Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 19, 2020
- High Court Overturns Settlement Regulation Law
- Israel Starts Construction on Major New Settler Bypass Road in East Jerusalem
- Israel Announces New Opening Date for Givat Hamatos Settlement Tender
- Top Court Orders Israel to Explain Failure to Enforce Building Laws in West Bank
- Israel Government Pauses Settler-Backed Excavation in Silwan, Tacitly Acknowledging Impacts on Palestinian Residents
- Israel Demolishes Structures in Two Outposts, Arrests 13 Settlers
- Israel Continues Prepping for Annexation
- With New Phased Plan, Netanyahu Said to Be Ready to Implement Annexation With or Without Gantz’s Support
- Gantz Suggests Annexing Two Large “Consensus” Settlement Areas First
- Amb. David Friedman Tries, Fails to Broker Annexation Agreement Between Israeli Leaders
- Settlers Continue Opposing Key Parts of Trump Plan, But Offer Support for Phased Approach
- “Hilltop Youth” Launch Campaign to Stop Trump Plan, Claim Land in Area A of West Bank
- Settler Group Raises Concern for the Fate of West Bank Religious Sites Under the Trump Plan
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In a ruling issued on June 9th, the Israeli High Court of Justice overturned the Regulation Law, which was passed by the Israeli Knesset in February 2017 in order to create a legal basis to allow Israel to retroactively legalize outposts and settlement structures which had been built on land that Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians. In overturning the law, the Court found:
- The Knesset cannot legislate directly over the West Bank. The Court’s ruling acknowledged that the West Bank is a region under “belligerent occupation,” where the norm for 53 years has been that the Israeli military commander is the temporary, de facto sovereign authority, not the Knesset. The Regulation Law violates this norm.
- Palestinians living in the West Bank have the special status as “protected persons” living under “belligerent occupation,” and Israeli settlers do not enjoy the same status (i.e., settlers are not part of the “local population” of the West Bank). This particular statement overturns a previous opinion issued by former High Court judge Salim Joubran in 2017, which said settlers can be considered part of the local population — an opinion which had far-reaching implications for Israel’s rule over the West Bank.
- The law violates the right to property and the right to equality, because it only provided a basis for the confiscation of Palestinian land for Israeli use, but not vice versa.
- The law does not serve a legitimate purpose. On this point, Peace Now writes: “Most purposes presented by the state for why expropriating Palestinian private land was allowed were deemed illegitimate [by the Court]. Only one was not categorically rejected: preventing harm to the settlers, who would have to leave their houses. In this case, the Court pointed out that there are other ways to mitigate this unfairness (compensation with money and housing), and that it is not proportional to just continue using someone else’s land. “
In a joint statement following the ruling, Peace Now, Yesh Din and ACRI say:
“The Regulation Law was a black mark on the Israeli Knesset and on Israeli democracy, and the High Court of Justice has ruled the obvious: thou shalt not steal. We are proud that we served as the responsible adult that fought tirelessly to stop it. It was our duty to prevent the harm it threatened to Palestinians living under occupation, as well as to the prospects of peace. The law was of a criminal nature, designed to retroactively legalize thievery and allow systematic plundering of land. We have curbed this unsuccessful attempt to expropriate private land of a people, living under occupation by a government they did not choose, for the benefit of new settlements aimed at fragmenting the West Bank. Although the Court avoided ruling on whether the Knesset has jurisdiction to legislate over the Occupied Territories, it deemed that such legislation is problematic (to say the least). This raises a red flag to the peddlers of annexation. Let it be clear: If the Government of Israel goes ahead with its plan to annex, it will authorize the harsh damages the High Court sought to prevent by revoking this law.”
“All lands in the West Bank are Palestinian, and even after today’s HCJ (High Court of Justice) ruling Israel will continue to take over more and more Palestinian land. This reality of ongoing land theft by the State of Israel does not fundamentally change today, nor does it diminish the Israeli HCJ’s role in legitimizing it over the years.”
