Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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February 14, 2020
- United Nations Releases Database of Businesses Operating in Settlements
- Notable Reactions to the Publication of the UN Database (Including Israel’s Pledge to Interfere In U.S. Politics to Undermine Constitutionally Protected Speech)
- Also at the UN this Week, Kushner Out-Maneuvers Abbas in the Security Council
- Netanyahu Says His Government Is Nearly Done Mapping Annexation, based on Trump Plan
- Judge Appoints Settler Lawyer to Manage Petra Hotel During Ongoing Bankruptcy, Ownership Battle
- The Israel Land Authority is Already Annexing West Bank Land
- Acquiescing to Settlers’ Pressure, Civil Administration Pushes Palestinians Off Land — By Citing British Mandate Regulations
- Terrestrial Jerusalem: The Trump Plan’s “Doublespeak” on Jerusalem
- Peace Now Details the Roles of the WZO & the Jewish National Fund in Driving the Settlement Agenda
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com).
On February 12th, following nearly four years of delay, the United Nations Human Rights Council finally published a (non-comprehensive) database of businesses involved in building, maintaining, securing, and servicing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The database was requested by members of the Human Rights Council in March 2016 in order to assist member states in complying with international legal obligations with regards to doing business with companies involved in activities which violate the human rights of people around the world.
The database lists 112 companies found to be conducting business with Israeli settlements. Key facts about these businesses:
- 94 companies are based in Israel (see list). The listed Israeli companies include all major banks, state-owned transportation companies Egged and Israel Railways Corporation, and telecommunications giants Bezeq, HOT and Cellcom.
- 6 companies are based in the United States: AirBnB, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking Holdings Inc., General Mills Inc, and Motorola Solutions Inc. General Mills explained that it was included on the database because a manufacturing facility “uses natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes.” For a review of how AirBnB has changed (for the worse) its policy of operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, see here. For reports on the actions of tourism companies promoting and operating in the settlements, see: Human Rights Watch’s report, “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land,” and Amnesty International’s report “Destination: Occupation”
- 4 companies are based in the Netherlands: Booking.com, Tahal Group International B.V., Altice Europe N.V., Kardan N.V.
- 3 companies are based in France: Egis Rail, Alstom S.A, Egis S.A.
- 3 companies are based in the United Kingdom: JC Bamford Excavators Ltd., Opodo Ltd., Greenkote P.L.C.
- 1 is based in Luxembourg: eDreams ODIGEO S.A.
- 1 is based in Thailand: Indorama Ventures P.C.L.
The publication of the database has repeatedly been delayed due to heavy pressure from Israel and the United States, neither of which are current members of the Human Rights Council. Even before its publication, Israel and the U.S. argued that the database would by definition be anti-Israel and antisemitic. From the start they also labeled the database a “blacklist,” even though the database itself neither calls for nor imposes any punitive consequences on the listed businesses. Indeed, as FMEP’s Lara Friedman has pointed out – and as former U.S. official Jason Greenblatt has suggested- that the database can just as easily serve as a list for settlement-supporters to shop from as it can serve as information based upon which someone might choose to boycott.
Notable Reactions to the Publication of the UN Database (Including Israel’s Pledge to Interfere In U.S. Politics to Undermine Constitutionally Protected Speech)
The most eye-catching reaction to the publication of the UN database came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took to Twitter to claim credit for anti-BDS/pro-settlement legislation in U.S. states (some of which has been declared unconstitutional in U.S. courts) that penalizes those who boycotts Israel or settlements. That same day, the Israeli Foreign Ministry instructed diplomats serving in its U.S. consulates to work with state governors to get them to publicly condemn the UN database. Analysts quickly noted the audaciousness of this boasting by Israeli of interfering in domestic political affairs in the United States — boasting that only confirmed what researchers have known for years: the state of Israel has been pushing anti-democratic, unconstitutional laws in the United States.
