Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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September 12, 2019
- Bibi’s Annexation Announcement, Part 1: If Re-Elected, Bibi Promises to Annex Jordan Valley, Then All Settlements/Outposts
- Bibi’s Annexation Announcement, Part 2: Jordan Valley Outpost Will Be Retroactively Approved
- Bibi’s Annexation Announcement, Part 3: Settlers Leaders Unsatisfied with Bibi’s Annexation Announcement
- Bibi’s Annexation Announcement, Part 4: International Reactions
- Government Data Is Latest Proof of Systemic East Jerusalem Inequalities & Settlement Surge Under Trump
- After Evicting Palestinian Family & Demolishing Their Home, Israel Allows Settlers to Set Up An Outpost Without Permits
- Bonus Reads
Questions or comments? Contact Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
Bibi’s Annexation Announcement, Part 1: If Re-Elected, Bibi Promises to Annex Jordan Valley, Then All Settlements/Outposts
On Tuesday, September 10th, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that, if re-elected, he will immediately move to annex the Jordan Valley. He went on to address Israeli voters watching his nationally televised speech, saying, “I ask you to give me a clear mandate to extend Israeli sovereignty over all the settlements.” Notably, Netanayhu said that he would have enacted his Jordan Valley annexation plan before the elections, but was refrained from doing so because the Israeli Attorney General advised against a caretaker government taking a decision of this magnitude.
Netanayhu’s commitment to annexing the Jordan Valley and all Israel’s settlements and outposts (reminder: Netanyahu does not distinguish between the two) is hardly a surprise, given his escalating rhetoric and policies that have enacted – and continue to expand – Israel’s de facto annexation of Palestinian land.
During his speech, the Prime Minister presented his annexation vision on a map of the Jordan Valley – a map riddled with mistake – which highlighted the area he says he intends to annex, an area which constitutes nearly a quarter of the area of the West Bank (22.3%). Within the land Netanyahu wants to annex, 30 settlements have been constructed with Israeli government approval, and settlers have established an additional 18 illegal outposts without explicit government permission (but with its tacit approval). Many of these outposts and settlements are built on privately owned Palestinian land that Israel previously declared a “closed military zone” – a designation which prevents Palestinians from legally entering the area much less building there. Israeli settlers who illegally entered into these closed areas and built in them are now being rewarded under Netanyahu’s proposed annexation.
According to Peace Now, 20% of the targeted land (62,000 acres) is privately owned by Palestinians – a fact that Netanyahu did not even mention, much less explain how he would address. Netanayahu did, however, assert that his plan “doesn’t annex a single Palestinian.” Yet, the area highlighted on the map also includes 15 Palestinian populated areas in the Jordan Valley that, under the plan, would be completely encircled by Israeli territory. Netanyahu proposed solving this problem by making these isolated enclaves “autonomous,” accessible only via Israeli-controlled access roads,
Speaking about the fate of the Palestinians, Peace Now said in a statement:
“The vision presented by the Prime Minister is, in fact, a vision of apartheid, of one country in which one group of civilians has full rights (Israeli) and another (Palestinians) does not. The autonomy and access roads Netanyahu guarantees to the Palestinians in the Valley are alarmingly similar to the Bantustan formula in former Apartheid South Africa.”
Even if one ignores the “autonomous” enclaves, Netanyahu’s claim that the plan “does not annex a single Palestinian. Not even one” is a lie. In fact, approximately 8,775 Palestinians live in 48 Palestinian herding communities located in the area he plans to annex. However, Israel’s longtime policies with regards to these Palestinian communities has been aimed at their ultimate dispossession and disappearance, a policy objective that Netanyahu’s annexation plan, particularly his denial of their very existence, makes explicit.
Peace Now said in response:
“This disregard by Netanyahu for thousands of Palestinians reflects long-standing policy in the Valley: one of dispossession and repression of Palestinian residents for the benefit of the settlers. In recent years, pressure has been exerted on the shepherding communities, both by the authorities (house demolitions, IDF training zones and the like), and by settlers who attack the shepherds and expel them from their pasturing areas. For more information, see here.”
On September 11th, a day after his “dramatic” declaration that if reelected he will immediately annex the Jordan Valley and later all settlements (and outposts), Prime Minister Netanyahu announced he will submit plans to his Cabinet that, if approved, will grant retroactive legalization to the Mevo’ot Yeriho outpost. Mevo’ot Yeriho, located just north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley, is one of 18 unauthorized Israeli outposts in the Jordan Valley that are slated to be annexed under Netanyahu’s plan (discussed above).
