Settlement Report: January 10, 2020


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

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January 10, 2020

  1. ICC Opens Formal Investigation into Israeli War Crimes, Including Israeli Settlements
  2. Israel to ICC: You Do Not Have Jurisdiction & You Will Not Stop Us from Advancing Settlements and Annexation
  3. Following ICC Announcement, Israel Advances Plans for Nearly 2,000 Settlement Units
  4. Following ICC Announcement, Israel Begins Planning Jordan Valley Annexation
  5. Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 1: New Settlement Enclave in Palestinian Neighborhood
  6. Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 2: Reports on Har Homa & Rumors on Givat Hamatos
  7. Plan Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 3: Israel Approves Plans for Two More Settler-Run Tourist Sites in East Jerusalem
  8. Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 4:  Tenders for Pisgat Zeev and Gilo
  9. For Second Time, Israeli Court Rules Against Settler Claim to Bakri House in Hebron
  10. Peace Now Wins Interim Decision Against Secretive Public Funding to Amana
  11. Israeli Court Dismisses Palestinian Landowners’ Petition Against the Ofra Settlement
  12. Bennett Launches Initiative to More Aggressively Police Palestinians in Area C
  13. Bennett Appoints Key Settler Ally to Lead New Government Task Force on Area C Annexation Plans, Immediately Announces Plan to Legalize Settlements
  14. Following ICC Announcement, Pompeo Says Israel Has “Fundamental Rights” to Land
  15. Pro-Settlement Legal Forum Conference Draws Big Names, Big Promises
  16. Bonus Reads

Comments/questions? Email Kristin McCarthy (

ICC Opens Formal Investigation into Israeli War Crimes, Including Israeli Settlements

On December 20, 2019 the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda announced that the court has found a reasonable basis upon which to open an investigation into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Bensouda said that the preliminary investigation, launched five years ago, established sufficient evidence of war crimes, citing Israeli settlements and Israel’s conduct during its 2014 incursion into the Gaza Strip, which Israel gave the title “Operation Protective Edge”. The statement said that the Court found evidence that Hamas and armed Palestinian groups also committed war crimes during the 50 days of hostilities in 2014.

Before proceeding with a formal investigation, Bensouda requested a pre-trial chamber to rule on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction, as outlined in the Rome Statute, over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Bensouda requested a ruling on the matter within 120 days. Bensouda has previously articulated her opinion on the matter, suggesting that questions regarding Palestinian statehood do not necessarily need to be resolved because Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute and formally became a “State Party” to the court. 

Israel to ICC: You Do Not Have Jurisdiction & You Will Not Stop Us from Advancing Settlements and Annexation

Prior to Bensouda’s announcement on December 20th that the ICC will proceed with an investigation into Israeli war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit published a 34-page legal opinion arguing that the Court does not have jurisdiction over those territories because Palestine does not meet the criteria for statehood, and non-sovereign entities cannot confer jurisdiction to the Court. Notably, that opinion doesn’t address (let alone dispute or challenge) the assertion that Israeli actions might constitute war crimes.

Going beyond Mandleblit’s legal arguments, Netanyahu launched a disingenuous attack on Bensouda’s criticism of Israeli settlements, saying:

“[Bensouda] says it is a crime, a war crime, for Jews to live in their homeland, the land of the Bible, the land of our forefathers.”

Netanyahu later said:

“This will not deter us — not in the slightest”

Netanyahu is riding a wave of defiant, ultra-confident language following his Dec. 27th victory in the Likud primaries, after which he promised to secure U.S. recognition for Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank. In his victory speech, Netanyahu laid out a 6-point plan he will implement if he goes on to win the March 2020 elections:

“First, we will finalize our borders; second, we will push the US to recognize our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea; third, we will push for US recognition of our extension of sovereignty over all the communities in Judea and Samaria, all of them without exception; fourth, we will push for a historic defense alliance with the US that will preserve Israeli freedom of action; fifth, stop Iran and its allies decisively; and sixth, push for normalization and agreements that will lead to peace accords with Arab countries. The opportunities are within reach.”

