Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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October 18, 2018
- Full Speed Ahead on “Legalizing” Illegal Outposts
- Israeli Cabinet Approves $6.1 Million in Funding for New Settlement in Hebron
- Ambassador Friedman Stand With Settlers (Literally) in Ariel
- Closure of U.S. Consulate Stokes Annexation Hopes/Fears
- B’Tselem Head to UN Security Council: Israel’s Settlement Policies Have Created Bantustans in West Bank
- If Not Now: 5 Ways American Jews Are Supporting Occupation
- Arab League Issues Report Slamming “Accelerating” Settlement Growth and “Apartheid” Policies
- Bonus Read
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two outpost-related developments this week underscore the Israeli governments seriousness about moving ahead with its plans to suspend even the pretense of respect for the rule of law for the sake of settlements.
First, the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee is calling for the Israeli Civil Administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu to act by the end of the year to retroactively legalize 20 settlement outposts built on without Israeli government authorization on privately owned Palestinian land, with 50 more outposts to follow. Speaking to the Knesset Committee on October 15th, Pinchas Wallerstein, the longtime settler leader whom the government appointed to lead its ongoing effort to move ahead with legalization of the outposts, argued that the Civil Administration can “easily” authorize 15-20 outposts by including them as neighborhoods of existing settlements, and that an additional 50 outposts can be legalized but will require more complicated solutions. It is worth recalling here that in the years before the took this new job, Wallerstein: was prosecuted for knowingly violating Israeli law by illegally building a sewage plant near the Ofra settlement on private Palestinian land; admitted to issuing forged building permits for settlement construction without the authority to do so; and admitted to lying to government authorities to expedite the construction of the (since evacuated) building the Amona outpost. The Civil Administration’s High Planning Council – the arm of the Israeli Defense Ministry which is the sovereign power in the West Bank (and therefore responsible for regulating construction there) – is expected to meet one more time this year to advance and approve settlement construction plans.
As FMEP has tracked, the effort to legalize 70 outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land started in earnest following the passage of the Regulation Law in February 2017. That law gave the Israeli government new, sweeping authority to legalize outposts the status of which it has been unable to otherwise address under existing Israeli law (which, consistent with a basic tenet of rule of law, did not permit the State, in effect, to condone one set of individuals engaging in the outright theft of private property belonging to another set of individuals). Notably, the 2005 Sasson Report concluded that there was no possible way to legalize outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land, and concluded that all such outposts should be evacuated. However, based on new authorities granted to the government under the Regulation Law, the Israeli government has moved ahead with legalization efforts, despite the fact that the Regulation Law was subsequently frozen while the High Court weighs its constitutionality (and remains frozen at this time). These efforts include establishing in May 2017 a special committee (known as the Zandberg Committee, named for its chairwoman, Haya Zandberg, who was since named a Jerusalem district court judge), which in May 2018 issued recommendations for how Israel could retroactively legalize all outposts within three years; and they included appointing Pinchas Wallerstein to take charge of the subsequent legalization push (despite pushback from the Justice Ministry).
In July 2018, MKs Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) sought to speed up the implementation of the Zandberg Report’s recommendations by submitting a bill for consideration by the Israeli Cabinet, aiming to directly legalize the 70 unauthorized outposts across the West Bank. The Cabinet has not yet called that bill up for consideration.
In this week’s second outpost-related development, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has received approval to appoint a Justice Ministry representative to the coordination team which supervises and directs the work of the outpost legalization committee described above. Taking orders from and reporting to Shaked, the new Justice Ministry representative to the coordination team will ensure that Shaked’s influence shapes the committee’s work. FMEP has repeatedly documented the many ways Shaked has inserted herself into government matters involving settlements and outposts – all in order to ensure the Israeli government acts to protect settlers, ensure their continued permanence in the West Bank, and prepare the way for the ultimate annexation of Area C. The totality of Shaked’s efforts are documented, on an ongoing basis, in FMEP’s Annexation Policy Tables.
To be clear: if implemented, the retroactive legalization of outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land will dismantle even the pretense of Israeli respect for the rule of law in West Bank, in effect rewarding Israelis for breaking the law. It will do so not for the sake of Israeli security or the interests of the Israeli population as a whole, but rather for the sole benefit of settlers. If implemented, the recommendations will “legalize” the outright theft of land recognized by Israel as privately owned by Palestinians and will lay the groundwork for continued, additional expropriation of privately-owned land for settlement-related construction.
Developments related to these efforts are tracked in FMEP’s annexation policy tables.
