***In total, the Israeli government advanced plans for 3,120 new settlement units this week alone. Details, along with additional significant settlement news, are below.***
Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 1, 2018
- Plans Advance for 1,958 New Settlement Units
- Tenders Published for 1,162 New Settlement Units
- Israeli Chief Justice Questions Legal Opinion Regarding Status of Settlers
- Knesset Advances Bill to Bring West Bank Land Cases Under Israeli Domestic Jurisdiction (De Facto Annexation)
- Labor MK Calls on Left to Endorse De Facto Annexation of “Settlement Blocs”
- Israeli Security Increase Presence Near Radical Settlements
- Human Rights Watch: Israeli Banks Are Integral Part of the Settlements Enterprise
- U.S. Ambassador Friedman on Settlements, Annexation, Trump “Peace Plan,” & More
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On May 30th, the Israeli High Planning Council advanced plans for 1,958 new settlement units, located across the West Bank. Of the total, 696 units received final approval and 1,262 units were approved for deposit for public review (a key, step in the planning process). Peace Now estimates that 80% of the planned units are to be built in isolated settlements and that 1,500 of the units are to be built outside of the “built up” area of existing settlements. Two of the plans would establish two entirely new settlements.
Adding insult to injury (or in this case, to a war crime), the Council gave final approval (“validation”) to a provocative plan to build 92 units near the Kfar Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem, less than a mile from the soon-to-be forcibly removed Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community. Those new units will considerably expand the footprint of the Kfar Adumim settlement by building a new neighborhood (called “Nofei Bereishit” meaning “the landscapes of Genesis” in Hebrew), which will serve to connect the existing settlement structures to the site of a future school campus slated to serve several Israeli settlements in the area.
With respect to the Kfar Adumim expansion plan, Peace Now writes:
“The approval of the plan is the embodiment of exploitation and evil. The government stubbornly refuses to grant building permits to 32 Palestinian families living on about 40 dunams in the area and intends to evict them, but at the same time approves construction on large areas for hundreds of Israeli families. If there is anything that blackens Israel’s image in this world, it is the cruelty and discrimination that reeks to the heavens in this case. Neither is there any real Israeli national interest behind the destruction of the village.”
With respect to the plans advanced for two new government-sanctioned settlements, the details are:
- A plan for 189 units in the unauthorized outpost of Zayit Ra’anan, near the Talmon settlement northwest of Ramallah. As Peace Now explains, this plan constitutes the sanctioning of a new settlement entirely. Talmon has three satellite outposts, according to a map by WINEP. Zayit Ra’anan is the outpost the furthest from the settlement.
- A plan to authorize the “Brosh Educational Institution,” an outpost in the Jordan Valley. This too constitutes the establishment of an entirely new settlement. As Peace Now explains, the settlers who established the Brosh outpost named their endeavor an “Educational Institution” in order to obscure their intent to build a settlement. The plan for the “Brosh Educational Institute” includes residential buildings.
These approvals are notable for two reasons: First, they show that the Israeli government is significantly expanding the footprint of settlements across the West Bank, including in isolated settlements. Second, the plans demonstrate that the Israeli government is not acting, in any way, with “restraint” in regards to its settlement activity (per a reported agreement between the U.S. and Israel, “restrained” settlement growth limits Israel’s building to areas adjacent to existing settlement buildings). The reaction of the Trump Administration to the approvals suggests that the U.S. isn’t in any way troubled that Israel appears to be defying its commitment. An official at the U.S. National Security Council told The Times of Israel:
“The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this. The president has made his position on new settlement activity clear, and we encourage all parties to continue to work toward peace.”
One day after the High Planning Council advanced plans for nearly 2,000 new settlement units (above), on May 31st the Israeli Housing Ministry issued tenders for another 1,162 new settlement units that had previously approved by the High Planning Council (once planning approvals are complete, the decision on if/when to issue construction tenders for an approved plan rests with the Housing Ministry). The 1,162 tenders issued this week are are for:
- 459 new units in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement;
- 409 new units in the Ariel settlement;
- 250 new units in the Elkana settlement; and
- 44 new units in the Ma’ale Ephraim settlement.