Demonstrating that Netanyahu means what he says, shortly following the ICC’s announcement his government advanced plans for nearly 2,000 settlement units and launched the planning process for annexing the Jordan Valley. Both of these items – in addition to several other significant settlement advancements which were not explicitly linked to the ICC’s announcement – are covered in detail below.

Following ICC Announcement, Israel Advances Plans for Nearly 2,000 Settlement Units 

Over the course of a two-day meeting Jan 5-6, 2020, the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee approved plans for 1,936 settlement units, of which 786 units received final approval for construction. The Israeli Civil Administration is the body of the Defense Ministry which regulates all construction in the West Bank, both Palestinian and Israeli settler.

 The Civil Administration granted final approval to the following plans:

  • A plan for 258 units in the unauthorized Haresha outpost, located east of Ramallah, to take them to the final stage of the approval process. If granted final approval, the plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing the Haresha outpost. This outpost has been one of several test cases for the Israel government’s evolving legal justifications for granting retroactive approval to unauthorized outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land. In the case of Haresha, an outpost built on an island of “state land” surrounded by privately owned Palestinian land, then-Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked issued a new legal opinion in December 2018 outlining a legal basis for temporarily seizing the private Palestinian land for the construction of a tunnel road underneath it (essentially holding that Palestinian land rights – which can be temporarily infringed upon at any time for the sake of the settlements – do not extend below the ground’s surface). The tunnel road has not yet been constructed, an important qualification that Israel, to this point, has generally required outposts to meet prior to legalization. 
  • 147 units in the Mitzpe Yericho settlement, located just west of the Palestinian city of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing existing illegal construction in the settlement.
  • 120 units in the Karnei Shomron settlement, located in the northern West Bank east of the Palestinian village of Qalqilya. Israel is planning to continue expanding Karnei Shomron with the stated goal of bringing 1 million settlers to live in the area surrounding the settlement.
  • 107 units in the Elon Moreh settlement, located east of Nablus.
  • 100 units in the Halamish settlement, (where settlers have built a strategic outpost, with the protection of the IDF, in order to further restrict Palestinian access to the area);
  • 25 units in the Peduel settlement, located in the northern West Bank and part of a string of settlements and unauthorized outposts – most notably Ariel – extending from the Green Line into the very heart of the West Bank and on towards the Jordan Valley.
  • 12 units in the Ariel settlement, located in the central West Bank.
  • 10 units in the Etz Efraim settlement, located in the northern West Bank, one of several settlements slated to become a “super settlement” area.
  • 7 units in the Rechelim settlement, located east of the Ariel settlement and south of Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.

The Civil Administration advanced the following plans:

  • 224 units in the Talmon settlement, located west of Ramallah.
  • 204 units in the Shilo settlement, located in the central West Bank.
  • A plan for 180 units in the unauthorized Mitzpe Danny outpost, located east of Ramallah. If approved, the plan will have the effect of retroactively legalizing the outpost, which was built without Israeli permission in 1999 in an area that includes privately owned Palestinian land. The Binyamin Regional Council – a settler body acting as the municipal government for settlements in the central West Bank – has been angling to retroactively legalize Mitzpe Danny for some time. As part of that effort, the regional council successfully lobbied for approval of a plan to build an educational campus for settlers that will create a territorial link between the Maale Mikhmash settlement (which has official recognition from the government) and the outpost. That plan received final approval in January 2019.
  • 160 units in the Kochav Yaakov settlement, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
  • 92 units in the Tzofim settlement, one of the settlements that flank the Palestinian city of Qalqilya in the northern West Bank.
  • 91 units in the Almon settlement, located northeast of Jerusalem.
  • 136 units in the Givat Zeev settlement, located south of Ramallah.
  • 63 units in the Maale Adumim settlement, located just east of Jerusalem.
  • A plan for 204 new units in the Shvut Rachel settlement, which only recently became an authorized settlement area when Israel extended the jurisdiction of the Shiloh settlement to include it as a “neighborhood” (along with three other outposts). 