Though the High Court’s ruling this week is a positive development, the state’s need for the Regulation Law has entirely been overtaken by events – possible annexation being one, and the “market regulation” principle being another.
Annexation (i.e., under Israeli law, transforming land held under “belligerent occupation” into part of the sovereign state of Israel) would likely render moot two of the key arguments cited by the Court in overturning the Regulation Law. Specifically, after annexation, the Court would likely accede both to the Knesset’s right to legislate directly over West Bank land that is annexed, and to the argument that Palestinians living in these areas enjoy no special protected status. Israel would still need to find or create a legal basis to justify confiscating privately owned Palestinian land annexed by Israel (whether to legalize Israeli construction or to justify taking land from Palestinian landowers who reside beyond the line of annexation).
Whether or not annexation proceeds, Israel has already found and begun implementing an alternative legal tactic to grant retroactively legalization to outposts and settlement structures bult on privately owned Palestinian land. Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit – who opposed the Regulation Law’s legal reasoning, but not its objective – has succeeded in charting out that alternative course via what has been called the “Market Regulation principle.” Mandleblit argues that this principle is “a more proportionate and balanced measure than the arrangement prescribed in the Regulation Law,” providing a narrower legal basis by which Israel can strip Palestinian landowners of their rights (Peace Now estimates that 2,000 structures can be legalized under the “market regulation principle,” compared to 4,000 under the Regulation Law). Of course, this argument overlooks the severe violation of Palestinian rights, the rule of law, and international law inherent in Israel’s decision to in effect erase Palestinian private property rights in the occupied territory to benefit the settlers.
Lastly, it is important to remember that there is a concerted effort being waged against the High Court by Netanyahu and a constellation of his friends and enemies on the political right. For years, right-wing lawmakers have accused the Court of being a leftist bastion, and those lawmakers have been pushing legislation that would allow the Knesset to overrule the High Court of Justice, specifically connecting that campaign to the fate of the Regulation Law.
Following the pattern, after the Court’s ruling against the Regulation Law, the Likud Party called the Court’s decision “unfortunate,” saying that the law was “important to the settlement enterprise and its future” and vowing to immediately act to advance a new law with the same goal. Speaker of the Knesset Yariv Levin (Likud) said:
“the Knesset will no longer be silent in light of the ongoing violation of its powers and status. Today, the High Court once again trampled on Israeli democracy and the basic human rights of many of Israel’s citizens, as has become its wrongful practice. The ruling given seemingly without authority is making another rip in Israeli society and will further damage public confidence in the Supreme Court and its judges.”
The Yamina Party also announced that it would once again be advancing legislation to allow the Knesset to override High Court decisions, saying that anyone who opposes the bill “is a leftist.”
Israel has started construction on a major new bypass road for settlers – dubbed the “American road” – meant to seamlessly connect settlements located in the north and south of Jerusalem to one another. The road will be accessible to Palestinians, a fact touted as proof of Israeli benevolence, but its clear primary purpose is to entrench Israel settlements, expand Israeli control over all of East Jerusalem, and close off Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the West Bank, thereby (further) torpedoing Palestinian hopes of one day establishing a capital in East Jerusalem.
The new road will be five miles long, stretching from the Har Homa settlement in the southern part of East Jerusalem towards the site of the E-1 settlement site located in the West Bank, on Jerusalem’s eastern periphery near the Maale Adumim settlement. It is being built in three sections. The two southern sections are currently under construction, including a towering bridge over Palestinian neighborhoods. Construction tenders for the northern section of the highway, which will include a 1-mile long tunnel just east of the Mount of Olives, are expected to be issued by the end of the year according to an official at the Jerusalem Municipality. It is forecast to cost approximately $250 million USD.
Fadi Al-Hidmi, the Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, told Reuters:
“This project cuts off Palestinian neighborhoods within the city from one another…[it] surrounds occupied East Jerusalem to further connect Israeli settlements and sever the occupied Palestinian capital from the rest of the West Bank.”
