Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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May 24, 2019
- U.S. Announces Economic Workshop in Bahrain, Palestinians Reject Invitations
- Netanyahu Says West Bank Land is Israel’s “Inheritance”
- Likud MK Re-Submits Bill to Annex the Jordan Valley
- Top Israeli Court Admits West Bank Archaeological Digs Are a Legal Liability, Rules Israel Can Dig in Complete Secrecy to Avoid Repercussions
- High Court Override Bill? It’s About Settlements, Stupid
- Report: Likud May Support Bill Effectively Annexing the Settlements (by Disempowering Civil Administration)
- Israeli Border Police Once Again Demolish Structures in “Tapuach West” Outpost
- Video Catches Settlers Attacking Palestinian Town & Torching Fields
- Bonus Reads
On May 19th, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent invitations to Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab business leaders to attend a workshop in Bahrain on June 25-26 aimed at “unleashing the economic potential of the Palestinian private sector.” With near unanimity, notable Palestinian invitees publicly rejected the invitation, while dismantling the notion that an economic horizon for the Palestinians can be divorced from a political one. The sole Palestinian businessman known (as of this publication) to have accepted the U.S. invitation is Ashraf Jabari, who has gained favor amongst U.S. peace envoys for his public partnership with Israeli settlers to form the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce.For more information about Jabari, see last week’s edition of the Settlement Report, and this new piece on Jabari and how his efforts echo the “Village Leagues” model, written by Mitchell Plitnick.
Explaining the fundamental problem of launching an economic peace effort without a political horizon to end the occupation, Sam Bahour wrote in +972 Mag:
“Kushner seems to be missing the point entirely: Israel is addicted to Palestine’s economy, and without overcoming that addiction, there is no chance for any grand ‘business plan’ to succeed. Moreover, his ‘in-depth operational document,’ which he calls ‘realistic, executable…and will lead to both sides being much better off’ is borderline hallucinatory, given the fact that it dismisses the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Israel’s determination to maintain full control of the Palestinian economy for over five decades has become a major hurdle in getting it to realize that its occupation must come to an end. And like recovery from other addictions, this one will require external support. That support needs to be based on third states holding Israel accountable to save it from itself, rather than building a ‘business plan’ to try and paint life under the boot of Israeli military occupation as somehow beautiful. Here, in addition to human rights, we speak of economic rights, too: our rights to our economic assets — land, water, natural gas wells, our Dead Sea and Mediterranean Sea shores, borders, and the like — and the ability to employ them within a Palestinian-defined economic development plan, free from Israeli or donor agendas. Dumping more humanitarian and developmental funds into Palestinian coffers will not solve the conflict.”
Zahi Khouri, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur who owns the Coca-Cola franchise in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said:
“Putting this first is a blatant payoff. You insult the people by talking about their quality of life when you keep them locked up [under the Israeli occupation]…[It is like] trying to strangle a woman while giving her a manicure. In nation-building you start with dignity and freedom. You don’t start by bribing people and buying people.”
Bashar al-Masri, the Palestinian businessman and developer behind the Rawabi city project, wrote on Facebook:
“The idea of economic peace is an old idea that is now suggested differently. As our people previously rejected it, we are rejecting it now.”
Abed Alkarim Ashour, a Palestinian businessman from Gaza, posted on his Facebook page:
“The Bahrain conference aims at selling Palestine for a fistful of dollars – you in invited the wrong person.”
Ibrahim Barham, the founder of a Palestinian electronics and engineering company and a member of the Palestinian Monetary Authority, politely rejected the invitation, telling the Washington Post that he was surprised to even receive an invitation. Barham’s surprise was a common reaction amongst Palestinian invitees, a clear indication that the U.S. did not lay the groundwork for Palestinian buy-in despite a two-year self-described strategy of speaking directly to the Palestinian people over the heads of the Palestinian Authority. For it’s part, the Palestinian Authority officially declined to participate in the conference.
