Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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June 26, 2020
- Netanyahu Talks to Jordan, Gantz (Finally) Lays Out a Position
- Trump Advisors Meeting in Washington on Annexation Ends Without Decision
- Bibi Provides Likud With Talking Points on Annexation, Says Settlements Cannot Ever Be Evacuated
- Court Approves Sale of Church Properties in Old City of Jerusalem to Radical Settler Org
- Israel Delivers Eviction Orders to Palestinian Businessowners Despite Claims Palestinians Have Consented to the “Silicon Wadi” Project
- Israel is Expanding Settler-Only Bypass Road Near Bethlehem, Cutting Palestinians Off from Land
- Plans for Controversial New Settlement Industrial Zone Near Beitar Illit Are Poised for Final Approval
- High Court Set to Hear Petition Against Cable Car
- Emek Shaveh Submits Petition Against Settler-Backed “Accessibility” Project for the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs
- Weaponizing Archaeology as a Means of Dispossessing Palestinians
- Democrats Oppose Annexation But Don’t Threaten Consequences; Republicans Lawmakers Offer Support for Annexation
- Bonus Reads
Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com)
According to an anonymous Palestinian official, Israel delivered a message to Jordan’s King Abdullah (who then passed it on to Abbas) that Netanyahu is planning to announce annexation of two or three “settlement blocs” as Israel’s initial annexation move, and this announcement will not include annexation of the Jordan Valley. The report provided no details about which “blocs” will be annexed, or how they will be defined. As a reminder, “blocs” is an informal and elastic term that Israel has used to define ever- expanding areas of the West Bank as territory that it will keep.
The reports come after days of suggestions that the U.S. and Netanyahu are favoring a phased annexation plan, meaning that whatever “limited” annexation Israel announces on July 1st (or, more likely, after July 1st), it will be just the first in a wave of annexation announcements, and the fact that it may be “limited” (compared to other options) in no way will signal that Netanyahu has changed his grander ambition to annex every inch of land allowed under Trump Plan. The Trump Plan green lights annexation of around 30% of the West Bank as a starting point, with an implicit green light for further annexation if the Palestinians refuse to negotiate with Israel over the fate of the remaining West Bank territory.
Gantz posted a message on his Facebook page on Friday, June 26th in what some are viewing as an effort to clarify his own position on annexation, which so far has been inconsistent, ambiguous, and confusing. Gantz’s five key positions on annexation according to the new Facebook post are:
- No annexation of areas where there is a “significant” Palestinian population;
- No annexation of land that will impair Palestinians’ freedom of movement;
- Palestinian living in areas annexed by Israel will be given equal rights;
- Israel’s security as well as its existing peace agreements will be safeguarded;
- Israel will initiate “bilateral moves with the Palestinians.”
It was reported earlier this week that Prime Minister Netanyahu presented an ultimatum to Gantz in private deliberations, seeking to force Gantz to choose between supporting annexation or a new round of elections (recent polls suggest new elections would deliver a landslide victory for Netanyahu — no surprise given the fact that in joining the Netanyahu government, Gantz eviscerated Netanyahu’s main opposition party).
Up to this point, Blue & White party leaders Gantz and Ashkenazi have opposed wide-scale, unilateral annexation on July 1st – instead offering a vision for a phased annexation plan, starting with large settlement blocs, that is coordinated with key international players. Perhaps fulfilling Gantz’s demands, the reports regarding Israel’s message to Jordan propose a more limited initial annexation plan, suggesting perhaps that Netanyahu has adopted two of Gantz’s main positions. It’s also worth recalling that last week Gantz and his party mate Ashkenazi were pushing a phased annexation plan and specified that the Ma’ale Adumim and the Etzion settlement blocs (east and south of Jerusalem) are the place to start.
Even before word of the Jordan communique and Gantz’s Facebook message hit the press on June 26th, it was a near consensus position amongst Israeli news outlets and analysts that Gantz was not going to stand in the way of annexation. On June 22nd, Gantz reportedly told a group of defense officials that Israel “won’t keep waiting for the Palestinians” to engage in negotiations on the basis of the Trump Plan. Those remarks were interpreted as a signal of Gantz’s acquiescence to Netanyahu’s annexation plan (or at least of his growing disinterest in even appearing to oppose it). In the same set of remarks, Gantz went on to blame the Palestinians in even more harsh language, saying they are attempting to drag Israel into “deep shit.” Haaretz suggests, “…Gantz’s tone and his actual comments confirm the assumption that there will be no life-and-death battle here. Gantz knows that the final decision is not up to him, but rather up to Netanyahu.” In a separate article, Haaretz columnist Noa Landau put it this way: “[Gantz’s] remarks [on June 22nd] sounded more like a threat against the Palestinians for refusing to extricate him from this mess.”