Terrestrial Jerusalem founder Daniel Seidemann explains:
“What we are seeing here is, again, the seamless integration of the northern West Bank, East Jerusalem under sole Israeli control, and the southern West Bank for the purposes of the settlers. That is the motivation”
On June 15th, the Israel Land Authority announced that the tender for construction of 1,077 units in the Givat Hamatos settlement is set to open for bids on August 2nd. The opening of the bidding period was originally set for May 3rd, but was delayed without explanation. If the new date sticks, the bidding period will be open until September 7th.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“Promoting construction in Givat HaMatos is a dangerous step that could ultimately cripple the prospect of peace and a two-state solution. Netanyahu published the tender while in a probational government, without a mandate. The new government must abolish this disaster and stop the tender. It is sad to see that parties in the government which received the votes of the peace camp are giving a hand to move this plan along instead of annulling it for the sake of Israel’s future.”
Terrestrial Jerusalem speculates as to why, after deferring the opening of the tender, Netanyahu might be moving forward now, saying:
“…Givat Hamatos could well become a compensation to the settlers should the government refrain from pursuing annexation or should it decide to limit the scope of annexation. It is difficult to predict how this will play in the government’s calculus but it is difficult to separate the two issues. The possibly looming annexation, the publication of Givat Hamatos tenders and the hearings slated for July for the final approval of E1 are intimately related to the fact that Netanyahu has chosen this timing to move on plans which he had frozen for decades is an indication that these actions may be viewed as anticipatory annexation.”
As a reminder, the Givat Hamatos settlement has been fully approved but not constructed. Located in the southern part of East Jerusalem, Givat Hamatos settlement has long been called a doomsday settlement by parties interested in preserving the possibility of a two-state solution. If the Givat Hamatos settlement is built, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction, severing its connection to the West Bank.
On June 15th, the Israeli High Court of Justice gave the Israeli government two months to offer an explanation for why it has not opened a criminal investigation into unauthorized construction in the Hayovel outpost, located in the central West Bank.
The Court’s order comes in response to a petition filed by Peace Now in January 2019 asking the Court to stop the illegal construction at the Hayovel site and investigate the criminal involvement of the Binyamin Regional Council in promoting illegal construction. At that time (18 long months ago), the State announced that the police anti-fraud unit and the State Prosecutor’s Office would “examine” the case. The state has failed to launch that “examination,” and is now being ordered to explain why.
Israel Government Pauses Settler-Backed Excavation in Silwan, Tacitly Acknowledging Impacts on Palestinian Residents
In a report released last month, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said that several months ago it had briefly halted digging on the excavation of the “Pilgrim’s Road” – an excavation backed by the radical Elad settler group and promoted by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman underneath the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem – because the ground around the site began to sink. In order to shore up the collapsing area, the IAA had to build huge underground steel framed structure to hold up the street and buildings above.
Despite years of Palestinians reporting that settler digging was literally undermining and causing damage to their homes and property in Silwan, Elad and the IAA have always denied any connection between the damage and their archeological projects. In a recent report, the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – which has routinely reported on the problematic excavation practices utilized in Silwan and their impacts on Palestinians homeowners and residents – found cracks in 38 houses (home to 200 residents) near the dig site.
The IAA attempted to downplay the pause in excavations, telling Haaretz:
“The excavation is being conducted with ongoing engineering oversight combined with technology that continuously monitors the ground. As part of this monitoring, a few months ago a minor shift was detected on the level of the ancient Herodian street (and not on the modern street, which is eight meters above). An examination found that the area does not run under residential homes or structures. As a result of the monitoring, a new engineering solution was immediately applied and has proven effective.”
On June 15th the Israeli Civil Administration forcibly evacuated and demolished buildings in two unauthorized outposts – Baladim and Maoz Esther – located in the northern West Bank. Haaretz reports that settlers rioted and threw rocks as the Israeli Border Police carried out the demolition orders, leading to the arrest of 13 settlers.
The unauthorized outpost of Moaz Esther has been repeatedly demolished by the Civil Administration, and settlers have repeatedly re-established the outpost without authorization to do so. This cat-and-mouse game was once dubbed “the never-ending evacuation.”
