Settlement Report: May 1, 2020


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

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May 1, 2020

  1. International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Concludes: YES, Palestine is a State & Court has  Jurisdiction to Investigate Alleged Israeli (and Hamas) War Crimes
  2. Netanyahu: Annexation Will Happen in “A Couple Months”; US again Signals UNCONDITIONAL Support
  3. Leading East Jerusalem Settler Poised to Become  Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem
  4. Updates on Three Settler-Backed Projects in Silwan
  5. Joe Biden Says He Will Keep Embassy in Jerusalem, [kind of] Re-Open the Consulate, & Recommit to the Two-State Solution
  6. Bonus Reads

Comments/questions? Contact Kristin McCarthy (

International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Concludes: YES, Palestine is a State & Court has  Jurisdiction to Investigate Alleged Israeli (and Hamas) War Crimes

On April 30th, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, filed her opinion with an Pre-Trial Chamber arguing that Palestine can be considered a state and therefore the Court does have jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed by parties in Palestine. Previously, in January 2020, Bensouda determined that there was reasonable basis upon which to open an investigation, but convened a Pre-Trial Chamber to rule on the issue of the Court’s jurisdiction. If the pre-trial Chamber determines that the Court has jurisdiction, a case can be opened into the matter of alleged Israeli war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, as well as alleged crimes committed by Hamas in Gaza. The Pre-Trial Chamber does not have a deadline for making their ruling, but is expected to do so in the next 120 days.

Bensouda’s detailed (60-page) decision concludes that the Oslo Accords – signed by the Palestinian Authority and Israel – are a credible legal basis for establishing Palestine as an internationally recognized state. Her influential legal opinion also directly and systematically refutes the amicus curiae briefs filed by several countries, including Germany  (the second largest funder of the ICC), arguing that Palestine is not a state and that the Court does not have jurisdiction. Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, Hungary, Brazil and Uganda also filed briefs along those lines. The brief also systematically rebuts the raft of arguments made by various international lawfare organizations asserting that the Court has no right to investigate (the decision is well worth reading in full).  

Netanyahu: Annexation Will Happen in “A Couple Months”; US again Signals UNCONDITIONAL Support

On April 26th, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his belief that annexation will be realized in “a couple months” and that he is “confident” that President Trump will recognize that annexation. Under the recent coalition agreement signed by Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, annexation will have to wait until at least July 1st.

Netanyahu’s confidence in the Trump Administration’s support for Israeli annexation plans rests on solid footing. As a reminder, on April 22nd Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called annexation an “Israeli decision.” The remarks drew attention because of the existence of a joint U.S.-Israeli mapping committee, which suggests an active U.S. role in deciding the extent of Israel’s annexation, and which gives the appearance, at least, that the Trump Plan is something less than a carte blanche for Israel to annex whatever it chooses. 

On April 27th, a spokesperson for the Department of State elaborated on Secretary Pompeo’s remarks in a statement to The Times of Israel:

“As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the vision foresees as being part of the State of Israel…in the context of the Government of Israel agreeing to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines set forth in President Trump’s Vision…The annexation would be in the context of an offer to the Palestinians to achieve statehood based upon specific terms, conditions, territorial dimensions and generous economic support. This is an unprecedented and highly beneficial opportunity for the Palestinians.”

These remarks drew dramatic headlines suggesting that now, after more than three years of statements and policies aligned with Israel’s pro-annexation right, Trump is pumping the brakes by making U.S. support conditional on Israel agreeing in principle to the establishment of a Palestinian state (which, under the Trump Plan is, would be a non-autonoumous/non-sovereign entity). Unsurprisingly, within 24 hours of the first headline offering this  analysis, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem clarified the policy, making it emphatically clear that U.S. support for Israel’s annexation of West Bank territory is in no way connected to, or conditioned on, the issue of a future Palestinian state. The official said:

“Our position has not changed. As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the [Trump peace plan] foresees as being part of the State of Israel. This will give the Palestinians an opportunity to come to the table and negotiate a peace agreement that will result in the establishment of a state of their own. The United States stands ready and willing to offer wide-ranging assistance to facilitate a final peace agreement.”

