Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
To subscribe to this report, please click here.
November 8, 2019
- Israel Advances Plans for 2,342 New Settlement Units
- Israeli Government Approves Settler-Initiated Plans for Cable Car in Jerusalem — Despite Professional, Human Rights Objections
- Israel Plans to Build a New Waste Treatment Plant (to serve Israelis) in the West Bank
- No More Waiting: MKs Introduce Annexation Bills Despite Political Deadlock
- Annexation-via-New Roads (the new Smotrich Plan)
- Annexation-via-Movies (Govt-Funded Settlement Hasbara)
- Annexation-via-Education (Ambassador Friedman’s Favorite Medical School)
- Settler Leaders Elect New Chairman of the Yesha Council
- Israeli Official Calls on Evangelicals to Defend Settlements, Fight BDS, and Support “Economic Peace”
- Bonus Reads
Questions/comments? Contact Kristin at email@example.com
With little attention, on October 10th the High Planning Council – a body within the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, responsible for regulating all construction in the West Bank – advanced plans for 2,342 new settlement units, as well as for two additional settlement projects. Of that total, 719 units were approved for validation (the penultimate step in the planning process), and 1,623 settlement units were approved for deposit for public review (an earlier but decisive stage in the planning process).
The 719 units which received final approved for validation comprise:
- 207 units in the Bracha (aka Har Bracha) settlement, located south of Nablus. In September 2019, the Israeli Central Command signed an order that expanded the settlment’s jurisdiction, a move which paved the way for the approval of these new units (see our September 2019 report). According to Peace Now, this plan – if implemented – will significantly expand both settlement’s population and its physical footprint.
- 206 units in the Tzofim settlement, located north of the Palestinian town of Qalqilya – a town completely encircled by Israel’s seperation barrier (except for a single road connecting it to the rest of the West Bank) – in the northern West Bank.
- 166 units in the Alei Zahav settlement, located in a string of settlements stretching across the northern West Bank. Alei Zahav and its settlement neighbors create a contiguous Israeli populated areas linking Israel proper (west of the Green Line) all the way to the Ariel settlement, located in the heart of the West Bank (the eastern end of Ariel is closer to the Jordan border than to the Green Line). Notably, Alei Zahav is one of the settlements in which the “market principle” has been applied to legalize settlers theft of land recognized by Israel as belonging to Palestinians (see our July 2019 report).
- 140 units in the Mezadot Yehuda settlement, located at the very southern tip of the West Bank, just south of the Palestinian village of Susya, which the Israeli government has been threatening to demolish for years. This plan would nearly double the number of authorized units in the settlement.
Also receiving final approval for validation:
- A plan to retroactively legalize the illegal Brosh outpost in the Jordan Valley. According to Peace Now, the Brosh settlement serves as an educational institution that houses hundreds of students and families of staff members.
- A plan to build a tourist/visitors center in the Shilo settlement – where settlers and the Israeli government have been investing in developing tourism sites for Jewish and evangelical tourists.
The 1,623 units which were deposited for public review include:
- 609 units in the Beitar Illit settlement, located west of Bethlehem, near the Green Line. Beitar Illit is a massive, fast-growing ultra-Orthodox settlement.
- 382 housing units in the Dolev settlement, located west of Ramallah. This is a significant plan for Dolev, as it will more than double the number of existing units. Prime Minister Netanyahu previously promised to build 300 new units in Dolev in response to a Palestinian-perpetrated bombing at a spring (which settlers had taken over from Palestinians) near the settlement that killed a 17-year old Israeli and injured several others.
- 182 units in the Mevo’ot Yericho settlement, located north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley. The validation of this plan is the actualization of the Israeli security cabinet decision to grant the illegal outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho retroactive legalization, an action for which the security cabinet urgently convened on the eve of the September 19th elections. The plan approved by the High Planning Council on Oct. 10th granted legalization to the existing 20 existing units and, if implemented, will allow the settlement to significantly expand.
- 146 units in the Kfar Etzion settlement, located southwest of Bethlehem.