The Baladim outpost – an outpost associated with the radical, violent “Hilltop Youth” – is located on a hilltop in the northern Jordan Valley and has likewise been evacuated by the IDF and re-occupied by the youth numerous times. It is alleged that settlers from Baladim may have been responsible for the horrific arson attack in the Palestinian village of Duma which killed an infant and both of his parents, and critically wounded his 4-year old brother in July 2015. Background on Jordan Valley settlements and outposts is here.
While Israeli leaders debate and negotiate what will/won’t happen come July 1st with respect to annexation, the government continues to take preparatory steps suggesting that it intends to implement some degree of annexation on that date.
This week, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz attempted to form a committee to oversee and coordinate annexation across the government. Israel’s Channel 12 news reports that three former senior IDF officials rejected Gantz’s offer to head that committee, and that Gantz has not been able to stand up such a committee as of yet.
In the Jordan Valley, Palestinians continue reporting new indications that Israel is already implementing annexation. This week Palestinians report a sharp increase in home demolitions, police raids in Palestinian villages, and confiscations. Palestinians also say that Israeli police have hand delivered notices informing them that they will soon be brought under Israeli domestic law. On June 2nd, Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh also noted that for the first time ever, the Isreali Civil Administration directly delivered electricity bills to Palesitnian villages in the Jordan Valley, a move which brings Palestinians more directly under Israeli municipal governance and control.
With New Phased Plan, Netanyahu Said to Be Ready to Implement Annexation With or Without Gantz’s Support
Israel Hayom reports that Netanyahu intends to enact annexation on July 1st with or without support from Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz and (what is left of) his Blue & White party. The newspaper – which is owned by Netanyahu (and Trump) backer Sheldon Adelson and is so closely aligned with Netanyahu that it has long been nicknamed “Bibiton” – reports that Netanyahu will do so via government approval, bypassing entirely a vote in the Knesset. This comes after the announcement by Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (of Derekh Eretz, a party in the Blue & White bloc) that he would vote in favor of annexation if presented by Netanyahu, giving Netanyahu a majority in the cabinet. The Israel Hayom report further suggests that in the event that Gantz somehow succeeds in stymying the passage of his annexation plan by the Cabinet, Netanyahu will call for new elections. This follows the results of a recent poll showing that Netanyahu’s Likud Party would win a new election by a landslide.
During negotiations this week Netanyahu also reportedly presented Gantz and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman with maps of four alternate options for annexation. According to an Israeli official briefed on the meeting, Netanyahu’s proposed scenarios range from annexing 30% of the West Bank (as provided for under the Trump Plan), to annexing a “symbolic” amount of land (reminder: any annexation, no matter how “small” or “symbolic” is a flagrant violation of international law and can only be considered land theft), to options somewhere in between the two. Israel Hayom reports that none of Netanyahu’s four scenarios completely align with the Trump Plan, suggesting perhaps that Netanyahu has adopted some of the demands made by settlers (e.g., no settlement enclaves, no Palestinian state, no construction freeze).
A June 17th report by Israel Hayom offers a theory that Netanyahu is hopeful that the U.S. will support a phased annexation plan. According to this theory, Netanyahu plans for the first phase – to start on July 1st – to involve annexing far-flung settlements located deep inside the West Bank. After that, Bibi will reach out to the Palestinian Authority for talks. If the PA refuses to negotiate, he will proceed with the second phase of annexing all remaining settlements and more land across the entire West Bank. Explaining Netanyahu’s rationale behind this plan, Israel Hayom writes:
“There were reportedly several considerations that prompted the prime minister to consider a two-stage plan to implement sovereignty. First, he expects that the revised plan will send a signal to the international community and the region that Israel listens to their criticism and acts cautiously. Second, a two-stage implementation is also expected to suit the White House, which sees the Trump plan as a peace plan rather than a plan for annexation. The Trump administration wants the Palestinians to realize that time is not on their side, so calling on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the table between the first and second stages of the plan’s implementation serves that purpose…There are other reasons why Netanyahu wants to begin the application of sovereignty ‘deep’ inside Judea and Samaria: refraining from applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley in the first stage could blunt Jordan’s response, which is a concern. Moreover, a broad agreement that the Jordan Valley will remain in Israel hands under any future peace deal already exists, making the valley less urgent than the Judea and Samaria settlements. The same reasoning applies to the large settlement blocs in areas such as Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, and Gush Etzion. All previous peace plans have stated that these blocs would remain part of Israel, whereas the application of Israeli sovereignty to the far-flung settlements would be a weighty diplomatic statement and eradicate the possibility of them being uprooted and evacuated in the future.”
