Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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May 17, 2019
- TV Report: U.S. Peace Plan Allows for Israeli Annexation of All Settlements
- Peace Now Special Report, Part 1: Key 2018 Settlement Data & Analysis
- Peace Now Special Report, Part 2: Settlement Growth During 10 Years of Netanyahu
- Following Trump Election, Netanyahu Unleashed 39% Increase in Settlement Funding
- 11 Knesset Members Join Campaign to Cancel 2005 Disengagement Law & Re-establish Evacuated West Bank Settlements
- Bibi Pushes High Court Override Legislation During Coalition Negotiations
- Trump Envoy Praises US-Backed Economic “Coexistence” Group for Joint Settler-Palestinian Hebron Iftar
- Bonus Reads
According to an Israel TV report, the Trump Administration’s peace plan allows for Israel’s annexation of all settlements in the West Bank. Israel TV also reports that, independent of the fate of the peace deal, the U.S. will not object to Israel’s unilateral annexation of those settlements through the extension of Israeli law over them. Though the Trump Administration position on settlements has been made explicitly clear for some time, the reporting, if accurate, confirms that the U.S. “peace plan” is no more than a plan for permanent Israel control in the West Bank.
As FMEP has explained, institutionalizing the application of Israeli law over the settlements – which ends the legal distinctions between Israel and the settlements, as upheld by current Israeli law – would be tantamount to de facto annexation. FMEP has also documented, in great detail, Israel’s progress towards incrementally annexing the settlements in this manner, as various initiatives move through the Knesset, the Executive/Ministerial body, and the Courts. That data can be found on the second table on this document.
Settlers immediately celebrated the Israel TV report. Har Hevron Regional Council Chairman Yohai Damari said:
“I call on the prime minister to immediately announce, following the establishment of a government, that he will extend Israeli law to all the Jewish settlements as a basis for any offer that may come. We have to take advantage of this window of opportunity during the Trump administration in the wake of the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Golan Heights. Now it is time for sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.”
Damari’s plea to the Prime Minister to act quickly to annex the settlements only adds to the growing crescendo pushing for the immediate, unilateral annexation, which U.S. Ambassador Friedman publicly urged on during his recent speech at the AIPAC national policy conference.
In a special version of its annual report on settlement growth – entitled “Special Annual Settlement Construction Report 2018: A Glance at 10 Years Under Netanyahu” – the settlement watchdog group Peace Now published important data and analysis of settlement activity in 2018 (not including East Jerusalem).
According to the report, during 2018:
Israel began construction on 2,100 new settlement units.
- This represents a 9% increase from the annual average of the past 10 years.
- Of that 2,100 units,
- At least 10% (218 new units) are in illegal outposts;
- Nearly 73% (1,539 new units) are in settlements outside of the proposed Geneva Initiative border;
- At least 10 are located on privately owned Palestinian land.
Construction began on 2 new settlements.
- The government officially planned and approved the establishment of the new Amichai settlement, the first new government-backed settlement in over 20 years. Amichai is located in the heart of the West Bank on a hilltop that settlers chose in the hopes it will prevent the possibility of the two-state solution.
- In addition, developers began construction on 108 new units in an area east of the Avnei Hafez settlement and then marketed the new units as a new settlement, which they call “Kedem”. Developers built this settlement based on a construction plan approved in 1998.
A total of 5,618 settlement units were advanced through plans in 79 settlements.
Of that number, almost 83% (4,672 housing units) are planned in settlements east of the proposed Geneva Initiative border.
A total of 5,808 settlement construction tenders were published (but construction had not yet began)
- This was the highest annual total for settlement tenders in almost two decades.
- The Beitar Illit settlement saw the most construction starts in 2018, concentrated in a new neighborhood which significantly expands the footprint of the settlement.
Additional 2018 Key Data Points
- Israel continued to build up an Israeli settler presence on the land between the Elkana settlement and its surrounding settlements (Etz Efraim to its east and Shaarei Tikva to its west), effectively creating one large “super settlement” and building a contiguous settlement band towards the Ariel settlement in the heart of the West Bank.
- In addition to West Bank settlement tenders, tenders for 603 new settlement units in East Jerusalem were also published in 2018.