Internal Israeli negotiations set a dramatic stage for 3 days of discussions this week in Washington between the Trump Administration officials who are the architects and managers of the Trump Plan, as the reportedly sought to come to agreement over what form of annexation the Trump Administration will green light for July 1. Multiple reports in the days leading up to the U.S. deliberations suggested that the group was considering options ranging from a “gradual” annexation plan starting with large settlements around Jerusalem, to a more large-scale and immediate plan. At the end of the week, the Americans reportedly failed to reach a decision on how they would want to see Israel’s annexation of West Bank land to proceed. Three members of the team, Avi Berkowitz and NSA Advisor Scott Leith, and Amb. Friedman – are reportedly en route back to Israel and will continue discussions with Netanyahu. Notably, in parallel to the Washington meetings, reports emerged suggesting that Netanyahu’s annexation announcement may be delayed and that July 1st might mark the start of Israeli security cabinet deliberations over annexation (to this point deliberations have been between Netanyahu and Gantz without wider input from cabinet members).
Amb. David Friedman (who flew to back to DC for the meeting) was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, senior advisor Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, and national security advisor Robert O’Brien for deliberations starting on June 23rd.
Netanyahu sent a memo to Likud lawmakers this week laying out key talking points in the ongoing effort to defend annexation, in which he argues that evacuating settlement poses an “immediate existential threat” to Israel. The memo says:
“Relinquishing these territories would not only constitute a historic injustice; such a move would create an immediate existential threat to the Jewish state since Judea and Samaria border central Israeli cities.”
The memo also adopts a U.S. talking point that annexation in fact advances the cause of peace, but instead of giving any nod to a future Palestinian state or two state solution, Bibi’s memo claims that annexing West Bank settlements can provide for “to a realistic regional peace based upon facts on the ground.” This double speak (annexation is peace) was prominently articulated by Ron Dermer in a recent Washington Post op-ed.
On June 24th, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a final request filed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to block the sale of its historic church properties to the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim. The Court’s ruling brings an end to 16 years of litigation and paves the way for Ateret Cohanim to evict Palestinian tenants and businessowners from three coveted church properties in the Old City including the Petra Hotel and the Imperial Hotel (together, the buildings flank the Jaffa Gate entrance into the Old City – meaning that Ateret Cohanim now controls a substantial amount of land at a key entrance to the Old City). The third building – known to Palestinians as Beit Amziya – is located in the Muslim Quarter.
The ruling comes just four months after the Jerusalem District Court appointed a lawyer associated with Ateret Cohanim as the legal custodian of the Petra Hotel for the duration of a bankruptcy case against the Palestinians currently operating the hotel.
The legal battle over the properties dates back to 2004, when the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate agreed to sell the three properties to a foreign real estate company under three separate contracts. It did so not knowing that the radical settler group Ateret Cohanim was behind the transaction. News of the sales made headlines in early 2005.
Upon the revelation that Ateret Cohanim was the real buyer, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was deeply embarrassed and immediately sought to retain control of the properties. The Patriarchate alleged that the transactions involved corruption and bribery, arguing that the legal documents had been signed without permission by a finance employee. Dismissing the church’s arguments, this week the Supreme Court upheld prior rulings that the signatures on the legal documents were valid, with the finance employee acting as a legal proxy of the Patriarchate.
The Greek Orthodox Church has received significant blowback from the sale of these properties. In January 2018, Palestinians protested in Bethlehem in an attempt to block the arrival of Patriarch Theophilos III for Christmas celebrations.
Israel Delivers Eviction Orders to Palestinian Businessowners Despite Claims Palestinians Have Consented to the “Silicon Wadi” Project
Middle East Eye reports that the “Silicon Wadi” project (as reported on by FMEP on June 5th) is being discussed by the Jerusalem District Committee but has not yet reached the stage of being deposited for public review. According to one Palestinian business owner who faces eviction under the plan, the District Committee required the Jerusalem Municipality to notify the owners and renters of the buildings that will be demolished to make way for the new construction. Last week, the Municipality delivered that notification to renters in the form of eviction orders, saying that the businesses were operating in violation of Israeli regulations (i.e., illegally, even though the businesses have been there – and paying taxes to Israel – for decades). The orders give businesses 6 months to vacate.
