Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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May 22, 2020
- New Israeli Government Sworn In: Gantz & Netanyahu Continue to Back Annexation & the Trump Plan
- New Israeli Government Sworn In: The Cast of Ministers Relevant to Settlements/Annexation
- Settler Groups in Public Disagreement Over Trump Plan
- ICYMI: Sec. State Pompeo Went to Israel Last Week
- Israel Expropriates Land, Green Lights Building Permits for “Humanitarian Access” to Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque
- Israeli Demolitions in al-Walajah, Displacing Palestinians to Make Way for New Israeli Park
- High Court Rejects Regulation Incentivizing Artists Performing in Settlements
- Violence on the Rise
- Breaking the Silence Breaks Down What Annexation Will Mean on the Ground
- Al-Haq Report: Israeli Annexation of Jerusalem Since 1948
- B’Tselem Report: Jewish Supremacy on Display in Issawiya
- Human Rights Watch Report: Israeli Land Policies Strangle Palestinian Communities in Israel
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Email Kristin McCarthy (email@example.com)
The new Israeli government was sworn in on Sunday, May 17th. The message from the government’s leaders – Netanyahu and Gantz – remains that they are firmly and unequivocally behind the plan to advance annexation, in accordance with the Trump Plan.
In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
“The time has come to apply sovereignty to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. This won’t distance peace, it will bring it closer. The truth is — and everybody knows it — that the hundreds of thousands of settlers living in Judea and Samaria will remain there, no matter what arrangement is reached. The only reason the whole issue of sovereignty is on the agenda is because I promoted it personally for the last three years, both overtly and covertly.”
In his inaugural address, Alternate (and, theoretically, future) Prime Minister Benny Gantz said:
“Alongside this and for its sake, we will maintain our strength, to seize regional opportunities in general, and to advance the US government and US President Trump’s peace plan and everything it contains.”
In addition to Netanyahu and Gantz, key figures in the new government’s drive for annexation will likely be:
- Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who is Israel’s “Settlements Minister.” This is a new cabinet position invented by Netanyahu and Gantz. Hotovely will serve in this role for the first nine months of the government and then be replaced by Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) for the second nine months (of course, if Israel annexes all the settlements, this role either won’t need to exist anymore or its mandate will have to change). It is unclear if this ministry will take power away from the Defense Ministry (and its Civil Administration), which has typically been the central address for managing most issues related to the settlements.
- Gilad Erdan (Likud), who is Israel’s new Ambassador to both the United Nations and the United States. Erdan will hold both offices simultaneously for the first nine months of the government. Shortly following his swearing in, Erdan reiterated his well-established support for annexation, saying he believes Israel has a “biblical right” to the land.
- Avi Nissenkorn (Blue & White) who is Israel’s new Justice Minister. Israel’s Justice Minister has historically played an important role in issuing legal opinions which provide Israel a domestic legal rationale for land seizures and settlement activities. The Justice Ministry is also a key because it has been (at least in recent years) increasingly oppositional to the role of the Israeli Supreme Court. Netanyahu has directly confronted the Supreme Court, and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accused the Court of (among other things) being “overly concerned” with Palestinian rights.
- Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue & White), who is Israel’s new Foreign Minister, and who will theoretically take over the job of Defense Minister during the second nine months of the government (assuming Gantz rotates over to become Prime Minister). Ashkenazi has made clear his support for annexation, even while giving lip service to concerns about relations with allies and in the region. On May 18th he, said: “We’re facing significant regional opportunities, primarily President [Donald] Trump’s peace initiative. I consider this plan a significant milestone. President Trump presented us with a historic opportunity to shape the future of the State of Israel and its boundaries for decades to come…The plan will be advanced responsibly, with full coordination with the United States and maintaining all of the State of Israel’s peace agreements and strategic interests.”
Key Government Figures Outside of the Coalition
- Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina Party). Relegated to the opposition, Bennett and company have come out swinging – taking shots at Netanyahu for allegedly betraying right wing values and vowing to fight tooth and nail against the Trump Plan. Bennett has charged that Netanyahu is making a fatal mistake by supporting the Trump Plan because it would mean that Israel has acknowledged and accepted the concept of a Palestinian state (notwithstanding that, under the Trump Plan, what is available to the Palestinians does not meet even the most modest definition of a state). Bennett said that recognition “is a point of no return. One can’t recognize and then un-recognize Palestinian statehood. It’s like un-cooking scrambled eggs…I will oppose anything that allows for acceptance or recognition of a Palestinian state.”
Settler leaders form a key interest group outside of the central government (though many settler leaders serve on municipal councils) — a group that will play a key role in the deliberations around annexation. And with the swearing in of the new government that embraces the Trump Plan, disagreements among settler leaders are beginning to become more clear.
