Settlement Report: March 15, 2019


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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March 15, 2019

  1. State Submits Defense of Mitzpe Kramim Outpost Legalization to High Court, Peace Now Petitions to Join the Case
  2. Civil Administration Employees Go on Strike, Delaying Approval of 4,500 New Settlement Units
  3. 47% of Palestinian Land Expropriated by Israel for “Security Needs” Has Been Given to the Settlements
  4. Transportation Ministry Denies Involvement in Jerusalem Cable Car Project, Calls it a “Tourist Cable Car”
  5. State Department Formalizes Occupation Denial as Official U.S. Policy; Israeli Politicians Immediately Plan for Annexation
  6. For the First Time, AIPAC National Policy Conference to Host Settler Leader
  7. Wind Power & Israel’s Occupation of the Golan Heights
  8. Bonus Reads

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State Submits Defense of Mitzpe Kramim Outpost Legalization to High Court, Peace Now Petitions to Join the Case

On March 10th, the state of Israel submitted a written argument to the High Court of Justice in defense of its plan to expropriate land that it acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians in order to retroactively legalize the Mitzpe Kramim outpost.

The state’s argument was previously accepted by the Jerusalem District Court in an August 2018 ruling, which paved the way for the High Court to resume its consideration of a petition against the Mitzpe Kramim outpost, submitted by the registered Palestinian landowners in 2011.

In both cases the state’s argument relies on the “market regulation” principle, which the Israeli Attorney General invented as a legal basis for retroactively legalizing settlements and outposts built on land that even Israel recognizes as undeniably owned by Palestinians.

According to the “market regulation” principle, in cases where all relevant parties – in this case, the government, the World Zionist Organization, and the settlers – acted “in good faith” in the course of events that lead to the establishment of the unauthorized outpost on privately owned Palestinian land, the ownership of that land can legally be given over to the settlers. It is notable that the Palestinians are not considered relevant parties in this analysis (even when they and human rights groups alerted Israeli authorities in real time of the illegal building taking place – challenging the very idea of “good faith” mistakes).

The state’s March 10th argument also attempts to explain why the landmark  1979 Elon Moreh ruling, which explicitly prohibits Israel from building settlements on land expropriated for military purposes, should not apply to the Mitzpe Kramim case, given that the outpost was allegedly built in “good faith” based on the settlers’ belief that the land in question was part of a military seizure order from the 1970s (this belief was incorrect – the land was/is recorded in the Israeli Land Registry as privately owned by Palestinians from the village of Deir Jarir).

Also on March 10th, Peace Now filed an application to join the Mitzpe Kramim High Court case as a “friend of the court,” citing the organization’s professional expertise on the subject matter. In the application, Peace Now explained the potential devastating ramifications of the “market regulation” principle, and challenged the notion that “good faith” can be attributed to the Israeli parties involved in illegally building the Mitzpe Kramim outpost. Peace Now’s main points on the case are:

  1. The broad implications of the ruling – Peace Now has submitted to the court a list of 132 settlements and outposts where nearly 7,000 housing units have been built on private Palestinian land, stretching over 10,000 dunams. This is in addition to thousands of dunams or even tens of thousands of dunams taken from their owners by settlements for infrastructure, agriculture, and so on. The ruling is likely to serve as a precedent for the massive land grabs that the state has carried out over the years in the settlements.
  2. Land Management by the Custodian of Government and Abandoned Property in Judea and Samaria – A description of a series of failures in the General Director’s actions led to the many “errors” in the allocation of land that is not owned by the state. Some of the failures were presented in official government reports and by the state comptroller, which attest to historic failures and oversights that have not been corrected to this day.
  3. Land management by the Settlement Division, not done in “good faith” – Extensive information on the activities of the Settlement Division on land allocated to it (and land not allocated to it) and in many cases of allocations granted without authorization.
  4. The nature of the “market” for which the “market regulation” is applied – In fact, there is no “market” or “normal trading life” in transactions of the kind that the state manages in the territories. There is no ongoing trade, certainly not in “state lands” allocated by the state to settlers and transactions between the state and the World Zionist Organization (the umbrella organization that includes the Settlement Division). Moreover, there is no possibility – even theoretically – of the opposite situation: seizing privately owned land for Jews and transferring it “by mistake” to Palestinians. Nor is there a governmental body in the area that expropriates private land from Jews. Only one side is consistently discriminated against, as evidenced in the data according to which 99.76% of the allocated state land in the West Bank was given to the Israeli population, and while less than a quarter of a percent was allocated to Palestinians since 1967.