While it was clearly a stretch to read the State Department remarks as the unveiling of a new U.S. policy conditioning approval of annexation on some kind of concession to the Palestinians or on the two-state solution, the difference in tone/content of the two statements highlights the longstanding disconnect between the U.S. State Department and the Embassy in the Trump era.  This disconnect is largely attributable to the close relationship and direct line that U.S. Ambassador David Friedman enjoys to the White House, to the exclusion of the State Department. Friedman — who is a key member of the joint mapping committee, a key architect of the Trump Plan, and whose views and statements have consistently been more indicative of the direction of U.S. policy than those of the State Department’s spokespersons — has publicly disregarded the necessity of Palestinian involvement in implementing the Trump Plan, in contrast with the State Department’s statement this week. For a refresher on Friedman’s anti-two-state, anti-Palestinian views, recall this excellent list of quotes compiled by APN.

In the context of Amb. Friedman’s centrality in setting U.S. policy on annexation, a recent tweet from Friedman in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the San Remo Resolution is notable. The resolution gave Great Britain a mandate to rule the historic region of Palestine and formally conferred recognition to the Jewish people’s right to establish a national homeland there. Haaretz explains that the San Remo Resolution is increasingly cited by “Greater Israel” advocates as a legal basis for Israeli claims to the entire area at the expense of Palesttinian national aspirations, based on the fact that the British mandate was over all the land, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Friedman tweeted:

“Recalling today the 100th anniversary of the San Remo Resolution, whereby the world powers recognized the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to a national home on that land was given the force of International Law.”

Leading East Jerusalem Settler Poised to Become  Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s Mayor Moshe Leon is seeking approval to appoint notorious settlement empresario Arieh King to be his Deputy Mayor, a move which will further empower King – who has served as a city councilman since 2013 – to promote ideologically-motivated settlement projects throughout East Jerusalem. 

King openly calls for the “Judaization of Jerusalem,” and is behind many unprecedented, ideological settlement plans, including currently advancing plans to build the first-ever settlement enclave inside of the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Most infamously, King has led and financed a longtime effort to evict Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. In this effort he sometimes uses Arab middle-men and at other times he has found and convinced Jewish heirs to Sheikh Jarrah properties to “reclaim” the property under Israel’s Absentee Property Law and then to transfer the properties for use by settlers. 

King is also behind the ongoing drive to build new, official settlements in Sheikh Jarrah, for which he has received expedited approvals from the city planning committees. King is also involved with plans to expand the settlement enclave of Nof Zion in the Jabal al-Mukhaber neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

A member of the City Council from the Meretz Party, Laura Wharton, threatened to quit the city’s governing coalition over King’s appointment. King responded by making clear that as Deputy Mayor he would, indeed, continue to focus on settlement in East Jerusalem – and snarkily suggested that for this very reason, the Meretz member should support him. King told Haaretz:

“I’m very surprised that Laura Wharton is threatening to leave. After all, she knows full well that she will have no better partner than I in improving the infrastructure in East Jerusalem, and in listening to the needs of its residents. I hope the Meretz branch [whose members] I consider staunch political opponents will step up and see the advantages in my becoming deputy mayor, by which East Jerusalem will undoubtedly receive more attention from the municipality…”

Updates on Three Settler-Backed Projects in Silwan

Emek Shaveh this week provided updates on three settler-backed projects in Silwan, two of which have continued progressing despite the nation-wide lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

First, Emek Shaveh reports that construction on the “stepped street” section of the archeological site called the “Pilgrim’s Road” continued throughout the months of March and April. The project is driven by the radical Elad settler group, and is located beneath the Wadi Hilweh section of Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. Infamously, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and then-White House advisor Jason Greenblatt took part in the opening of the site in June 2019, including a gratuitous photo-op  – a sign that made clear the Trump Administration’s support not only for settlement schemes, but for their larger agenda of consolidating Israeli sovereignty over even the most contentious areas of East Jerusalem. 

Elad launched its excavation of the “Pilgrim’s Road” in 2007, with the full support of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). For more background on the tunnels and how radical Israeli settlers have exploited excavation, tourism, and the ancient character of Jerusalem in order to serve their ideological agenda – see the comprehensive reporting by Emek Shaveh.

Second, Emek Shaveh reports that Elad has continued construction on transforming a house located in Jerusalem’s “Peace Forest” into a tourism center that will be used as the base for a settler-run tourism project — a zipline slated to traverse the Forest’s canopy.  The zipline will connect the “Peace Forest” in the Abu Tor neighborhood to another popular tourism site, the Armon Hanatziv promenade. Coming in at 2,570 feet, this will be Israel’s longest zipline and will travel over the Palestinian neighborhood Jabal al-Mukaber. Renovations of the house are paid for by the Israeli Ministry of Housing, which allocated 43 million NIS ($12.38 million USD) for the project. The House – which the settlers have named “Beit Shatz” – was purchased by Elad as part of Elad’s broader efforts to use tourist projects as a means for taking control over the area, which is situated in a national park.