Like the Yamina Party, the official settler leadership body – known as the Yesha Council – passed a resolution on May 21st criticizing several aspects of the Trump Plan, without stating its outright opposition to it. While acknowledging it as a “positive change in U.S. policy towards settlements,” the resolution goes on to:
- Assert that annexation does not require American approval;
- Reject recognition of – or agreement to recognize in the future – a Palestinian state;
- Reject any construction freeze in any of the settlements and outposts;
- Reject the creation of enclaves.
Following the passage of the resolution, Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani said:
“For years, the Yesha Council has been working to apply sovereignty [in the West Bank], and we’ve gone from a situation in which almost no one talked about the subject or was aware of it to the unprecedented situation where the prime minister and the US president discuss an agreement that includes sovereignty. However, we will not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the heart of the Land of Israel. If the result of the [Trump] agreement is to establish a terror state in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), include the creation of isolated enclaves and a freeze on construction, we are ready to give up sovereignty, despite all the hard work and resources we have invested in the issue in recent years.”
In opposition to the Yesha council’s statement, a group of settler mayors – representing major settlements like Efrat and Ariel, as well as settlements that, due to their population, have extra weight politically (like Alfei Menashe, which is home to many retired senior IDF officers) — organized their own statement calling for support of the Trump Plan. The statement – led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi – was signed by the mayor/chairmen of Ariel, Megilot, Oranit, Alfei Menashe, Elkana, and Har Adar.
On Wednesday, May 13th, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Israel for an 8-hour visit to meet with leaders of the new Israeli government (which was set to be sworn in the next day, though that was delayed until Sunday the 17th). In response to an unconvincing statement by the State Department concerning the trip’s purpose – which was officially about coordination on fighting COVID-19 and Iran – an avalanche of speculative media coverage preceded and trailed Pompeo’s trip, trying to suss out what the trip was truly about, with many focusing on annexation or confronting Israel’s growing ties to China. In response, a State Department official who travelled with Pompeo told the press after Pompeo departed: “[we can] dispel the notion that we flew halfway around the world to talk about annexation…that was not the purpose of the trip…This wasn’t the top line.”
Media speculation that annexation was on Pompeo’s agenda was fueled by an interview Pompeo gave to Israel Hayom one day prior to his trip. When asked directly by a reporter if he planned to ask Israel to delay annexation, Pompeo declined to answer but reiterated his prior comments stressing that annexation is an Israeli decision. And then, on the day that Pompeo arrived in Israel, an anonymous “senior U.S. official” told Israel’s Channel 13 news that the U.S. had passed a message to Israeli leaders that annexation does not have to happen on July 1st.
In a press conference following their meeting, Pompeo appeared to again suggesting that Israel could (or should) delay annexation. Appearing alongside Netanyahu, Pompeo said (to Bibi):
“We’re now some months on from the day that you came to Washington when President Trump announced that Vision for Peace when you were there. There remains work yet to do, and we need to make progress on that. I’m looking forward to it.”
Not long after, Pompeo told the press:
“We spoke of ways to advance the peace plan, Trump’s peace plan.”
Reading into these comments, the New York Times ran pieces suggesting that Pompeo told Netanyahu that the U.S. wants him to delay annexation. In the article, Crisis Group analyst Ofer Zalzberg suggested that Pompeo sought to re-establish a role for Benny Gantz in the government’s consideration of annexation (after Gantz forfeit such a role as part of the coalition deal). Adding to the chatter around delay, Channel 13 News in Israel even reported that Gantz and Ashkenazi voiced concerns about annexation during their meeting with Pompeo, though both Gantz and Ashkenzi have continued to publicly promote the plan (see section above).
Israel Expropriates Land, Green Lights Building Permits for “Humanitarian Access” to Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque
On May 13th, the IDF Commander issued an expropriation order to take control of an area outside of Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque in order to build an elevator and wheelchair ramp leading to the site. The land is owned by the Islamic Waqf and is under the municipal jurisdiction of the Palestinian-run Hebron Municipality, according to multiple agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians concerning the governance of the site. Israel’s expropriation order violates the terms of the Hebron Protocols.
Four days later, on May 17th, the Israeli Civil Administration deposited for public review plans for the project, starting the clock on a 60-day period during which the public can submit objections to the plan.
Emek Shaveh writes:
“The project is presented as a response to a humanitarian need but the settlers and the government are in fact creating a precedent of expropriation from the Waqf and construction at a shared holy site. Moreover, according to the Oslo Accords, the tomb comes under the auspices of the Hebron Municipality who have not consented to the plan.”