- 140 units in the Kerem Reim outpost located north west of Ramallah. Peace Now has repeatedly challenged the illegal construction of the Kerem Reim outpost, which the Israeli government retroactively legalized by declaring it a neighborhood of the Talmon settlement even though the areas are non-contiguous. Though a court rejected one Peace Now petition, there is an ongoing case against the Amana settler organization which Peace Now alleges engaged in illegal activities to build the outpost.
- 100 units in the Nokdim settlement, located southeast of Bethlehem. Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman – currently one of the most important figures in the race to form a governing coalition – lives in Nokdim.
- 64 units in the Telem settlement, located west of Hebron.
- A plan to build new shops and services in the Kochav Yakov settlement, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Peace Now said in a statement:
“The figures speak for themselves. Netanyahu continues to sabotage the possibility of a political agreement with the Palestinians by promoting more settlement construction in the West Bank, including in places where Israel may have to evacuate as part of a future agreement. This is yet another dangerous step for both Israel and the Palestinians, led by a transitional prime minister whom the public did not trust in his policies. The next government must put a freeze on the development of settlements and to strive for immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions and to end the bloody conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.”
The European Union issued a statement criticizing the approvals, saying:
“The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Israeli authorities also approved a building permit for the construction of a new tunnel road, which bypasses Bethlehem to the west. The progressive construction of a separate road network, connecting settlements and outposts to each other and to the road network in Israel while circumventing Palestinian towns and communities, is entrenching the fragmentation of the West Bank. The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power. The EU will continue to support a resumption of a meaningful process towards a negotiated two-state solution, the only realistic and viable way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties.”
Israeli Government Approves Settler-Initiated Plans for Cable Car in Jerusalem — Despite Professional, Human Rights Objections
On November 4th, the Israeli Housing Cabinet approved a settler-initiated plans to build a cable car line in East Jerusalem, despite the fact that the Israeli Attorney General has not yet rendered a decision on whether plans for such a significant and sensitive project can be advanced by a caretaker Israeli government. Emek Shaveh – an Israeli NGO fighting the politicization of archeology in Jerusalem – announced that it intends to appeal the approval to the Israeli Supreme Court.
As FMEP has repeatedly covered, this Jerusalem cable car project is an initiative of the Elad settler organization (which is building a massive tourism center – the Kedem Center – in the Silwan neighborhood, which will be a stop along the cable car’s route). The scheme is intended to further entrench settler control, via archeology and tourism sites, inside the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, while simultaneously delegitimizing, dispossessing, and erasing the Palestinian presence there. Non-governmental organizations like Emek Shaveh, Who Profits, and Terrestrial Jerusalem have repeatedly discredited the government’s contention that the cable car serves a legitimate transportation need in Jerusalem, and have clearly enumerated the obvious political drivers behind the plan, the archeological heresies it validates, and the severe impacts the cable car project will have on Palestinian residents of Silwan.
Ir Amim field researcher Aviv Tartarsky told Middle East Eye:
‘The project is a way to whitewash Israel’s taking of areas in Silwan to use for archaeological and touristic reasons…If someone wants to go to the Western Wall of the Old City, they have to go through the ELAD activity centre. This project will give ELAD legitimacy and influence, as it is taking part in a governmental project. This is the political reason for why the government is doing this project,’ Tatarsky said.”
In October 2019 the Israeli government issued a construction tender to build a waste-to-energy plant in the West Bank, on an area of land that is within the jurisdiction of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement where several Palestinian Bedouin communities live. The plant – which is expected to cost USD $284 million (1 billion NIS) – will treat Israeli-generated waste.
“For many years, Israel has been taking advantage of its power as occupier to transfer the treatment of waste (including hazardous waste) and sewage from its sovereign territory to the West Bank. To that end, it has created a situation in which environmental legislation in the West Bank is much laxer than inside Israel, conveniently overlooking the long-term impact of environmental hazards on the Palestinian population and on natural resources, and neglecting to prepare future rehabilitation plans. This has created a financial incentive to transfer the treatment of environmental hazards from Israel to the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the occupied territory are the ones to pay the price for this environmental damage, even though they were never asked their opinion on the matter and although, as a population under occupation, they have no political power and no real ability to resist.”
