Settlement Report: February 21, 2020


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

Questions/comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy (

Netanyahu Green Lights Construction of Doomsday Settlement Givat Hamatos – & Massive Expansion of Har Homa

On February 20th, Prime Minister Nentanyahu announced that he had lifted the freeze his government had put on building the controversial East Jerusalem settlement of Givat Hamatos and on the significant expansion of the Har Homa settlement (essentially creating a new settlement area called Har Homa West), both of which are located in geopolitically sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu said that he had given his blessing for plans that outline 3,000 units to be built at the Givat HaMatos settlement site (assuming, conservatively, a family size of 5, this means housing for 15,000 settlers) and for 2,200 new units in Har Homa West (i.e., housing for around 11,000 settlers).

Map by Peace Now

Speaking at a vista overlooking the Har Homa settlement, and alongside Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon and Israeli Housing Minister Yariv Levin, Netanyahu also announced the government will be building 1,000 new homes for Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa – an East Jerusalem neighborhood which will be completely encircled by Israeli construction if/when the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa West settlement plans are implemented. 

Ir Amim writes:

If advanced, these new settlements will essentially connect the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will serve to detach Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Constituting a long term strategy of Israeli governments, construction of large settlements is employed as a means to fracture the Palestinian space and unilaterally determine the boundaries of Jerusalem to prevent the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city.”

Unlike the Givat Hamatos plans, which were fully approved in 2014 and have since been awaiting the issuance of construction tenders, the plans to expand Har Homa towards Givat Hamatos are in preliminary stages of the planning process. The Jerusalem Planning & Building Committee is scheduled to meet on February 27th and is expected to initiate plans for Har Homa West. Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran points out to The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s numbers regarding Har Homa were imprecise (the only Givat Hamatos plan slated to be considers outlines 2,610 units, not 3,000; and the project in Beit Safafa is for 805 homes not 1,000).

On the Har Homa plans, when rumors regarding these plans circulated in January 2020, Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann – who previously predicted Givat Hamatos will move in relation to Israeli election calendar – weighed in with concerns which remain relevant, saying:

“The construction potential at Har Homa has been exhausted, and it’s not possible to build anything near 2,000 units. So what are they talking about? Something is clearly going on. Three possibilities come to mind, all problematic…Possibility no. 1: the nearby planned doomsday settlement of Givat Hamatos, which is awaiting tenders. Possibility no. 2: Hirbet Mazmoriyya, to the northeast of Har Homa. The lands owned by Palestinians that will have to be expropriated. Not likely. Too complicated and controversial. Possibility no. 3: the area wedged btwn. Mar Elias Monastery, the Hebron Road,  the 300 Checkpoint, dubbed Bethlehem Gate or Har Homa West. The land is ownership is a mixture of Palestinian &Church lands, along with settlement developers.”

Peace Now said in response to this week’s news:

“This is the last point that can allow territorial contiguity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem — the most significant Palestinian metropolitan area — and if the neighborhood is built, it will not be possible to connect the two cities. Such a policy change cannot be passed in a transitional government without a mandate from the public. This move is therefore but another cynical election exercise by Netanyahu to the detriment of the interests of all Israeli citizens.”

Palestinian Authority President Abbas quickly denounced Netanyahu’s announcement and insinuated it is a politcal stunt, saying in a statement:

“Netanyahu’s attempts to win right-wing Israeli votes on the eve of the Israeli elections at the expense of Palestinian rights will not bring peace and stability to anyone, and will lead to more tension and violence in the region.”

Israel Introduces Plan to Build Atarot Settlement in East Jerusalem, An Apparent Contradiction to the Trump Plan

On February 9th, the Israeli Ministry of Housing officially introduced a plan to build a new settlement on the site of the disused Atarot airport, located at the northern tip of East Jerusalem – an area that the Trump Plan seems to suggest would be the site for a Palestinian tourism zone (under the plan, that zone would be located entirely inside the state of Israel, and therefore subject to the complete control of Israeli authorities).

The Atarot settlements plan, which has existed for years, occasionally popping into the news and then disappearing, calls for up to 9,000 residential units aimed for ultra-Orthodox Jews (assuming, conservatively, an average family size of 6, this means housing form 54,000 people), as well as synagogues, ritual baths (mikvehs), commercial properties, offices and work spaces, a hotel, and a water reservoir. If built, the Atarot settlement will effectively be an Israeli enclave, surrounded by Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods on three sides and Ramallah to its north.

Terrestrial Jerusalem’s Daniel Seidemann explains important context of the plan:

”This plan has been around since 2007. Every few years rears its ugly head, only to disappear for another few years. The obstacles to implementation are almost insurmountable but under Trump & Netanyahu, the unthinkable is commonplace. The plan keeps being ressurrected because it is the darling of the ultra-Orthodox. The land reserves in Jerusalem have been pretty much exhausted, and the haredim are leaving for Beit Shemesh and the settlements of Beitar and Modi’in Illit. They are pushing. There is even talk of a surrealistic plan to build a tunnel under the Qalandia Refugee Camp, linking the planned Atarot settlement with the existing West Bank settlement of Kochav Yaacov.”