Many Members of Congress issued statements denouncing the UN for publishing the database. Such statements suggest that there will likely soon be a move to pass legislation pending in the U.S. House which seeks to criminalize BDS, called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
In Israel, political figures from across the spectrum condemned the publication of the database. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that when the world recognizes Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and in settlements, “this list will become void.” President Rivlin shockingly suggesting that the Human Rights Council’s publication of the database is reminiscent of the Holocaust. Even Amir Peretz, the leader of Israel’s left-wing coalition (which includes Meretz), condemned the database and vowed to work to compel the UN to repeal it. In addition, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced it was freezing ties with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A group of settlers leading the Samaria Regional Council (a municipal body representing and servicing settlements in the northern region of the West Bank) announced that it will file a class action lawsuit against the United Nations. Yossi Dagan, the organization’s head, said:
“Not only will we not break, we will fight – at the beginning of the week the Samaria Regional Council together with representatives of factories in the Barkan Industrial Zone will file a lawsuit against the boycott of human rights council officials, led by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, as well as against other leftist organizations, and we will demand to receive compensation, as was decided by the Jerusalem District Court under the honorable Judge Yosef Shapiro, that there is no immunity from civil lawsuits and there is no way to hide behind immunity. We will not only claim damages that may be incurred, but we will also sue for the honor of the State of Israel and the slandering of its name.”
Palestinians welcomed the publication of the database, and quickly called for the listed businesses to change their practices. Prime Minister Shtayyeh said that the Palestinian Authority will pursue legal action against the businesses in order to force the issue, noting that businesses could fix the situation by re-locating to areas under Palestinian control. Shtayyeh said:
“We will pursue the companies listed in the report legally through international legal institutions and through the courts in their countries for their role in violating human rights…We will demand compensation for illegally using our occupied lands and for engaging in economic activity in our lands without submitting to Palestinian laws and paying taxes.”
Saeb Erekat, veteran Palestinian statesman and negotiator, said:
“While this list does not include all the companies profiting from Israel’s illegal colonial-settlement enterprise in occupied Palestine, it’s a crucial first step to restore hope in multilateralism and international law..[The list] should serve as a reminder to the international community on the importance of strengthening the tools to implement international law at a time when the illegality of Israeli settlements is being challenged.”
Prior to the UNHRC’s publication of the database, the United Nations Security Council played host to an Israel-Palestine drama of its own, in which a cast of key players from each side sought to persuade UNSC members to support/reject the Trump Plan.
Jared Kushner met with Security Council members on February 7th to sell the plan. The representative from Tunisia (who drafted a resolution critical of Kushner’s work) did not attend the meeting, and was later fired by Tunisia’s president. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Security Council on February 11th in an attempt to rally opposition to the Trump Plan. His efforts – punctuated by a speech in front of the Council – cannot be considered a request. The Tunisian-lead draft resolution critical of the Trump Plan was abandoned by its drafters, in move celebrated by U.S. officials as a major victory in the Security Council, which the Trump Administration and Israel regularly characterizes as anti-Israel.
On February 9th, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau announced that Israel has started mapping the area it intends to annex in accordance with the Trump Plan, saying “it won’t take too long.” The Israeli mapping team – which includes Minister Yariv Levin, Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, and a National Security Council representative – is being directly overseen by Prime Minister’s Office Director, General Ronen Peretz. The National Security Council has a representative on the team as well. saying “it won’t take too long.” Netanyahu made the remarks at a campaign event in the Maale Adumim settlement, located just east of Jerusalem in a highly coveted area which the Trump Plan delivers to Israel. Consistent with the Trump Plan, Netanyahu said that Israel will annex all of its settlements, the Jordan Valley, and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu’s announcement can be viewed as part of his continued efforts to placate the large portion of his political base that is up in arms over Netanyahu’s acquiescence to the U.S. demand that annexation not be advanced until after the next elections (March 2nd). Furthering that cause, Netanyahu tried to make lemons out of lemonade – saying:
“The U.S. and [Israel] agreed that when this entire process is completed we’ll bring it to the government [for approval]. But the Americans are saying in the clearest manner: ‘We want to give you recognition and we’ll give you it when the entire process is complete.’ Recognition is the main thing. We brought this, I brought this/ We don’t want to endanger this, we are working responsibility and intelligently.”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman – who initially said that Israel does not need to wait to annex West Bank land – took to Twitter to publicly caution Netanyahu against pushing annexation before the March 2nd elections, warning that there would be consequences if Israel moves unilaterally. Later that day, Amb. Friedman then tweeted the following statement in support of Netanyahu (smoothing over the previous rebuke), as well re-aligning his own public position to match that of Jared Kushner:
“President Trump’s Vision for Peace is the product of more than three years of close consultations among the President, PM Netanyahu and their respective senior staff. As we have stated, the application of Israeli law to the territory which the Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion of a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee. Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the Plan & American recognition.”
