Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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March 13, 2020
- Bennet Approves Plans for “Sovereignty Road” In Move Toward Construction of E-1, Annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim Settlement Bloc
- Israeli Planning Committee Asks for Changes, More Info on Har Homa & Givat Hamatos Plans
- Palestinian Minor Killed by IDF During Clash Over Settlers Entering Palestinian Land Near Nablus
- 2019 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report Further Erases Occupation, Denies Palestinian Identity, Affirms Golan Annexation
- Reports: U.S. Will OK Annexation “Within Months” Unless Palestinians Negotiate on Basis of Trump Plan (i.e., Palestinians Either Agree to Annexation, or They Get Annexation Anyway)
- Bonus Reads
Comments or questions – email Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com).
Bennet Approves Plans for “Sovereignty Road” In Move Toward Construction of E-1, Annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim Settlement Bloc
On March 9th, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet approved a plan for the construction of a controversial road designed to facilitate Israeli annexation of a huge area of West Bank territory located between Jerusalem and Jericho. The purpose of the road is to enable Palestinians to travel between the northern and southern West Bank through what would be the new massive Israel settlement bloc just east of Jerusalem, while preventing them from entering Israel’s (expanded) territory. The road represents a key element in Israel’s broader plan to annex the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, the planned settlement of E-1 settlement, and surrounding territory.
For decades, construction of the E-1 settlement – which is now actively advancing through the planning process – has been adamantly opposed by the international community. A key criticism of that plan is that it would effectively cut the West Bank in half – preventing any two-state solution. The new road has long been Israel’s answer to that criticism, with Israel arguing that it will replace territorial contiguity with limited “transportational continuity” – via a sealed road that is under Israel’s total control. With Minister Bennett’s support and green light, the plan for that road can now be submitted to the Israel Defense Ministry’s High Planning Council for consideration.
If built, a section of the Palestinian-only road is projected to run under the separation barrier (which is not currently built in this area). The rest of the road will run relatively adjacent to the route of the future seperation barrier, in order to prevent Palestinian traffic from coming “near Jewish communities,” in the words of Defense Minister Bennet. This new section of road connects to the infamous “apartheid road” (aka, the Eastern Ring Road) which was opened for Paelstinian traffic in January 2019, and has a high wall dividing Israeli and Palestinian traffic.
In a statement announcing his plan, Bennet gave lip service to the idea that the plan will benefit Palestinians (even as it further cuts them off from Jerusalem, takes more land, and cuts the West Bank in half) while also making clear his real objective:
“[the road] will improve the quality of life for residents in the area, avoid unnecessary friction [for Israelis] with the Palestinian population and most importantly — allow for continued [settlement] construction. We’re applying sovereignty [to the West Bank] in deeds, not in words.”
Peace Now explains the issue with Israel’s design:
“The new road is intended to allow Palestinians to pass under the route of the separation barrier, and to travel ‘inside’ the Adumim Bloc along a wall without entering the ‘Israeli’ side, as in a kind of tunnel. Once the road is paved, Israel can then claim that construction in E1, and the construction of the barrier around the Adumim bloc does not sever the West Bank because the Palestinians have an alternative transport route. This argument is preposterous. A thin line of road connecting separate territorial sections–transportational contiguity–does not meet the needs for territorial viability for the development and livelihoods of Palestinians in the critical Ramallah-Jerusalem-Bethlehem metropolitan area. Without actual territorial contiguity, an independent Palestinian state cannot be established and prosper, and therefore a two-state solution cannot be reached.”
Further, Peace Now said in a statement:
“This is bad news for Israel as it enables annexation toward rendering a two-state solution insoluble. The planned road would allow Israel to cut the West Bank in half, build up E1 and the West Bank barrier, and shut down the possibility of developing a viable Palestinian state.The only roads Israel paved for Palestinians in its 52 years of control over the Territories were designed to allow Israel to build settlements or barriers that block existing Palestinian routes. There is no desire here to improve Palestinian transport, only to expand the settlements.”
Ir Amim reports that at a March 8th meeting, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee asked for several modifications and required that additional surveys be completed before they approve plans for the construction of the Har Homa and Givat Hamatos settlement plans.
Ir Amim explains:
“There is a big gap between Netanyahu’s far reaching declarations regarding ‘the advancement of thousands of housing units in Har Homa and Givat Hamatos’ and the actual result of the discussions at the committee. It is unclear whether this gap is a result of real planning considerations that have to be resolved or is it a sign that despite Netanyahu’s dramatic announcements the Israeli government nevertheless needs to restrain itself. Ir Amim will try to inquire into the issue.
In any case the advancement of the three plans [2 relating to Har Homa, 1 relating to Givat Hamatos] in one of the most sensitive areas of East Jerusalem after years during which the Israeli government refrained from advancing them is a cause for great concern. If constructed, these new settlements will essentially connect the existing Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods/settlements and create a contiguous Israeli built-up area along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem. This will serve to detach Bethlehem and the south of the West Bank from East Jerusalem while isolating the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Constituting a long term strategy of Israeli governments, construction of large settlements is employed as a means to fracture the Palestinian space and unilaterally determine the boundaries of Jerusalem to prevent the future establishment of a Palestinian capital in the city.