One Palestinian businessowner, Mahmoud al-Kurd, told Middle East Eye:
“I will stay here to the last moment. This profession is my passion. In this old space I managed to achieve my successes. It is enough that the soul of my deceased father roams around me here – he is the one who rented this store decades ago and passed on his means of sustenance to us. I refuse to be an employee of a Jewish broker if we were transferred to work in the Israeli industrial areas.”
The Jerusalem Municipality – which claims that this project has the support and consent of Palestinians – also claims that it is looking into options for compensating business owners (mostly auto mechanics) who will lose their garages.
The Palestinian news outlet Wafa reports that Israel has begun work on expanding a settler-only bypass road just west of Bethlehem.The road is reportedly being expanded and widened on Palestinian land belonging to the Nahalin village; construction of the new road segment and widening the existing road will cut off Palestinians from 741 acres (3,000 dunams) of their land.
The road serves to directly connect the Beitar Illit settlement to the Modiin Illit settlement, both of which are a part of the so-called “Etzion Bloc.” The construction goes to show that the settlement “Blocs” – around which some suggest there is a “consensus” that Israel will retain them in any future deal with the Palestinians, and others suggest Israel can annex without controvery – are a pretext for a continuing campaign of dispossession, discrimination, and human rights abuses against neighboring Palestinians. For a deep dive into the highly consequential acceptance/normalization of the “settlement bloc” framing, see here.
Plans for Controversial New Settlement Industrial Zone Near Beitar Illit Are Poised for Final Approval
Al Monitor reports that plans for the construction of a new settlement industrial zone near the Beitar Illit settlement in the southern West Bank are ready to be submitted for final approval from the Civil Administration. Environmental activists say the new zone will pollute and possibly destroy the underground water sources feeding the terraced hills of Battir, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The plan for the new zone – which will include offices, shops, sports facilities, public buildings, and a cemetery – was initiated in 2018 at the insistence of Israel’s former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Palestinians claim that plans for the zone include construction on privately owned Palestinian land.
Gidon Bromberg, Executive Director of EcoPeace, told Al-Monitor:
“Planning maps clearly show that the industrial estate would indeed cover much of the buffer zone of the World Heritage site as well as touch the core area itself.”
The Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh reports that the Israeli High Court of Justice will take up the case of the Jerusalem cable car project on June 29th. The court will consider three arguments made in a petition filed against the plan submitted by Emek Shaveh and leading experts. Those arguments are:
- “A transitional government is not authorized to make an irreversible decision such as approval of the cable car project: The cable car project will cost the public hundreds of millions of shekels. During a period when the government is carrying out a broad cut in the budget of billions of shekels and is reducing the budgets for health and welfare, it is inappropriate that a transitional government leaves a bequest of this magnitude for the next government to inherit. In the response of the Deputy Attorney General, Att. Othman Roslan, to the petition, while arguing that the process was not in conflict with the law, he did not conceal the fact that the it was problematic. [See FMEP’s coverage of the Israeli government’s approval of the plan in November 2019]
- “There was a serious flaw in the planning process in that the Ministry of Transportation was not included in the project that purports to be a transportation project: While the project is represented as a transport project, the Ministry of Transportation was not included in the process and the project was not required to meet the standards set forth for transportation projects in the State of Israel. Instead it was approved on the basis of reports and data less comprehensive than those required for every other transportation project.
- “The decision was made on the basis of misleading simulations: The backers of the plan did not present complete simulations that accurately illustrate the cable cars in motion and the resulting damage to the historic landscape. The National Infrastructure Committee should have demanded that the backers present simulations that illustrate the actual cars in motion.”
The Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center – in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, slated to be a stop along the cable car’s route). The scheme is intended to further entrench settler control in Silwan, via archeology and tourism sites, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Non-governmental organizations including Emek Shaveh, 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 impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
Emek Shaveh Submits Petition Against Settler-Backed “Accessibility” Project for the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs
On June 18th, Emek Shaveh and Palestinian residents of Hebron jointly submitted a petition challenging Israel’s issuance of a permit to build an elevator to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, arguing that:
- “The plan was illegally approved by a transitional government;
- “The plan is in contravention of international agreements to which Israel is a signatory;
- “[The plan] is an unprecedented injury to the character of the ancient structure; No documentation and preservation file has been submitted.”