FMEP’s Annexation Policy Tables track the ongoing legislative, political, and legal transformations happening in the Israeli government to justify the expropriation of Palestinian land for settlements. As a reminder, the “market regulation” principle was promoted by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who offered it as an alternative to the legal basis provided in the “Regulation Law” to legalize unauthorized outposts and settlement construction.

Civil Administration Employees Go on Strike, Delaying Approval of 4,500 New Settlement Units

The Times of Israel’s settlement correspondent Jacob Magid reports that employees of the Israeli Civil Administration – the Israeli legal body that runs the West Bank, operating under the Ministry of Defense – will resume a strike for improved compensation and working conditions. Employees of the Civil Administration went on strike in July 2018 over the same set of issues.

The strike, if it happens, may delay the next meeting of the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee (the body which regulates all planning and building in the West Bank), scheduled for next week. The committee is expected to advance 4,500 new settlement units.

47% of Palestinian Land Expropriated by Israel for “Security Needs” Has Been Given to the Settlements

Graph by Kerem Navot

A new report by Kerem Navot has revealed the extent to which military seizure orders have been used to expropriate privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank not for military or security purposes, but to advance the settlements.

The report – entitled, “Seize the Moral Low Ground: Land Seizures for ‘Security Needs’ in the West Bank” – provides detailed data on how land taken by Israel via military seizure orders is currently being used. Important and illustrative data points include:

  • Under international law Israel, as the occupying power, may seize private Palestinian land for military purposes, but such seizures must be temporary in nature (the land must be returned to its owners when it is no longer being used for the purposes for which it was seized) and the owners must be compensated for the period of the seizure.
  • From 1967-2014 Israel issued 1,150 military seizure orders, taking nearly 25,000 acres (just over 100,000 dunams).
  • 67% of land seized by military order is privately owned by Palestinians.
  • 47% of the total land seized by Israel by military orders  is currently used to serve the needs of the settler population.

The new report also provides a fascinating explanation of how Israeli courts have at times held that the establishment of a civilian settlement on land seized for security needs is a valid use of that land, holding that settlements promote Israeli security. This was the case in a 1980 ruling on the Beit El settlement, which held that the civilian settlement of Beit El, constructed on land seized for military purposes, should be viewed as a security asset. Regarding this concept, the judge wrote:

“Israel, a small country within the long narrow confines of the Green Line, is surrounded, very regretfully, by countries that do not hide their hostility toward it. It is doubtful whether this situation, into which I will not go into detail, has any parallel in the history of humankind. … It is therefore reasonable to assume that in this unique situation, which requires supreme alertness to precede any possible calamity if, where, and when it may flare up, it is necessary to make use of exceptional solutions as well. … One of these solutions — and the topic of the discussion before us — is the creation of a Jewish civilian presence at particularly sensitive points. … I am aware of the fact that we are referring to a civilian population. … Against this backdrop, I accept Major General Orly’s claim that a civilian presence at these sensitive points is the necessary solution.”

This legal argument appears to directly contradict the landmark Elon Moreh settlement ruling in 1979, in which the courts barred the state from using privately owned Palestinian land that had been seized for security needs in order to build civilian settlements.

The report is available online here.

Transportation Ministry Denies Involvement in Jerusalem Cable Car Project, Calls it a “Tourist Cable Car”

The Israeli Transportation Ministry has publicly confirmed that it is not involved in the development of the Jerusalem cable car project, contradicting the Israeli Tourism Ministry, which has pitched the project as a transportation solution for traffic congestion around the Old City.

Map by Terrestrial Jerusalem

In response to an inquiry from the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh – a prominent critic of the cable car’s settler-linked agenda and damaging impact on Jerusalem’s archeological integrity – an official at the Transportation Ministry said, “We have no information on the cable car project. This is a tourist project not a transport one.” That fact was confirmed by The Times of Israel, which received the following response to their own inquiry: “This is a tourist cable car, and therefore the Ministry of Transportation is not involved in the project.”

The non-involvement of the Transportation Ministry only compounds the secrecy and unusual circumstances surrounding Tourism Minister Yair Levin’s promotion of the cable car project. In addition to circumventing the normal planning process for such large-scale, landscape-altering construction projects in and around the Old City, the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) – the quasi-governmental body that is leading efforts to implement the plan – continues to refuse requests to release the “economic feasibility report” outlining critical details about the cable car plan. The JDA said that the publication of the report would “disrupt the project’s progress” and “harm” the tender process.

