Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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May 25, 2018
- Israeli Government to Advance 3,900 Settlement Units Next Week
- Finance Ministry Announces Bargain Construction in Beit El & Ma’ale Adumim Settlements
- Defense Ministry Supports Expropriation of Private Palestinian Land for Settlements
- High Court Supports Destruction of Khan al-Ahmar [A War Crime], Clearing the Way for E-1 Settlement
- Palestinians Ask the ICC to Open Investigation into the Israeli Settlement Regime
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) announced that the High Planning Council (the body in the Defense Ministry’s which oversees all construction in the occupied West Bank) is expected to advance plans for 3,900 settlement units next week. Of that total, 2,500 units will reportedly receive final approval for construction and 1,400 will be advanced through the planning process. Peace Now estimates that 52% of the units will be located in isolated settlements.
- 400 units in the Ariel settlement (where a medical school financed by Sheldon Adelson was recently brought under Israeli domestic jurisdiction, in a case of de facto annexation. And where a future stop on the recently approved settler-only light rail is slated to be built.);
- 460 units in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement;
- 250 units for an assisted living center in the Elkana settlement (where the settler-only light rail will also have a stop);
- 180 units in the the Talmon settlement;
- 170 units in the Neve Daniel settlement;
- 160 units in the Kfar Etzion settlement;
- 150 units in the Kiryat Arba settlement (where construction preparations for a new industrial zone – which in reality is a new settlement in Hebron – recently began);
- 130 units in the Avnei Hefetz settlement;
- 130 units in the Tene Omarim settlement;
- 80 units in the Hinanit settlement;
- 60 units in the Halamish settlement (where settlers have built a strategic outpost, with the protection of the IDF, in order to further restrict Palestinian access to the area);
- 45 units in the Ma’ale Efraim settlement;
- 40 units in the Avnei Hafetz settlement;
- 45 units in unspecified settlements.
This will be the third meeting of the High Planning Council in 2018, in accordance with a reported agreement between Israel and the United States to consolidate and coordinate the number of times settlement plans are announced. The first regularly scheduled meeting of the year was in January, when 1,122 new settlement units were advanced, of which 352 received final approval for construction. The Council met again, unexpectedly in February, which Lieberman tried to minimize by calling it “less significant” because the majority of the projects approved were non-residential. In fact, the projects were extremely significant. All of the plans expanded the footprint of settlements located deep inside the West Bank – including plans for a race track and hotel in the Jordan Valley. One “unusual” plan even created a new outpost to house settlers evacuated from a different outpost (the Netiv Ha’avot outpost case that FMEP has covered in exhaustive detail).
The anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now writes:
“In the year and a half since President Trump took office some 14,454 units in the West Bank has been approved (in plans and tenders, including today’s announcement not including East Jerusalem), which is more than three times the amount that was approved in the year and half before his inauguration (4,476 units)…The Netanyahu government is clearly continuing to take advantage of the carte blanche the Trump Administration has given it in order to destroy the chances for peace. It is well-known that for a two-state solution to be feasible Israel will have to withdraw from most of the West Bank, yet the government keeps raising the political cost of this redeployment and the evictions it will entail. By adding housing to settlements, the government shows total disregard for the two-state solution.”
In reaction to Lieberman’s announcement, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ahrawi said:
“Such egregious policies affirm the imperative need for the International Criminal Court to open an immediate criminal investigation into Israel’s flagrant violations of international law and conventions,” she said in a statement….Israel’s declared intention to build thousands of illegal settler units in the occupied West Bank discloses the real nature of Israeli colonialism, expansionism and lawlessness…Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately working to enhance its extremist Jewish settler population and to superimpose ‘Greater Israel’ on all of historic Palestine…It is evident that the recent provocative and unlawful moves adopted by the United States, Guatemala and Paraguay have emboldened Israel to move forward with enhancing its illegal settlement enterprise, thereby finalizing the total annexation of the occupied West Bank.”
Saeb Erekat, a top diplomat for the Palestinian Authority released a video response, in which he highlighted the PA’s recent referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israeli settlement crimes (see FMEP’s coverage on the ICC referral, below). Erekat said in part:
“This is a flagrant violation and an eye opener to the judicial council of the ICC that an official judicial investigation must be opened immediately. This cannot go on. Israel cannot continue business as usual with this impunity and immunity that they think they have.”
Nadil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said:
“The continuation of the settlement policy, statements by American officials supporting settlements and incitement by Israeli ministers have ended the two-state solution and ended the American role in the region.”