An anonymous cabinet minister made yet another argument in favor of a more aggressive first phase of annexation, telling Army Radio:
“the diplomatic price Israel will pay if it goes to partial annexation is the same as full annexation, so it is not clear what the thinking is behind a partial move.”
In a separate report by Kan Radio on June 17th suggests Gantz and his Blue & White Party have their own plan which would have Israel annex the Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim settlement “blocs” on July 1st, in a direct contradiction to the logic underpinning Netanyahu’s plan to annex the more controversial settlements in the first phase of the plan, as described above. Though the report mentions that Gantz’s plan also involves phases, no further details were revealed.
Earlier in the week, during the three-way negotiations with Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, Gantz reportedly staked out four key positions for any annexation plan:
- He is opposed to annexing areas that have a large number of Palestinian residents “in order to prevent friction”;
- He insists that all Palestinians living in annexed land must be granted citizenship;
- He wants regional cooperation on annexation (i.e., he wants a plan that would not harm relations with Jordan and that is palatable to the rest of the Arab world, with which Israel has worked for years to court better economic/diplomatic relationships);
- He wants to be able to say Palestinians get some benefits in return for annexation.
“If the Israeli government says its supreme goal is to separate from the Palestinians and reach a solution where the Palestinians no longer live under our control, then I will support it.”
The new phased approaches to annexation offered by Netanyahu and Gantz come on the heels of a week of negotiations between the two Israeli leaders, kicked off on June 15th at an unprecedented summit convened by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. Friedman was apparently unsuccessful in brokering an agreement, and at the end of the week reportedly walked away from the negotiations, telling Gantz and Netanyahu something along the lines of, “This is my number, call me if you manage to agree.” It is unclear what role Jared Kushner, the ostensible leader of the U.S. team, might have played in this week’s events; Kushner is reportedly in favor of delaying annexation, while Friedman is pushing for annexation to move ahead as soon as possible. Discussions between Netanyahu and Gantz are scheduled to resume next week.
Netanyahu’s threat (discussed above) to go ahead with annexation without the support of Gantz contravenes the U.S. call for Israeli unity behind any annexation. It was only one week ago that a senior U.S. official said that it is “highly unlikely” that the U.S. will give a greenlight to annexation that is not supported by Gantz. The Israel Hayom report suggests that Netanyahu hopes the U.S. can get behind one of his proposals, allowing him to proceed with or without Gantz.
A recent poll found that 56% of settlers support the Trump Plan, as the settler leadership continues lobbying for more land as negotiations over the annexation map continue. The poll found the 28% of settlers believe the plan is “terrible and must be opposed.”
On June 7th Netanayahu, Settlements Minister Tzipi Hotovely, and Speaker of the Knesset Yariv Levin met with a group of eleven settler leaders who support the Trump Plan. Participants in the meeting said that Netanyahu promised that he would not agree to the future establishment of Palestinian state, and that he would not agree to any construction freeze for any settlements – addressing two of the three main demands from settlers, even settlers who support the Trump Plan.
The third key concern/demand from settlers is that the map does not leave Israeli settlements in enclaves surrounded by Palestinian-controlled territory. To that end, settlers from the Yesha Council – which has mostly opposed the Trump Plan – have drawn up their own map, reportedly showing how the construction of a new road system can eliminate the concern about settlement enclaves.
Notably, settlers who participated in the June 7th meeting confirmed early reports about Netanyahu’s design for a phased annexation plan (different from the phased plan reported by Israel Hayom). According to these reports, Phase 1 will start on July 1st with annexing all the settlements, but leaving the rest of the land allocated to Israel under the Trump Plan, including the Jordan Valley, to be annexed later.
