Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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July 3, 2020
- The [Purported] Israeli Counter-Proposal to the Trump Annexation Map
- De Jure Annexation Remains Imminent: Reports Say Trump to Make Final Decision Next Week
- U.S. Said to Ask for Israeli “Gesture” to Palestinians in Order to Approve Annexation Plan
- Settlers Continue Opposition to Trump Plan, While Pushing Bibi to Stop Delaying
- Settler Group Announces New Outpost Near Hebron
- Israeli Court Issues Ruling to Throw Sumreen Family Out of Their House
- Settlers Claim to Have Purchased an Illegally Built Palestinian Home in Wadi Hilweh, Silwan
- Israel Orders Demolition of Illegal Settler Structures Following Reversal of Regulation Law
- State Admits to High Court that Jerusalem Cable Car Project Will Require Confiscating Private Palestinian Land
- New Ir Amim Paper Looks at Jerusalem to Underscore the “Truth About Annexation”
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Israel’s Kan News published what it claims to be the Israeli government’s counter-proposal to the Trump annexation map. The reported counter-proposal adds a significant amount of West Bank land to the area Israel will annex, rendering even more severe the fragmentation of any future Palestinian state the plan is supposedly interested in seeing established. Specifically, the counter-proposal (which is exceptionally well explained by Israeli analyst and mapping expert Dan Rothem) achieves four main goals:
- It expands the channels of land which connect 15 far-flung outposts and settlements to what is today sovereign Israel. The Trump map connects these “enclaves” via narrow land corridors and roads (referred to by settlers as “balloons on a string”). The alleged counter-proposal annexes 2.7% more of the West Bank to enlarge those corridors.
- It provides for Israel’s annexation of about 20 additional settlements/outposts left out of the (initial) annexation provided for under the Trump Plan. These include the radical and violent settlement of Yitzhar and its outposts) located near Nablus, as well as the (relatively) nearby settlements Elon Moreh (and its outposts), Har Bracha (and its outposts), and Itamar (and its outposts). All of these settlements/outposts are, notably, located deep in the West Bank heartland.
- It proposes “compensating” Palestinians by designating an additional 4.6% of the West Bank — areas designated under the Trump Plan for Israeli annexation, comprised of West Bank territory where there are no settlers and some empty areas in the Jordan Valley/Judean desert — to (possibly) be under some degree of Palestinian control (without providing details on what would be the status of the land). (Reminder: Netanyahu said he will not annex a single Palestinian).
- The map also appears to propose population transfer, putting parts of the so-called Triangle Area — an area of densely populated towns located within Israel’s sovereign borders, inhabited by Palestinian citizens of Israel — into the area that could theoretically become a Palestinian state (assuming the Palestinians accepted the Trump Plan and satisfied a laundry list of conditions that no Palestinian leadership would ever accept — all to end up with an archipelago of territory that they might be allowed to call a “state” but that would have few if any actual attributes of sovereignty). Reminder: Forcible population transfer is a flagrant violation of international law (as is annexation of any scope); a government re-drawing its borders to deprive its own citizens of their rights, based on their ethnicity, is antithetical to democracy.
Additionally, while Israeli officials originally indicated that annexation would begin with the Jordan Valley, rampant reports indicate that the focus has now shifted to annexing elsewhere (settlement blocs) as the first stage of annexation. Perhaps responding to criticism over delaying the annexation of the Jordan Valley, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) told The Jerusalem Post that “of course” the Jordan Valley is included in Israel’s annexation plans [which should surprise nobody, given that politicians across most of the political spectrum in Israel came out in support of annexation of the Jordan Valley (including Benny Gantz), even before the Trump Plan].
So what is Netanyahu really thinking? According to Haaretz, he has not held discussions with his own Security Cabinet on the annexation plan, and the key Israeli bodies which will be involved in implementing annexation – the Justice Ministry, the Attorney General (whom Bibi is in open war with), the IDF chiefs, and Foreign Ministry – have not begun preparing for implementation.
July 1st – the first day Netanyahu was permitted to bring annexation up for a vote in the Cabinet or in the Knesset, but by no means a deadline for such an action – came and went without an announcement. Reports almost immediately suggested that the annexation decision – reportedly delayed by U.S. demands and Israeli disunity.
After a week of meetings with Israeli leaders, National Security Council advisor Scott Leith and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz (who in the meetings were of course joined by US ambassador to Israel David Friedman) headed back to Washington. On Thursday, Berkowitz met with Jared Kushner in preparation for presenting their plan to the President. Despite the palace intrigue surrounding Kushner this week, Kushner plays a critical role in leading Trump a final decision on annexation, expected to come next week..