In addition to the approvals expected from the High Planning Council this week, the Israeli Finance Ministry has announced that a 300-unit project in the Beit El settlement and 44-unit project in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement have been marketed as part of the “Buyer’s Price” program. Under this program, the government sells land to construction companies at low prices, and those companies commit to offering future settlement units at below market prices. With the plan being marketed in Beit El, the government is accepting bids on the project from construction companies which commit to pricing the apartments 20% below market value – in effect creating a powerful financial subsidy that incentivizes Israelis to move into settlements.
The Beit El project involves 5 buildings with a total of 296 units. According to Ynet:
“the program’s goal is to transform Beit El’s southeast agricultural area into a residential neighborhood as well as unification and re-division of the lands, which will be allocated to building houses, public offices, commercial areas, routes, and a public open space.”
FMEP has covered the progress of this Beit El project repeatedly over the past year, particularly because the push around Beit El projects typifies the Netanyahu-Trump era of settlement growth. Beit El settlers have lobbied for the project for over 5 years, ever since the settlers were evacuated from an outpost of Beit El (called “Ulpana”) in 2012. When the outpost was evacuated, Prime Minister Netanyahu promised to build replacement settlement units in Beit El. Buoyed by the apparent green-light from the Trump administration, over the summer of 2017 settler leaders repeatedly and publicly shamed Netanyahu for failing to fulfill that promise, and in response Netanyahu very publicly and repeatedly promised that the settlement units will be built expeditiously. After being ignored by the High Council during its September meeting, the plan for 296 units was then approved for marketing in October 2017. Now, this week, the government has acted on that approval to market the plan, moving ever closer to the start of construction. As the Ynet report notes, if/when the 300 units are built, this will be the first new, government-sanctioned construction in the Beit El settlement in 10 years.
Also in Beit El, the settler-aligned media outlet Arutz Sheva reports that the IDF plans to build a new “razor wire” fence to separate the settlement from the Palestinian Jalazone refugee camp, located across the street (where it has been since before Beit El’s establishment). At the time of this writing, there has been no additional reporting on where the fence will be placed, and if it relates to plans to build a wall between Beit El and the Jalazone refugee camp. To better understand the severe implications of the Beit El settlement on the lives of Palestinian in Jalazone, see B’Tselem’s updated, expanded, and now pictorial project: “Life under the shadow of the Beit El Settlement.”
As a reminder, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is closely associated with the Beit El settlement, having donated to and fundraised for it prior to his appointment as ambassador (including in his capacity as the President of the American Friends of Beit El, reportedly from 2011 until he became ambassador).
The Beit El settlement was established in 1977, on land previously seized by Israel for military purposes. A second military seizure in 1979 enabled Beit El to expand. This method of establishing and expanding settlements has been repeatedly challenged in Israeli courts. The Israeli group Yesh Din led one such petition against Beit El, seeking to have the second seizure annulled; that petition was dismissed earlier this year. Yesh Din writes:
“The State understood that it was impossible to legally defend the land theft that has been ongoing in Beit El for 40 years on land that was seized for arbitrary reasons, but it refrained, once again, from defending the rights of the weakest population, simply because they are Palestinians. Despite this, we at Yesh Din will continue to fight against the dispossession of Palestinians and the infringement of their rights.”
On May 24th, the Israeli Defense Ministry released a legal opinion endorsing the government’s plan to expropriate privately owned Palestinian land in the Ofra settlement in order to retroactively legalize illegal settlement structures built there. The opinion adopts the “market regulation” principle as a legal basis for Israel to expropriate privately owned Palestinian land in cases of settlements in which decades-old structures were built and/or purchased by Israelis “in good faith” (believing the Israeli government to be the rightful owner of the land). The legal opinion also calls for the Palestinian owners to be “fully compensated, if not more than that,” and recommends that the principle should not apply to cases of unauthorized outposts. The Ofra situation is a test case for the “market regulation” principle, which has not yet been used (or tested in court) to justify expropriating Palestinian land for Israeli settlements.
Defense Ministry legal advisor Itai Ofir called on Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit to adopt the legal opinion as a government policy, which stands a good chance of happening (Mandleblit already endorsed the Ofra expropriation on that basis). In fact, the Attorney General invented the “market regulation” principle in the first place, as an alternative to the legal argument made in the Regulation Law (which he opposed). The “market regulation” principle was also recommended in the recently released “Zandberg Report,” as one of the tools that the Israeli government should use to carry out massive land expropriations, retroactive legalizations, and continued and intensified settlement growth.
FMEP has chronologically documented the development and adoption of the “market regulation” principle in the Annexation Policies tables.