Notably, the CEO of the settler Yesha Council, Yigal Dilmoni, came out in support of a phased annexation plan, while doubling down on the settlers’ conditions for accepting such a plan, saying:
“There must be sovereignty, even if it is in stages, but in no way can there be a Palestinian state, nor a [settlement building] freeze, and no enclave settlements.”
Meanwhile, Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani continues his no-holds-barred attack on the Trump Plan and its architects, telling Haaretz that he prefers the status quo in the West Bank, and going on to say:
“From the beginning, I marked the Americans as a target. I said that [Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law Jared] Kushner had stabbed Netanyahu in the back after the event in Washington, and I later said that Friedman was being deceptive in selling only the sovereignty part without revealing to Israelis that ultimately there’s also a Palestinian state. This was a scam, and it was time to go to Trump – who isn’t familiar with the plan – and tell him: ‘Sir, you’re endangering the security of the State of Israel.’ The Palestinian public is of no interest to them. I’ll tell you what interests them: they want to chalk up some achievement. Kushner wants to bring his father-in-law Trump the achievement of being the greatest leader in the world. No leader since 1948 has managed to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and here, the great Trump arrived and did it! He’ll say, ‘I told you. I’m a businessman and I know how to close deals. This is the deal I closed: Have sovereignty and give a Palestinian state.’ If you met President Trump tomorrow morning and asked him about the details of this plan, do you think he’d know?”
The Times of Israel reports that dozens of settlers associated with the radical and violent “Hilltop Youth” movement have launched a campaign called “It’s All Ours” that aims to undermine the Trump Plan by staking a claim to areas which the Trump Plan does not give Israel an explicit green light to annex (at least not yet). This means they are targeting areas where there is a large Palestinian population, mainly areas desingated as “Area A” under the Oslo Accords.
Organizers of the campaign said there will be three phases leading up to July 1st (the first day that the Israeli government can enact annexation, as agreed to in the unity government deal). Phase one saw over 100 settlers posted 5,500 fliers along West Bank road. The flyers warned against “the danger of the division of the land that is on the horizon.” Phase two will launch rallies and marches in the West Bank. For phase three, the settlers plan to establish new outposts in “strategic areas.”
A settler group calling itself “Preserving the Eternal” – which describes itself as a network of entities working to “protect antiquities in Israel and Judea and Samaria,” – has begun raising alarm, alleging that hundreds of biblical sites in the West Bank are slated to remain in Palestinian territory under the Trump Plan. The group’s leaders accuse the Palestinian Authority of mismanaging the sites and they accuse Palestinians of looting them. The group is in favor of Israel annexing all the sites.
- “As mammoth high-tech hub is eyed for East Jerusalem, will it benefit locals?” (The Times of Israel)
- “As East Jerusalem Suffers Powers Cuts, Settlers Were Put on Israeli Grid – but Palestinians Not” (Haaretz)
- “‘We’re Totally in the Dark’: Palestinians in Jordan Valley Feel Nobody Wants Them, Just Their Land” (Haaretz)
- “Trump’s “Deal” for Palestinians: Repercussions and Responses”” (Al-Shabaka)
- “Diplomatic Pressure Mounts on Israel to Delay Annexation as Long as Possible” (Haaretz)
- “Mapping West Bank Annexation: Territorial and Political Uncertainties” (WINEP)
- “More Israelis oppose West Bank annexation than support it — survey” (The Times of Israel)
- “Mapping Netanyahu’s annexation plan: Experts explain a charged, complex process” (The Times of Israel)
- “The Annexation’s Ambassador to Israel” (Haaretz)
- “Settler Leader: Trump’s Plan Is a Scam, Netanyahu Will Establish a Palestinian State” (Haaretz)
- “A radical settler wages war against annexation — but he is far from alone” (The Times of Israel)
- “’Annexation could cost Israel NIS 67 billion per year’“ (Jerusalem Post)