There are currently 15 Palestinian families living in buildings on the land slated for the settlement, part of which is privately owned by Palestinians; other land in the area has been declared “state land” or belongs to the Jewish National Fund. To solve the problem of Palestinian land owners, the Israeli government will need to evict the Palestinians living there and demolish their homes — a step that will be facilitated by the fact that all of the homes lack Israeli-issued building permits (which are essentially impossible for Palestinians to receive). The private Palestinian landowners will then be subjected to a non-consensual process of reparcelization, in which Israel will unilaterally reparcel and then redistribute the land amongst its owners on the basis of the value of the land (as determined by Israel) and the percentage of their ownership claim.

Though the recently released Trump Plan does not explicitly designate the disused Atarot Airport as the site for a “special tourism zone,” this land is the only remaining undeveloped area in the Atarot. Explaining why the Atarot settlements plan has now resurfaced, despite the fact the has it contradicts the Trump Plan, Daniel Seidemann explains:

“The fact that the planned settlement contradicts the Trump plan’s designation as a Special Tourist Area for Palestinians is no problem at all: both Netanyahu and Trump secretly have silent contempt for the plan, exceeded only by their open contempt for the Palestinians. What is this REALLY all about? Elections. Courting the ultra-Orthodox, there is no rabbit that Netanyahu will not pull out of his sleeve before elections, even if the rabbit turns out to be a dead squirrel.”

The Atarot airport site is an important commodity and, during past negotiations, it was previously promised to the Palestinians for their state’s future international gateway. The Trump Plan borders, and Israels long-held desire to develop 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. In December 2019, rumors on the plan once again rumbled, but nothing came of it.

Peace Now said:

“Netanyahu wants to strike another deadly blow to the prospect of a two-state solution. The planned settlement neighborhood drives a wedge in the heart of the Palestinian urban continuity between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, thus preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with capital in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu is dragging Israel into a reality of a bi-national apartheid state and is putting the Zionist enterprise in jeopardy.”

Ir Amim writes:

“It is important to emphasize that construction of this new neighborhood/settlement (also marked in pale green in Greater Jerusalem map below) will create an Israeli residential area between Ramallah and Kufr Aqab and East Jerusalem, driving a wedge between Ramallah and Jerusalem from the north. Such a plan will significantly fragment Palestinian land contiguity necessary for any independent and viable Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem similar to the implications of potential future construction in the E1 area to the east and Givat Hamatos in the south. These measures serve to further seal off East Jerusalem from the West Bank and reinforce Israeli control of these areas, rendering the two-state framework based on two capitals in the heart of Jerusalem nonviable.”

Joint US-Israeli Mapping Committee Unveiled

On February 15th, the White House confirmed that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman will be leading the U.S. delegation appointed to the joint U.S.-Israeli committee formed to precisely map the Trump Plan. From the American side, Friedman will be joined by his longtime advisor Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone (a political appointee) as well as National Security Council advisor Scott Leith (a career military officer). From the Israeli side, Netanyahu has appointed Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Ronen Peretz (director of the Prime Minister’s Office), and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.

The committee is tasked with lying down exact borders in accordance with the Trump Plan, which would see Israel annexing around 30% of the West Bank, including nearly all of settlements and the entire Jordan Valley. The “conceptual map” published alongside the Trump Plan lacked granular detail, and, conspicuously, large icons covered some of the most delicate and geopolitically important areas when it comes to drawing borders. At the press conference unveiling the plan, Trump stated that once the committee was done with its work the U.S. will immediately recognize Israeli sovereignty based upon the map. 

Last week, Netanyahu suggested that the Israeli government has already started the mapping process, and that the committee’s work will not take “too long.”

Israel Advances Plan for New High Speed Rail Station, Requiring Tunnel Under the Old City’s Historic Basin

On February 17th, Israel’s National Infrastructure Committee approved a highly controversial route for a new segment of Israel’s high speed rail way, which will connect the Ben Gurion International Airport directly to the Western Wall,  inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The new rail line will require the construction of a 1.8 mile-long tunnel leading to the walls of the Old City, extending underneath some of the most sensitive and potentially explosive territory on earth: the Old City’s historic basin. 

Specifically, the tunnel would run beneath the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – above which Israel is simultaneously advancing plans to build a new cable car line. Both projects, according to the archeological experts at Emek Shaveh, will negatively impact Palestinian inhabitants of the area, infringing on their rights and quality of life.. In addition to damaging Palestinian property and safety, the tunnel project is opposed by archeologists because it will disrupt archeological layers in what is one of the most historically and archeologically rich areas on earth. The plan also poses a pollution threat to a nearby historic spring.