On May 24th, the High Court of Justice upheld a government plan to destroy the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar and forcibly relocate its residents out of the Ma’ale Adumim/E-1 settlement area east of Jerusalem – which Israel is expected to carry out soon. The Court reasoned that the community’s structures were built on State Land without the proper permits, even though Israel deliberately makes such permits nearly impossible to obtain. Clearing Khan al-Ahmar from the its current site (where it has been for 60+ years) is widely interpreted to be a step towards building the “doomsday” E-1 settlement which, if built, will complete a ring of Israeli settlements around East Jerusalem, destroying the territorial contiguity between Palestinians living there and the West Bank, and preventing any possibility of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Israel has faced intense criticism for its plan to forcibly relocate Khan al-Ahmar, a plan many, including B’Tselem, call a war crime. A group of 76 U.S. Members of Congress recently sent a letter to Netanyahu beseeching him to abandon the plan, as well as the plan to demolish the Palestinian community of Susya, in the South Hebron Hills.
Peace Now says:
“The State of Israel must implement a policy of moral values, justice, equality and human rights for the Jahalin people. It is not in the Israeli interest to forcibly move them from their homes. We must stop the abuse that has been going on for decades, and allow them to live according to their way of life, to make a living and to educate their children in a way that is no different from that of the Jews living in their neighborhoods.”
The Jahalin Bedouin built the Khan al-Ahmar community in the area east of Jerusalem in the 1950s, after they were expelled from their lands in the Negev by the Israeli military. A total of 18 Bedouin tribes live in the vicinity of Ma’ale Adumim/E-1, totaling approximately 3,000 people, who have already endured numerous demolitions this year alone. The Ma’ale Adumim settlement was built in 1975 on land near where the Khan al-Ahmar community already existed; the plan for the E-1 settlement was approved in 1999.
The Palestinian Authority has officially asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the Israeli government’s illegal settlement activity. The text of the referral can be found here. Citing “sufficient compelling evidence” and an “alarming intensification of Israeli crimes,” Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad Malki asked the ICC to immediately open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. The referral requests that the investigation include:
“those who plan, prepare and implement policies linked to the settlements regime as well as those who enable it, whether through financial, military, or logistical support or otherwise aid and abet or encourage the commission of crimes connected to that regime.”
The referral lists specific, ongoing crimes that are “among the most widely documented in contemporary history,” for the ICC to investigate. The PA’s allegations mainly relate to settlement activity (much of which is documented on a weekly basis in FMEP’s Settlement Reports) including: the unlawful appropriation and destruction of private and public properties, including land, houses and buildings, as well as natural resources; the forcible transfer of Palestinians; the unlawful transfer of the Israeli Occupying Power’s population into Occupied Palestinian Territory; the “persecution, including the grave, widespread and systematic denial or violation of basic human rights on discriminatory grounds against Palestinians, including those resulting in or intended to achieve the deportation of forcible transfer, directly or indirectly, of the Palestinian population, the re-population of ‘cleansed’ territories with Israeli settlers and the unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land and properties”; and “the establishment of a system of apartheid based in particular on the adoption of discriminatory laws, policies and practices as well as the commission of inhumane acts intended to establish an institutionalized regime of separation and advancement of Israeli settlements accompanied by the systematic oppression and domination by Israeli settlers over Palestinians.”
After the PA submitted its referral, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman argued that the “ICC lacks jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, since Israel is not a member of the Court and because the Palestinian Authority is not a state.” While Israel is not a member of the ICC, the State of Palestine acceded to the ICC in December 2014, and its membership took force in April 2015. In January 2015, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry to “ascertain whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met.” The preliminary inquiry is listed as “ongoing” on the ICC website. Following by the referral for an investigation submitted this week, ICC Chief Prosecutor Mrs. Fatou Bensouda released a statement saying:
“Since 16 January 2015, the situation in Palestine has been subject to a preliminary examination in order to ascertain whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met. This preliminary examination has seen important progress and will continue to follow its normal course, strictly guided by the requirements of the Rome Statute.”
The press release also notes that this is the eighth referral on the matter to date (previously, the situation in Palestine was referred to the ICC for investigation by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, the Comoros Islands, and the Gabonese Republic).
- “Minister Ariel initiates museum of settlement” (Arutz Sheva)
- “Cherry Plantation Burned in Settlement a Hay Torched in Southern West Bank” (Haaretz)
- “Sheikh Jarrah: A Tale of Eviction and Resettlement” (Al Jazeera)
“In new film, Tel Aviv leftist picks up and moves to a West Bank settlement” (Times of Israel)