctions bill” (+972 Magazine)
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.