One signatory on the petition is a disabled Palestinian, Kamal Abadin, who makes the salient point that Israel’s policies in Hebron do not indicate it has concern for accessibility, saying:
“I almost do not come to pray at the mosque because as a Palestinian, I am not permitted to drive in my car from my house to the site, because the road is closed to Palestinian vehicles. If Israel asserts that it wants to make the site accessible to the disabled, let it start with allowing disabled Palestinians to access it by car.”
Emek Shaveh explained in a statement:
“Unfortunately, even at the price of damage to a structure more than 2,000 years old that is holy to Judaism and Islam, Israel is prepared to be led by the settlers and their plans, and on the way, to violate international agreements to which it is a signatory. The settlers have succeeded in turning the needs of persons with disabilities into a political issue and a means for deepening the dispute with the Palestinians. We all know that what begins in Hebron does not stay only in Hebron and the unilateral steps at the Tomb of the Patriarchs could serve as a precedent for unilateral actions at another site which is holy to both Judaism and Islam.”
A settler group which sprung from the radical Regavim organization has sharpened a new bureaucratic weapon by which to advance the dispossession of Palestinians. The settler group – called Shomrim Al Hanetzach (“Guarding Eternity”) – has been surveying areas in the West Bank that Israel has designated as archeaological sites in order to call in Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian construction in these areas. In 2017, it should be noted, Israel declared 1,000 new archaeological sites in Area C of the West Bank. The group communicates its findings to the Archaeology Unit in the Israeli Civil Administration (the military body by which the government of Israel regulates all planning and building in the West Bank). The Archaeology Unit, playing its part, then delivers eviction and demolition orders against Palestinians, claiming that the structures damage antiquities in the area.
In addition, in 2019 the Israeli government increased the size of the Archaeology Unit’s staff and granted the unit new authority to carry out investigations into cases of construction on archaeological sites. Moreover, using new powers the Civil Administration gave itself (via a military order) in June 2017, the Israeli goverment has accelerated the demolition of Palestinian buildings by drastically limiting the time period during which Palestinians are permitted to challenge demolition orders. Palestinians have a mere 96 hours after receiving the notice to file a legal challenge.
As a result, there has been a sharp rise in the number of archaeology-related demolition orders over the past year: Israel issued 118 demolition order and warnings against Palestinian structures built on West Bank archaeological sites in 2019, compared to 61 orders in 2018 and 45 orders in 2017.
The Director of Shomrim Al Hanetzach told Haaretz:
“We took it upon ourselves to make the supervision process more efficient – hiking guides and archaeologists turn to us and tell us about the destruction of antiquities, and we report them further to the necessary people.”
In the case of one Palestinian, Mahmoud Bisharat, he says that Israel conducted an archaeological survey of the area in 1972 but never complained about Palestinian construction in the area until now. The Civil Administration ordered Bisharat to demolish his home, olive trees, well, and concrete structures around a well.
In addition to hiking and surveying Palestinian land, Palestinians have reported that Regavim activists also use drones to photograph their land and buildings, and have made the connection between those activities to demolition orders from the Civil Administration.
Democrats Oppose Annexation But Don’t Threaten Consequences; Republicans Lawmakers Offer Support for Annexation
In warring moves this week, Republicans and Democrats staked out positions on Israel’s forthcoming annexation of land in the West Bank.
189 of 233 Democrats in the House signed a letter sent to Netanyahu and Gantz expressing deep concern about annexation, saying it does not serve Israeli security interests nor the peace process. The letter, notably, does not contain any threat of consequences should Israel implement annexation. J Street is reportedly behind drafting and circulating the letters for signatures.
116 out of 198 Republicans in the House signed a letter sent to Prime Minister Nentanyahu expressing support for Israel’s “right to sovereignty and defensible borders.” The letter also praises the Trump Plan. The Republic Jewish Committee is reportedly behind drafting and circulating the letter for signatures.
7 out of 53 Republicans in the Senate signed a letter to President Trump led by Senators Cotton (R-AR) and Cruz (R-TX) that is not only supportive of annexation, but actually encourage Israel to implement annexation.
Back in May, 18 out of 47 Democrats/Independents in the Senate sent a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz cautioning them against annexation.
- “How settler groups could use annexation to deepen Palestinian dispossession” (+972 Magazine)
- “Israel’s High Court Is Willfully Blind to Theft of Palestinian Land” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s ‘strangling’ of Bethlehem tightens as world debates annexation” (+972 Magazine)
- “Settlers Assault Palestinians on Their Own Land, as Israeli Soldiers Watch” (Haaretz)
- “For Netanyahu, Annexation May Spell Little Gain, and Lots of Pain“ (Haaretz)