Emek Shaveh filed a petition with the Jerusalem District Court to compel the release of the economic feasibility report, only to be told by the court that the respondents to the petition (the JDA and the Tourism Ministry) do not have to respond to the petition until the Fall, well after the April 2nd date for public comment.

In a statement issued in March 2019, Emek Shaveh wrote:

“The fact that the developers of the cable car project are concealing such important information from the planning committees casts a dark shadow over the project. It is no secret that the project was presented  in the National Infrastructure Committee, because it obviously would not have passed in the planning committees. Even in a governmental committee that is their own playing field, the project’s developers have to scheme in order to get it approved. The cable car initiative is a destructive plan that clashes with the unique character of Jerusalem as an historic and holy city for three religions. Spurred by the political interest of strengthening the settler organization “Elad,” the Israeli government is willing to compromise the Old City walls, the skyline of the Historic Basin and its antiquities – and dares to call it tourism. We, at Emek Shaveh, together with a coalition of organizations and people, will do everything we can to object to and stop this plan, which will harm World Heritage assets that were entrusted to the State of Israel.”

Emek Shaveh attorney Eitay Mack said:

“The public has access neither to a transport plan nor to an economic plan. This is a populist project, which hasn’t been thought through and risks becoming a white elephant.”

As FMEP has previously covered, the Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route – in the Silwan neighborhood). The cable car project is intended to further entrench settler activities and tourism sites inside Silwan, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there.

State Department Formalizes Occupation Denial as Official U.S. Policy; Israeli Politicians Immediately Plan for Annexation

Under the close guidance of U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on human rights covering events in 2018 does not recognize the West Bank and Gaza as occupied territory. The 2018 report also marks U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” rather than “Israeli-occupied,” as previous administrations had addressed the Syrian territory.

Following the report’s release, and widespread press coverage of the language change, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (who are campaigning for the next Knesset as the co-leaders of The New Right party) announced that they will be introducing a bill to annex Area C of the West Bank. Making the connection to the U.S. policy shift clear, Bennett said:

“Now that the United States no longer sees Judea and Samaria as an occupied territory, there is no reason to wait [on annexing Area C] any longer. Half a million Israelis have to stop being second-class citizens. In Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ofra Jewish citizens discriminated against because they chose to settle the land. I would like to thank President Trump for the tremendous change in the administration’s position, it is a correct step in the right direction.”

Shaked added:

“It is time to apply sovereignty in Area C. The declaration of the United States obliges the State of Israel to make bold and courageous decisions that will help Israel’s security and full equality of rights for all its citizens.”

Ambassador Friedman has spent his two-year tenure pushing for and implementing pro-settlement policy changes, which is in line with his belief that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not illegal and that occupation is a matter of allegations and opinions. Reflecting Ambassador Friedman’s talking points, a State Department official told Haaretz:

“We retitled the human rights report to refer to the commonly used geographic names of the area the report covers.”

The 2017 State Department report laid the groundwork for the wholesale elimination of occupation from the State Department lexicon this year. It was the 2017 report – issued in 2018 by Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan – that altered the titles of the two sections covering Israel and the Palestinians, from “Israel” and “The Occupied Territories” to “Israel and the Golan Heights” and “West Bank and Gaza.” The 2017 report did acknowledge Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, though reference to and criticism of the occupation was severely neutered compared to previous reports (including the 2016 report issued by the newly inaugurated Trump Administration under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).

Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said in a statement:

“After the release of the so-called Human Rights Report by the US State Department, it is now abundantly clear that the Trump administration is gearing all branches of the government to whitewash the Israeli occupation and its pervasive violations of human rights. The ‘report’ also decontextualizes the reality by omitting the inescapable fact of Israeli occupation of Palestine, reflecting this administration’s infatuation with an alternative yet fallacious version of reality and legality…The intention of this publication is clear. It is to exonerate Israel from its indisputable human rights violations, while deliberately attempting to depict the racist policies and attitudes of the Israeli government as benign despite the fact that they deny the Palestinian people’s humanity, nationality, and narrative. In its zealous pursuit to justify and mainstream the right-wing agenda in Israel, the Trump administration has made a mockery of the Human Rights ‘Report’ and reaffirmed its complicity in the promotion and support of human rights violations against the Palestinian people.”