Peace Now said in a statement

“Despite lacking a clear mandate, for this caretaker government it’s business as usual – Continue the massive promotion of harmful and unnecessary construction in occupied territory and in places that Israel will have to evacuate. Netanyahu continues to sabotage the prospects of peace, dragging Israel into an anti-democratic one-state reality resembling apartheid.”

The Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing all the settlements, celebrated the approvals, saying in a statement:

“To our delight, construction in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley is commonplace and we are pleased to see that every few months plans are up in the Supreme Planning Council. The time has come for extremist Leftist organizations to accept that the U.S. has also declared that settling in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley is not contrary to international law and that applying Israeli sovereignty is a consensus in the State of Israel. After eight years of unprecedented construction freeze, the government regularly approves construction and we strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister on their blessed work. We need more and more construction to promote the prosperity and growth of settlement.”

The head of the Binyamin Regional Council, Yisrael Gantz, spoke happily about the settlement advancements but also kept focused on the settlement movement’s ultimate demand: annexation.  Gantz told Arutz Sheva:

“This is undoubtedly an important and significant step. I hope we will soon be able to applaud the application of full Israeli sovereignty and the closure of the Civil Administration in order to truly develop the regions of our amazing country, in the same way that it is possible in the entire State of Israel.”

Despite the celebratory remarks, settlers were disappointed with the final number of settlement units, which fell short of the 3,000 units Netanyahu promised to advance on the eve of the Likud primary leadership vote (which went in Netanyahu’s favor). When promising the 3,000 units, Netanyahu also promised:

“We are going to bring [secure] US recognition for our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley [and] in all the settlements, those in the blocs and those that are beyond it.”

Following ICC Announcement, Israel Begins Planning Jordan Valley Annexation

On January 5th, the inter-ministerial committee created to plan the annexation of the Jordan Valley held its first meeting, in an effort to prepare an official proposal for how Israel can annex the Jordan Valley. The committee – dubbed the “Sovereignty Committee” – is headed by the Prime Minister’s Office Director General Ronen Peretz and includes representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Israel Defense Forces, and the National Security Council. 

The meeting took place despite (or perhaps because of) reports that Netanayhu put Jordan Valley annexation plans in a “deep freeze” following ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s announcement on Dec. 20th that the Court will open an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Following those reports, the head of the Yesha Council, the settler umbrella group, David ElHayani spoke to Netanyahu on the phone to gain reassurance that the annexation plan was not frozen, which Netanyahu reportedly gave him. 

Haaretz reports:

Sources familiar with the establishment of the inter-ministerial committee told Haaretz that the insistence on moving forward with the discussions are mainly to show that the idea has not been abandoned due to international pressure.”

Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 1: New Settlement Enclave in Palestinian Neighborhood

On January 8th the Jerusalem District Planning Committee granted final approval to a new 75-unit settlement compound to be built in the heart of the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. If built, it will be the first-ever authorized settlement project in Beit Hanina, located north of the Old City. 

May by Haaretz

The Beit Hanina settlement plan – as FMEP has previously reported – is backed and promoted by settlement impresario Aryeh King, and it provides for the construction of a total of 150 new units in the southern end of the Beit Hanina neighborhood. The land slated for the 150 units is privately owned,  53% of the land is owned by an Israeli who is supportive of the plan, and 47% by a Palestinian company who objects to the plan and has fought against it. Because the land has not been surveyed to demarcate the split ownership, Israeli planning authorities decided that the settlement plan is designated for the entire property, with construction rights split evenly between the parties, meaning the 75 units granted final approval on January 8th represent the Israeli-controlled half of the project. 

Ir Amim notes the larger picture of Isreali settlement activity north of the Old City:

“In close proximity to Ramat Shlomo to the southwest and Pisgat Zeev to the northeast, construction of this new compound may signal the beginning of a move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while fracturing the contiguous space between Bet Hanina and Shuafat. As exemplified by the ring of state-sponsored settlement strongholds throughout the Old City Basin, the establishment of a settler enclave in the midst of Beit Hanina will not only impact the fabric of this community, but will further erode opening conditions for a political solution to the conflict based on two capitals in Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim explains essential context:

“the plan will enable an ideologically driven settler outpost in the heart of Beit Hanina, a neighborhood located on the northern perimeter of East Jerusalem that has remained relatively untouched by Israeli settlement within its limits. Since the land in question is not far from Ramat Shlomo to the south-west and Pisgat Zeev to the north-east of it, its construction may mark the beginning of a far sweeping move to create contiguity between the two settlements, while driving a wedge between Bet Hanina and Shuafat.”

Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 2: Reports on Har Homa & Rumors on Givat Hamatos

On January 7th, the popular Isareli broadcaster network Kan reported that the Prime Minister’s office has blocked a plan to build 2,000 new settlement units in the settlement of Har Homa, citing “diplomatic difficulties.” In response to an inquiry, the office did not deny the report, but issued the following statement:

“Israel has built in Jerusalem, is building in Jerusalem and will continue building in Jerusalem — while exercising judgment.”

Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann raised a key question and larger concerns about the reports concerning Har Homa, 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 betw. 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.”

Ir Amim notes that, while reportedly stalling the Har Homa plan, Netanyahu is – in fact – simultaneously facing mounting pressure to issue tenders for the construction of the Givat Hamatos settlement, the site for which is the northern border of Har Homa. Ir Amim writes:

“Last week, rightwing groups launched a coordinated campaign to exert pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance construction in the area of Givat Hamatos, which has been essentially frozen for the past six years. While the approval of the plan for 2,610 housing units in the area was formally published in 2014, there has been no announcement of tenders since then. This has been largely attributed to international opposition, namely from the United States and Germany. Likely attempting to ratchet up pressure on Netanyahu in lead-up to the upcoming elections in March, the campaign has been spearheaded on a public level by rightwing organizations. Several prominent rabbis known for supporting the settler movement penned a letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to announce the tenders for Givat Hamatos, while rightwing media outlets have published daily articles demanding an ‘end to the freeze.’ A rightwing institute likewise published a lengthy paper on the significance of establishing a new settlement in the area as a means of thwarting any potential future division of Jerusalem within the framework of a resumed peace process.”

Plan Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 3: Israel Approves Plans for Two More Settler-Run Tourist Sites in East Jerusalem 

On December 25, 2019 the Jerusalem Local Planning approved two significant settler-backed schemes in East Jerusalem:

  1. The committee approved the Israeli government’s plan to seize land in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in order to establish a park adjacent to the infamous Shepherd Hotel, an historic/iconic building that was taken over by the radical Ateret Chohanim settler organization in 2011. The new park – called “Hakidron Park” has been discussed and considered by Israeli governments for the past 15 years.
  2. The committee also approved the Israeli government’s plan to confiscate land in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of East Jerusalem, for the purpose of opening a tourist and religious services center on the Mount of Olives, adjacent to the Jewish cemetery. The Jerusalem Municipality hired an architect, Arie Rahamivov, who is also employed by the radical Elad settler group for the planning and construction of their crown jewel: the Kedem Center in Silwan. The new center in Ras al Amud will be yet another tourist center under the management of Elad, which already operates another visitors center on the Mount of Olives.

Ir Amim writes:

“Approval of the aforementioned land expropriations would signal intent to begin construction at both sites and will help to further solidify the settlement ring around the Old City Basin. While both plans can be posited as innocuous municipal initiatives to serve local residents and visitors to the areas, such touristic projects play an integral role in expanding the scope of settlement strongholds in the area and creating a more contiguous Israeli space, while diffusing the political agenda behind these efforts.”

Plans Advance in East Jerusalem, Part 4:  Tenders for Pisgat Zeev and Gilo

Ir Amim reports that the Israel Lands Authority published construction tenders for the following East Jerusalem settlements in early January:

  • 3 tenders for a total of 461 new settlement units in the Pisgat Zeev
  • 1 tender for commercial buildings in the Gilo settlement, located 

For Second Time, Israeli Court Rules Against Settler Claim to Bakri House in Hebron

On December 23rd, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the Palestinian Bakri family are the rightful owners of a disputed property in Hebron. This ruling should deal a final blow to the 18-year long legal battle settlers have waged to gain control of the Bakri family house (“should”, not “will”, because the settlers have repeated been dealt defeats in court and each time are able to manufacture a new claim or appeal) .