Netanyahu and Friedman’s remarks appear to further anger already indignant settler leaders.
Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani, who also serves as the chairman of the Yesha Council, said:
“The United States cannot prevent Israel from doing anything. [Netanyahu needs] to fulfill his commitment to the residents of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley to apply sovereignty before the elections, and to do this as soon as possible.”
Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan said:
“Sometimes even dear friends need to be put in their place and told that… we are a sovereign country and sovereignty will be extended to Judea and Samaria as the public in the State of Israel expects.”
Beit El Local Council chairman Shai Alon said:
“the United States should respect us as a state and not determine when Israel will assert sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”
Watching this argument, FMEP’s Lara Friedman offered an important reminder:
“This spat is about a distinction (over timing/credit) without a difference (over substance/objective/outcome). That is the real story here. Making it a story about inter-extremist bickering only normalizes their shared annexationist agenda.”
According to Haaretz, a judge has appointed a lawyer for the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim as the legal custodian of the Petra Hotel – located just inside the Jaffa Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem – during an ongoing bankruptcy case against the Palestinian company currently operating the hotel. The lawyer, Avraham Moshe Segal, has taken over the debt that the Palestinian company owes – giving Segal leverage to oust the current operators, a goal he has tried to accomplish through various legal maneuvers over the years.
In addition to awarding the coveted property to a lawyer for a radical settler group, the appointment of Segal as the legal “receiver” is extraordinarily alarming because Ateret Cohanim is a party to the legal case involving ownership of the Petra Hotel. Since 2004, Ateret Cohanim has used shell companies to wage a battle against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, from which Ateret Cohanim claims to have purchased the hotel (along with two other coveted Old City properties). In June 2019, an Israeli judge awarded Ateret Cohanim ownership of the properties. The ruling was appealed by the Greek Orthodox Church, after it discovered new evidence showing Ateret Cohanim’s forgery of key documents and its payment of bribes to obtain the property. The case was officially reopened in November 2019.
Haaretz reports that a source at the Justice Ministry said that the appointment of Ateret Cohanim’s lawyer “demands an inquiry to determine whether there may be a conflict of interest”.
The Greek Orthodox Church requested the dismissal of Segal as the “receiver,” telling the court:
“The job holder in question [i.e., Segal] has been involved as part of his role in more than a few legal processes against the company and they have taken place in every legal instance, over a number of years, enough to enable us to say and even determine that there is more than a fear of a conflict of interests here.”
The Israel Lands Authority is the governmental body which controls 90% of the land in Israel, and thus controls the supply and zoning of land for development, including land in the West Bank used for settlement construction. A new report revealed that in January 2020, some 66% (two-thirds) of the total amount of land auctioned by the Israel Lands Authority was located in the occupied territory. The report noted:
“All told, the ILA last month advertised land designated for 3,254 housing units, 2,136 of them in settlements, including Karnei Shomron, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’aleh Adumim and Efrat.”
While the data is only for a single month, the disproportionate focus in the ILA on developing land in the West Bank, as opposed to inside Israel, where housing prices are rising, is notable. Likewise, the data highlights the fact that notwithstanding ongoing discussion of when Israel might annex parts of the West Bank, consistent with the Trump plan, the fact is that Israel has already de facto annexed the area — evidenced by the fact that an Israeli domestic body has the authority to issue tenders for Israeli development inside the West Bank.
Acquiescing to Settlers’ Pressure, Civil Administration Pushes Palestinians Off Land — By Citing British Mandate Regulations
Reversing decades of practice, the Israeli Civil Administration recently denied Palestinian farmers access to their land outside of Ramallah and confiscated their tractor.. The denial was based on the argument that the area was deemed an antiquities site in the British Mandate period and therefore the Palestinians cannot receive permits to work it. The famers, two brothers, told Haaretz that the Civil Administration has not prevented them from accessing their lands for the last 50 years, and they were unaware that they needed a permit to continue doing so. Relatives of the famers suggest that the Civil Administration was pressured to close the area by settlers living in a nearby illegal settlement outpost, called “Malachei Hashalom.” The outpost is relatively news, established in 2015 on an abandoned military base, and has a reputation for harassing Palestinians and their flocks.