Debra Shushan, Director of Policy & Government Relations at American for Peace Now, told FMEP in reaction:

“Denying occupation doesn’t change the reality of occupation. As for the Golan Heights, US acceptance of Israeli annexation there is a gateway drug to recognizing annexation of West Bank. If the administration, with support from some Congressional Republicans, is willing to recognize the violation of international law with regard to Syrian territory annexed by Israel, why not recognize annexation of other territories Israel occupied in 1967? Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked are taking the State Department report as a US decision that ‘US no longer sees Judea and Samaria as occupied territory’ and pledge to introduce legislation to annex Area C in first week of next Knesset session. If Netanyahu retains the prime ministership he’s likely to agree to anything to get a right-wing coalition to support immunity for him so he can stay out of jail. This report, and the broader Trump/Friedman policy of which it is part, could have huge consequences.”

Also commenting from the U.S., Eugene Kontorovich – head of the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing pro-settlement organization, who has long argued that Israel is not occupying Palestinian territorysaid:

“This year’s report for the first time does not use the inaccurate legal description ‘occupation’ to refer to Israel’s presence in the West Bank or Golan…This is a massive change in how America relates to the conflict. It is coming to understand that while Israel and the Palestinians have a dispute, international law does not provide the answers to that dispute. The report also for the first time expresses skepticism at the claims and submissions of anti-Israel groups, whose poorly documented allegations had previously been accepted as gospel.”

As a reminder, Kontorovich self-identifies as a key figure in the drafting of “anti-BDS” (but actually, anti-free speech/pro-settlement) laws in the United States. Kontorovich has also testified multiple times to U.S. Congress, including in support of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; in support of Congress legislating U.S. foreign policy, including with regard to Jerusalem; on the impact of the BDS movement, and in support of U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a push which gained even more momentum in Congress this week when Senator Lindsey Graham visited the Golan Heights alongside Netanyahu and Amb. Friedman.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also commented on the significance of the Human Rights Report’s language. A spokesman for the Senator told Jewish Insider:

“Sen. Cruz believes that it is in the United States’ national security interests to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Anything that moves in that direction is a welcome step, but we must do more. He will continue advancing his legislation, introduced with Sen. Cotton and Rep. Gallagher in the House, to establish that it is the policy of the United States to recognize Israel’s sovereignty. Any policy short of full recognition is a policy that falls short of securing American national security interests.”

For the First Time, AIPAC National Policy Conference to Host Settler Leader

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will host settler leader Oded Revivi at the upcoming AIPAC national policy conference in Washington, D.C. Revivi will speak on a panel entitled, “The Future of Judea and Samaria.” Revivi is the former head of the Yesha Council, an umbrella group that represents all settlements in the West Bank; he currently serves as Mayor of the Efrat settlement and the foreign envoy of the Yesha Council. In September 2018, Revivi proudly boasted about his role in illegally establishing a new outpost on privately owned Palestinian land.

With respect to his invitation, Revivi told the Jerusalem Post:

“AIPAC has finally realized that they cannot ignore half-a-million people living in Judea and Samaria, who are becoming more and more attractive to the audience of AIPAC.”

AIPAC denies that Revivi’s official role in the conference marks a change in policy; AIPAC publicly supports the two state solution – a position which produced an awkward public fight between settlers leaders – who do not support a two state solution – and AIPAC last year. An AIPAC spokesman said:

“At every policy conference, we have scores of speakers from across the political spectrum — including those with diverse views on settlements — and this year is no different..we do not take a position on settlements.”

At the 2018 AIPAC policy conference, several prominent Israeli politicians held pro-settlement, pro-annexationist discussions on the margins of the AIPAC conference – but were not part of the official program. Mondoweiss notes that there are growing ties between AIPAC and the Yesha Council, and that AIPAC delegations (including Congressional delegations) regularly meet with Revivi while in Israel and the West Bank.

Wind Power & Israel’s Occupation of the Golan Heights

The Israeli NGO Who Profits has released a new report entitled, “Greenwashing the Golan: The Israeli Wind Energy Industry in the Occupied Syrian Golan.” The report details Israeli commercial wind farms currently under development in the Golan and their role in exploiting Syrian land, strengthening illegal settlements and normalizing the Israeli occupation. The report also exposes the involvement of private international and Israeli corporations, including the involvement of the U.S.-based multinational General Electric and the Israeli publicly traded companies Enlight Renewable Energy, Minrav Group and Energix Renewable Energies.

Bonus Reads

  1. “BBC Global Questions – Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’” (YouTube/BBC)
  2. “VIDEO: Sabbagh Family Faces Imminent Eviction in Sheikh Jarrah” (YouTube/Ir Amim)
  3. “70% of Israeli Jews Find Israeli Control Over the Palestinians as Immoral” (Jerusalem Post)