Palestinian Authority Minister for the Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Shiekh tweeted in response:
“today the so-called Israeli Minister of Defense signed a decision to confiscate [and] annex parts of the Ibrahimi campus in Hebron, which is a violation of the Hebron protocol, an end of the agreement signed between the PLO and Israel [and] a continuation of the #annexation project in the [West Bank and] #Jerusalem”
On May 18, Israeli forces demolished six structures (three homes and three agricultural buildings) in the Palestinian village of al-Walajah, in an area of the village that is within the expanded Israeli municipal borders of Jerusalem and also inside ofthe Nahal Rephaim National Park. Israel established the park in 2013 on al-Walajah’s land. Ir Amim reports that the demolitions are part of the Israeli government’s plans to open a new visitors center in the park for Israelis in the near future.
The demolitions were carried out by Israeli authorities, despite circumstances that should have required them to be delayed — including the fact that the Palestinian homeowners were unaware that demolition orders had been issued against their property. Moreover, on March 18th the Israeli Justice Ministry declared that residential demolitions would be suspended during the coronavirus crisis (and such has been the case for the past 2 months in East Jerusalem). Further, Israel customarily pauses demolition orders during the month of Ramadan (which is about to end).
For decades, the Israeli government has carried out a multi-prong effort to push Palestinians off of their land in al-Walajah. This has included demolition campaigns, construction of the separation barrier along a route that encircles the village and cuts residents off from their land, refusal to grant building permits, and the declaration of state parks over lands on which Palestinians have lived for generations.
On May 13th, the Israeli High Court of Justice overturned a controversial government regulation which conditioned the amount of federal funding for arts and cultural institutions (orchestras, theaters, choirs, etc) on their willingness to perform in West Bank settlements. The program was put in place by former Culture Minister Miri Regev. It incentivized arts institutions to perform in the settlements (an act of normalization and de facto annexation) by offering a 10% bonus to cultural groups which perform in the settlements, while reducing grants by 33% for groups unwilling to perform in the settlements.
The Court’s ruling came in response to a 2016 petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI); the petition claimed the regulation violated the right to freedom of expression and conscience.
Justice Hanan Melcer said:
“Refraining from appearing in a controversial region constitutes an expression of opinion and such an expression merits protection. The right to freedom of expression obligates the authorities not to discriminate between people or institutions on the basis of their views and requires them to remain neutral.”
For a fantastic re-telling of Miri Regev’s controversial and dramatic tenure as Culture Minister, see this article by Al-Monitor. In the new unity government, Regev was sworn in to serve as Israel’s Minister of Transportation for the first nine months, and will then serve as Israel Foreign Minister. Regev will be a member of the Israeli security cabinet for the entire duration of the government (18 months).
On the evening of May 21st, settlers from the radical Yitzhar settlement – homebase of the violent “Hilltop Youth” – instigated clashes with Palestinians from the nearby village of Hawwara. The settlers were throwing rocks at Palestinian vehicles along the main road to the village, and Palestinians then gathered and responded by throwing rocks at the settlers. Israeli police arrived to disperse the crowd, directing stun gun fire at the Palestinians.
The head of the Hawwara village council told Haaretz that Palestinian property, including cars and store fronts, were damaged by the settlers.
The incident follows an apparent Palestinian-perpetrated attack (or attempted attack) on Israeli forces near Hawwara earlier this week. Many analysts are now noting the persistent occurrence of violent clashes throughout the WEst Bank, including the death of an Israeli soldier during an IDF night raid in Jenin, the death of a Palestinian youth in Hebron also during a nighttime raid by the IDF, an apparent car-ramming attack, and now the events this week.
In a policy paper, Breaking the Silence co-founder Yehuda Shaul answers several key questions about what annexation might look like, and how the legal structure of Israel’s control over Palestinian life in the West Bank will be transformed. Read the full paper here.
Shaul explains that following annexation:
- Planning and construction for the settlements will no longer be regulated by the Defense Ministry, where political considerations at times intervened to stop controversial settlement plans. When settlement construction comes under Israel’s domestic bureaucratic procedures, plans for expansion of settlements are expected to move more quickly.
- The state of Israel will no longer have an existing legal basis for removing settlers from the West Bank (in the hypothetical scenario in which the state should choose to do so). Since 1948, the state has said (at least formally) that the settlements are “temporary” and that they fulfill a “military need.” When Israel evacuated its Gaza settlements, it did so pursuant to a military order saying that the settlements no longer serve a military need, and can be removed. The Court was then able to violate the civil rights Israel affords to its settlers in order to carry out the evacuation. Following annexation, the settlements will no longer be connected to any “military need” and will certainly no longer be held as a “temporary” endeavor, removing power from the government to carry out evacuations should it so choose.