B’Tselem also takes aim at the European Union (EU), which has invested millions in the implementation of the Isareli Ministry of Environmental Protection’s 2030 strategic plan, of which the waste-to-energy treatment plant is a part. B’Tselem writes:
“In 2019, Israel and the EU signed an agreement as part of the EU’s twinning instrument, which establishes cooperation with the EU’s neighboring countries, guaranteeing Israel approximately 1.5 million euros over the next two years to support the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s implementation of its 2030 strategic plan. In the agreement, Israel committed to creating a legal framework that adopts European practices and standardization for sustainable waste treatment. As in every agreement between the EU and Israel, it contains a territorial clause that stipulates that it will not apply beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. Yet the EU’s support for the ministry’s strategic plan – which defines the establishment of the plant at Ma’ale Adumim as a goal and presents the exploitation of West Bank land to resolve environmental problems as a matter of course – empties this annex of meaning. By supporting this plan, the EU will be supplying Israel with knowledge and experience that will help deepen its exploitation of Palestinian land resources and bolster the economic status of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.”
Israeli political figures appear to be done waiting for a new government to be formed before acting on the loud signals from the Trump Administration supporting Israeli annexation of West Bank land.
On November 4th, Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked filed a bill with the Knesset to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley, the Ma’ale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem, and all 22 settlements and 75,000 Israeli settlers in what is broadly termed the Etzion “settlement bloc” located south of Bethlehem. Shaked’s bill calls for Israel to “apply sovereignty” to these settlements, which in practice would constitute the annexation of the settlements. Applying Israel law to areas outside of Israel’s sovereign borders is de facto annexation, as FMEP has explained and documented.
Shaked urged expeditious consideration of the bill, saying:
“There is a diplomatic window of opportunity and willingness on the part of the US for this kind of annexation that will not return. We cannot afford to hesitate or wait. We must take advantage of this window of opportunity immediately and begin to apply sovereignty over these areas. It is for this reason that the State of Israel cannot be dragged into another election cycle.”
“It’s time to make the residents of the Jordan Valley legal Israeli citizens, thus kick-starting the development and prosperity of the region.The communities of the Jordan Valley and their residents are a strategic resource of the highest order for Israel. There is a wide consensus today about the region, following the long-awaited U.S. president’s recognition of the Golan Heights as under Israeli sovereignty. It is time to do the same with the Jordan Valley. After Blue and White leader Benny Gantz proposed to do the same, I call upon him and my fellow party members to support my proposal.”
In March 2019, ahead of the first round of Israeli elections this year, leaked reports suggested that U.S. diplomats were engaged in discussions with Israel about the latter’s intention to annex several “settlement blocs” – even more so-called blocs than called for by Shaked’s latest plan – following the elections. The reports were not corroborated by U.S. sources, but in the intervening time U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has made repeated statements to the press (in addition to speculative reporting about a forthcoming U.S. political plan) in support of Israel’s right to annex territory in the West Bank – cues the Israeli government has enthusiastically welcomed. In the lead-up to the September elections, Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley should he be reelected, a plan endorsed by his rival Benny Gantz and supported by then-U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.
As a reminder, over the years there has been no shortage of attempts to normalize the idea that Israel will retain “settlement blocs” in any negotiated peace agreement — logic that originally applied narrowly to the Etzion bloc (defined on much less expansive terms), Maale Adumim, and, in the eyes of some, Ariel. The terminology has been exploited for decades by the Israeli government to convey legitimacy to building in the so-called “blocs.” Over the years the definition of what is a “bloc” has been twisted to include a much larger idea of the Etzion bloc, as well as the entire Jordan Valley. The implied idea regarding what the blocs are and the fact that they are inarguably Israel’s to keep, is incredibly misleading. The term “settlement blocs” has no formal definition or legal standing, and the future of the blocs – no matter how they are defined – is indisputably a matter at the heart of what will one day be negotiations aimed at a two-state solution (if there is ever to be such a solution). For more context, see resources from Americans for Peace Now here and here. (NOTE: A Haaretz investigation last year estimated that a total of 380,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, of which 170,000 live outside of the so-called blocs, as defined by Haaretz).