Ashraf Jabari – who FMEP profiled last week – announced that he will attend the conference on behalf of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, an initiative Jabari launched from Hebron alongside Israeli settlers. Criticism of Jabari reached a fever pitch following his predictable acceptance of the U.S. invite when a spokesman for the PLO told Reuters that Jabari and any other Palestinian who accepts the invitation are “collaborators.”
The PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki spoke at an event in London organized by the prestigious Chatham House during which he explained that Israel’s policies in the West Bank designed to:
“ensure confinement and expansion of Israeli settlers with the objective of maximum land with minimum Palestinians. [Palestinians are] now in the final stages of this master plan that Israel is no longer even trying to hide, and which can only be described as colonialism under the disguise of occupation.”
Notably, the Trump Administration elected to schedule this workshop – entitled “Prosperity to Peace” – to take place at the same time the United Nations is set to hold a pledging conference in support of URWA, the Palestinian refugee agency that the U.S. defunded in January 2018.
This week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled-down on his pledge to annex the West Bank, lending even a greater sense of inevitability to Israeli annexation. Netanyahu’s latest remarks were in response to a letter warning of the dangers of annexation signed by hundreds of former Israeli security officials. Netanyahu defiantly tweeted his defense of annexation:
“The region in Judea and Samaria are not just a guarantee of Israel’s security — its also the inheritance of our ancestors…The same ‘experts’ supported the Iran nuclear deal and warned that ‘Bibi is taking a wrong turn and ruining the alliance with America.”
The Times of Israel also has new reporting on how settler leaders have are planning to pressure Netanyahu on annexation should he balk at taking action on that front. Reflecting on a pre-election meeting with Netanyahu, Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan that he expects Netanyahu to start proceeding with annexation plans immediately upon forming the next government. Dagan added:
“And if that does not occur, we know how to fight.”
At that meeting with Netanyahu, Yossi Dagan was joined by Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Har Hevron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri and Kiryat Arba-Hebron Local Council chairman Eliyahu Libman. Reportedly they collectively pressed Netanyahu not just on the annexation of settlements, but on the fate of unauthorized and far flung outposts. According to Dagan, Netanyahu promised that he does not distinguish between regulated settlements and unauthorized outposts.
On May 20th, Likud lawmaker Sharran Haskel filed a bill with the Knesset to annex the Jordan Valley to Israel. Haskel also filed the bill in the previous Knesset session, but the bill was put on hold by more senior lawmakers.
The new bill provides that Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley should be subject to a referendum, explaining that Israeli annexation will benefit Palestinians. Haskel said:
“the communities of the Jordan Valley are a strategic and security asset of the first degree..[but] under military jurisdiction… we have come to an unreasonable situation where the residents of the Jordan Valley cannot develop their communities.”
As FMEP has reported, Israeli planning policies in the Jordan Valley are designed and implemented in a way that systematically denies Palestinians the right to develop their communities, while at the same time assisting Israeli settlers to take over an increasing amount of land, and often doing so in contravention of Israeli law.
Top Israeli Court Admits West Bank Archaeological Digs Are a Legal Liability, Rules Israel Can Dig in Complete Secrecy to Avoid Repercussions
In response to a petition for the public disclosure of facts regarding state-run archaeological digs in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli government can continue to conceal basic information about the digs in order to protect national interests, particularly to guard against international repercussions and potential legal suits. The petition – filed by the NGOs Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din – notes that it is illegal under international law for an occupying power to remove archaeological findings from the occupied territory.
Justice Elron, who voted in the state’s favor, argued that revealing the data on the archaeological sites would harm Israel, saying that disclosure of the facts will contribute to:
“undermining [Israel’s] interests in the framework of future negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and could even serve as a tool of attack for parties that seek to harm Israel in the international arena.”
Emek Shaveh explained the ruling’s absurdity:
“The law relates differentially to information inside the Green Line and information in the West Bank, implying that continued Israeli control over the West Bank requires two legal systems under a single government. Justice Baron, in a minority opinion, maintains that the ruling poses a threat to democracy.”