The ruling – which affirmed a March 2019 ruling by the Magistrate court, which the settlers had appealed – called for the immediate evacuation of the settlers whom Israel has permitted to illegally squat in the house while the legal processes were ongoing. For a full history of the Bakri house saga, see here.

Following the ruling, Peace Now said:

“[the] court again ruled that the settlers had forged [documents] and lied all along… We hope that after [almost] two decades of violence, lies and terror, justice will be carried out and the invaders will be evicted.”

Peace Now Wins Interim Decision Against Secretive Public Funding to Amana 

In response to a Peace Now petition, on December 31st the Israeli High Court issued an interim decision that requires state bodies to request approval from the court before transferring funds to Amana, a settlement body which is known to undertake illegal settlement activities across the West Bank. Peace Now filed the petition after discovering that state bodies have been secretly funneling money to Amana. 

Peace Now said in a statement

“Amana is the most significant organization operating in the settlements. For decades, it has overseen the establishment of dozens of illegal outposts and neighborhoods with the help of massive budgets, some of which have been transferred from Israeli taxpayer money through local settlement authorities in violation of the law. The judges’ decision is a dramatic yet necessary step that limits, for the time being, this illicit transfer of funds to illegal projects in the settlements and outposts. We hope that in this spirit, the court will rule that public funds should no longer be transferred to Amana via subsidy procedures. This situation in which the State of Israel backs illegal activities with public funds is unconscionable, and we urge the Israeli government to put an end to it.”

Israeli Court Dismisses Palestinian Landowners’ Petition Against the Ofra Settlement

On January 6th, the Israeli High Court of Justice dismissed a petition filed by Palestinian landowners challenging the legality of the Ofra settlement. The petition was based on the fact that the settlement is partially built on privately owned Palestinian land. The court ruled that the majority of the settlement had been built on land expropriated by Israel, and that the minority of land that Palestinians claim ownership over was not enough to invalidate the entire Master Plan for the settlement. Further, the court stated that the settlement structures built on the privately owned Palestinian land were built by settlers “in good faith,” under the mistaken belief that land had also been expropriated by the Israeli government. 

Map by Peace Now

This High Court ruling does not fix the legal status of Ofra settlement buildings, but it is nonetheless significant because it continues to deny Palestinians their property rights. Likewise, it gives a green light to  the use of the “market regulation” principle to expropriate land in order to retroactively legalize the structures. As a reminder, the “market regulation” principle – which was invented by the Israeli Attorney General – holds that if settlers acted “in good faith” when they built on privately owned Palestinian land, the state can expropriate that land, thereby making what was illegal before, now perfectly legal.

The Ofra settlement’s legal situation has long been an issue that the Israeli government has tried to fix.  Ofra was first established by settlers on land that the Jordanian government had expropriated in 1966, in order to build a military base (which was never built). The Israeli government used this pretext to expropriate the land in 1977, in order to recognize the Ofra settlement, which had been established illegally but with tacit cooperation of the government on the site two years earlier. However, the settlers built the majority of the Ofra settlement on land that was not expropriated by Israel in 1977 —  land that was in fact registered to Palestinians from the nearby village of Ein Yabroud. In light of the legal status of the land, no Israeli government has since found a way to fix the legal status of these homes (not for lack of trying) – meaning that the majority of the structures in Ofra were built without permits, making them illegal under Israeli law. 

Peace Now elaborates on what is at stake in the Ofra settlement case:

“Most of the houses built in Ofra (approximately 413 out of 625) were built on an area of ​​550 dunams of privately owned Palestinian land. In addition, hundreds of dunams of Palestinian private land were seized for roads in Ofra, as well as infrastructure and agricultural lands for the settlers. The only way to regulate the theft of these lands would be to expropriate them from the Palestinian landowners for the benefit of the settlers, in complete contradiction to the positions of previous Israeli governments and legal advisors, and contrary to binding rulings of the High Court. Although the current legal advisor (Avichai Mandelblit) allowed land expropriation in some places for settlement purposes (for example, in Haresha), in the regulation of massive land theft such as in Ofra the Israeli government would be crossing a new red line.”