On November 1st, Israeli Minister of Transportation Bezalel Smotrich unveiled a new government plan to advance Israeli “sovereignty through transportation.” The plan calls for massive investment (USD $283 million) in new/expanded roads and rails lines, for the express purpose of more seamlessly integrating Israeli settlements into Israel proper. Smotrich made clear that his ultimate goal is the complete integration of the West Bank into the national planning mechanisms of Israel proper. The move will erase the government’s current distinction between transportation projects in the West Bank (across the Green Line) and Israel proper [fun note: the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an official map posted on its website entitled, “Transportation and Built-Up Areas” that includes the entire West Bank as part of Israel).
Touting the significance of his plan, Smotrich said:
“I do not give preference to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] but also am not willing to continue the discrimination. These areas will receive treatment just like anywhere else in Israel. While it is only about roads and trains, it has political significance.”
Smotrich created a new bureau for “Judea and Samaria Planning” within the Transportation Ministry to oversee the implementation of this project, and more generally ensure that the ministry is geared towards serving the settlements as a matter of normal business. The institutionalization of such bureaucratic structures within the Israeli government is a significant, and often overlooked, mechanism by which the Israeli government has been engaging in annexation for years. The new bureau – much like parallel structures former Minister Ayelet Shaked set up in the Justice Ministry – is a formal and public statement that the Israeli government is pursuing (and allocating resources to) annexing the settlements.
It should be noted that Israel has used infrastructure projects in the West Bank to advance its settlement agenda, and to further fragment Palestinian life – two completementary goals powerfully explained by B’Tselem in a recently released interactive: “Conquer and Divide: The Shattering of Palestinian Space by Israel.”
FMEP tracks developments related to the ongoing annexation of West Bank land in its Annexation Policies Tables.
On November 6th, Israeli Cultural & Sports Minister Miri Regev announced new government funding for film projects initiated by Israeli settlers. According to the guidelines, the new funding will support Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements who want to make documentaries and films.It is widely understood that the goal is to encourage the creation of more pro-settlement propaganda.
Celebrating her new initiative, Regev essentially admitted that annexation was her motive, saying:
“I made a promise and I am keeping my promise! We are making history today. The Culture and Sports Ministry will support the regional production of films in the north, and for the first time in Judea and Samaria too, and in the hope that in the near future also in the south… The wheels of cultural justice, which bring to expression the range of voices in Israeli society, have worked quickly and now another stage in correcting the cultural map in Israel has been completed. The artists from the periphery, the north and from Judea and Samaria, will become more and more in the center of things, not just on stage but also on the screens. Soon we will allow them to express their ability and talent.”
One critic of the fund, Israeli producer Liran Atzmor, nailed why the new fund is highly problematic and a tool of de facto annexation:
“Setting up a fund that supports filmmaking in the occupied territories with Israeli taxpayers’ money amounts to creeping annexation, which is happening in many areas, obviously, but is happening now more forcefully in the realm of culture, thanks to this fund. As long as the fate of those territories has not been determined, one cannot accept the fact that public funds are distributed there to people of only one color, one nationality and one religion.”
Shlomo Eldar writes:
“…And that is the whole point, to show life in the settlements in a positive light, as a Zionist enterprise glorifying the State of Israel. Head of the Samaria Regional Council Yossi Dagan described the fund as a ‘giant piece of good news. … I believe this move will bring the story of Judea and Samaria to the big screen. … I call on all artists to take part in this party, to come and film in Judea and Samaria and tell its story, so that we can present the public with other faces and other stories that have yet to be seen on the screen’.”
