Settlement Report: May 8, 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 8, 2020

  1. Israel Green Lights Givat Eitam/E-2 Settlement
  2. Givat Hamatos Tender is Delayed, as Settlers Agitate for Action
  3. Israel Exploits “Humanitarian” Access Issue to Flex its Muscles at Key Hebron Site
  4. HaMoked Continues Battle on Behalf of Palestinians Landowners Who Cannot Reach Their Land
  5. Amb. Friedman Gives Two Interviews Clarifying (Once Again) Total Support for Annexation; Pompeo To Visit Israel Soon
  6. Yesha Settlement Council Head Pushes For Annexation Vote Immediately, As Settlers Continue to Be Wary of Bibi’s Plans & Critical of the Trump Plan
  7. Bonus Reads

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Israel Green Lights Givat Eitam/E-2 Settlement

On May 6th, Israel’s outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced the approval of plans for the  construction of 7,000 new units in the Efrat settlement, in what is, in effect, approval of a brand-new settlement adjacent to Efrat (both Efrat and the planned new settlement are located east of Israel’s separation barrier). 

Map by Peace Now

The Givat Eitam settlement site  – known to Palestinians as A-Nahle – is located on a strategic hilltop south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. The construction of Givat Eitam would significantly expand Efrat in the direction of Bethlehem, effectively cutting off Bethlehem off from the southern West Bank, completing the city’s encirclement by Israeli settlement construction. The Givat Eitam settlement plan has long been nicknamed “E-2” by settlement watchdogs, for its dire geopolitical implications for any future Palestinian state (similar to those of the E-1 settlement on Jerusalem’s eastern flank). 

Earlier, on May 3rd, the Israeli Civil Administration dismissed Palestinian petitions challenging the allocation of an additional 1,100 dunams (225 acres) of land to the Efrat settlement – a decision that paved the way for Bennett’s announcement. That land allocation doubles the size of the Efrat settlement, and, more significantly, it allows for the construction of what will effectively be a new settlement to be called “Givat Eitam” — to be built within Efrat’s (expanded) borders but at a site that is not contiguous with the built-up area of Efrat. In its May 3rd ruling, the Civil Administration ruled that additional land was necessary for Efrat’s growth and development, and that the Givat Eitam site is the only land available (disregarding Palestinian needs for land for Bethlehem’s growth and development). 

In 2004, the Israeli government designated the land to be used to build Givat Eitam as “state land,” despite the fact that Palestinians claim to have been actively cultivating the land for generations. Palestinians land owners assisted by the Israeli NGO Peace Now waged a 16-year legal battle to challenge the declaration of state land (which they lost), followed by a legal battle challenging the decision to allocate this “state land” for settlement purposes (which culminated with the May 3rd ruling).

Peace Now has declared its intention to escalate its petition against the land allocation to the High Court of Justice, and laid out its three-part legal argument:

  1. Allocating “state land” to build a settlement contravenes Israel’s duty to protect the land for the local Palestinian population according to international law; 
  2. Allocating “state land” for the needs of Israelis (over those of Palestinians) is tainted by discrimination, as is clear from the fact that since 1967, Israel has allocated 99.8% of “state land” in the West Bank land primarily for the benefit of Israel/Israelis; and 
  3. The Palestinian need for the land in question is far greater than that of the Efrat settlement, as a Peace Now spatial planning analysis confirms. 

Addressing Bennett’s announcement of approval of the Givat Eitam plan, Peace Now said in a statement:

“This is a cynical move by a caretaker defense minister at the end of his mandate while the nation is still reeling from the corona crisis to advance a dangerous plan aimed at entrenching permanent Israeli domination in the southern West Bank and harming the prospect of a two-state solution. The right thing to do is to allocate the land for Palestinian construction, but the Ministry of Defense is currently run by an irresponsible politician willing to cross any red line in the name of his anti-democratic ideology.”

Following his announcement, Defense Minister Bennett tweeted:

“The building momentum in the country must not be stopped, even for a second.”