Emek Shaveh writes:

“the NIC yesterday approved the route, likely due to political pressures on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and settler organizations who view the train as another means of directly connecting settlements and tourist sites in East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem. The train’s route includes a strip that runs underneath dozens of Palestinian homes in the neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan, parallel to the southern wall of the Old City. These are the same residents over whom the cable car is scheduled to be built. Even though both these projects will not be situated on the residential level, it is clear that the ventilation, above-ground infrastructure, and more, will be constructed adjacent to, or even on, Palestinian residents’ territory….Following the approval of the cable car plan to the Western Wall, the National Infrastructure Committee approved the advancement of the train’s route, which will further destroy the Western Wall area. It appears that government ministers are competing to see who will advance the most destructive transportation plan for Jerusalem’s Old City, which will ultimately serve the interests of a handful of settlers, to the detriment of hundreds of residents. The Israel Antiquities Authority, in its professional capacity, ought to prevent harmful development that will result in destruction of Jerusalem’s antiquities.”

The Kingdom of Jordan, which holds a special role as caretaker of Muslim sites in the Old City, quickly and strongly spoke out against the plan. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry called the plan a “flagrant violation of international law” and urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”.

The Israeli plan to extend the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed line to the Western Wall has been in the works since 2017. Introduced by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, the plan intends to name the station underneath the Old City after U.S. President Donald Trump.

Amazon Offers Free Shipping to Israeli Settlements, Not Palestinians

A report by Financial Times revealed the curious fact that Amazon, the online shopping and shipping giant, offers free shipping on orders over $49  to customers in the West Bank – so long as customers indicate that their addresses are in Israel. What this means in practice is that Amazon free shipping is available for settlers only. 

In a statement to Middle East Eye, an Amazon spokesman cited logistical challenges in delivering to Palestinian areas due to Israeli-imposed inspections, saying: 

“In November, we launched a free shipping promotion for customers within Israel. This does not include the Palestinian Territories, as we cannot guarantee the high standard of delivery experience that Amazon customers expect.

Peace Now told Financial Times that Amazon’s policy “adds to the overall picture of one group of people enjoying the privileges of citizenship while another people living in the same territory do not”.

Diana Buttu told Financial Times that Amazon’s policy is “allowing the settlement activity to be viewed as legal when [it’s] not. The issue is just how normalized the settlements have become, not just in Israeli eyes, but in international eyes. And that’s the problem, it’s that unless you begin to treat them as illegal, then it becomes so natural for them to become normalised.”

Michael Sfard told Financil Times that Amazon’s policy is “blatant discrimination between potential customers on the basis of their nationality.” 

Six EU Countries Argue that  ICC Jurisdiction Does Not Have Jurisdiction Over Israeli Settlements, Others Push EU Recognition of Palestine

Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary have appealed to the International Criminal Court to join their investigation into Israeli practices, in order to present their argument that the Court does not have jurisdiction over Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank (perhaps related to their own hesitancy to grant the ICC universal jurisdiction over their own affairs). While Israel – which also denies the Court’s jurisdiction over its actions – is not likely to participate in the Court’s proceedings, these European countries echo Israel’s main arguments against the case. In addition to state filings, several non-governmental organizations also filed to join the case as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) on the side of Israel.

Haaretz reports that perhaps the most consequential filing on the case came from the court’s own Office of Public Counsel for the Defense (akin to a public defender’s office for the ICC). Haaretz reports that:

“[the Office of Public Counsel for the Defense] believes that the jurisdiction issue should be deferred until a specific case is brought before the court. Rather, that question should be discussed in concert with the charges. Why? In order to protect the rights of future defendants to raise the issues during their trials. That, because the ICC prosecutes individuals, not states. Experts in international law say that could also turn out to be the surprising position of the judges, who would pass the hot potato to the prosecutor. In that event, no friend would be able to block an investigation. That, because the ICC prosecutes individuals, not states. Experts in international law say that could also turn out to be the surprising position of the judges, who would pass the hot potato to the prosecutor. In that event, no friend would be able to block an investigation.”

At the same time, a different set of European countries, led by Luxembourg, are reportedly considering offering a motion at the upcoming meeting of European Union foreign ministers to extend EU recognition to the state of Palestine. Haaretz reports that Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn is in discussions with the foreign ministers of Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Malta and Slovenia.

Bonus Reads

  1. “Congressmen to Samaria Council Head: We’ll fight UN blacklist.” (Arutz Sheva)
  2. “More hospitals and cheaper houses: Netanyahu, Barkat unveil new financial plan” (Ynet)
  3. “Settlement winery unveils ‘Pompeo’ wine in show of appreciation” (The Times of Israel)