Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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October 20, 2017
- Israel Advances 2,646 Settlement Units
- Construction of the Givat Hamatos Settlement in East Jerusalem is Underway
- Israel to Invest in $939 Million “Settler Security Package” for Settlements Across the West Bank
- Court Orders Evacuation of Settlers from “Machpelah House” in Hebron
- As Olive Harvest Begins, Settlers Steal and Destroy the Palestinian Crop
- Labor Chairman Shocks Israeli Left with Defense of Settlements
- Bonus Reads
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This week the Netanyahu government advanced plans for a total of 2,646 settlements units across the West Bank. According to Israel’s veteran settlement watch organization, Peace Now, the Israeli government has advanced plans for 6,742 new settlement units so far in 2017, a steep escalation from previous years.
As we reported last week, these advancements include several provocative plans that will “compensate” settlers who had built illegally in the West Bank (296 units in Beit El, 102 units in the brand-new settlement of Amichai, and 86 units in Kochav Yaakov), move towards retroactively legalizing an illegal outpost (the Netiv Ha’avot plan, which the High Planning Council called “improper” but approved anyway), enlarge settlement enclaves in Palestinian neighborhoods (31 units on Shuhada Street in Hebron – the first new settlement construction approved inside Hebron in more than a decade. Btselem’s short video documentary on Shuhada Street is here).
The anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now said:
The Israeli government has lost all its inhibitions, while promoting settlement expansion in a record pace for recent years and distancing us daily from the possibility of a two state solution. The government is sending a clear message to settlers – build illegally and anywhere and we will find a solution for you. It is clear that Netanyahu is prioritizing his settler constituency over the rule of law and the possibility for peace.
The Palestinian Authority reacted with anger, calling on the international community and the Trump administration to intervene, saying “This settlement assault comes at a time when the administration of US President Donald Trump is exerting effort and creating the conditions that will pave the way for making a real peace.” The EU and key European nations strongly condemned the settlement approvals. Germany noted, “…each new housing unit cements a one-state reality…”
The White House issued the same talking points on settlement announcements it has since President Trump took office, expressing concern that unrestrained settlement activities does not advance the prospects for peace but saying past demands for a settlement freeze have not been helpful to negotiations.
In addition to the massive wave of settlement advancements this week, infrastructure work has started at the site of the long awaited (and much feared) Givat Hamatos settlement in East Jerusalem. Construction workers and machinery were spotted clearing the ground as the Israeli government prepares to issue the first tender for the settlement, which will green-light the construction of some 1,600 units. [image]
The construction of Givat Hamatos will be especially devastating to the two-state solution. It will complete a barrier of Israeli settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem; it will complete the encirclement and isolation of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa; and, it will be the first new Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem in 20 years.
Ir Amim writes,
Construction of Givat Hamatos – prospectively, the first new [government-backed] settlement in East Jerusalem in two decades – would cap off a wave of simultaneous developments along the southern flank of East Jerusalem to complete consolidation of Israeli control of the southern perimeter and render the two state solution nonviable.
Peace Now writes:
The preparation for a tender in Givat Hamatos, together with Netanyahu’s statements last week regarding the construction of thousands of housing units in Ma’ale Adumim with heavy hints towards E1, are all a part of the government’s effort to create a de-facto annexation and prevent the possibility for two states on the ground. Netanyahu is taking far-reaching steps, which he has thus far avoided, and by doing so he risks the two state solution and the future of Israel.
The Givat Hamatos plan received final approval two years ago, but construction was delayed in light of international pressure including interventions by the Obama administration. As FMEP reported earlier this year, at the onset of the Trump administration, reports suggested a huge slate of Jerusalem area projects would now move forward – those rumored plans included Givat Hamatos, Atarot, Ramat Shlomo, and more (including E-1). Though an official announcement of advancement of those plans has not yet been made, the movement on Givat Hamatos piques concerns of additional major new settlement developments in the Jerusalem area.