On October 14th, the Israeli Cabinet voted to expedite the establishment of a new settlement in the heart of downtown Hebron and pay the bill – totalling $6.1 million (22 million shekels) – from several ministries – for its construction. FMEP reported on the plan for 31 settlement units on Shuhada Street in last week’s Settlement Report, including two legal challenges filed by Peace Now and the (Palestinian) Municipality of Hebron. If implemented, this will be the first new government-backed settlement in downtown Hebron since 2002.
The new settlement will require significant renovations to transform a military base into a new settlement, to include 31 residential units, a kindergarten, and “public areas.” The Defense Ministry will contribute about $770,000 (2.8 million shekels), and the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Ministries of Social Equality, Justice, and Education are also committed to subsidizing the project.
MK Ayman Odeh (Joint List) slammed the Cabinet’s decision, saying:
“Twenty-two million shekels to expand the occupation. Straight from government ministries near your home. The divisive and inciting right-wing government is continuing to inflame the region and then shouts that there is no partner. For the benefit of a handful of extremist settlers, the government is trampling its citizens.”
While making a very strong political statement with his attendance at a private business conference in the Ariel settlement, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman continued to publicly champion settlement industrial zones as meaningful “coexistence” and “peace” projects that advance U.S. peace efforts. Following the event, Ambassador Friedman tweeted:
“At the invitation of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, I met in Ariel with Palestinian & Israeli business leaders ready, willing & able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace & we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”
A U.S. Embassy spokesperson released a statement on the Ambassador’s support for business “coexistence” programs, saying:
“In support of the President’s peace plan, U.S. Ambassador Friedman is working to promote peaceful coexistence and stronger people to people connections between Israelis and Palestinians because people that work together and do business together are more likely to form bonds of friendship and live together in peace. The ambassador was encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment of the Israeli and Palestinian business leaders he met with yesterday to work together to create more economic opportunity and peaceful coexistence within the region.”
In last week’s settlement report, FMEP linked to several resources acknowledging and explaining the perversity of labeling Israel’s economic exploitation of occupied territory (including the local workforce, land, and other natural resources) “coexistence” or suggesting that it brings to the Palestinians benefits they should welcome. Adding to that, a new piece in The New York Times quoted a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority explaining the Orwellian reality of settlement industrial zones:
“Somebody occupies your country, steals your land, steals your water, steals your resources, then says: ‘I’ll make a good deal for you if you come work for me. I’ll create jobs for you. We are not occupiers. We are employers.’ This is ridiculous. The colonial settlements are illegal in every sense of the word.”
The media also widely reported this week that Friedman’s participation in the event at Ariel was the first time a U.S. ambassador had traveled to an Israeli settlement in his/her official capacity – despite the fact that Friedman has previously visited settlements since taking up official duties. Regardless, Friedman’s very public act of traveling to and speaking at Ariel should put to rest any remaining speculation about whether the U.S. had changed its policy refraining from official travel there.
Americans for Peace Now reacted to the events of the week, saying:
“Friedman’s idea of Israeli-Palestinian peaceful coexistence is what he found under Israeli military occupation, in a settlement that is one of the largest obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
J Street released a statement saying:
“By making an official public appearance at an event in an Israeli West Bank settlement, Ambassador Friedman once again crossed a major, longstanding red line of bipartisan US policy. The Trump administration continues to send a clear message of support for the settlement movement and the agenda of the Israeli right. Indeed, the ambassador, himself a longtime benefactor of the settlement movement, has actively worked to erode the distinction between Israel and the occupied territory it controls beyond the Green Line. With unprecedented actions like these, the Trump administration is driving home the point that they have no real interest in promoting a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — now or in the future.”
On October 18th, the U.S. State Department announced that it is closing the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and folding its functions into a new “Palestinian Affairs Unit” within the U.S. Embassy. For decades, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem – one of the only fully independent Consulates the U.S. maintains anywhere in the world, reporting directly to Washington, rather than operating under the authority of an embassy – has functioned as the de facto U.S. embassy to the Palestinians. As such, its existence carried important symbolism for Palestinian national aspirations, signaling that the U.S. viewed Palestinian affairs and its relations with Palestinians and their leaders not merely as a subset of issues between Israel, but as a matter of importance to the U.S. in its own right, and as a separate bilateral relationship.
The downgrading of U.S. relations with the Palestinians implied by this shift in operations – the implications of which are well understood both by Palestinians and the Israeli right – has inspired celebration from Israel’s pro-annexationist leaders, and stoked despair amongst Palestinians.
Commenting on the move, FMEP President Lara Friedman tweeted:
“Added to recent closure of PLO mission in Washington, it cements new reality of US w/ NO direct, bilateral relationship with Palestinians – any/all relations will now be wholly-owned subsidiary of US-Israel ties…completing the roll-back of relations to pre-Madrid era.”