FMEP documents the government’s efforts to expropriate Palestinian land for the settlements in its Annexation Policy Tables.

Bennett Launches Initiative to More Aggressively Demolish Palestinian Construction in Area C

Making the most of his appointment as Israeli Defense Minister in the current caretaker government, Naftali Bennett is pushing an initiative to annex Area C and to aggressively demolish Palestinian construction in the area (reminder: Area C constitutes nearly 60% of the West Bank; it is land that under Oslo II was supposed to have been “gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction”).

As part of his efforts, Bennett has launched legal research into how Israeli can bring settlement building in Area C under the direct authority of the Justice Ministry, cutting out the Civil Administration. This Civil Administration, it should be recalled, is the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which acts as the sovereign power over the West Bank, in a system of governance Israel created based on its recognition of the different legal status of the area.  Bennett has called for that system to be disbanded (in addition to annexing Area C). To be clear: transferring the construction and planning processes in Area C to domestic Israeli jurisdiction would by any definition constitute the Israeli state extending its sovereignty over area — an act of annexation.

Bennett has requested that Defense Ministry officials present several legal options for how Israel can bring planning processes under the Justice Ministry (integrating the settlements into the normal planning process). The settler-run Arutz Sheva outlet attributes the following quote Bennett in a private meeting:

“We are in essence discussing applying procedural sovereignty only. Full sovereignty is under the authority of the political echelon, but this is a step in the right direction. There is no reason that residents of Judea and Samaria should continue being discriminated against. We must stop this. Residents of Beit El and Ariel are no less Zionist than residents of Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv. They pay taxes and serve in the army, and they need to receive the same services from the government.”

Bennett is also advancing several initiatives that will empower and compel the Civil Administration to more aggressively enforce demolition orders against Palestinian construction in Area C (based on Israel’s policy of not granting permits to Palestinians in Area C, nearly every Palestinian structure in this territory has a demolition order pending against it). Bennett is also eyeing ways to combat what he considers illegitimate and nefarious funding from the European Union to Palestinian communities living in Area C. Israel Hayom reports:

“Bennett’s plan to stop the Palestinians from chipping away at Area C demands action in four areas: Operational, economic, legal, and PR. He wants to change enforcement priorities to put an emphasis on eradicating illegal buildings in strategic locations rather than by numbers. For example, home demolitions would be carried out in accordance with Israeli interests, prioritizing illegal buildings next to roads or settlements. Bennett also instructed the Central Command and the Civil Administration to work more closely to implement his plan and asked that the Civil Administration report to him monthly to update him on progress. Meanwhile, the defense minister is weighing the possibility of allocating more resources to the Civil Administration for enforcement, which would entail hiring more personnel. Bennett also wants to take steps to stop the flow of European money that funds the illegal Palestinian construction in the first place, allowing the “Fayyad Plan” to flourish.”

Bennett Appoints Key Settler Ally to Lead New Government Task Force on Area C Annexation Plans, Immediately Announces Plan to Legalize Settlements

In addition to his new initiative targeting Palestinian construction in Area C, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he has created an inter-ministerial taskforce to develop settlement and annexation plans for the future of Area C in the West Bank.

Bennett’s chief of staff, Itay Hershkowitz, has been in weeks-long consultations with key settler leaders to decide what items to act on immediately. Haaretz reports their agenda includes:

  1. Allowing Jews to privately purchase land in the West Bank. [See here for a detailed explanation of this complicated matter]
  2. Connecting unauthorized outposts to water and electricity.
  3. Granting official recognition to unauthorized outposts that are located near established settlements by recognizing them as “neighborhoods” of the settlement. 
  4. Repealing a military order that empowers the Civil Administration to evict settlers from privately owned Palestinian land with or without a Palestinian-initiated petition to have the settlers removed.
  5. Legalizing 30 sheep farms in the West Bank that are under pending demolition orders. 