The Court’s ruling also argues that disclosing the name of archaeologists working in the West Bank will expose them to academic and professional boycotts. At least one Supreme Court Justice opposed this point. Justice Barron wrote in her dissent:
“Non-disclosure has the power to silence public debate over the legitimacy of archaeological digs in Judea and Samaria. Public debate could indeed invite criticism of the archaeologists, and perhaps even a boycott, as argued by the respondents. But silencing the debate by concealing the information is no cure for these fears. There is no democracy without a vibrant free market of ideas and opinions, and preventing public debate for fear of criticism, or even of boycotts, poses a real danger to the democratic values Israel espouses. The fear of a slippery slope on this issue is also tangible.”
The Palestinian Authority asserted that Israel’s West Bank excavations are a crime and called for UNESCO and the World Travel & Tourism Council to establish an international fact-finding mission on the matter.
As FMEP has long reported, Israeli government officials’ motivation to pass the so-called High Court “override bill” is closely connected to its desire to protect and advance settlements in the West Bank. With possible movement of such legislation in the news this week, Likud MK Miki Zohar tweeted:
“The High Court intervenes in countless decisions, including on settlement in the Land of Israel; we want to put an end to that. We have the political opportunity to do so.”
The latest reporting regarding coalition negotiations over this law (debates over which are inextricably linked to Netanyahu’s plan to shore up his own immunity from criminal prosecution) continues to suggest that the bill will very likely be passed into law.
Former Justice Minister and long-serving Likud member of the Knesset Dan Meridor warned against the override law, saying:
“The idea of an override clause — that we won’t be a democracy, that there will be a dictatorship and the majority can do whatever it wants, that the court can’t say anything and there are no checks and balances — is a dangerous anti-democratic idea. There is not a single parliament in the world without checks and balances.”
Report: Likud May Support Bill Effectively Annexing the Settlements (by Disempowering Civil Administration)
Israeli Radio reports that Likud Party leaders are considering support for a bill, pushed by Bezalel Smotrich in coalition negotiations, that would bring the settlements under domestic Israeli law while leaving the Palestinians under the authority of the Israeli Civil Administration (the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry that acts as the sovereign authority in the West Bank).
As the inevitability of Israeli annexation grows (and enthusiastic U.S. support for it), it remains to be seen how Israel will enact its annexation. Bringing the settlements under Israeli domestic law is just one way Israel might move forward. For more ways that Israel is already implementing or pursuing de facto annexation of the settlements, see FMEP’s comprehensive tracking.
On May 20th, Israeli forces demolished three illegal structures in the unauthorized Tapuah West outpost, located south of Bethlehem. Three settlers were arrested for interfering in the demolition. A settler who was living in one of the demolished structures told The Times of Israel that it is possible the Samaria Council allowed the demolition to take place in order to build a more expansive settlement project in the area.
In a statement, Samaria Council Chairman Yossi Dagan denied the claim, saying:
“I call upon the government ministers to stop this destruction. On the nearby hills there are hundreds of illegally built Arab homes, yet the government concentrates on a single Jewish home, uprooting it and its inhabitants.”
This is the second time in the past year that Tapuach West outpost has been cleared. In June 2018, settlers violently clashed with the Border Police were met with as they officers 10 structures from the same area. The settler-instigated melee injured 11 Israeli policemen.
On May 17th, B’Tselem captured video showing masked settlers, believed to be from the notoriously radical Yitzhar settlement, setting two fields on fire and attacking the Palestinian villages of Burin and ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah. B’Tselem says that nearby Israeli soldiers not only failed to stop the attack, but also prevented Palestinians from reaching the flames in order to extinguish them. What’s more, the IDF erroneously blamed Palestinians for setting the fields on fire. The IDF was forced to retract their accusation when video footage proved it was the settlers who committed arson. Settlers later extinguished the flames themselves, reportedly fearing the flames were headed towards their settlement. As of publication, the IDF has not made a single arrest, though the criminals were clearly seen on video, and there has been no news of an investigation.
“This complete backing from the state authorities is consistent with Israel’s longstanding policy in the West Bank, under which such acts of violence serve its interests and help it achieve its goals.”