Saeb Erekat released a statement saying:
“The Trump Administration is making clear that it is working together with the Israeli Government to impose Greater Israel rather than the two-state solution on the 1967 border. The US administration has fully endorsed the Israeli narrative, including on Jerusalem, Refugees and Settlements.”
Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and current Deputy Minister for Diplomacy, MK Michael Oren tweeted:
“A great day for Israel, Jerusalem, and the United States. SoS Pompeo’s announcement closing the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and transferring its responsibilities to the embassy ends the last vestige of American support for the city’s division. Israel is deeply grateful.”
Peace Now tweeted:
“The downgrading of the unofficial US embassy for Palestinians in Jerusalem coincides this week with the US Ambassador to Israel’s decision to cross the red line on visiting settlements when he visited Ariel. The writing is on the wall.”
Americans for Peace Now released a statement saying:
“Downgrading the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians to a subsidiary of the US embassy to Israel signals that American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed dramatically. It puts a giant question mark over the assumption of a future Palestinian state. It is yet another gesture in a series of humiliating measures toward the Palestinians and their leadership by the Trump administration. More than anything, this measure signals an acceptance, if not outright embrace, of Israel’s accelerating process of annexing the West Bank, a declared goal of the most extreme right-wing elements in Israel’s governing coalition. The fact that this ‘merger’ (more accurately, a hostile takeover) will be led by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman makes this development even more alarming. David Friedman has openly and publicly attacked the two-state solution. He is an avid supporter and past financier of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and has been openly contemptuous of the Palestinian leadership, availing himself of any opportunity to demean it. Disastrously, Friedman has emerged as the architect of the Trump administration’s calamitous policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and no one within the administration is willing or able to stop him from ramming through his agenda.”
B’Tselem Head to UN Security Council: Israel’s Settlement Policies Have Created Bantustans in West Bank
Addressing the United Nations Security Council on October 18, 2018, B’Tselem President Hagai El-Ad said:
“…All this is often referred to as “the status quo.” Yet there is nothing static about this reality. It is a calculated and deliberate process of slowly splitting up an entire people, fragmenting their land, and disrupting their lives: separating Gaza from the West Bank, breaking up the West Bank into small enclaves, and walling off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Eventually, what remains are isolated bits, the easier to oppress: a family slated for “eviction” in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan; a community such as ‘Urif, south of Nablus, trying against all odds to hold on to its land and farm it in the face of Israel’s long arm of unchecked settler violence; or Area A of the West Bank, conveniently said to be “under full Palestinian control,” but in fact essentially large Bantustans, slowly but surely being hemmed in by ever more new or expanding Israeli settlements. None of this is random. All of it is policy-driven. Two of the latest and most conspicuous examples are Israel’s conduct in the recent protests in Gaza, and its plans for Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian shepherding community. Some 200 people live in Khan al-Ahmar, just a few kilometers east of Jerusalem, in an area where Israel has long endeavored to minimize Palestinian presence and expand settlements.”
The American Jewish group If Not Now published a new report entitled, “Beyond Talk: Five Ways the American Jewish Establishment Supports the Occupation.” Settlements factor in heavily in the critique.
A few of If Not Now’s findings:
- Between 2009 and 2013, 50 American 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations gave over $220 million in tax-deductible donations to settlements and other extreme right-wing organizations, according to an investigation of American and American Jewish organizations’ IRS tax forms conducted by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
- Jewish Federations in cities around the country allow donors to funnel money through donor-advised funds to pro-Occupation organizations that fund extreme right-wing settlers. At the same time, they prevent donors from using these funds to support groups that have expressed support for Palestinian rights, such as the National Lawyers Guild, Jewish Voice for Peace, and IfNotNow.
- In addition to lobbying for Israel, the majority of Jewish institutions lobby against any and all criticism of Israel’s Occupation. Of all American Jewish organizations with large national memberships, only Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, and the New Israel Fund supported the U.S. administration’s abstention in the December 2016 United Nations Security Council Resolution recognizing Israel’s settlements as illegal under international law. The mixture of condemnation and silence from every other national American Jewish organization demonstrates an investment in a status quo that benefits settlement expansion over Palestinian rights.
The entire report (with extensive citations for the above facts) is available online here.
On October 14th, the Arab League issued a report condemning Israeli settlement construction, which the group cites as happening at “an accelerating pace amid U.S. acceptance and encouragement and absence of international accountability.” The report continues, “Israel systematically allocates lands for Jews as part of a policy that can only be described as apartheid.”
- “Settlers Accused of Targeting Palestinian Olive Trees As Harvest Kicks Off” (Times of Israel)