Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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July 28, 2018
- Israel Advances Plans to Establish Three New Settlements
- Israeli Settlement Activists Invade Site of Evacuated Outpost They Plan to Rebuild
- Bennett Intervened to Expedite Approval of Medical School in Ariel Settlement
- Yair Lapid Presents (Yet Another) Rorschach Test on His Settlement Policy
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
The Israeli government deposited three major settlement plans for public review this week. As noted by Peace Now, all of these plans are related to efforts to legalize outposts located near, but not directly adjacent to, existing “legal” settlements — in effect creating three new settlements under the cover of legalizing “neighborhoods” of existing ones. Two of the plans deal with outposts located in the Jordan Valley; the third deals with an outpost located east of Ramallah.
The deposit of these plans comes in the context of the government’s exploration of legal means to retroactively legalize outposts. A task force appointed by the Israeli government recently issued a report – known as the Zandberg Report – recommending that the government adopt a very flexible understanding of legal criteria for handling isolated outposts located near to settlements. Peace Now explains:
“In the Zandberg Report there is a detailed reference to situations of outposts built away from the mother settlement. Under the descriptive name ‘hanging islands,’ the regularization team suggests that the planning principle that expansion of settlements should be made adjacent to the existing settlement (‘adjacent planning’) should be applied in a ‘flexible manner’ in the Occupied Territories.”
Specifically, the settlements plans deposited for public review are:
- A plan to retroactively legalize an outpost known as “Brosh/Betronot,” by approving an educational campus there (including housing, tourism facilities, a gas station and other public institutions and buildings);
- A plan to build an educational campus on land between the Maale Michmash settlement and the Mitzpeh Danny outpost, which dovetails with ongoing efforts to retroactively legalize that outpost.
- A plan to build 125 settlement units in the Givat Sal’it outpost, as part of preparations to treat the outpost as a “neighborhood” of the nearby Mechola settlement.
On July 24th, hundreds of Israeli settlers snuck into the site of the long-evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur, located northwest of Nablus, to protest against the Cabinet’s decision to block a bill aimed at allowing the settlement to be rebuilt/re-populated.
The protest was led by settlers who were evacuated from four settlements in the northern West Bank (Sa-Nur, Homesh, Ganim, and Kadim) as part of the 2005 Disengagement Plan, which also saw Israel evacuate its settlements from the Gaza Strip. Bayit Yehudi MKs Mualem-Rafaeli and Bezalel Smotrich, who were part of the group that infiltrated the site, have been promoting a bill that would overturn the 2005 disengagement plan, allowing Israel to reclaim the land and rebuild the settlements.
“Over the past year and a half, we have been pushing for the cancelation of that Disengagement Law that was imposed on the northern Samaria, which unfortunately has gone up to the Ministerial Committee again and again and has failed to pass due to a veto by the prime minister. As we mark 13 years to the expulsion, to the complete darkness cast over the Jewish settlement that was destroyed in the communities in the northern Samaria, we are turning the light back on. We’re still committed to this place.”
“Mistakes must be remedied. There isn’t a child who doesn’t understand this expulsion has been foolishness. The discussion is with the prime minister and the defense minister. The answer as to why this law hasn’t been canceled yet is at the hands of Netanyahu. We already learned that when public pressure is created, we eventually achieve the goal, as we did with the Regulation Law.”
Members of Israel’s top academic council slammed Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) for interfering in their work. The controversy surrounds Bennett’s intervention to expedite the approval of a new medical school in the Ariel settlement. That school opened in June 2017, with a ceremony attended by Bennett and the school’s largest financial-benefactor Sheldon Adelson. During a meeting of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of Council of Higher Education [known as “Vatat”] on July 25th, three committee members read a letter of protest, saying in part:
“Bennett’s intervention in the committee’s professional work is being done almost publicly….Recently Vatat has made decisions in an expedited and improper fashion, and even by circumventing the committee. These decisions were made without exhaustive academic and professional discussion and contrary to accepted procedures. The source of these decisions is motivations which, in our opinion, stem from extraneous considerations that erode the high standards that characterize the decisions of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, a situation that undermines the values and needs of higher education.”