In its special report – entitled “Special Annual Settlement Construction Report 2018: A Glance at 10 Years under Netanyahu” – Peace Now reports that since taking office in 2009, the Netanyahu governments have invested some $2.8 billion in settlements and built 19,346 new settlement units, the majority (70%) of which are located in areas of the West Bank that under past negotiations would have been in a future state of Palestine.
Peace Now writes:
“In the past decade, most of the construction was in isolated settlements that Israel will have to evacuate. The Peace Now count of housing construction starts reveals that 73 percent of the construction in 2018 (1,539 housing units) and 70 percent of construction during the decade of Netanyahu’s government (13,608 housing units) were implemented precisely in places that jeopardize a two-state agreement (east of the proposed border route of the Geneva Initiative). In this decade, close to 50,000 settlers have been added to these settlements, and the housing units built have the potential to add 60,000 settlers. This means that the Israeli government is digging the country a pit to fall in. Every house built in the settlements and every family that moves there will need to be brought back into Israel in a painful and difficult evacuation. Even if the government does not believe that peace can be achieved in the near future, there is no logic to expanding the settlements and making the solution impossible.”
After two years of repeatedly submitting freedom of information requests, the AP published results, based on documents turned over by Israel’s Finance Ministry. The documents reveal that the government unleashed at least a 39% funding increase – dubbed by the AP a “spending binge” – on settlement activities in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s election.
According to the Finance Ministry data, in 2017 the Israeli government spent $459.8 million (NIS 1.65 billion) on roads, schools, and public buildings in settlements across the West Bank, compared to $333.2 million (NIS 1.19 billion) in 2016. AP notes that the new data does not include funds spent on police, education, health, and military, and completely omits government investments made in East Jerusalem settlement related activities — meaning the numbers actually undercount Israeli settlement-related spending (in both years).
The 2017 figures are the highest amount of Israeli government funds invested in the settlements by the government of Israel during any year since Netanyahu became prime minister 10 years ago (and has remained in power since). The Israeli government tracks its own spending on settlement activities in order to report that total sum to the U.S. government, a practice which began under President George H.W. Bush – which in theory is supposed to deduct the sum from U.S. loan guarantees available to Israel (in reality, the U.S. has made only occasional and minimal deductions).
The areas with the highest growth rate in funding in 2017 were school construction (68% increase from 2016) and road construction (54% increase from 2016). Hagit Ofran, co-Director of the Settlement Watch project at Peace Now, explained the significance of Israeli investments in roads for the settlements:
“We see it very immediately, after the opening of a road, a big boom in construction along the road,” she said. “I think the investments we have these years in the roads are dramatic and will allow the expansion of settlements dramatically. That is very much worrying.”
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said:
“This proves that the current U.S. administration encouraged settlement activities.”
11 Knesset Members Join Campaign to Cancel 2005 Disengagement Law & Re-establish Evacuated West Bank Settlements
Eleven members of the Knesset, including Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, participated in tour of one of the four settlements in the northern West Bank which Israel evacuated in 2005 as part of its Gaza Disengagement plan. The IDF had to provide special permission for the MKs to visit the Homesh settlement, because , even all these years later, it is a closed military zone. This is just the latest event in a settler-led campaign to pressure Netanyahu into canceling the 2005 Gaza Disengagement Plan and re-establishing those settlements.
After Israel’s evacuation of the four settlements in the West Bank – Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim – the IDF issued military orders barring Palestinians from entering the areas, let alone building in them. At the same time, settlers have regularly entered the areas and even repeatedly built a yeshiva at the Homesh site.
Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to promote the so-called High Court Override bill, which would empower the Knesset to effectively strip the High Court of its power to review and strike down legislation it deems unconstitutional, as well as overrule the Court’s administrative decisions – a new, and alarming, component of the long touted law. This new component is needed in order for Netanyahu to ensure his own immunity against criminal charges, but it will also empower the Knesset to ignore the Court’s administrative decisions issued in response to petitions – effectively giving elected and partisan government officials a veto over the only justice system accessible by Palestinians. As Haaretz explains: “for example, if a minister makes a decision that is overruled by the court in response to a petition – such as Netanyahu’s decision to ban the entry of Palestinian participants of a joint memorial day ceremony – the minister could reissue the decision anyway.”
Critical for FMEP reporting, if the law is passed the Knesset will be empowered to reinstate the settlement Regulation Law if the High Court rules against it, which it has long been expected to do. The law, passed in February 2017 and quickly frozen, directs the government to retroactively legalize a huge number of illegal outposts and settlement structures which were built on privately owned Palestinian land. Implementation of the Regulation Law was quickly frozen in light of petitions to the High Court challenging its constitutionality.