Though Trump has not been involved in any details of the annexation deliberations, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofer Akunis asserted that Israel will not act without a statement from Trump himself, telling the Jerusalem Post:
“[annexation] will only happen after a declaration by Trump.”
Following the departure of Leith and Berkowitz (Friedman remained in Israel), an anonymous U.S. official told the Jerusalem Post that the fact that July 1st came and went without an announcement does not mean that annexation is any less likely to happen. That official said:
“The administration is appreciative of the ongoing conversations and serious considerations that have gone into our recent discussions with the Israeli government.July 1 is not and has never been a US deadline, nor do we believe it is an Israeli deadline. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with our Israeli partners and working productively and in earnest towards implementing the president’s Vision for Peace in the Middle East.”
U.S. Amb. David Friedman, National Security Council advisor Scott Leith, and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz spent the past week in Israel, negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Gantz over the extent and timing of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory. Israeli press – particularly right-wing outlets – asserted that the Americans were pushing Israel to make a more significant “gesture” to the Palestinians in order to win American support (reminder: the Palestinian leadership has not been involved in negotiations at all).
Reportedly, the US suggested that such a gesture could consist of granting the Palestinian Authority greater control over the remnants of Area C left to the Palestinians after Israeli annexation — with Israel retaining the ability to “secure” those areas as-needed (essentially transforming a small part of Area C land into Area B).
The Jerusalem Post goes so far as to suggest that “many” of the conversations this past week focused on what the Palestinians will be given/offered/forced to accept, rather than the details of what/how/when Israel will annex. More than anything else, this suggests that the U.S. is not imposing limits on what Israel can annex.
Worried both about the details of the Trump Plan and that Bibi will not pull the trigger on annexation at all, settler leaders and their allies continue their criticism of Netanyahu for every move (and non-move) he makes.
Two prominent settler leaders who oppose the Trump Plan – Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan – continued lashing out at Netanyahu for his posture on issues of key concern to settlers (the creation of settlement enclaves, a settlement construction freeze, and the possibility of future Palestinian statehood) and for failing to act on July 1st. Dagan called the July 1st date “one big farce.”
“Tying the lack of sovereignty [announcement] to Benny Gantz is a pathetic excuse..In reality, it is in the hands of the prime minister, who must accept responsibility for the decision, demonstrate leadership and say: ‘I have made this commitment to the electorate in two election campaigns, and I will stand by it’.”
Another group of settlers who are adamantly against the Trump Plan launched a new campaign targeting Netanyahu. The campaign, which was covered in the front page of the Israel Hayom paper, features photos of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Joint List Parliamentary head MK Ahmed Tibi, and Netanyahu, and alongside the photos uses the slogan:
“They [Abbas and Tibi] will not decide. You’ve [Netanayhu] decided – Keep your promise.”
Another settler group – the Sovereignty Movement – put up billboards all over the country calling on Netanyahu to annex and to say “no” to a Palestinian state.
Former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) put on a public display of his pointed displeasure with Netanyahu’s failure to advance annexation on July 1st. Visiting a vista overlooking the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank – which Netanyahu has long promised to demolish – Lieberman told the press:
“We’re meeting here at Khan al-Akhmar because this is part of the same pattern of behavior. For fourteen months, Netanyahu has been yelling about ‘sovereignty’, and the whole time he’s cheated his voters…Netanyahu has tricked everyone. He has no intention of applying sovereignty: not over Maale Adumim and not even in the Jordan Valley. He always manages to trick everyone, but it was clear to me that he is lying, just as he lied about Khan al-Akhmar.”
Former Justice Minister and Yamina party leader MK Ayelet Shaked told the Jerusalem Post that she believes Bibi has “given up on the Jordan Valley.”
Haaretz reports that settlers – both those who support the Trump Plan and those who want more than what the plan is offering – have been successfully working with U.S. evangelicals to pressure Trump to OK annexation. Netanyahu himself spoke at a high profile online event for Christians United for Israel, and Yossi Dagan was interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network. Efrat settlement Mayor Oded Revivi has been in private conversation with U.S. evangelical leaders.
A recent poll by the radical settler group Regavim found that only 30% of settlers supported the Trump Plan after they were told that it will require Israel to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Additionally, 53% of settlers said they believe that Netanyahu will give in to pressure from Trump rather than stand his ground on issues under negotiation.
