Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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October 4, 2017
- Bibi Backs Bill to Annex Settlements into Jerusalem’s Municipality (and Cut Out Palestinians)
- Tenders for Givat Hamatos to be Issued in Coming Months
- Eastern Ring Road Construction Has Started, Enabling Future E-1 Construction
- Ambassador Friedman Says Settlements Are Part of Israel, Gives Settlement Growth a Green Light
- Putting It All Together: Israeli Actions and U.S. Statements
- Update: Amichai Construction Stalled (Again)
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On October 2nd while speaking in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem, Netanyahu announced his support for the “Greater Jerusalem” bill, a piece of legislation that proposes annexing 19 settlements into Israel’s Jerusalem municipality while simultaneously creating new municipalities for Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that fall on the West Bank side of the separation wall. FMEP covered similar legislation in our July 28th Settlement Report. At the event, Netanyahu also promised thousands of new units for the settlement and vowed that it will be a part of Israel forever.
The legislation’s author, Yisrael Katz (Likud) who serves as both the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Intelligence, explained the bill’s purpose is to “strengthen Jerusalem by adding thousands of Jewish residents to the city, while simultaneously weakening the Arab hold on the capital.” Netanyahu has members of his governing coalition to formally introduce the “Greater Jerusalem” bill by the end of the year.
Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann reported previously on the bill in detail here. Writing about this latest development, he observed: “Such a move has correctly been viewed in the past as tantamount to de facto annexation and the erasure of the Green Line…a new and deeply disturbing geopolitical reality is taking shape before our very eyes.”
Terrestrial Jerusalem reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to allow tenders to be issued for the establishment of the two-state ending Givat Hamatos settlement, in the southern part of Jerusalem. Rumors of these tenders first emerged in August of this year.
If constructed, Givat Hamatos will be the first new government-backed Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem since the establishment of Har Homa in 1997. The settlement will complete the barrier of settlements that sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from Bethlehem to its south, and inside Jerusalem will complete the isolation of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa from any possible connection to the West Bank. Givat Hamatos will thus prevent a border from being drawn in Jerusalem along the lines of the Clinton Parameters (i.e., according to which Palestinian neighborhoods are part of Palestine and Israeli neighborhoods are part of Israel), and in a manner that permits the emergence of a Palestinian state with a viable capital in Jerusalem.
Peace Now reports that Israel has started construction on a controversial and highly consequential portion of the “Eastern Ring Road” in the E-1 area. If this section of the road is completed and opened, it will redirect Palestinian traffic around the E-1 settlement area, ostensibly paving the way for construction of the two-state ending settlement. In June 2017, Ir Amim reported that Israel had approved a budget for the construction of this segment of the road.
The “Eastern Ring Road” is often called the “Apartheid Road” because the separation wall runs down the middle of the road, separating Palestinian and Israeli settler traffic. Israel designed the Eastern Ring Road, which is still incomplete after years of stalled construction, to solve several problems it faces in connecting Israeli settlements to Jerusalem.
Peace Now explains:
This road is part of a future road, which, if completed, will allow Israel to build in E-1 and divide the West Bank in two on the pretext that the road provides a solution to the Palestinian need to connect north to south. However, the Palestinian need is not only a question of transportation, but also a question of territory and the possibility to develop the areas at the heart of the West Bank, without which a viable Palestinian state cannot be established.
This start of this new construction comes in the context of other developments that seem to signal a serious intent to move forward with E-1. Specifically, the ongoing Israeli government plans to expel Bedouin living in the area (discussed in detail in last week’s Settlement Report) and Netanyahu’s now open embrace of legislation to effectively annex the area to Jerusalem (discussed above).
In his first on-camera interview since taking office, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman told an Israeli news outlet that Israel’s settlements are a part of Israel, breaking with 50 years of bipartisan U.S. policy that distinguishes between sovereign Israel and its settlements.
Ambassador Friedman, who personally raised money for the Beit El settlement before taking office, said:
I think the settlements are part of Israel… There was always supposed to be some notion of expansion into the West Bank, but not necessarily expansion into the entire West Bank. And I think that’s exactly what, you know, Israel has done. I mean, they’re only occupying 2% of the West Bank. There is important nationalistic, historical, religious significance to those settlements, and I think the settlers view themselves as Israelis and Israel views the settlers as Israelis.
The U.S. Department of State has not clarified Ambassador Friedman’s remarks, but has said that his comments do not represent a shift in U.S. policy. This is the second time this month that the Administration has had to publicly distance itself from controversial pro-settlement remarks by the Ambassador. However, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert created more consternation when she was unable to clarify on record how much of the West Bank the U.S. believes to be occupied(though she was asked twice over the past week).
Additionally, days before the interview, Ambassador Friedman and U.S. Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt reportedly told Netanyahu that the U.S. accepts a distinction between what Israel calls its “settlement blocs” and far-flung, isolated settlements. Netanyahu relayed news of the (alleged) major U.S. policy shift during a private meeting with settler leaders. According to meeting participants, Netanyahu also claimed the U.S. Ambassador gave him permission to continue expanding Israeli settlements, but had warned Israel not to go overboard.