- Settler municipal bodies will enjoy increased autonomy and power over Palestinians living in annexed land. This means that Palestinians could be paying taxes to the settler bodies, and relying on their benevolence for construction planning, building permits, and other services, etc. Palestinians would likely enjoy no representation in those municipal bodies, which would also have the authority to enforce demolition orders against Palestinians.
- The bureaucratic process of combining two regimes (the Israeli government and the Israeli military command) to govern the newly annexed territory will take a lot of legislation and it will require Israel to form a complex and massive structure to police the borders of Israeli territory.
- The Absentee Property’s Law and declarations of newly annexed land for “public use” will be the key legal tools Israel uses to take privately owned Palestinian land on a massive scale.
The paper also establishes that annexation of West Bank land will mean apartheid. Annexation under the Trump Plan would leave Palestinians living in fragmented enclaves within the Israeli state, without any rights in Israel (i.e. Apartheid). Even if Israel grants some rights to the subset of Palestinians living in the territory annexed to Israel (the report details 5 scenarios Israel might consider), that does not change the overall legal status of the new regime as an apartheid system, where people are granted or not granted rights primarily based on ethnicity.
In a new report, entitled “Annexing A City: Israel’s Illegal Measures to Annex Jerusalem Since 1948,” Al-Haq examines Israel’s annexation of West Jerusalem in 1948 and East Jerusalem in 1967, and the many Israeli policies which have sought to shore up those annexations in the intervening years.
“Indeed, Israel’s actions towards the city, from beginning to move its Government ministries to West Jerusalem in 1949, to redrawing the municipal boundaries of the city in 1967, have all been aimed at establishing irreversible facts on the ground before concrete action is taken by the international community. Accordingly, Israel’s policies and practices imposed today in occupied East Jerusalem, ranging from residency revocations to house demolitions, form part of a continuing effort to displace and dispossess Palestinians in Jerusalem, thereby feeding into Israel’s calculated efforts to alter the legal status, character, and demographic composition of the city, in violation of its protected status under international law.”
In a new report, entitled “This is Jerusalem: Violence and Dispossession in al- ‘Esawiyah,” B’Tselem describes life in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya (aka al-‘Esawiyah). In it, B’Tselem analyzes how Israeli policies have aimed and succeeded at dispossessing Palestinians in Issawiya through deliberate neglect, lack of planning, and an ongoing police campaign in the neighborhood aimed at harassing residents.
“Since annexing East Jerusalem, Israel has viewed the Palestinians who live there as an unwanted addition. The policy it implements in these neighborhoods – which is particularly blatant in al-‘Esawiyah – is aimed at incessantly pressuring the residents. In the short term, this is meant to oppress Palestinians in the city, control them and keep them poor, underprivileged and in a state of constant anxiety. Given Israel’s declared intention to ensure a Jewish demographic supremacy in Jerusalem, the long-term goal of this cruel policy appears to be to drive Palestinians to breaking point, so that they “choose” to desert their homes and leave the city. This conduct clearly demonstrates the demographic considerations that guide Israel’s actions: preferring Jewish citizens over unwanted Palestinian residents. Accordingly, the Israeli authorities incessantly harass the entire Palestinian population of Jerusalem, including the blatant example reviewed in this report: the 22,000 people who live in al-‘Esawiyah. This abuse, which is the result of an ongoing policy led by all Israeli governments since 1967, lays bare Israel’s priorities in the only part of the West Bank it has – as yet – taken the trouble to formally annex: no equality, no rights, and not even reasonable municipal services. Instead, state authorities use their power in the annexed territory to cement the superiority of one group over another.”
In a new report – entitled “Israel: Discriminatory Land Policies Hem in Palestinians” Human Rights Watch documents how policies which have Israel’s occupation policy extened beyond the occupied territories – and also serve to tighly constrict the growth and development of Palestinian cities inside of Israeli borders.
Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East executive director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement:
“Israeli policy on both sides of the Green Line restricts Palestinians to dense population centers while maximizing the land available for Jewish communities. These practices are well-known when it comes to the occupied West Bank, but Israeli authorities are also enforcing discriminatory land practices inside Israel.”
- “Annexation is not just about stealing land — it’s about expelling Palestinians“ (+972 Magazine)
- “Land grab and deportation: A leading Israeli lawyer’s annexation prediction” (Middle East Eye)
- “Jerusalem Day Obscures The Reality of Modern Jerusalem” (Daniel Seidemann for T’ruah)
- “What’s the Real Purpose of Israel’s Annexation Plan?” (Hagai El-Ad in Haaretz)
- “For Medicinal Purposes The Israeli Military Sector and the Coronavirus Crisis” (Who Profits)
- “EU Countries Mull Slapping Sanctions on Israel to Deter West Bank Annexation” (Haaretz)
- “Israel expands settlement projects around Hebron’s mosque” (Al-Monitor)