On Thursday, Bennett announced that he has appointed West Bank settler Koby Eliraz to lead the new taskforce. Calling Eliraz a “bulldozer,”Bennett said:

“The territorial future of the Land of Israel is at stake. The State of Israel has simply not been up to the task of stopping [Palestinian construction]. We are changing direction and embarking on a battle that Israel must win… The defense establishment will fight for this territory, and it is essential for someone to lead this campaign.”

Eliraz previously served as Netanyahu’s settlement advisor, but was fired by the Prime Minister in June 2019 reportedly because he was believed to be allied too closely to Netanyahu rival Avigdor Liberman, who Netanyahu also dismissed. At the time of Eliraz’s firing, settler leaders were outraged and published a letter asking Netanyahu to reverse Eliraz’s firing, suggesting that Eliraz’s absence will hinder government efforts to retroactively legalize outposts. The letter noted:

“Kobi has taken care of Israeli settlement and its residents with great professionalism. He is credited for many advancements [on our behalf] in the fields of construction, infrastructure development, security and more.”

The Times of Israel observed, significantly, that the Yesha Council was able to get every single settlement Mayor to sign the letter in support of Eliraz, explaining:

“The Yesha Council in recent years has struggled to get all of its members on board with its initiative, but the umbrella group’s ability to gather the signatures of every Israeli mayor beyond the Green Line is testament to the broad respect that Eliraz holds among settler leader.”

Following ICC Announcement, Pompeo Says Israel Has “Fundamental Rights” to Land

At a press briefing on December 22nd, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not specifically address the ICC announcement, but made lengthy comments regarding statements from European countries and the European Union that were critical of the new U.S. position on settlements (that they are not “per se illegal” under international law). Pompeo’s comments hold relevance to the U.S. position on the ICC case and more generally on the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

“First, the legal analysis that the EU performed [on settlements] we just think is wrong. We think they have an improper analysis of the international law surrounding this. So as the technical legal matter, [EU Foreign Minister] Ms. Mogherini just – she’s just wrong. And so we are doing our level best to demonstrate to them our legal theory, our understandings, and why it is that we’re convinced that under international law these settlements are not per se illegal. So we’re working that element of it as well. But at another level, and perhaps at the level that will lead to the right outcome, which is why we did this, this has to be resolved through political means, and we hope that all nations, including member nations inside of the EU and the EU itself and countries all over the world, will come to recognize the fundamental rights that the Israeli people have to this land, to this space. There are real security needs. The risk that is presented from the world as anti-Semitism is on the rise, we hope that every nation will recognize that and weigh in on this conflict in a way that is constructive, that will ultimately lead to the peace that is so desperately needed.” [Emphasis added by editor]

Pro-Settlement Legal Forum Conference Draws Big Names, Big Promises

The Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing advocacy organization that has enormous influence with senior Israeli – and increasingly American – government figures, hosted a “Conference on the Pompeo Doctrine” in Jerusalem, Jan. 7-8, 2020. The conference served as a gleeful celebration and forward-looking projection of what the new U.S. settlement policy towards settlements means for Israel. The conference drew participation from all the leading Israeli politicians and several senior members of the Trump Administration, including Secretary of State. Pompeo. Key quotes from the conference speakers are copied below.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

 “We’re recognizing that these settlements don’t inherently violate international law. That is important. We’re disavowing the deeply flawed 1978 Hansell memo, and we’re returning to a balanced and sober Reagan-era approach. “In doing so, we’re advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” 

U.S. Ambassador David Friedman:

“…when we came into office the lingering issues included three of significant importance: the status of 1) Jerusalem, 2) the Golan Heights and 3) Judea and Samaria. We have approached them in ascending order of complexity…I thank God that President Trump had the courage and the wisdom to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv…In recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, President Trump, evaluating the continuous malign and barbarous threats posed by Syria, concluded that no northern boundary for Israel would be secure except a boundary that incorporated the Golan. He acted well within the language of 242. [Judea and Samaria] is certainly the most complicated of the issues because of the large indigenous Palestinian population. Over the years before we came into office, it’s only gotten more complicated and more challenging. The proverbial goalposts have moved and moved – to the point today where they are no longer even on the field….The Pompeo Doctrine does not resolve the conflict over Judea and Samaria. But it does move the goalposts back onto the field. It does not obfuscate the very real issue that 2 million or more Palestinians reside in Judea and Samaria, and we all wish that they live in dignity, in peace, and with independence, pride and opportunity. We are committed to find a way to make that happen. The Pompeo Doctrine says clearly that Israelis have a right to live in Judea and Samaria. But it doesn’t say that Palestinians don’t….it calls for a practical negotiated resolution of the conflict that improves lives on both sides.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

“I will not let any settlements be uprooted in any diplomatic plan. This idea of ethnic cleansing… it won’t happen. There is a window of opportunity. It opened, but it could close…There was no West Bank separate from the rest of the land. It was seen as the heart of the land. We never lost our right to live in Judea and Samaria. The only thing we lost temporarily was the ability to exercise the right. When Israel returned to the West Bank We didn’t return to a foreign land. That is a distortion of history. Jews lived in Jerusalem and Hebron for thousands of years consecutively…The Pompeo declaration about the status of the towns [in Judea and Samaria] establishes the truth that we are not strangers in our land. In a clearly defensive war, we returned… to the land where our forefathers put down roots thousands of years ago…Unlike some in Europe who think the Pompeo declaration distances peace, I think it will promote peace, because peace must be based on truth, not lies. Settlements are not the root of the conflict. We are standing with justice and the truth. It is a great struggle.”

Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Area C annexation and his initiatives in that regard:

“Our aim is that within a decade a million Israeli citizens will live in Judea and Samaria” and later “Our objective is that within a short amount of time, and we will work for it, we will apply [Israeli] sovereignty to all of Area C, not just the settlements, not just this bloc or another. We are embarking on a real and immediate battle for the future of the Land of Israel and the future of Area C. It started a month ago and I am announcing it here today. A month ago, I convened a meeting and I explained the clear directive, the State of Israel will do everything to ensure that these territories [Area C] will be part of the State of Israel.”

Likud MK and former Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said:

“I am confident that Secretary Pompeo’s statement is an integral part of the American plan and is closely linked to Jared Kushner’s proposal advanced in Bahrain promoting significant economic investment in the Palestinian economy…Now is a perfect opportunity to similarly grow the communities throughout Judea and Samaria at a pace like never before. This declaration is a recognition of the legal and historic right of the Jewish people to live wherever we wish. This is how it should be in other parts of the world and certainly here in the Jewish State. This declaration is therefore an exceptional opportunity for Israel to ensure our continued growth and expansion throughout these areas. Israel needs to set a goal for the settlement of two million people in Judea and Samaria within fifty years. This is a commitment which requires that we already now lay the framework to make that possible and this is an investment which will also benefit the Palestinian people” [Editor’s note: Barkat has been working with Harvard Professor Michael Porter to promote an economic peace scheme, most recently speaking at Harvard about the plan in December 2019]

Eugene Kontorovich, Director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and a key shaper of anti-BDS/pro-settlement legislation in U.S. Congress and across state governments, said

“American Policy is now clearer than ever, Jews living in Judea and Samaria is not a crime. For decades, the obscure Carter-era memo was used as justification for anti-Israel policies despite the fact that its conclusions were rejected by subsequent administrations. Sec. Pompeo’s statement at the Kohelet conference today makes clear the U.S.’s wholesale rejection of the legal theory that holds that international law restricts Israeli Jews from moving into areas from which Jordan had ethnically cleansed them in 1949.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “The Atarot Exception? Business and Human Rights Under Colonization” (Marya Farah in Jerusalem Quarterly)
  2. “The Decade Israel Erased the Green Line” (+972 Magazine)
  3. “Settlers are seizing ‘empty’ land. The Palestinian owners are fighting back” (+972)
  4. “Israeli Right Wants to End Peace with Jordan” (Haaretz)
  5. Security official says police, courts scuttling efforts to curb settler violence” (The Times of Israel)