In September 2018, FMEP reported that the local council of the Efrat settlement, in response to a Palestinian terror attack,  encouraged the start of (unauthorized) construction of an outpost at the Givat Eitam/E-2 site (presuming that any such illegal construction would be retroactively legalized by the government). Since then, the Civil Administration has allowed the settlers to build and maintain an agricultural farm there.

Givat Hamatos Tender is Delayed, as Settlers Agitate for Action

Ir Amim reports that the Israeli Land Authority did not open bidding on a tender for the construction of 1,077 units in the Givat Hamatos settlement, as it was scheduled to do on May 3rd. The ILA has proactively announced the postponement of several tenders that were scheduled for publication and/opening, but made no such announcement with regards to the highly sensitive and controversial Givat Hamatos tender. The delay has not pleased East Jerusalem settlement empresario Aryeh King (who is poised to become the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem), who posted a message on Facebook pressing for action.

Ir Amim speculates that the Israeli government may be exercising caution on sensitive East Jerusalem plans like Givat Hamatos and Har Homa (plans for which were taken off of the agenda of the Jerusalem District Committee’s April 27th meeting), in light of international criticism of those plans specifically.

Ir Amim writes:

“Israeli right-wing groups are likely to demand that the tender must not be postponed regardless of any economic considerations. For example, Jerusalem right-wing council member Arye King who works to promote settlements in East Jerusalem has already posted on Facebook a reminder that the tender is due to open today.”

As a reminder, the Givat Hamatos settlement has been fully approved but not constructed. Located in the southern part of East Jerusalem, plans for the Givat Hamatos settlement have long been called a doomsday settlement by parties interested in preserving the possibility of a two-state solution. If the Givat Hamatos settlement is built, the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem will be completely surrounded by Israeli construction, severing its connection to the West Bank. 

Over the past year of seemingly endless campaigning, Netanyahu faced intense and prolonged pressure from settler leaders and his political rivals to move ahead with plans for Givat Hamatos, a pressure point he alleviated in February 2020 when he announced that he had lifted the freeze on those plans. 

Israel Exploits “Humanitarian” Access Issue to Flex its Muscles at Key Hebron Site

Outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has granted approval for a plan to expropriate land from the Islamic Waqf, ostensibly in order to make the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque wheelchair accessible. The decision sparked anger and controversy — it was slammed by the Palestinian Authority — both because it involves the expropriation of Waqf-held land, and because it directly violates arrangements Israel agreed to in the Oslo Accords, which give the Palestinian-run Municipality of Hebron planning authority over the site. The plan still needs to receive final approval from the Israeli Civil Administration’s High Planning Council, but it already enjoys the support of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Justice Ministry. In addition, the Israeli Attorney General issued an opinion holding that Israel is legally permitted to expropriate the land for this humanitarian cause.

Providing critical context for why this plan is not really, or not fully, being advanced out of humanitarian concerns, the Israeli nonprofit Emek Shaveh – which is composed of archeological professionals – explains:

“Israel’s decision to seize responsibility for the site from the Hebron municipality and the Palestinians sends a clear political message that Israel is reneging on agreements that were signed with the Palestinians in Hebron.  Beyond the precedent that will enable the settlers in the future to demand additional changes at the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque, this is also a precedent that could play out at other sites under the responsibility of the Islamic Waqf. Experience has shown us that what begins in Hebron percolates into other places including Jerusalem.  It begins with a seemingly rational demand to benefit the disabled or the general public and evolves into a new status quo.  The expected change in Hebron has not escaped the attention of members of the Temple movement and they will know how to present their demands to the government.  If Israel can repudiate agreements with the Palestinians in Hebron and expropriate land from the Waqf, it would seem that accepting what appears to be the far more modest demands by the Temple movement to pray or to walk about the Temple Mount complex freely is not so far-fetched. In the reality of Hebron and East Jerusalem, a change involving only several meters at a historic or holy place is not free of political considerations and often it is part of long-term strategy.  While it is necessary to tend to the needs and interests of persons with disabilities, the extremists who presume to speak on their behalf must be prevented from forging Israeli policy, even if it is only a matter of a lift and an access path.”