On May 31st, Israeli Chief Justice Esther Hayut issued a significant legal opinion that complicates the growing momentum across the Israeli government to adopt and implement a legal precedent holding that Israeli settlers are a part of the “local population” of the West Bank. Chief Justice Hayut said the precedent does not constitute “a binding law” saying it “appears that the ruling contradicts previous rulings…and it contains both a novelty and a difficulty.” The ruling in question, written by retired Justice Salim Joubran in 2016, is currently being used as a precedent to justify the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land near the Haresha outpost, and adopting the precedent was a key recommendation of the recently-released “Zandberg Report” which gave the Israeli government a plethora of legal tools to retroactively legalize outposts and settlements structures.
Hayut’s opinion was issued in response to a petition by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, which asked to Court to reopen the Amona outpost case where the “local population” precedent was set. The opinion itself was not published until October 2017 (meaning the precedent was not known to the public or able to be debated until now, precisely when the government is moving swiftly to implement it). While Hayut declined to reopen the Amona outpost case, she took the opportunity to address the question raised by Yesh Din regarding the underlying precedent that was set in the case.
FMEP tracks the evolving legal architecture of the Israeli government’s efforts to retroactively legalize outposts and settlement structures (our regularly updated data tables are available here).
On May 28th, the Israeli Knesset advanced a bill through its first reading that, if passed, will give jurisdiction the Jerusalem District Court jurisdiction over land disputes in the occupied West Bank. Since 1967, such cases have been under the jurisdiction of the Israeli High Court of Justice, reflecting the unusual – indeed, legally extraordinary – situation in which an Israeli court is ruling on with respect to land and people that are not part of sovereign Israel. The bill passed by a vote of 47 to 45, and will need to be voted through two more readings in the Knesset plenum before it becomes law.
As FMEP explained when the bill gained government backing in February 2018, the bill’s main proponent, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, has three main rationales for the bill: (a) to further extend and formalize Israel’s extraterritorial application of its domestic law and legal structures, giving a regular Israeli domestic court jurisdiction over non-citizen Palestinians living in territory that is beyond Israel’s sovereign borders; (b) to give settlers an advantage in court over Palestinian plaintiffs; and (c) to circumvent what Shaked sees (according to a Justice Ministry official) as the High Court being “overly concerned with international law and with protecting the rights of the ‘occupied’ population in Judea and Samaria.” Under Shaked’s proposal, some Palestinian cases could still reach the High Court of Justice, but only after the much more conservative Jerusalem District Court rules, adding time and cost to any Palestinian land petition.
Yesh Din representative Gilad Grossman commented:
“This bill is designed to indicate a kind of normalcy. [It is meant] to show that we’re not talking about an area conquered by one nation whose residents [Israelis] do whatever they want and no one enforces the law against them in an equal manner, but rather that these are conflicts between neighbors just like in Tel Aviv, Haifa or any other town within sovereign Israel.”
FMEP tracks the progress of this bill in its compendium of annexation policies currently being advanced and implemented in Israel. This bill (tracked on the third table) is just one mechanism by which Israeli lawmakers are moving to apply Israeli domestic law extraterritorially – which amounts to de facto annexation of the West Bank.
Last weekend, MK Eitan Cabel (Labor, the largest faction in the Zionist Union coalition) published an op-ed in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz arguing that Israel should define and then apply Israeli law to the “settlement blocs,” which he defines to include Ma’ale Adumim, the Etzion Bloc, the Jordan Valley, Ariel, Karnei Shomron, and more. Cabel promised to release and campaign for the full plan (presumably with more details) sometime soon.