The brothers’ lawyer said of the Civil Administration’s change of policy:
“It’s another method of driving the Palestinians from their lands. Working the land does not harm antiquities, and the state also never made such an allegation. The archaeological claim was only invented after the establishment of the outpost.”
One of the farmers, Nader Abu Aleiyeh, told Haaretz:
“Everyone knows we work the land and they never told us anything. Soldiers in the past would come and drink tea with us while we were working the land.”
In its latest edition of Insider’s Jerusalem, Terrestrial Jerusalem experts examine at length the components of the Trump Administration’s plan related to Jerusalem, outlining the many delusional notions about Israel’s annexation of the city and its holy sites. Terrestrial Jerusalem writes:
“There is a common denominator in the portrayal of the stark realities of Jerusalem and the terminology used to describe them. By a systematic use of doublespeak, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem aren’t Palestinians, Jerusalem is undivided, refugees don’t exist, Abu Dis is (wink, wink) Jerusalem but can’t be called as such, the status quo can be maintained even as it is violated, and Jerusalem is an open city ‘accessible’ to all, which denies access to the residents of the West Bank and Gaza. The Jerusalem of the Trump proposal does not exist in Jerusalem, but rather in the ideology of the settler right in Israel, and of the end-of-days Evangelicals in the US, where myths trump the facts.”
On the change to the status quo on the Temple Mount in the Trump Plan:
“As noted, the Proposal explicitly supports allowing Jewish prayer on Haram al Sharif/the Temple Mount. In doing so, the Trump administrations has adopted policies that have been rejected by every Israeli government since 1967. This radical change in the status quo is so problematic, that since the release of the Proposal, the Trump team has begun to walk it back. In a telephonic press briefing conducted by the US team days after the publication of the Proposal on January 28, Ambassador Friedman offered the following response to a press inquiry:
‘The status quo, in the manner that it is observed today, will continue absent an agreement to the contrary. So there’s nothing in the – there’s nothing in the plan that would impose any alteration of the status quo that’s not subject to agreement of all the parties. So don’t expect to see anything different in the near future, or maybe in the future at all.’
Even if taken at face value, there are three problems with Friedman’s clarification.
Firstly, Friedman’s statement contradicts the literal meaning of the text (‘People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif’). If Friedman’s clarification is to be taken seriously, no response to a question in a press briefing can serve as an alternative to a formal amendment to the Proposal’s text, or at the very least, an official announcement by the State Department revising the wording.
Secondly, the explicit change in the status quo appearing in the text of the Proposal is the equivalent of “shouting it from the rooftops”. Friedman’s statement was made almost by stealth, as though the drafters of this text do not want their clarification to be noticed. In the past, Netanyahu would issue his statements regarding the status quo in a similar manner: he would issue them in English only, late on a Saturday night, and then relegating the text to some obscure location on the Prime Minister’s website.
Finally, even if, as stated by Friedman, this change will not take place anytime soon, what has been said cannot be unsaid. The activists in the Temple Mount movement are ecstatic, flaunting their success on social media and promising to take advantage of the new situation. Instead of having a moderating influence on the various stakeholders on the Mount, this original text emboldens those who are already dangerously pushing the limits of the status quo. Anything less than an unequivocal and highly visible revision is tantamount to playing with matches at one of the most volatile locations on the planet. The prospect of an event leading to an eruption of violence is more likely today than it was before the release of the Proposal.”
On the list of holy sites in the Trump Plan:
“This selective sanctity on display in this list is quite significant and reflects a very specific, highly developed biblically driven narrative… The settlers of East Jerusalem make no bones about their objectives: they seek to establish an ancient Biblical realm in and around Jerusalem’s Old City, one in which real and purported sacred, historical and archeological sites establish the hegemony of their biblically motivated narrative. In doing so, they marginalize the equities of Muslims, and turn the Palestinian residents in the targeted areas into communities at risk…Just as the proposed change in the status quo reveals that the Trump administration has adopted the views of the extreme Temple Mount movement, its views regarding the epicenter of the conflict of between Israelis and Palestinians – the Old City and its visual basin – are virtually indistinguishable from those of East Jerusalem’s extreme settler organization, in general, and of the Elad settlers in particular. As with the settlers of East Jerusalem, in the Jerusalem of the Trump Proposal, even mundane or questionable Jewish history is sacred, while Arab and Muslim history does not exist.”