The fact that the discussion of all three plans ended without a decision to advance any of them is not the norm. But in a few months, the surveys and modifications requested by the committee may be completed and the plans will be discussed again and this time be advanced.
It is important to remember that the Israel Land Authority has also published (on February 24th) a tender for 1,077 housing units in Givat Hamatos A (on the area of TPS 14295). The tender has not yet opened for bidding and this is currently scheduled to happen on May 3rd. This tender is not contingent upon developments of the Givat Hamatos masterplan described above and can open for bids regardless of whether or not the plan is approved. If the tender does open for bids in May leading to future construction this will be a most negative development with a new settlement in one of the most sensitive places in East Jerusalem.”
A 15-year old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by Israeli military forces on March 11th. The forces were deployed to protect a group of Israeli settlers from the nearby Itamar settlement who had entered Palestinian land to “tour” an area which is believed to be the site of an ancient fortress. The site – “Jabal al-Orma” in Arabic and “Tel Aroma” in Hebrew – is located in Area B of the West Bank, which under the Oslo Accords is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control.
Two months ago, the Palestinian Municipality responsible for the area designated the site as a tourist destination and began building infrastructure to enhance it. Settler groups accused Palestinians of “taking over” the fortress (reminder: it is located in Area B) and destroying it. The settler “tour group” that instigated the clash had, in fact, established a temporary encampment at the site a day earlier. The next day, 300 Palestinians arrived at the site to protest. The IDF arrived and reportedly began firing tear gas at the protestors. The ensuing clash resulted in the death of the one Palestinian minor, injuries to 16 other Palestinians (2 serious), and a head injury to one of the settlers.
In a joint report on Israel’s use of archeology as a means for dispossession and pretext for annexation, the NGO’s Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din write:
“In addition to the takeover of archaeological sites by official entities via ostensibly legal means, there is also a phenomenon of invasion and illegal takeover of historic sites by settlers. As part of the overall negligence on the part of the Israeli enforcement authorities with regards to the dispossession of Palestinians of their land by Israeli civilians, there is also a clear failure on the part of the authorities to remove invaders, enforce the law and protect Palestinian rights in cases where historic sites have been invaded or taken over. The enforcement failures in these cases endanger the antiquities, because unqualified persons perform work on these sites without plans and building permits and without supervision.”
2019 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report Further Erases Occupation, Denies Palestinian Identity, Affirms Golan Annexation
The U.S. State Department recently published its “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel, West Bank, and Gaza.”
- Normalizes Israeli control over the Area C of the West Bank, adding new language which reads:
“The government of Israel maintained a West Bank security presence through the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), the Israeli Security Agency, the Israeli National Police, and the Border Guard. Israel maintained effective civilian control of its security forces throughout the West Bank and Gaza. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. The PA has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces (ISF) regularly conducted security operations there, at times without coordinating with the PASF. The PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C and has designated the majority of Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas.”
- Ceases to refer to Jerusalem’s Palestinian population as “Palestinians” – instead referring to them as “Arab residents.” This change is consistent with the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to de-nationalize the Palestinians people and its attempts to undermine their national claim to Jerusalem.
- Re-affirms the legitimacy of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights (which the U.S. officially recognized in March 2019). Whereas the 2018 report included a section entitled, “Israel and the Golan Heights” (alongside a separate section entitled, “West Bank and Gaza”), the 2019 report no longer differentiates between Israel and the Golan Heights at all (as in, the two sections are now entitled, “Israel” and “West Bank and Gaza”).
Reports: U.S. Will OK Annexation “Within Months” Unless Palestinians Negotiate on Basis of Trump Plan (i.e., Palestinians Either Agree to Annexation, or They Get Annexation Anyway)
On March 5th, an Israeli news program quoted a senior White House official suggesting that the United States is prepared to approve Israel’s unilateral annexation of 30% of the West Bank “within months” if the Palestinians do not agree to participate in U.S.-led negotiations over the details of the Trump Plan.
The day before, Senior White House Advisor and Trump Plan architect Jared Kushner reportedly told U.S. Senators during a closed-door briefing that the work of the joint Israeli-American committee mapping will take “several more months,” which would appear to align with the comments and timeline laid out by the anonymous White House source. The source further said:
“Nobody can say we didn’t give the Palestinians an opportunity to return to the negotiating table. If they want to come back and talk we are ready for that and we believe we could improve the plan for them. But if they don’t, we will continue moving ahead without them.”
Kushner’s closed-door briefing members for Congress included a powerpoint presentation, slides of which were subsequently leaked. Notably, Kushner’s presentation appeared to argue that the continual expansion of Israeli settlements is one of two factors that has made peace impossible to obtain to this point (the other being the increasing amount international aid to the Palestinian people).
FMEP President Lara Friedman has a fun Twitter thread commenting on the double-speak in the slides.
- “Israeli AG’s objection to ICC jurisdiction in Palestine divorced from reality” (B’Tselem)
- “Another push to make Qalandia Airport a Jewish settlement” (Al-Monitor)
- “‘You Want to Kill Me?’ Totally, He Said. ‘Leftists Are Worse Than the Arabs’: Election Day at a Settlement” (Haaretz)
- “Palestinian villagers ask why company exploiting West Bank quarry isn’t it on UN list” (Middle East Eye)
- “Hebron settlers hold Purim parade while Palestinians locked down for coronavirus” (+972 Magazine)