In the op-ed and in subsequent comments to the press, Cabel calculates that 300,000 Israeli settlers will be annexed into Israel under his scheme. Cabel’s calls for the 100,000 settlers outside of those areas to be compensated and for a total construction freeze to be implemented there. He proposes that the status of those areas will be negotiated if, “one day, the Palestinian Nelson Mandela arrives.”
“In a democratic party, everyone can have their opinion, but Labor is for separation, not annexation. Separating from the Palestinians must come as part of an agreement. I am not in favor of a unilateral step. I think in negotiations we can reach better results than without them. This is the best time for negotiations because of our alliance with the US and because the Arab countries want peace.”
Cabel’s plan impressed Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) who tweeted in support of the op-ed, saying it was a step in the direction of his own proposed scheme to annex all of Area C in the West Bank (60% of the occupied land). Apparently agreeing with that point, an unnamed Labor Party official said:
“It’s a delusional initiative. It’s like [Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali] Bennett speaking through Cabel…He’s [Cabel] suggesting an annexation, but doesn’t say what will become of the Palestinian population in those territories. These are irresponsible and ill-prepared statements.”
Peace Now tweeted in response:
“Another dangerous, self-defeating remark from this weekend for the Labor party. Veteran MK Cabel’s call for unilateral annexation of the “blocs,” including Ariel & Karnei Shomron, is a cowardly rhetorical surrender to the right’s one-state apartheid agenda. Shameful & disturbing….For everyone who supports cutting Israel a break on building in the ‘blocs,’ this is what happens when you give in. Not only is a top Labor MK adopting the right’s maximalist interpretation of the term ‘blocs,’ he is now making the Maale Adumim annexation bill look tame….One can only assume @netanyahu‘s support for annexing the blocs, but it should be noted that at least publicly he has not advocated as much as Cabel just did.”
As Peace Now suggests, using the term “settlement blocs” is unfortunately misleading, and implies an agreed upon acceptance of what the blocs are and the fact that they are inarguably Israel’s to keep. The term “settlement blocs” has no legal definition or standing, and they are indisputably a matter for negotiations aimed at a two-state solution. The terminology has been used for decades by the Israeli government to convey legitimacy to building in the so-called “blocs.” For more context, see resources from Americans for Peace Now here and here. (NOTE: A Haaretz investigation last year estimated that a total of 380,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, of which 170,000 live outside of the so-called blocs, as defined by Haaretz).
Applying Israel law to areas outside of Israel’s sovereign borders is de facto annexation, as FMEP has explained and documented.
In early May (before the U.S. Embassy opening and the beginning of Ramadan), Israeli security forces increased troop deployments across the West Bank in order to “prevent friction” between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.
According to a Haaretz report, the decision to increase Israel’s security presence was preceded by a series of discussions over the past month between the army, the police, and the Shin Bet. One such meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s office. A source told Haaretz that the meeting participants came to a consensus that settlers from Yitzhar are the main perpetrators responsible for the escalating frequency of “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. As recapped by Haaretz, the main concern of the Israeli officials is that settler attacks might foment Palestinian attacks in response. Haaretz reports:
“The main concern within the Jewish Division of the Shin Bet, which investigates the activities of Jewish Israeli extremists, is that price tag attacks during Ramadan, a fast month, and coming shortly after the controversial transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the tensions on the border with the Gaza Strip, could spur terrorist attacks against Israelis.”
Despite the rise in settler violence, Israel MK Bezalel Smotrich took the opportunity to accuse the Israeli police of “bullying” Israeli settlers – an accusation that echoed complaints from settlers, including those from Yitzhar, regarding an increased IDF presence. The Israeli Police issued a response, saying Smotrich’s comments were regrettable.
Even with higher troop deployment, settlers continue to attack Palestinians and their property on a weekly basis.