On July 1st, a group of about 500 settlers held a protest against the Trump Plan and announced their plans to establish a new outpost. The protest was held on a hilltop belonging to the Palestinian village of Halhul, near Hebron in the southern West Bank. One of the protests leaders, veteran settler activist Daniella Weiss, told Ynet:
“The Trump plan needs to be thrown in the trash. We came here to establish a settlement. Today everyone understands that the purpose of the plan is to establish a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel.”
On June 30th, the Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal by the Palestinian Sumreen family to stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF) from evicting them from the home of 60 years in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The Court gave the 18-member family until August 16th to vacate the property and ordered them to pay 20,000 shekels (about $5,800) to the JNF for legal costs. The Sumreen family is considering taking their case to the Israeli Supreme Court.
The Coalition for the Sumarin Family said in a statement:
“In the ruling, the court did not address the most important, fundamental point, which is that the house was taken in plunder. The JNF’s legal woes did not change the fundamental fact that the use of the Absentees’ Property Law to take over the house was done without good faith, as two government legal advisers and a government inquiry commission, determined”.
The Sumreen family home is located in the middle of what today has been designed by Israel “the City of David National Park.” The area is managed by the radical Elad settler organization, which for years has also been pursuing the eviction of Palestinians from the homes in Silwan. For nearly three decades, the Sumreen family has been forced to battle for legal ownership of their home, after the state of Israel, prompted repeatedly by the JNF, declared the Sumreen’s home to be “absentee” property. After that designation – which was not communicated to the Sumreen family – Israeli law permitted the state to take over the rights to the building. The state then sold the rights to the home to the JNF in 1991. The JNF has pursued the eviction of the Sumreen family ever since. Israeli courts ruled in favor of the Sumreen family’s ownership claims to the home for years, until a September 2019 ruling by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court granted ownership of the family’s home to the JNF, a decision the family immediately appealed to the Jerusalem District Court.
A full history of the saga involving the Sumreen family – which is similar to dozens of other Palestinian homes in Silwan that were declared Absentee Property in the 1990s – can be found on the Peace Now website here.
In a recent letter organized by Israeli academics, thirty-four Israel Prize laureates pleaded to the head of the JNF to stop eviction proceedings against the Sumreen family. The letter reads:
“The expulsion of the family, as part of a campaign to Judaize Silwan which has been going on for many years, will stain the reputation of the KKL … we beg of you to desist from taking actions that would be clearly immoral.”
This week, +972 Magazine published an illuminating article by a former staff member of the JNF, looking at the role the organization has played in advancing annexation policies on the ground for decades with evictions like the Sumreen case. IMEU also just published an excellent fact sheet about the Jewish National Fund.
On June 30th, a group of settlers invaded a vacant building in the Wadi Hilweh section of the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that they had purchased the house from its Palestinian owners. Peace Now reports that the home was built by Palestinians years ago without an Israeli-issued permit (Palestinians in East Jerusalem are systematically denied permits to build on their own land). The family that had been living in the house left about four months ago after a demolition order was issued by the Jerusalem Municipality.
The house is located in the Ben Himmon Valley and very close to a Jewish cemetery that is currently being rehabilitated by the radical Elad settler organization. Elad has been involved in the systematic displacement of Palestinians from the Silwan neighborhood and has been weaponizing tourism and archaeology as a means by which to do so.
Peace Now explains:
“In recent years, the Elad Association, together with the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority, has been intensively developing the Ben Hinnom Valley area leading to the Sambusky Cemetery in an attempt to produce Israeli territorial contiguity from the Sultan’s Pool area and Ben Hinnom Valley area through the cemetery toward Wadi Hilweh and the ‘City of David’ visitors’ center…The takeover of this house extends the settlers’ control in the southwest corner of Wadi Hilweh: In September 2014, the settlers entered a nearby house, and in January 2016 another house adjacent to it…All of these projects, along with the settlers entering the house yesterday, are intended to strengthen Israeli presence in this contested and occupied area, and thus make it more difficult for the territorial compromise in Jerusalem needed for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and therefore the two-state solution itself. Tourism development projects in Jerusalem are one of the most significant ways of settlement, leading to both a change on the ground and in the public domain, as well as a change in Israeli attitudes by hardening them to the idea of this necessary territorial compromise.”