The behavior of Elad and the Israeli government  in the Peace Forest underscores the the systematic discrimination in planning policies and enforcement facing Palestinians in Jerusalem. The several Palestinian families living in the “Peace Forest” and are prohibited from building or expanding/renovating their homes because of the strict building prohibitions for national parks.  Elad managed to circumvent those same restrictions by pushing the Jerusalem Municipality to request that the area they are targeting be designated as an “open public space,” which would allow the project to advance. In December 2019, Jerusalem planning authorities granted the settler-backed request. That same month, Israel pursued demolition orders against Palestinian homes in the Peace Forest that lacked building permits, despite the fact that in some cases Palestinians have repeatedly applied for and been denied permits. 

Third, Emek Shaveh also reports that progress on the controversial East Jerusalem cable car project has been stalled due to the coronavirus shutdown. Emek Shaveh reports:

“Following its approval by the National Infrastructure Committee in June 2019, and the 200 million NIS government allocation, the project was to enter the tender phase. However the bidding process for an international company specializing in the construction of cable cars has been hampered by the pandemic. Our [Emek Shaveh’s] appeal to the High Court against the project is scheduled for June.”

Joe Biden Says He Will Keep Embassy in Jerusalem, [kind of] Re-Open the Consulate, & Recommit to the Two-State Solution

Speaking at a virtual fundraising event on April 29th, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told supporters that he would keep the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem despite the fact he disagrees with the Trump Administration’s decision to move the embassy there from Tel Aviv. As a reminder, in February 2020 the New York Times published the results of its survey of Democratic candidates policies vis-a-vis Israel. In response to the question, “Should the United States Embassy in Israel be moved from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv?” Biden – like every candidate other than Sanders and Warren – responded with a clear answer: “No.”

Biden also told supporters that he would “re-open” the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem in order to facilitate talks with the Palestinians toward a two-state solution. As a reminder: shortly after the Trump Administration moved the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it closed the U.S. Consulate and Ambassador Friedman began converting the compound into his personal residence. Simultaneously, Friedman created a “Palestinian Affairs” unit in the new Embassy, signaling that henceforth the U.S. would treat Palestinians and Palestinian-related matters not as merely as a subset of issues between the U.S. and Israel, rather than part of a U.S.-Palestinian bilateral relationship. the U.S. was represented in Jerusalem by a Consulate General from 1844 until the mission was closed by the Trump Administration in March 2019. From the start of the peace process in the 1990s until its closure, the Consulate served as the de facto U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, and was a central player in advancing U.S. efforts to broker a negotiated end to the conflict. Notably, Biden’s comments this week suggest that he may not be talking about a re-opening of the Consulate to function as it had in the past, so much as a re-purposing of the Consulate to serve a specific, limited function. 

While Biden reportedly did not say anything about annexation during his fundraising call (and has conspicuously refrained from commenting on the issue since the Israeli unity government agreement made annexation an imminent reality), on April 28th his senior foreign policy advisor Tony Blinken told a group of supporters that Biden opposes annexation on the basis that it contradicts the two-state solution and would be bad for Israel. According to Blinken, Biden has said:

 “on the record several times [that] unilateral steps taken by either side that make the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome less likely is something he opposes, and that includes annexation. In many ways, pulling the plug on a two-state solution is pulling the plug, potentially, on an Israel that is not only secure but is Jewish and democratic — for the future. That’s not something any of us, who are ardent supporters of Israel, would want to see.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “Can Anyone Stop Netanyahu’s Annexation Plans?” (Al-Monitor
  2. Arab League slams West Bank annexation plans as ‘war crime’” (Al-Monitor)
  3. Lots of bark, some actual bite? How the world will react to West Bank annexation” (The Times of Israel)
  4. “Europeans formally protest West Bank sovereignty plans” (Jerusalem Post)
  5. “Israel doesn’t need ‘advice’ against annexation — it needs consequences” (+972 Magazine)
  6. “WEBINAR: The Legal Impacts of Annexation w/ Michael Sfard” (J Street)
  7. Israeli annexation plans would lead to ‘cascade of bad human rights consequences’, says UN expert” (UN)
  8. “How should Palestinians respond to Israeli threats of annexation?” (Al Jazeera)
  9. “Lots of bark, some actual bite? How the world will react to West Bank annexation” (The Times of Israel)