According to the Haaretz report, an agreement to promote the override bill will be included in the coalition agreement Netanyahu is negotiating to form the next government, and parties are engaged in debates over the specific form the law will take. The right-wing parties want to pass the law within 60 days after the new government takes over, and in a form that would totally negate the authority of the High Court to strike down decisions by elected officials or bodies like the cabinet, the ministers or the Knesset. The comparatively centrist Likud members support the principle of the override law but not the specifics proposed by negotiating partners. Likud members say they are reviewing various models for the law which tinker with the mechanism by which the Knesset can override High Court rulings and administrative decisions.
The override bill has been a key objective of Netanyahu’s negotiating partners, most prominently MK Bezalel Smotrich and Transportation Minister Yariv Levin, who are competing to become the next Justice Minister and whose negotiation demands FMEP analyzed some weeks back. FMEP has also documented the progress of the High Court Override bill in its Annexation Policies tables.
Trump Envoy Praises US-Backed Economic “Coexistence” Group for Joint Settler-Palestinian Hebron Iftar
On May 14th, U.S. peace envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted his praise for a joint settler-Palestinian iftar event in Hebron, hosted by the “Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce,” a favorite group of the Trump Administration’s peace team. As has become a key mantra, Greenblatt said the event helps lay the “groundwork for peace” and said it was a “wonderful example of what could be possible.” As pointed out by many voices on Twitter, praise for the event ignores ignoring the apartheid conditions in Hebron under which Israeli policies deny Palestinian rights and well-being, for the benefit of some 800 Israeli settlers.
Palestinian businessman Sheikh Ashraf Jabari held the event in his Hebron home. Jabari recently launched a new Palestinian political party, the Reform and Development Party, advocating for a one-state solution because, Jabari argues, Palestinians have no other choice than to accept Israeli sovereignty over them. It is well known that Jabari has close ties to the Trump administration, which has very publicly embraced settler-Palestinian economic co-existence initiatives as a core U.S. priority on the ground and are seeking an alternative Palestinian leadership with which to make a deal.
Jabari told the Jerusalem Post about the iftar event and his broader aims:
“We want to build a united front, to create a breakthrough on the economic issue. We are issuing a clear call to separate between economics and politics, and hope to have fruitful cooperation on the subject. From our point of view, we need to strengthen the connection between the US legislature and activity that promotes economic equality here. This meal is meant to reinforce the growing trend in which economic-business connections can strengthen relations and friendship, by way of leading people to a more positive place.”
Along with Jabari, high profile event attendees – which included Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and Hebron Jewish community leader Yishai Fleisher – praised the business initiative as a model for peaceful relations.
Uri Karzen, the Director General of the settlers in Hebron and an attendee of the iftar, said in a tweet:
Heather Johnston, executive-director of the US-Israel Education Association which leads U.S. congressional delegation to settlements and runs camps in the Ariel settlement (no joke – to help Ethiopian Jews rediscover their roots), told the event attendees:
“Each of you have played a role in helping to build this integrated business movement. You have made sacrifices. You have gone into the unknown. You have been willing to take risks in business and in relationships. And this is what it takes to pioneer something that will one day be a humongous success. I have been involved in Samaria for the last 22 years. I believe there is more hope today for this important relationship to actually succeed than ever before.”
Chamber president Avi Zimmerman, of the Ariel settlement, said:
“We can measure progress at a people-to-people level, at every business transaction. Every time I get up and say ‘this is only about economics, it is not about peace,’ everyone starts talking about peace. Which makes me believe that if everyone keeps talking about peace when we speak of economics, that these incremental, measured steps toward mutual interest are actually what will birth the peace. They can birth a political process, but it will not happen the other way around,” he said. “We have learned for 70 years that it is not going to be the other way. It has to start this way.”
FMEP has repeatedly explained how initiatives like this perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources), and that it is perverse to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. The New York Times quoted a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority explaining the Orwellian reality of settlement industrial zones:
“Somebody occupies your country, steals your land, steals your water, steals your resources, then says: ‘I’ll make a good deal for you if you come work for me. I’ll create jobs for you. We are not occupiers. We are employers.’ This is ridiculous. The colonial settlements are illegal in every sense of the word.”