On the special tourist zone in Atarot (a wild concept not widely or accurately covered by press) Terrestrial Jerusalem writes:
“The Proposal stipulates that Israel create a special tourist zone [for Palestinian use] at Atarot, currently an industrial park several miles to the north of the city center, and which is to remain part Israel. This is to become a Special Tourist Area, even though there is nothing in the area which ends itself to tourism, nor are there sites of historic value. From this location, access to the Muslim Holy Shrines will be streamlined, with Palestinian tour guides licensed to lead tours. It is noteworthy that the Palestinians’ permission to conduct tours is limited to the Old City, and to Christian and Muslim sites elsewhere in the city. A Joint Tourist Development Authority will be created to allow Palestine to accrue some of the economic benefits of that tourism. This is the only example in the Proposal in which the Palestinians of the West Bank have any palpable stake in Jerusalem. However, even here, Israel is the arbiter of what tourists guided by Palestinian tour guides may see, and that is limited in scope.”
On the de-nationalization of Palestinians in East Jerusalem:
“The residents of East Jerusalem have individual rights as Arabs, not as Palestinians. They have religious rights in the city as Muslims, but not as Palestinians. They have material rights as tour guides and tourists (provided they limit their tourism to the sites Israel deems to be important to them). …By all acceptable measures, be it under international law or based on the empirical realities on the ground, East Jerusalem is occupied. However, in no way does the Proposal attempt to end occupation, for the simple reason that in their operative conceptual worlds, occupation simply does not exist. The proposal offers Palestinians of East Jerusalem a devil’s bargain: shed your national identity and your aspirations for a life within a Palestinian national collective, and you will be rewarded with certain privileges.”
For full analysis from Terrestrial Jerusalem, click here.
In anticipation of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) elections this October, Peace Now has published a two-page reminder about the group’s role in driving the illegal expansion of Israel’s settlement and outpost enterprise, which it did through it Settlement Division, in coordination with the Jewish National Fund. Peace Now Settlement Watch co-Director Hagit Ofran also recorded a webinar to discuss the new paper and the importance of the upcoming WZO elections.
The Settlement Division is a body within the WZO established in 1971 and fully funded by the Israeli government. Its mission was, and remains, to provide a channel by which the government can establish settlements – legally and illegally – in the occupied territories, while avoiding the pesky rules, regulations, and transparency requirements to which government entities are bound. The Israel government assigned management responsibilities to the WZO for over 60% of the land in the West Bank which the government declared to be “state land” (90,000 acres/400,000 dumans). The WZO has given that land to settlers to build settlements and secretly funnel government money to illegal outposts.
For its part, the Jewish National Fund (referred to as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, or the KKL-JNF) started purchasing land in the West Bank in the early 1900s, for the explicit purpose of resettling Jews there. After 1967 and the commencement of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the KKL-JNF role changed to supporting the establishment and growth of settlements across the West Bank, and the eviction of Paelstinians from their homes in East Jerusalem in favor of Israeli settlers (including tthe recent eviction of the Sumarin family in Silwan).
A recent tweet by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman included a picture of him planting an olive tree on the grounds of the former U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem (now used as the Ambassador’s residence), standing alongside an agent of the KKL-JNF.
- “How do settlers takeover “ (+972 Magazine)
- “Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan Isn’t New. It Plagiarized a 40-Year Old Israeli Initiative” (Foreign Policy)
- “Israel’s Rejection of UN List of Companies Tied to Settlements Reveals Stark Truth About Annexation” (Haaretz)
- “Facing Blowback From Annexation” (Haaretz)
- “What is Donald Trump’s Vision for Jerusalem?” (Jerusalem Post)
- “Turkey hands Palestinians Ottoman land archive” (Middle East Monitor)