Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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January 4, 2018
- Likud Votes for Unilateral Annexation of West Bank Settlements
- Knesset Set to Discuss Application of New Laws to the Settlements
- Knesset Passes Jerusalem Law Designed to Block Peace Agreement
- Israel Builds New Unauthorized Outpost to Temporarily House Amona Outpost Evacuees
- Israeli High Court Issues Stop-Work Order on Illegal Outpost, But Agrees to its Eventual Legalization
- Israel Complicit in Establishing 14 New Outposts Since 2011
- The JNF is Working with a Settler Group to Evict Palestinians in East Jerusalem
- Israeli Government Approves EU Trade Agreement that Excludes Settlements
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On January 1st the Likud Central Committee voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling on party leaders (including Prime Minister Netanyahu) to allow unlimited construction in settlements and to take steps to formally annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Likud party is the head of the governing coalition in Israel, with the largest number of seats in the Knesset and the control over the office of the Prime Minister.
The resolution reads:
On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the regions of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], including Jerusalem our eternal capital, the Likud Central Committee calls on the Likud’s elected officials to act to allow free construction and to apply the laws of Israel and its sovereignty to all liberated areas of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
Haaretz notes that in the past, Netanyahu intervened to prevent resolutions like this one from coming up for a vote, over concerns that such votes could elicit international blowback. This time, he refrained from doing so. The Trump Administration offered no comment on the Likud vote.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi criticized the decision via Twitter: “Knesset approval of amended Basic Law on #Jerusalem & decision by ruling party 2annex settlements & impose sovereignty on West Bank are null & void under Intl law. Israel continues 2adopt illegal unilateral decisions that deny region the peace it deserves & is in world interest.”
For its part, the Palestinian Authority slammed the resolution, with President Abbas promising consequences and arguing that the resolution has “the blessing” of the United States, whose ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has reportedly requested the State Department cease using the word “occupation” to describe the situation in the West Bank and Golan Heights (the State Department spokeswoman later said that the U.S. policy has not changed on that regard).
J Street also linked Likud’s actions to the environment created by President Trump and his envoys, saying
President Trump bears responsibility for laying the groundwork and providing cover for these steps [by Likud]. By breaking with decades of bipartisan policy and refusing to support the two-state solution or seriously opposing settlement expansion, his administration has given a green light to the destructive plans of the settlement movement. By unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in advance of a peace agreement, the president has told the Netanyahu government that it is free to act with contempt for the peace process and for the Palestinians, and without fear of rebuke from the United States.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Knesset House Committee has instructed committees to discuss whether bills passed by the Knesset will be applied to settlements in the West Bank. Extending Israeli domestic law to the settlements is tantamount to annexation.
Hardline, anti-two-state, right-wing MKs – including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch – have lead the charge to annex the settlements by extending Israeli domestic law, arguing it would end what they describe as “discrimination” against Israeli citizens based on their place of residence.
Slamming the move, left-wing Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg stated:
There is a territory that is outside of Israel’s borders, and what you’re suggesting is to have two parallel legal systems in the same land, where the only measure that determines which system applies to whom is a person’s race. This has a name, and you know what it is.
The House committee’s instructions this week were a half measure to force the annexation discussions, after an aborted attempt in 2017 to change the official rules of the Knesset to require bills to state whether they apply to the settlements, a rule change that the Knesset’s legal counsel advised against.
Israeli settlements, being in occupied territory, are currently under Israeli military rule, although Israeli civilians living in settlements already come under Israeli civilian law. As noted by FMEP’s Lara Friedman in testimony before the UN Security Council in October 2016:
…Israeli law follows Israeli citizens who enter or live in the Occupied Territories. This means that Israeli settlers live under Israeli law – no different than if they were living inside Israel – while Palestinians live under military law. This policy has created a dangerous and ugly political reality in the occupied territories – a reality in which two populations live on the same land, under different legal systems, separate and entirely unequal, with the governing authority serving one population at the expense of the other.
One population is comprised of privileged Israeli citizens, enjoying the benefits of a prosperous, powerful state, with their rights guaranteed by a democratic government accountable to their votes. The other population is comprised of disenfranchised Palestinians, living under foreign military occupation explicitly designed to protect and promote the interests not of Palestinian residents of the territories, but of Israeli settlers.”
On January 1, 2018 the Israeli Knesset passed a law requiring a supermajority of votes in the Knesset to approve the transfer of any parts of Jerusalem (in its expanded borders, as determined by Israel immediately after the 1967 War) to a foreign power. Authored by the far-right Jewish Home Party, the amendment passed with a slim 64-52 majority. Jewish Home’s leader Naftali Bennett, who also serves as the Minister of Education in the current coalition government, declared that the vote shows Israel will keep control of all of Jerusalem forever.
A Palestinian Authority spokesman said the legislation, in addition to the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, is ”a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.”
The Knesset refrained from simultaneously passing another controversial measure that would enable Israel to alter the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem – a proposal meant to pave the way for formally excising Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that are located beyond the separation. The New York Times reports that Netanyahu directed the measure be removed from the legislation up for votes. For further background on both Jerusalem measures, see this report from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann.
The Israeli Civil Administration has resumed construction on what is, in effect, a new illegal outpost meant to temporarily house settlers who were evacuated from the illegal Amona outpost last year. Following their evacuation, the Amona settlers refused – even temporarily – to relocate to the interim site near Ofra. Construction then stopped, but restarted this week.