As we noted last week, actors in Israel and in the U.S. have been pushing for the U.S. to adopt such a distinction, which would allow Israel to annex the “settlement blocs” outside of the framework of a peace deal. The campaign is further evidenced by a new article written by Eli Lake, quoting Elliot Abrams extensively, defending Ambassador Friedman’s remarks about settlements being a part of Israel and arguing for Israel’s unilateral annexation of the blocs.
As we also noted last week, FMEP President Lara Friedman has written extensively against the normalization and annexation on the so-called settlement blocs. Dating back to 2013 she wrote that this approach:
“…is a recipe not for strengthening the two-state solution, but for imposing a unilateral Israeli vision of a Greater Israel extending beyond the Green Line, adjacent to a balkanized Palestinian entity. Such an outcome may be appealing to Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. apologists. It will never be acceptable to the Palestinians and the international community, and it certainly shouldn’t be mistaken for a “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Americans for Peace Now (APN) is calling on President Trump to fire Friedman. Debra DeLee, APN’s President & CEO, said that Ambassador Friedman’s comments are “outrageous, unacceptable, and flat-out wrong” and that “Americans should be appalled to hear our ambassador parrot this disingenuous argument, in effect revealing himself as a spokesman for the extremist ideological settler population, rather than a faithful representative of the US government.”
J Street also released a statement lambasting the Ambassador’s remarks, saying
Eradicating that distinction and normalizing settlements as “part of Israel” would severely damage the prospects for a two-state solution and undermine the United States’ capacity to act as helpful facilitator in reaching a deal to end the conflict. Such a change in policy would strengthen the position of Israel’s settlement movement and rejectionist right….While the State Department’s clarification is important, it remains unacceptable that the chief American diplomatic representative in Israel continues to misrepresent and undermine long-standing US policy. His statements are a stark reminder of why Friedman’s nomination to be ambassador to Israel faced an unprecedented level of congressional opposition, with a record 46 senators voting against. It is now clear that concerns about Friedman as an official representative of the United States because of his long history of close ideological and financial ties to the settlement movement were well-founded.
A few of the major Jerusalem-area developments over the past couple months include:
- The advancement of the “Greater Jerusalem” bill that will annex Israeli settlements to the Jerusalem municipality and cut out Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. [reported above]
- The advancement of settlement plans in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and surrounding settlements including Ramat Shlomo/Neve Ya’akov. [Terrestrial Jerusalem]
- An uptick in evictions and demolitions in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and Issawiya to name a few) and al-Walajah (part of al-Walajah is inside of the Jerusalem municipality, this is the area where the threat of evictions and is most acute).
- Israel’s stated plan to forcibly relocate the Khan al-Ahmar community from the area near the E-1 and Ma’ale Adumim settlements. [B’Tselem]
- News of imminent tenders for the Givat Hamatos settlement and for the expansion of the Nof Zion settlement enclave inside of a Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood. [Terrestrial Jerusalem & Peace Now]
- The resumption of construction of the “Eastern Ring Road” which paves the way for Israel to build in E-1. [Peace Now]
Over the same period, the key statements from Trump Administration officials have been:
- Amb. Friedman and Jason Greenblatt reportedly told Israel not to “go overboard” on settlement growth, but gave a clear green light for settlement growth.
- In an on-camera interview with Walla Israel, Amb. Friedman said that settlements are a part of Israel and that Israel is only occupying 2% of the West Bank.
- Amb. Friedman referred to the “alleged occupation” in an interview with the Jerusalem Post,
- The State Department has been unable to explain or clarify Ambassador Friedman’s remarks regarding the amount of the West Bank that Israel is occupying, or the status of Israeli settlements.
- The Trump administration continues its refusal to directly comment on any specific settlement announcement, and has yet to do so with this week’s news regarding the “Greater Jerusalem” bill.
The United State’s diplomatic pressure has played an historically important role in dissuading Israel from pursuing two-state ending settlement activity in the Jerusalem area. That diplomatic pressure, it seems, is no longer a factor.
The construction of the new settlement of “Amichai” has once again stalled. This week the government reportedly declined to expedite the transfer of funds to the contractor building Amichai, instead requiring the contractor to go through the planning process to acquire and additional tender. Until the tender is officially approved by the government, the contractor is unable to continue the construction due to lack of funds.
The new settlement of Amichai was approved earlier this year as a pay-off for the families who illegally established the Amona outpost and were forcibly evacuated earlier this year. Amichai is the first new West Bank settlement to be approved by the Israeli government in the past 25 years.
- “How Settlers Turn Archeological Sites Into Political Tools” (Al Monitor)
- “UN Special Envoy Says Israel Ignoring Demand to Halt Settlements” (Times of Israel)
- “Apartheid in Hebron” (Arab American Institute)
- “Goods from Israel Settlements Granted Preferential EU Trade Deals” (Middle East Monitor)
- “Despite Police Restrictions, MKs Tour East Jerusalem” (Jerusalem Post)
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.