In a new heavily researched, documented report titled “Israeli Banks in West Bank Settlements,” Human Rights Watch documents how Israeli banks facilitate and profit from Israeli settlements and makes the case that these banks are therefore complicit in war crimes, including pillaging. HRW reports:
“Most Israeli banks finance or ‘accompany’ construction projects in the settlements by becoming partners in settlement expansion, supervising each stage of construction, holding the buyers’ money in escrow, and taking ownership of the project in case of default by the construction company. Most of that construction takes place on ‘state land,’ which can include land unlawfully seized from Palestinians and which Israel uses in a discriminatory fashion, allocating one third of state land in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, to the World Zionist Organization and just 1 percent for use by Palestinians.”
HRW concludes that banks operating in the settlements are, therefore, unavoidably complicit in violating the human rights of Palestinians, and the only remedy is for these banks cease settlement-related operations.
To illustrate the point that human rights violations are an inherent part of all settlements in the West Bank, HRW partnered with the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot to share the story of how the construction of the Elkana settlement and the Israeli separation barrier has deprived Palestinians from the nearby city of Mas-ha of access to their own lands. Banks that have financed projects in Elkana are part of the machinery that entrenches and expands the theft.
Kerem Navot writes:
“Settlements wreck havoc on Palestinian life in the West Bank. For example, as depicted in the animation, the Aamer family used to walk 20 minutes from their West Bank home to their farm. Then Israel built an Israeli-only settlement on part of it, with help from Israeli banks, turning it into a 2-hour detour on what’s left of their land. Banks and all businesses should cease doing business in and with settlements.”
This is just the latest HRW report on the Israeli banking sector and the occupation, and it builds on a September 2017 legal analysis titled, “Israeli Law and Banking in the West Bank.” In the 2017 report, HRW took apart a common legal defense Israeli banks deploy to defend their settlement practices: that Israeli law requires them to operate in the settlements. HRW concluded that there is no such legal requirement currently in Israeli law.
In a wide-ranging (and stunning) interview this week with The Times of Israel, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman spoke revealingly about behind-the-scenes policy discussions within the Trump Administration, including on the topic of settlements, the status of the West Bank, and Israeli annexation proposals.
A few key Friedman quotes from the transcript include:
- On Israel’s settlement activity during the Trump Administration: “The administration’s stance has been that the settlement enterprise is not an impediment to a peace deal, but that unrestrained settlement activity is not consistent with the cause of peace. Where you draw that line or slice that, I am reluctant to go into now. I have felt for years that there has been an oversimplification by the international community of the legal claims, if you will, within the West Bank. That came to a head in December of 2016, with UN Security Council Resolution 2334. It’s not a secret that the Trump administration does not support that resolution, would have vetoed that resolution, had Nikki Haley been the ambassador rather than Samantha Power. I think you can draw some insight from the administration’s views on that resolution.”
- On how Friedman views the international consensus holding that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal: “…Look, I don’t believe the settlements are illegal. I think I’ve been clear on that for years. President Reagan was very clear that he would never suggest Israel would go back to the 1967 borders. They were called the suicide borders; they were considered indefensible. So the notion that Israel’s presence over the Green Line is illegal is something the United States has through many leaders rejected, which is why that UN resolution in 2016 was so offensive to so many people.”
- On whether the Trump Administration discussed annexation proposals with the Israeli government: “We have not had discussions with Israel about annexation…I’ve done lots of listening, so those discussions have taken place, but not in the sense of planning or seeking to execute a strategy, just in the context of enabling me to hear everybody’s views.”
- On the State Department’s decision to stop using “occupied territories” in materials, and instead use “West Bank”: “I believe this is a highly controversial issue and we ought to be using terminology that doesn’t prejudge issues…I was perfectly happy with any geographic identification that people could commonly understand that didn’t involve an adjective. West Bank is fine, Judea and Samaria would have been fine. If there’s another name that would do it justice, that would have been fine. I didn’t think it was appropriate to use “occupied territories,” because I just found it to be unnecessarily political and judgmental on an issue that was still unsettled in many people’s minds.”