Read Emek Shaveh’s full analysis here: “Humanitarianism Hebron Style.”

HaMoked Continues Battle on Behalf of Palestinians Landowners Who Cannot Reach Their Land

Since March 2020, HaMoked has been fighting for the rights of Palestinian landowners to access their land located in the “seam zone” (i.e., in the West Bank but on the Israeli side of the separation barrier). Israel requires these landowners to coordinate with the Israeli military in order to obtain permits to go beyond the barrier. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, the IDF began severely limiting the issuance of permits, and has now reportedly suspended all entry permits indefinitely. The IDF claims that the restrictions are meant to stop the spread of the virus.

These restrictions have severe implications for Palestinians, in addition to violating their property rights. For instance, HaMoked reports that the closure affects commercial activity and has shuttered businesses for several weeks. There are also about 100 Palestinians in the northern West Bank who are literally trapped, since their homes are located within the seam zone (in a section of the village of Nazlat ‘Isa, in the Tulkarm District, that lies beyond the separation barrier).

On May 4th HaMoked sent a new letter to the military demanding that access be reinstated in accordance with existing regulations.

Amb. Friedman Gives Two Interviews Clarifying (Once Against) Total Support for Annexation; Pompeo To Visit Israel Soon

In two separate interviews with Israeli outlets this week in commemoration of the two year anniversary of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman again clarified that the Trump Administration is prepared to recognize annexation as soon as Israel moves forward, which Friedman says can happen in the coming weeks.

In a May 6th interview with Israel Hayom – the free, right-wing Israeli daily newspaper financed by Sheldon Adelson – Friedman stressed that the U.S. has not conditioned its support for Israeli annexation. The only “requirement” – which cannot be fairly described as such – of the Israeli government is that Netanyahu commits to the principle of negotiating with the Palestinians “in good faith” on the basis of the Trump Plan, if the Palestinian leadership first accepts that and decides to come to the table within the next four years. Friedman told Israel Hayom that Netanyahu has already met this “requirement.”  Setting aside the fact that no Palestinian leader will agree to negotiate with Israel on the basis of a plan that, in advance, gives Israel almost everything that was supposed to be on the table in negotiations, the “requirement” is still entirely hollow. Even if Netanyahu were to commit to negotiate with the Palestinians on this basis, there is no way to compel a future Israeli leader to honor that commitment. 

Friedman made this even clearer in a second interview with the Jerusalem Post:

“The expectation is that the prime minister will agree to negotiate — and if the Palestinians show up, he will negotiate in good faith based on this plan…I don’t see this as anything more than a commitment by the prime minister…[and] I’m not going to prejudge what good faith means.”

Friedman also sought to clarify that any notion that the Trump Plan calls for a “construction freeze” outside annexed areas is incorrect. Rather, all Israeli settlements and outposts outside the annexed areas will become part of enclaves – connected to Israel by access roads. Construction in these areas can continue but but should not expand beyond a given enclave’s “territorial footprint.” That condition will apply only to 10,000-15,000 settlers, according to Friedman, living in the enclaves.

Friedman repeatedly stressed that the U.S. is a passive actor when it comes to annexation: i.e., that annexation is Israel’s move to make, and the U.S. stands ready to recognize Israel’s decision. In his interview with the Jerusalem Post, he again used the phrase “Israel’s decision” and made a point of giving credit to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with that turn of phrase. Pompeo is reportedly due to travel to Israel in the coming week.

Yesha Settlement Council Head Pushes For Annexation Vote Immediately, As Settlers Continue to Be Wary of Bibi’s Plans & Critical of the Trump Plan

On May 3rd, David Elhayani, chairman of the settler Yesha Council (an umbrella group representing all Israeli settlements), demanded that the Knesset take its first vote on annexation immediately. Elhayani threw his support behind a bill that will extend Israeli sovereignty (an act of de facto annexation) over the entire Jordan Valley and all settlements and outposts. The bill was introduced in March 2020 by Likud Knesset Member May Golan, with backing from the senior figures in the Likud Party. 

