Settlement Report: September 28, 2018


Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.

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September 28, 2018

  1. Following Murder of Ari Fuld, Settlers Start Building “Givat Eitam/E-2” Settlement
  2. Undermining Any Claim of “Good Faith,” Reports Shows Israel & WZO Knew Land Was Stolen Before Giving to Settlers
  3. Palestinians Demand $360 Million in Back Taxes on Businesses Operating in Israeli Settlements
  4. UNSC & UNGA Round-Up: Notable Activities & Statements Related to Settlements

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Following Murder of Ari Fuld, Settlers Start Building “Givat Eitam/E-2” Settlement

In response to the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of Israeli-American settler Ari Fuld, the local council of the Efrat settlement (where Fuld resided) has directed the start of (unauthorized) construction at the highly consequential “Givat Eitam” settlement site (nicknamed by settlement watchers “E-2” for its resemblance, in terms of dire geopolitical implications, to the infamous E-1 settlement plan). Located east of the separation barrier on a strategic hilltop overlooking the Palestinian city of Bethlehem to its north, Givat Eitam/E-2 is located within the municipal borders of the Efrat settlement but is not contiguous with its built-up area, making Givat Eitam/E-2 effectively a new settlement that, according to Peace Now, will:

“block Bethlehem from the south, and prevent any development in the only direction that has not yet been blocked by settlements (the city is already blocked from the North by the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Har Homa, and from the West by the Gush Etzion Settlements) or bypass roads (that were paved principally for Israeli settlers). The planned building in area E2 would likely finalize the cutting off of Bethlehem city from the southern West Bank, delivering a crushing blow to the Two States solution.”

A small group of settlers are currently living in makeshift shelters at the site, under the protection of the Israeli army. The Israeli Civil Administration – which is responsible for enforcing planning and building laws in the occupied territory – has acknowledged the unauthorized construction at the Givat Eitam/E-2 site but has not announced any intention to remove the settlers or their illegal structures.

The head of the Efrat Local Council, Oded Revivi, took credit for the establishment of the outpost and acknowledging a long effort to build at the site, saying:

“Less than 24 hours after the murder of our friend Ari Fuld, the Efrat local council is offering a suitable Zionist response and building a new point of settlement in the Land of Israel – Givat Eitam – a strategic hill that connects the center of Gush Etzion to the eastern part. After many attempts and a lot of work, and a great deal of pressure from all sides, we’re on our way there. The residents of Efrat are with us, behind us, in cars, accompanying us. We will arrive in just a few moments and will be able to recite the blessing: “Blessed be He who establishes the border of the widow.”

Settlers have tried to build, legally and illegally, on the hilltop for over a decade. In 2004, Israel declared the area as “state land” and put it under the municipal jurisdiction of the Efrat settlement. Palestinians challenged the declaration, providing deeds to the land, but the High Court of Justice rejected the majority of the petitioner’s arguments and sent the case back to the appeals court to reconsider its previous ruling against the Palestinians. Since then, Israel and the settlers have acted unilaterally on the assumption that the area is theirs to build on. Settlers built an illegal outpost on the exact hilltop in 2011 and again in 2013; both times the Civil Administration removed the outposts after some time. In 2014, the settlers were allowed to build an access road to the Givat Eitam/E-2 site. In 2015, the Civil Administration – apparently accepting the settlers’ argument that the land belongs to Israel – destroyed Palestinian wheat crops that were planted there.

The new outpost of Efrat serves to magnify the territorial issues presented by the Efrat settlement, which is located inside a settlement enclave that cuts deep into the West Bank. Efrat’s location and the route of the barrier wall around it, have literally severed the route of Highway 60 south of Bethlehem, cutting off Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the southern West Bank. The economic, political, and social impacts of the closure of Highway 60 at the Efrat settlement (there is literally a wall built across the highway) have been severe for the Palestinian population. The concentrated settlement growth in Efrat (Efrat saw more construction starts in 2016 than any other settlement and has financed illegal construction projects to expand its borders) exacerbates all of these problems and further entrenches what settlement expert Lara Friedman calls “the trend of ‘canonization’ of the West Bank.”

Undermining Any Claim of “Good Faith,” Reports Shows Israel & WZO Knew Land Was Stolen Before Giving to Settlers

A new Haaretz report challenges the legal basis for the recent and monumental Jerusalem District Court ruling which held that the Mitzpe Kramim outpost can be retroactively legalized because the State, the World Zionist Organization, and the settlers all acted “in good faith” in the course of events that lead to the establishment of the unauthorized outpost on privately owned Palestinian land. Legal and bank documents seen by Haaretz show that the World Zionist Organization (WZO) transferred ownership rights to settlers two months after the State was informed that the land belongs to Palestinians. The sequence of events fundamentally calls into question the Jerusalem District Court’s holding that the State and WZO acted “in good faith.”