In response to a petition filed by Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh, Israel has said it will demolish illegally built settlement structures on privately owned Palestinian land belonging to the villages of Dir Amar and Ras Karakar. Years ago settlers illegally installed tourist accommodations – benches, terraces, paths, picnic benches and a pergola – at the site of an ancient spring in this area, in an attempt to take control of the site known as Nabi Aner. Nabi Aner is part of an historic Muslim pilgrimage route between Hebron and Bethlehem. The entire area is located in Area C of the West Bank.
Israel’s announcement that it will demolish the structures (and, ostensibly, agree to return the site to Palestinian control), comes two weeks after the Israeli High Court of Justice overturned the Regulation Law, which sought to provide a basis for legalizing settlement structures built on land that even Israeli acknowledges is owned by Palestinians (as is the case with the site in question). The petition to demolish the settlers’ construction was filed in 2017, but was not considered by the Court until now, based on the argument that the Regulation Law – if it withstood Court scrutiny — might have provided the State a basis for retroactively legalizing the structures.
Emek Shaveh said in a statement:
“Over the years, the authorities in the area have refrained from enforcing the law with respect to illegal construction that was carried out on private land and around the archaeological site. In recent years, the State used the pretext of the Regularization Law as an excuse for continuing the policy of non-enforcement. This is an example of the importance of the nullification of the Regularization Law, which enabled settlers to take over private lands. But regardless of the Regularization Law and its nullification, we find it regrettable that we were forced to petition the court to instruct the State’s enforcement authorities to simply carry out their duties and prevent the settlers from illegally building on private Palestinian land. We regret that the State does not of its own accord enforce the law and stop the damage to archaeological sites and the process of severing Palestinians from access to their cultural and religious roots.”
State Admits to High Court that Jerusalem Cable Car Project Will Require Confiscating Private Palestinian Land
On June 29th, the Israeli High Court of Justice heard arguments concerning the Jerusalem cable car project, an initiative backed by the Elad settler group and advanced by the Israeli Tourism Ministry. During the hearing, the State admitted the implementation of the cable car project will require the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The cable car line is slated to terminate at the settler-run Kedem Center compound (Elad’s large tourism center currently under construction at the entrance of the Silwan neighborhood, in the shadows of the Old City’s walls and Al-Aqsa Mosque).
The cable car plan, touted by Elad and other supporters as a vital transportation project, is in reality intended to further entrench settler control in Silwan, via archeology and tourism sites, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Emek Shaveh and other non-governmental organizations, including Who Profits and Terrestrial Jerusalem, have repeatedly challenged (and provided evidence to discredit) the government’s contention that the cable car will serve a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe negative impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
In a new policy paper, Ir Amim looks at how Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem has played out since 1967. Ir Amim’s main points – and warnings regarding Israel’s imminent annexation of more West Bank land – are:
- Israel annexing Palestinian land, but not Palestinian people, who since 1967 have been classified as “permanent residents,” rather than being made citizens, like the Palestinians who remained inside the Green Line after 1948.;
- Since the moment of annexation of East Jerusalem, Israel has pursued policies meant limit the number of Palestinains in the area, including by driving Palestinians from East Jerusalem;
- Since the moment of annexation, Israel has attempted to take control of more and more land in East Jerusalem;
- The Absentees’ Property Law (1950) and The Law and Administration Ordinance (1970) have been Israel’s tools of choice to evict Palestinians from their homes and take their property in East Jerusalem, under the guise of legality;
- Israel has repeatedly attempted to expand the borders of the area it annexed to include nearby settlements.
Ir Amim writes:
“In order to understand the consequences of annexation it is pertinent to learn from the case of East Jerusalem which Israel unilaterally – and in contravention of international law – annexed. Since 1967 East Jerusalem has been subject to the Jerusalem municipality and to Israeli law. In the decades since 1967, Israeli policy in the city has been driven by massive settlement construction and consistent steps to reduce the city’s Palestinian population. The combination of these two methods is considered by Israel the key to solidifying its control over the annexed territory and to asserting its sovereignty. Examining Israeli policies in East Jerusalem can therefore teach us the dangers of what can take place if the current annexation plan of the Israeli government actually takes place.”
- “Annexation is Already Here” (Jessica Montell // The Times of Israel)
- “Fight Annexation on Moral Grounds” (Yehuda Shaul // Haaretz)
- “Quick Facts: Israel’s West Bank Settlement Enterprise” (IMEU)
- “Despite Talk of Annexation, Fewer Immigrants to Israel Moving to West Bank Settlements” (Haaretz)
- “Quick Facts: What is the Jewish National Fund” (IMEU)