As with Netanyahu’s plans to annex the Jordan Valley, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has cautioned against the timing of the move. Mandelblit and the Israeli Defense Ministry’s legal advisor even released a joint legal opinion cautioning the Israeli Cabinet against authorizing granting approval to Mevo’ot Yeriho so close to an election. It’s worth recalling that the Attorney General has promoted legal arguments that will enable Israel to grant retroactive legalization to unauthorized outposts — meaning that his objection with regards to Mevo’ot Yeriho is one of timing, not substance.
The head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, David Elhayani, criticized the Attorney General’s legal objections, claiming that gaining legalization is an urgent matter for the outpost. According to The Times of Israel:
“Elhayani claimed that Israelis in the Jordan Valley are in a ‘war against our Palestinian neighbors’ over control of the open land there and that the legal advisers were preventing legalization of Israeli outposts while allowing similar Palestinian land grabs to go unchecked.”
Bibi’s Annexation Announcement, Part 3: Settlers Leaders Unsatisfied with Bibi’s Annexation Announcement
Widely panned as an election ploy, Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements/outposts was by no means an electoral home run – at least not if its goal was to rally enthusiastic support from the settlers and their allies ahead of the Sept. 17th elections. While some settlers praised Netanyahu’s announcement, others expressed skepticism about his seriousness.
A member of the Yesha Council – an umbrella group representing all of the settlements – told The Times of Israel on the basis of anonymity that settlers have made a political calculation in how they have responded to Netanyahu’s announcement:
“A lot of us [settler leaders] are members of the Likud. While we are of course free to criticize the party leader and many of us have done so in the past, we have to exercise caution during these next few days [ahead of the election].”
Within that context, the Yesha Council released a public statement of restrained thanks, saying:
“Sovereignty is the vision of the settlement movement and the path of the future for deepening our presence in the region. The Yesha Council congratulates the Prime Minister on the historic declaration, which places settlement as an integral part of the State of Israel.”
In contrast, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan (who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party) was not hesitant to share his dissatisfaction, stating:
“Alongside the praise that must be given to the prime minister for his positive statement… I must say with regret that it is still cause for great concern, particularly due to its timing… It raises considerable concern regarding the possibility of continued Jewish foothold in more than 90 percent of Judea and Samaria. If he really wanted to finally bury his  Bar Ilan speech [in which Netanyahu expressed support for a two-state solution] and the plans of Barack Hussein Obama for a Jewish retreat from Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the establishment of a terror state in the heart of the Land of Israel, a statement that talks about less than 10% of the land and only in the first stage [is not enough].”
Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz also criticized Netanyahu and called on him to immediately annex the entire West Bank:
“There is no reason in the world why Judea and Samaria residents should continue to live as second class citizens of the State of Israel. The move must be complete, applying sovereignty to the Binyamin area and throughout all of Judea and Samaria.”
The imminent Israeli elections should also be kept in mind while reading the responses of Netanyahu’s political rivals, most of whom criticized him for delaying his annexation and for stopping short of full annexation of the West Bank. Some notable reactions from Israeli political figures follow.
The Yamina Party, headed by Ayelet Shaked – who is a vocal supporter of annexing all of Area C – panned Netanyahu in a statement:
“Netanyahu explained this evening why voters must vote Yamina and not Likud… Bibi-Trump plan, will only allow for sovereignty to be applied over the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, leaving out the surrounding areas…And regarding the Jordan Valley, we call on Netanyahu to introduce a cabinet decision this evening as was done when sovereignty was applied over Jerusalem. There is no need for legislation. We will stand behind him immediately and vote in favor. Otherwise, the entire nation of Israel will know that this was a cheap political spin meant to snarf up votes and nothing more.”
For its part, the Blue & White Party, headed by Benny Gantz, took credit for getting out ahead of Netanyahu in endorsing a similar annexation plan:
“The residents of the Jordan Valley are not Netanyahu’s propaganda props. Blue and White has declared that the Jordan Valley will be part of Israel forever. It was Netanyahu who concocted a plan to surrender the Jordan Valley in [peace talks in] 2014. We’re glad Netanyahu came to his senses and adopted Blue and White’s plan for recognition of the Jordan Valley. The relationship between Israel and the United States is based on shared interests and values, and is stronger than any prime minister. Netanyahu’s spinning of Israel’s citizens will end on September 17.”