Libby Lenkinski, Vice President of the New Israel Fund, explained in a tweet:
“Creeping annexation and normalization of settlements is not just happening on the land, it’s also a narrative strategy that uses arts and culture funding to move forward. #StopAnnexation”
Despite delays and scandals, the sparkling new medical school at Ariel University has officially launched its first school year, with a ceremony attended by a who’s-who of settlement financiers and supporter rejoicing in the opening of the school and in the implications of its opening for the Greater Israel enterprise.
Dr. Miriam Adelson and her husband, Trump-backer/U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, were in attendance. The Adelsons donated $20 million to the medical school, which was named after Miriam. Addressing the crowd, Dr. Adelson said:
“In Israel, being Israel, we also had to withstand our tribulations. In Israel, being Israel, there were opponents who tried to block the establishment of a critical institution on ancient Jewish land and to deny us legitimacy. But we won, Zionism won, the truth won.”
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman recited the “shehecheyanu,” a prayer of gratitude to God, as part of his speech, also exclaiming:
“A new medical school has opened in Samaria. It’s worth saying that again: A new medical school has opened in Samaria! How many people ever thought those words would be spoken?…The United States Embassy enjoys warm relations with Ariel University, and we are inspired by its contributions to Israeli society and to the scientific world.” [NOTE: “Samaria” is a biblical name used mainly by settlers and their allies to refer to the northern part of the West Bank]
MK Naftali Bennet put an even finer point on the significance of opening a medical school in Ariel settlement, saying:
“No longer is there a Green Line. We are one [united] Israel and that is how it should be. We are going to serve everyone here.”
There are 70 Israeli students enrolled to attend the settlement university. Even though classes are set to begin, the medical school still does not have an approved budget for the 2020 school year.
As a reminder, the Ariel settlement is located in the heart of the northern West Bank, reaching literally to the midpoint between the Green Line and the Jordan border. The future of Ariel has long been one of the greatest challenges to any possible peace agreement, since any plan to attach Ariel to Israel will cut the northern West Bank into pieces. Nonetheless, in February 2018, the Israeli Knesset passed a law extending the jurisdiction of the Israeli Council on Higher Education to universities in the settlements (beyond Israel’s sovereign borders) – an act of de facto annexation. The law was necessary to ensure that the Ariel settlement medical school (and its graduates) would be entitled to all the same rights, privileges, and certifications as schools and students in sovereign Israel. FMEP has tracked this process, and all other annexation policies in its Annexation Policy tables. A fuller history of the Ariel Medical School saga can be found here.
David Elhayani was narrowly elected to serve as the next Chairman of the powerful settler Yesha Council – an umbrella body representing all the settlement regional councils. Elhayani is a well known personality, having served for 10 years as the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council (a quasi municipal body serving the needs and interests of settlements in the Jordan Valley).
The Times of Israel’s settlement correspondent Jacob Magid explains the relevant politics involved behind Elhayani’s narrow victory over Yigal Lahav, a younger, more radical voice:
“Elhayani and Lahav represented opposite sides of an intensifying rift between an older generation of settler leaders that is closely aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a younger group of council chairmen who believe in acting more aggressively on behalf of the movement, even if that means being at odds with right-wing governments that the Likud chief has led. Elhayani, from the old-timer’s camp, edged out Lahav 13-12 after the votes of 24 West Bank council chairman plus settler elder Zeev ‘Zambish’ Hever were counted.”
Elhayani addressed the dynamics of the old guard (of which he is a part) vs. new, more radical, guard ahead of the elections, saying:
“There’s a crisis of trust in the Yesha Council where many council chairmen don’t see the body as being capable of serving the needs of their residents. Many council chairmen don’t show up to Yesha meetings at all.”
Elhayani promised a more “aggressive” demeanor so that those the Council represents will see that they “finally have someone who will fight for them.” So, despite being what some settlers may consider the “mainstream,” i.e. less willing to aggressively challenge the perceived slow-walking of settlement expansion and annexation by the Israeli government, Elhayani is still best understood as an ideologue in his own right.