The Times of Israel reports that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is planning to allocate $939 million for projects for settlers and settlements across the West Bank. Liberman’s plan addresses the complaints of settlers who staged a protest in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s private residence earlier this week demanding enhanced security measures. Settlers complained that Netanyahu had promised the infrastructure but had not yet allocated funds to effectuate the projects. According to the Times of Israel, the $939 million package will fund:
the installation of security cameras along roads throughout the West Bank; the installation of cell phone towers to improve reception for settlers who may need to call for help; the paving of bypass roads around Palestinian towns and settlements to allow the populations to avoid each other; the bolstering of armored buses that travel through the West Bank; and broad security improvements for each settlement that will include security cameras, “smart fences” and sensors to warn of attempts to sneak into settlements.
The Israeli High Court has ordered the evacuation of settlers from a disputed home in Hebron. Settlers broke into the “Machpelah House” nearly 3 months ago, despite an ongoing legal battle to determine ownership of the home. The evacuation of the squatters had been repeatedly delayed by the political echelons and by attempts by the settlers to delay their evacuation until the Court makes a final ruling on ownership of the Machpela House, as we have previously reported. It remains to be seen if this court order will be carried out or if further delaying tactics will be brought into play.
Yesh Din has documented 10 cases of settlers destroying or stealing olives from Palestinian groves across the West Bank this week, in what has become a common occurrence this time each year. Rabbis for Human Rights has documented an additional four cases this week, calling it a “severe wave of olive theft.”
Israeli police routinely arrest, release, and forget the settlers who commit harvest-time crimes, as documented thoroughly by Yesh Din. In one incident this week, settlers were filmed stealing olives, arrested by the Israeli police, and released on the same day. Yesh Din writes:
Since 2005, we have documented around 280 investigation files dealing with damage to olive trees. Only in 6 cases were indictments served (2.2% of cases for which an investigation has been concluded). More than 93% of these cases were closed due to police failure to locate the perpetrators or to gather enough evidence to prosecute suspects.
Rabbis for Human Rights says:
These are ideologically driven hate crimes. Due to the fact that most of the thefts took place on Palestinian lands which the farmers are restricted by the Israeli army from entering, the army has an increased responsibility to protect these groves.
Avi Gabbay, the relatively unknown political outsider who was elected to be Chairman of the Israeli Labor Party earlier this year, has set off a debate within the center-left party following a series of shocking comments on settlements this week. Most pertinently, Gabbay stated that he does not believe Israel should have to evacuate settlements as part of a peace agreement – a position that is at odds with members of his own party and of the position of the Zionist Union, of which the Labor Party is a major part. He later praised Israeli settlers, saying “The settlement [project] was and remains the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism….[the settlers are] the pioneers of our generations, people who act in the face of adversity, who cause the wilderness to bloom, who realize the impossible.”
Any initial hesitancy of MKs to disagree with the party leader eventually gave way to an onslaught of Labor officials publicly discrediting the chairman’s position on the evacuation of settlements. Tzipi Livni, a member of the Hatnua party and leader of the Zionist Union that unites Labor with other left and center-left political parties, took a simple and strong line saying, “The opposition to evacuating settlements is not the position of the Zionist Union.”
Gabbay’s hardline comments on settlements were not the only remarks that landed him in hot water over the last week. He also stated that he would not agree to form a (hypothetical) government with the Arab-Israeli Joint List because, as he said, “I do not see anything that connects us to them or allows us to be in the same government with them,” and, “I don’t deal with rights of Palestinians.”
The Times of Israel recounts the contextual history of the Labor Party on the issue of settlements and the Party’s important role in previous peace negotiations:
The center-left Labor party has long been the Israeli political standard bearer for reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians — involving the relinquishing of most of the West Bank and many of the settlements — with former Labor prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak all investing considerable efforts to negotiate an accord.
- “In Jerusalem, Municipal Issues Have Political Overtones” (NPR)
- “In unprecedented move, eight European countries to demand compensation from Israel for West Bank demolitions” (Haaretz)
FMEP has long been a trusted resource on settlement-related issues, reflecting both the excellent work of our grantees on the ground and our own in-house expertise. FMEP’s focus on settlements derives from our commitment to achieving lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, and our recognition of the fact that Israeli settlements – established for the explicit purpose of dispossessing Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of land and resources, and depriving them of the very possibility of self-determination in their own state with borders based on the 1967 lines – are antithetical to that goal.