By contrast, MK Ayman Odeh (head of the Joint List) said:
“This isn’t just election spin. The right’s apartheid vision is composed of two parallel processes — erasing the civil status of Arabs in Israel as well as annexing the territories. They don’t want to turn the West Bank into part of Israel, they want to turn Israel into an appendage of the West Bank.”
Following Netanyahu’s announcement of his plan to annex the Jordan Valley and then all settlements/outposts, statements condemning the plan rang out from across the globe – except from the United States.
After the announcement, a White House official told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s annexation plans do no contradict the U.S. vision for a political settlement (hardly a surprise). A formal statement later released by the White House statement read:
“There is no change in United States policy at this time. We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region.”
In contrast, the United Kingdom responded sharply, in a short video clip release on Twitter, in which a spokesman says:
“Any proposal to annex any part of the occupied Palestinian territories or any step in that direction concerns us. We must be clear that if any such proposal comes to fruition, there will be a response.”
The spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary Antonio Guterres told the press:
“The secretary-general’s position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process. Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdictions and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect.”
A spokesperson for the European Union told the press:
“As reaffirmed in numerous Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. The policy of settlement construction and expansion, including in East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law and its continuation, and actions taken in this context undermine the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for lasting peace.”
The Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia tweeted a harsh response:
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia utterly condemns and rejects the Israeli Prime Minister’s announcement of his intention, if he won the election, to annex parts of the occupied West Bank”
Jordan’s Foreign Minister also slammed the plan, tweeting:
“We condemn announcement by Israeli PM that he intends to annex illegal settlements & Jordan Valley in occupied West Bank. This is a serious escalation that undermines all peace efforts. It’ll lead to more violence & conflict. LAS [League of Arab States] condemned announcement in emergency session”
The Arab League said in a statement that it:
“considers his announcement a dangerous development and a new Israeli aggression by declaring the intention to violate the international law. The league regards these statements as undermining the chances of any progress in the peace process and will torpedo all its foundations.”
In addition, Qatar sent out a statement criticizing “Israel’s continued contempt of international law”; Turkey said the annexation pledge as “racist”; and Saudi Arabia called for an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Saeb Erekat, a former peace negotiator for the PLO, said:
“Israel’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley, an integral part of occupied Palestinian territories, is manifestly illegal and merely adds to Israel’s long history of violations of international law. Israel’s unprecedented culture of impunity, enabled by international inaction, is the only explanation for Mr. Netanyahu’s audacity in using annexation as an election ploy, and asking the Israeli public to facilitate yet another Israeli crime.”
Government Data Is Latest Proof of Systemic East Jerusalem Inequalities & Settlement Surge Under Trump
The Jerusalem Municipality recently released data on construction permits issued for Jerusalem construction from 1991 to 2018; the data shows the stark inequality in building rights between Israeli settlers and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. According to the Israeli government’s own count of permits issued between 1991 and 2018, only 16.5% of Jerusalem’s building permits were issued to Palestinians, despite the fact that they constitute 38% of the city’s residents.
The data, which was released thanks to a freedom of information request submitted two years ago by the Movement for the Freedom of Information and Peace Now, was covered by the Associated Press and carried by the Washington Post and the New York Times.
After Evicting Palestinian Family & Demolishing Their Home, Israel Allows Settlers to Set Up An Outpost Without Permits
Israeli settlers have set up an unauthorized outpost on land just outside of Bethlehem – on the site where the state recently demolished a Palestinian family’s home and business at the behest of the Jewish National Fund (for details, see our past reporting here). Following the eviction of the Cassia family and the demolition of its home and business, the JNF reportedly leased the land to a group of settlers which, in a matter of days following the demolition, built several temporary buildings at the site — but without the necessary Israeli government-issued building permits.
Peace Now commented:
“The establishment of a new outpost 70 meters (230 feet) from the Palestinian home that was destroyed under pressure from the JNF lets the cat out of the bag. It turns out that when JNF demanded that the Cassia family’s home be demolished, it didn’t care if illegal construction was carried out on its land, but it didn’t want Palestinians to build on its land.”
- “How would Netanyahu go about annexing the settlements? An explainer” (Times of Israel)
- “Christian Evangelicals Harvest Land in Settlements Israel Hopes to Annex” (Reuters)
- “Palestinians in the Jordan Valley Want to Remain on their Land” (Al-Monitor)
- “IN PHOTOS: Israel’s Settlers and the Palestinians they Live Among” (Haaretz/Reuters)
- “The Apartheid System in Hebron Persecutes and Subjugates Palestinians” (TruthOut)