Elhayani explains his support for the bill, which he believes would enjoy broad backing:  

“The bill will apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley without recognition of a Palestinian state that would endanger the future of the state of Israel.”

Elhayani remark is an implicit attack on the Trump Plan (and the new unity government which appears set to implement that plan as soon as July 1st), as well as a challenge to Netanyahu’s public commitment to enacting annexation – a commitment about which settlers continue to be skeptical. As Elhayani sees it, Netanyahu’s approach hold out the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state, which he thinks is an existential threat to the security of the Israeli state. Elhayani has also publicly (and repeatedly) criticized the Trump Plan, saying just this week that the plan is a “scam.” Elhayani said

“Representatives of the US government are [trying to] sell Plan A under the guise of Plan B. There is no greater scam than this…While the county is preoccupied with the coronavirus, the U.S. government is preparing the ground for the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state and the well-oiled American public information machine will not stop for a moment as it tries to advance Trump’s peace plan in any way possible. There is a lot of text in the plan meant to confuse the public.”

Yossi Dagan – the head of the settlement Samaria Regional Council – joined Elhayani in his public opposition to the Trump Plan, saying:

“We will not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of the process of [enacting Israeli] sovereignty [in the West Bank]. Sovereignty is important to Israel’s security, but it is not worth damaging even a centimeter of the State of Israel and establishing a terror state in the heartland of the country. David Friedman [the United States Ambassador to Israel] is a warm and loving Jew. I know him, and I understand that he is doing everything possible to safeguard Israel’s interests. But with all the appreciation I have for Friedman, no American ambassador should worry about us. We chose Netanyahu, not the Americans.”

In response to remarks made by Amb. David Friedman this week (detailed above), the head of the Mount Hevron Regional Council, Yochai Damari, voiced support for the Plan, as well as his concern:

“Under Ambassador Friedman’s leadership, the sovereignty plan is progressing and we welcome it. We support the ambassador who, together with the prime minister and President Trump, are pushing for sovereignty and recognition of settlements as part of the State of Israel, thus bringing forth historical justice. The plan does, however, have red lines. We are concerned about the enclave provisions and unfortunately, we have not received clarifications about it. We will not allow thousands of families to be abandoned to the mercy of the terrorists.”

The mayor of the Efrat settlement, Oded Ravivi, urged the new unity government to act quickly on annexation, saying:

“this is a test not only for the new government, which is supposed to include applying sovereignty [to the area] by July, but also a test for the Israeli Right and the settlers’ leadership. Do they prefer having one bird in their hand or two in a tree? I believe we are facing a formative period and if we miss [this chance] we may lose the opportunity to change the future of a generation. I say yes to the plan!”

The mayor of the Beit El settlement, Shai Alon, said:


“Washington already understands the historical significance of Beit El and Judea and Samaria have for the people of Israel. It’s unthinkable that Jerusalem not do the same. It’s time to apply sovereignty. It’s time to leave this debate behind us and make Israel control over Judea and Samaria a fact.”

Bonus Reads

  1. “The day after annexation: Israel, Palestine and the one-state reality” (The New Arab)
  2. “The Dark Side of Annexing the Jordan Valley (Haaretz)
  3. “Palestinian Stiffen Battle Against Annexation at UN Security Council” (Jerusalem Post)
  4. “UK lawmakers urge Johnson to sanction Israel if West Bank annexation goes ahead“ (The Times for Israel)
  5. “Palestinians in Israeli-controlled West Bank Fall Through Cracks of Coronavirus Response” (Haaretz)
  6. “Israeli annexation plans would lead to ‘cascade of bad human rights consequences’, says UN expert” (OHCHR)
  7. Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians increase under coronavirus lockdown” (Middle East Eye)