Making sense of the Latest Settlement Announcements

October 31, 2013

In tandem with this week’s release of Palestinian prisoners (on October 29, 2013), there were many reports and announcements regarding approvals, or anticipated approvals, of new settlement construction. The most official announcement was delivered in the Knesset yesterday (October 30) by Vice Minister Ofir Akunis, who is the liaison-minister to the Knesset:

“The Prime Minister has instructed to issue for construction over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria settlements in Karnei Shomron, Ariel, Givat Zeev, Maale Adumim, Elkana, Beitar Illit and Geva Binyamin-Adam.  I want to note that the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister Gidon Saar agreed to promote construction plans in Jerusalem, as I said, c. 1,500 units in Ramat Shlomo, the establishment of a tourists and archeology center in the City of David and the establishment of a National Park in the Mt. Scopus Slopes. In parallel, the Prime Minister has instructed to promote the planning of over 2,000 housing units in the following places: Shilo, Givat Zeev, Karnei Shomron, Almog, Alei-Zahav, Yakir, Kfar Adumim, Mechola, Talmon, Bracha, Ofra and Beit El. The construction in Judea and Samaria will continue and grow. Thank you.”

From this statement (reported here and here, for example), it can be understood that the Government of Israel intends to:

  • market (i.e., issue tenders for) over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the West Bank
  • promote plans for another 2,000 units in West Bank settlements
  • promote another 1,500 units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo
  • promote two controversial plans related to the public domain in East Jerusalem, specifically, in Silwan and the Mt.Scopus slopes.

In total, the announcement opens the door for the approval/promotion of more than 5,000 units, in addition to the major public domain projects in East Jerusalem.

Notably, the details of exactly what will be approved/promoted have been left ambiguous.  Likewise, the timing for implementation of these announcements is murky.  Plans and tenders could be issued and promoted over the coming days or even weeks.  Going forward, it can be expected that when any settlement-related publications occur, the Government will claim they are part of the 5,000 units declared in the context of this prisoners’ release.

Peace Now’s Best Guess as to What to Expect

Based on our information and our understanding of the announcement above, our best estimate regarding upcoming settlement plans and tenders is as follows:

1. Expected Tenders (over 1,500 units in Jerusalem and the Judea and Samaria settlements”)

A tender is an invitation for bids from contractors to buy the rights to build and sell a construction project. This involves a public process (advertising the tender, assessing bids, and awarding the project, or in some cases, not awarding it, if there are no acceptable bids).  In general, construction may begin several months after the issuing of the tender.

The exact makeup of the 1,500 tenders declared by Vice-Minister Akunis is unknown at this point (indeed, it is possible that the Netanyahu government has announced the number without yet decided where all of the tenders will be – something that has happened in the past).  Bearing this in mind, and based on information we have about the potential construction in the settlements, we estimate the following settlements/projects are the likely targets for tenders:

East Jerusalem
A few hundred residual units, probably in Gilo and/or Ramot.

The West Bank
Givat Zeev – around 100 units
Adam (Geva Binyamin) – around 100 units [East of the barrier]
Elkana – probably 290 units
Beitar Illit – a few hundred units
Ariel – up to hundreds of units [East of the built route of the barrier]
Karnei Shomron – up to hundreds of units [East of the built route of the barrier]
Maale Adumim – dozens of units.

2. Promotion of Plans in Jerusalem (“…agreed to promote construction plans in Jerusalem”)

The latter two plans for the public domain in East Jerusalem generally receive less attention, since they do not relate to new settler housing units.  However, their impact should not be underestimated.  The Givati Parking Lot plan involves a plan to build a huge visitor center at the entrance to Silwan (outside of the Old City, near the Dung Gate).  It would have potentially devastating consequences for the two-state solution and for the currant stability of Jerusalem. The Mt. Scopus Park plan, for its part, seeks to “to link between the inner encirclement of the Old City and its visual basin …and the outer encirclement in Greater Jerusalem, as disclosed by the E-1 plan between Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem. The new national park will be a bridge, creating forging a geographical link between the Old City basin and E-1.” (Quote from Jerusalem expert Danny Seidemann)

3. Promotion of Plans in West Bank Settlements (“instructed to promote the planning of over 2,000 housing units”)

On 10/30, there was the preliminary publication (on the internet, not yet in the newspapers, as required by law) of plans for 611 units, as follows:

  • Shilo – 95 units – preliminary publication for validation [East of the barrier]
  • Givat Zeev – 29 units – preliminary publication for validation
  • Almog – 31 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the barrier]
  • Yakir – 160 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
  • Beit El – 296 units – preliminary publication of depositing [East of the barrier]

(all of these settlements were mentioned in the Knesset announcement)

In addition, the potential plans that we believe might be promoted (there could be other plans of which we are unaware), based on the settlements listed in the Akunis announcement, are as follows:

  • Kernei Shomron – 22 units – plan to be published for validation [East of the barrier]
  • Alei Zahav – 450 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
  • Kfar Adumim – there are several plans in the pipeline; the largest plan is for 255 units waiting for depositing [East of the built route of the barrier]
  • Talmon – there are two plans waiting for depositing, one for 314 units and another for 255 units.  [East of the barrier]
  • Bracha – 90 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the barrier]
  • Ofra – 255 units – plan to be published for depositing [East of the barrier]
  • Mechola – unknown [East of the barrier].