Ahead of the vote, Elhayani did offer strong criticism of what he sees to be the Isareli government’s discrimination against the settlements, saying that he will fight for better “quality of life”for the settlements – making infrastructure as a core part of his agenda:
“Our residents are sick of the poor infrastructure that has led to power outages, water shortages and traffic jams. It is the responsibility of settler leadership to provide adequate services. You cannot improve quality of life until you improve infrastructure. We still need to be aggressive in demanding infrastructure improvements in the meantime, in addition to preventing a Palestinian takeover of Area C so that there will be something to [annex] when the time comes.”
Israeli Official Calls on Evangelicals to Defend Settlements, Fight BDS, and Support “Economic Peace”
Speaking to an audience of leaders in the evangelical media world, a top Netanyahu aid asked the crowd to join Israeli government efforts to defend the legitimacy and permanence of the settlements, and coached the crowd on how to frame settlements in a way that advances their normalization.
This was the third annual “Christian Media Summit” hosted by the Israeli Government Press Office to develop the group into “ambassadors for Israel.” According to Haaretz, the 2019 event was attended by approximately 150 journalists, mostly from the United States, working for Christian media outlets from 30 different countries. Entitled, “Between Jerusalem and the Golan: International Recognition,” the event featured addresses by Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. U.S. Ambassador David Friedman attended as well.
Speaking to the group, Deputy Chief of Foreign Affairs Reuven Azar said:
“The return of Jews to Judea and Samaria is not a curse, it’s a blessing for all the residents of the area…Calling for their expulsion is a recipe for destruction and for chaos… Look what happened when we went out of Gaza. Our presence in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and in Jerusalem brings stability… because we bring security by fighting the bad guys…We must partner in embracing our brothers and sisters who live in Judea and Samaria, and fight against those who claim their presence is illegal, or try to dehumanize them through different means. Help us to fight boycotts, they are not just, and they hurt us and they hurt our neighbors even more. ‘The revival of the Jewish people in the land of Israel is a divine promise being fulfilled…It is a blessing for our people, our region, for the world. A force for good, a force for peace, prosperity and happiness’.”
Following his remarks, the Front for the Protection of Democracy – an Israeli NGO – filed a complaint with the Civil Service Commission seeking disciplinary action against Azar. The Prime Minister’s Office quickly came to Azar’s defense, saying: “Political adviser Reuven Azar expressed government policy.”
Azar repeatedly referred to settlements as “communities” – a term that erases the illegality of those “communities” under international law. This pro-settlement framing was recently endorsed by outgoing U.S. advisor Jason Greenblatt. Azar also touted the now familiar but Orwellian claim that settlements are an economic gift to the Palestinians, claiming that “communities [settlements] in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] provide opportunities, and jobs…” Azar invited the audience to visit the Barkan industrial zone, stating: “The best paying jobs for Palestinians are in Barkan.”
As FMEP has previously explained, for decades Israel has used industrial zones as another tool to expand and deepen control over West Bank land and natural resources. Industrial zones perpetuate Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources), and that it is Orwellian to label such initiatives as “coexistence” programs, or to suggest that they offer the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Importantly, jobs in industrial zones – often the only jobs available for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that prevents the development of any normal Palestinian economy – are widely viewed by Palestinians as a double-edged sword.
- “Five Settlers Arrested on Suspicion of Attacking Israeli Policemen at West Bank Outpost” (Haaretz)
- “Israel’s Right New Bank – The Jewish National Fund” (Haaretz)
- “Why did Microsoft fund an Israeli firm that surveils West Bank Palestinians?” (NBC News)
- “Israeli Schools Teach Pro-settler Religious Nationalism Is the Only Way to Be Jewish” (Haaretz)
- “A Wall, Arrests and Close Surveillance: How Israel Fences in a Palestinian Family” (Haaretz)
- “Hilltop Youth Battle The IDF Over Expulsion Order “ (JNS)
- “Welcomed, then Attacked by Yitzhar” (New Voices)