In early 2011, Palestinians filed petitions with the High Court of Justice asserting ownership of the land in question. The State responded to the Court regarding the petition, claiming that it mistakenly thought the land was under State control when it was granted to the WZO (an admission that the land should not be under WZO control). On February 6, 2011 the High Court of Justice ordered a temporary injunction against construction on the land until the ownership issues were resolved. Despite the legal proceedings and the State’s acknowledgement that the land should not be in the hands of the WZO, newly revealed documents show that the WZO transferred land rights to Israeli settlers in a series of transactions in the months after the Court order (from March to July 2011). In bank documents submitted in August 2011 (six months after the Court ruling) the WZO attested to to the settlers’ ownership of the land, paving the way for the bank to issue mortgages to the settlers, despite the unresolved ownership issues about which the WZO was aware.

Dror Etkes, the founder of the NGO Kerem Navot, who discovered the bank documents, said:

“So this is what ‘good faith’ looks like in Mitzpeh Kramim: the Settlement Division, the settlers, Amana, and the banks, worked together in a cold and calculated manner during the first few months after the petition was submitted – when there couldn’t have been the slightest doubt that construction was being illegally conducted on privately owned land – to present decisive facts before the High Court of Justice and prevent their eviction.”

The case regarding Mitzpe Kramim is now before the High Court of Justice, which will issue a final ruling about the future of the outpost, and potentially render a final verdict regarding the “good faith” of the State and WZO, and the rights of the Palestinian landowners.

Palestinians Demand $360 Million in Back Taxes on Businesses Operating in Israeli Settlements

First reported by i24 News, in a new report the Palestinian Authority documents what it estimates to be $360 million in “fiscal leakages” – monies have been denied to the PA by Israeli control over Area C, and which the PA is seeking to recoup. The PA reportedly planned to present the findings to international donors at a meeting on the sidelines of this week’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

The PA report asserts that since 2000 (at which time Israel ceased informing the PA about commercial activity in Area C), Israel has collected an estimated $1.7 million each month from about 2,000 businesses operating in settlements in the occupied territories. The PA argues that according to the 1994 Paris Protocol (which the report extensively cites), all these funds should be transferred to the PA by Israel, and that going forward Israel should transfer the monthly sum to the PA.

UNSC & UNGA Round-Up: Notable Activities & Statements Related to Settlements

On September 27, 2018 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Abbas twice stated that the Trump administration’s policy vis a vis settlement construction is a verdict on the final status issue of land, Abbas said:

“I renew my call to President Trump to rescind his decisions and decrees regarding Jerusalem, refugees and settlements, which contravene international law and UN resolutions, as well as the understandings among us, in order to salvage the prospects for peace and to achieve stability and security for the future generations in our region….We awaited his peace initiative with utmost patience, but were shocked by decisions and actions he undertook that completely contradict the role and commitment of the United States towards the peace process. In November 2017, his administration issued a decision to close the PLO office in Washington, DC. He then announced his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and transferred his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and boasts that he has removed the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and security off the negotiation table. All such decisions threaten the Palestinian national cause and constitute an assault on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. The US administration went even further in its assault by cutting assistance to the Palestinian National Authority, UNRWA and Palestinian hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem.”

On September 27th, 2018 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Netanyahu’s speech did not address settlements.

On September 27th, U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, gave a speech defending U.S. funding cuts to Palestinians and humanitarian projects. As part of that speech Greenblatt noted that the U.S. decision was motivated in part by the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to cooperate with Israeli businesses, which might be pointing towards industrial zone projects inside Israeli settlements – an “economic peace” scheme the U.S. administration recently promised to support. Greenblatt said in his speech that PA leaders:

“refuse opportunities to build the economy due to an anti-normalization prejudice towards doing business with Israelis. (…) The United States will not use the hard-earned tax dollars of its citizens to subsidize anti-normalization”.

At a September 26th press conference during UNGA that the U.S. preferences a two-state solution, President Trump articulated support for a two-state solution. Commenting on Trump’s statement, Husam Zomlot – until recently the PLO Ambassador to the U.S. – said:

“[Trump’s] statements contradict his actions. His policy is destroying any chance for peace.”

J Street has the following reaction:

“If President Trump truly supports a two-state solution, then he should reverse the many actions by his administration that have made it much harder to achieve. He should stop claiming that he has taken the issue of Jerusalem “off the table,” and stop the cruel and destructive cuts in humanitarian aid and assistance to the Palestinian people. He should instruct the US ambassador to Israel to stop condoning Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. President Trump and his administration should be judged by actions, not words, and their actions have made clear: they have no interest in promoting genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Until those destructive actions change, the idea that they are formulating a credible ‘peace plan’ is absurd.”

Also on September 26th, President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, held a meeting to gather support for an alternative model for negotiations – a model that replaces U.S. leadership in the process with a multilateral approach. The meeting was attended by foreign ministers of Turkey, Ireland, and Japan, UK Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt, and diplomats from Germany, Norway, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia, among others. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo also attended the event.

On September 20, 2018, the UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Nickolay Mladenov provided an update on the implementation of UN Res 2334 to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), chaired by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. Mladenov began his update saying:

“No steps have been taken during the reporting period to ‘cease all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem’, as required by the resolution.”

Mladenov’s report goes on to document the number of settlement units approved for construction. He concludes with broad observations about the context and consequences of Israeli settlement activity, starting with:

“The expansion of Israeli settlements is illegal under international law and continues to erode the viability of a two-state solution. Particularly alarming are legal and administrative steps which could consolidate and expand settlement activity deep in the West Bank, further undermining the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.”