Specifically referring to the Ariel settlement university, a committee member said:
“In violation of accepted procedures that are in place for more than 15 years, the [medical school’s] approval was hastily inserted into the agenda of a meeting scheduled months in advance to discuss readying the budget for the next academic year, in preparation for the budget’s approval a week later. t’s not proper that such an important decision be discussed in haste. We are well aware of the need to increase the number of medical students in Israel, but a hasty decision may actually do more harm than good.”
According to Haaretz reporting, it is highly unusual for committee members to publicly criticize the committee’s work. Because the letter was read aloud during the committee’s meeting, the contents will be included in the official meeting minutes, making the members’ criticisms a matter of public record.
Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, who was appointed by Naftali Bennett to head the Planning and Budgeting Committee in 2015, issued an official written statement defending the process by which the Ariel settlement’s medical school was approved. The statement read in part:
“…there is no political intervention in the work of the committee..The professional committees did a comprehensive examination and submitted all the required materials to the Vatat members for discussion. The materials were sent in time, and all the time necessary was devoted to a discussion at the meeting…There is no place to argue that the decision to establish the medical faculty in Ariel undermined the budget work.”
As FMEP has previously reported, Ariel University became an accredited Israeli university in 2012, following significant controversy and opposition, including from Israeli academics. It has since been the focus of additional controversy, linked to what is a clear Israeli government-backed agenda of exploiting academia to normalize and annex settlements. Earlier this year, in an act of deliberate de facto annexation, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that extends the jurisdiction of the Israeli Council on Higher Education over universities in the settlements (beyond Israel’s self-declared borders), ensuring that the Ariel settlement medical school (and its graduates) are entitled to all the same rights, privileges, and certifications as schools and students in sovereign Israel.
As a reminder, Ariel is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces.
On a visit this week to Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid continued to be coy regarding the specifics of his stance on Israeli settlement policy, refusing to say whether settlements in the Jordan Valley will need to be evacuated or allowed to remain under a Lapid-negotiated peace deal. Speaking to reporters, Lapid said the Jordan Valley must remain Israel’s “security border,” but when asked to clarify what that means for Israeli settlers, Lapid quipped “Not for nothing did I say it will remain the ‘security’ border. Everyone can decipher on his own what that means.”
Now a key Lapid talking point, the Yesh Atid party leader also explained why he refuses to be more specific:
“The great mistake of the Israeli left over generations has been its willingness to always starts negotiations by announcing what it will give up and what it will not give up.”
Beyond a negotiating strategy, Lapid (who presents himself as a centrist) has been on a publicity tour over the past months in what is widely seen as a bid to win some of Netanyahu’s (mostly right-of-center) supporters ahead of the next elections. As part of this effort, Lapid (whose party is currently polling in second place in a hypothetical election) has presented a rorschach-like test for voters with respect to settlements, likely hoping that his deliberate ambiguity will lead voters to see whatever it is they want to see. Formerly a devout two-state supporter, Lapid’s recent, less-than-specific settlement statements include:
- In March 2018, Lapid gave an interview to Newsweek where he was asked about his position on settlements. Lapid said that the “settlement blocs” will be part of Israel but did not elaborate when asked about the 1967 Green Line as a basis for a Palestinian state.
- In January 2018, Lapid supported a bill to extend the Israeli Higher Education Council’s jurisdiction over the settlements, an act of de facto annexation that is just one in a string of proposals for applying domestic Israeli law over the settlements.
- In September 2017, Lapid rebuffed criticism that his party was insufficiently supportive of the settlements, denying reports that Yesh Atid was boycotting a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
- In July 2017, Lapid railed against settlers who invaded a home in central Hebron, and called for their immediate removal.
- In July 2017, Lapid attended a ceremony in the unauthorized Netiv Ha’avot oupost, during which he promised to support the effort to legalize the outpost and save structures that the High Court ordered demolished.
- In March 2017, Lapid said: “We don’t want a Palestinian state. It’s simply the best way to get rid of four million Palestinians whom we want to get out of our lives the question is not whether it’s right or not, but how to create the highest wall possible between us and the Palestinians with security guarantees for Israelis.”
- “How Israel boosted its settlement programme after Trump’s election victory” (Middle East Eye)