Located northeast of Ramallah, near the Ofra settlement – and within spitting distance of where the evacuated Amona outpost once stood – the work is happening without permits and on land that Israel expropriated from private Palestinian owners for “public use.” The Amona evacuees are awaiting the construction of their new settlement, called Amichai, in the Shiloh Valley. Amichai will be the first official new settlement established with government approval in 20 years. Assuming the Amona evacuees eventually move from the new outpost to Amona, it should be assumed that the “temporary” site will turn out to be a new site permanently inhabited by other settlers.
Israeli High Court Issues Stop-Work Order on Illegal Outpost, But Agrees to its Eventual Legalization
On January 2nd, Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered construction at the Adei Ad outpost to stop – but only until the Israeli government completes the process of retroactively legalizing the outpost and its structures (which first required the Israeli government to suspend the rule of law). The Court said that the government must do so within nine months, which is the timeframe Prime Minister Netanyahu specified last year when he announced that Israel will expropriate the land of Adei Ad by declaring it as “state land.” Once the area is declared to be “state land,” Israel will then be able to begin the process of official planning, which will transform the illegal outpost into an authorized settlement.
Although much of the Adei Ad outpost is built on land that had already been expropriated through the same means, part of the outpost is on land the status of which us contested. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din represents Palestinian land owners in the petition which led to the stop-work order. Yesh Din explains the week’s news, writing:
In January 2018, the High Court ordered a freeze on all construction in Adei Ad and sharply criticized the State’s conduct regarding the outpost, including its handling of the petition. The court rejected the petitioners request to have the entire outpost evacuated, but gave the State only nine months to authorize the outpost, on the provision that at that date, another petition could be filed to have some of the structures evacuated. HCJ president (retired) Naor made it clear that allowing the State to consider authorizing the outpost in this case must not be taken as a carte blanche by the court for the future. In the ruling, she wrote: “The conclusion must not be that expressing a general interest in retroactively authorizing illegal construction is enough to justify the granting of such requests in future, as a carte blanche for continued disregard for the law.”
See Yesh Din’s full report on the Adei Ad outpost, “The Road to Dispossession: A case study -the outpost of Adei-Ad.”
Haaretz is reporting data that shows that the government of Israel has helped establish at least 14 outposts in the West Bank since 2011, even though the government was supposed to have ceased the practice in 2005, under Prime Minister Sharon.
Dror Etkes, founder of the settlement watchdog Kerem Navot, told Haaretz that settlers have strategically chosen to build new outposts on West Bank land that was expropriated by Israel as “state land,” knowing that such outposts would stand a greater chance of being retroactively legalized than those built on land that Israel might recognize as being privately owned by Palestinians. Etkes explained that outpost builders do not, however, limit themselves to state land, saying:
They take over as much surrounding land as possible, including private land, which they steal by other means, such as cultivation or barring access [to the Palestinian landowners]….It’s methodical, and they know exactly what they’re doing.
In Silwan (known to Israelis as the City of David), the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is working to evict Palestinians from their home in order to sell the property to the settler organization Elad. Elad’s mission is to establish Jewish hegemony over Jerusalem, and focuses its activities intensively on Silwan, both in terms of taking over properties and gaining control of the public domain through control over parks, tourist facilities, and archeological sites (see this report from Ir Amim for further background on Elad and its activities).
The Sumreen family has been fighting for 27-years to prove its rightful ownership of its Silwan home, which the settlers and the JNF challenge based on the fact that one of the Sumreen patriarchs lives in Jordan. Based on his residence there, Israel declared him an “absentee” and took over the rights to the building, despite the fact that members of the Sumreen family still lived in the home.
Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, who has been helping the family, charged that:
KKL [the Hebrew name for the JNF] has turned from the Jewish National Fund into the Settler National Fund. For 26 years, KKL has been embittering the lives of the Sumreen family with expensive, exhausting lawsuits and has tried over and over to evict it from its home in Silwan. KKL is playing a central role here in an ugly process of using the Absentee Property Law on the basis of dubious testimony, all to give Palestinian assets to Elad.
This is not the first controversy surrounding the JNF’s activities in Silwan, or even over the JNF’s role in the campaign to evict this particular family, which last peaked in 2011. For background, see this report on +972, as well as this commentary from Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran. Notably, controversy over the issue in 2009 prompted the JNF to issue a denial of any role in the efforts; this denial was contradicted by the facts, including the actual wording of the eviction order.
Despite opposition from some coalition and Knesset hardliners, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and all relevant ministers approved a new trade deal with the European Union that excludes Israeli settlements from its terms. Miri Regev, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports, had filed an objection regarding the deal before it was finalized. Regev has now filed a complaint with the Cabinet Secretary, saying her objection was ignored and that she was misled regarding the ability to discuss the terms of the deal.
By approving the deal, Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers acquiesced to the EU’s policy of rejecting the conflation of Israel and settlements (sometimes referred to as “differentiation”) – a policy that Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have disingenuously labeled a “boycott” of Israel). The Israeli government, which is investing millions more in fighting differentiation and international boycotts of both settlements and Israel, had previously threatened to halt cooperation with the EU [in effect, boycott Israel-EU cooperation] over the EU’s refusal to treat settlements as part of Israel.
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.