What This All Means

The bottom line is that Netanyahu continues to play a double game.  With his words, he continually says he wants peace and he is serious about negotiations with the Palestinians.  With his actions, he continually undermines the prospects of peace and the two-state solution, and undercuts the chance for the success of negotiations, by creating new facts on the ground in settlements.

A Disaster-in-the-Making: The (Potential) New Settlements in Hebron

September 30, 2013


  • Following the killing of an IDF soldier in Hebron on September 23, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declared his intention to encourage the establishment of a new settlement in Hebron at a site known as “Beit Hamachpela.”
  • However, while the world’s attention is focused on “Beit Hamachpela” (whose establishment as a new settlement is facing legal hurdles that postpone it for months or even years, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s support), the establishment of another large new settlement in the heart of Hebron, at a site known as “the House of Contention,” is likely to take place in the coming days/weeks.
  • The context for this is an anticipated ruling from the Israeli High Court of Justice on a case regarding settler ownership of a large property in the heart of Hebron.  It is almost certain that the Court will rule in favor of the settlers (i.e., that the settlers own the property).
  • This would be the first new settlement in Hebron since the 1980s, with potentially devastating consequences with respect to Palestinian residents of Hebron, tensions and violence in that volatile city, for ongoing peace talks, and for the two-state solution.
  • This settlement can be stopped. The Netanyahu government will likely make the case that in both cases (“the House of Contention” and “Beit Hamachpela”), these are simply questions of legal property ownership, where the settlers bought the property from the owners, and the decisions are out of its hands.  Such an argument is mendacious.
  • Any ruling in favor of the settlers on the issue of ownership does not/not grant them any legal right to take control of, develop, or move into the sites.  Under Israeli law, absent the explicit approval of the Minister of Defense, settlers cannot register under their names any property purchased from Palestinians in the OccupiedTerritories.  Without such an approval the settlers cannot establish a new settlement.
  • In addition, even if the Minister of Defense approves the registration of the purchase of a Palestinian property by settlers, the IDF still has the authority to prevent the establishment of any settlement for security reasons.

Why Now?

  • In March 2007, settlers moved into a large building in Hebron, popularly known as the “House of Contention,” claiming to have purchased the property, Palestinians disputed that claim.  Subsequently, Israeli police found that some of the purchase documents were forged and the government ordered the eviction of the settlers.  That eviction took place in December 2008, following a week of settler violence against Palestinians in the area.
  • On September 13, 2012, an Israeli Court ruled that, despite the forged documents, the purchase was legal.  That ruling was appealed to the Israeli High Court, which held a hearing on September 2, 2013, and is supposed to issue its own ruling at any time.  The High Court is expected to rule in favor of the settlers.
  • The exact timing of the ruling is unknown. It is in the hands of the judges, and in theory the ruling will be issued as soon as they finish writing it. This could be a matter of days, weeks or months. However, once there is a ruling there may be very little time, if any, to prevent the settlers from taking over the site.

Ownership ≠ A Right to Settle

  • A ruling in the settlers’ favor in no way implies or grants the settlers the right to occupy the site.  The authority to establish a settlement in the West Bank rests exclusively in the hands of the Government of Israel, irrespective of any ownership claim. Every purchase of property in the West Bank by Israelis must be approved by the Minister of Defense.
  • Indeed, the original Israeli court ruling in the case stated explicitly: “this ruling does not create any civil or administrative obligation on the Government authorities, including regarding the issue of future registration of the plaintiff’s rights”.
  • In the case of the House of Contention, following the original court ruling but before the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the settlers’ purchase.  Thus, the settlers will likely argue that they already have the Minister of Defense’s approval and can take over the property as soon as the ruling is handed down.
  • The current Minister and Government will likely also point to the Court ruling and Barak’s approval to claim “there’s nothing we can do.”  This claim is disingenuous if not mendacious.
  • The army is presently in control of the site.  The current Minister of Defense is well within his rights to exert authority over the issue, following the Court ruling.  In this capacity, he has the authority to withdraw the approval given by the previous minister, to put that approval on hold, to postpone the implementation of the purchase, etc…
  • Even if the Minister of Defense allows the registration of the purchase in the name of the settlers, he may still prevent them from entering the site for security reasons, political arguments or any other reasons.  The Minister of Defense is, for all intents and purposes, the sovereign ruler in the West Bank.
  • This legal construct exists, at least in part, to prevent extremist settlers and their financial backers from dictating Israeli policy in the West Bank, including the use of Israeli security resources, through property purchase faits accomplis.
  • In short, a new settlement can result only if the current Israeli Minister of Defense, in his capacity as a member of the Netanyahu government, makes an affirmative decision to allow/enable it to happen.

A Disaster-in-the-Making: The (Potential) New Settlement

The site in question is a large building (4000 sq. m.) located inside the built-up area of Hebron, on the road connecting Kiryat Arba (located on Hebron’s periphery) and the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahim Mosque.

Settlers have long sought to convince/compel the IDF to take control of this strategic corridor, with the goal of establishing contiguous Israeli control between the two settlement areas.

Establishing a settlement at this strategic location would do precisely this.  Specifically, it would:

  • Be the first new settlement established inside Hebron since the 1980s.
  • Involve a huge increase in the number of Israeli settlers living in this volatile area (potentially hundreds of new residents, bearing in mind that the present population of the Hebron settlements is around 800, total).
  • Be the first Israeli settlement in this particular part of Hebron.
  • Have the same impact on the ground as other settlements in the heart of Hebron, including new restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the area, including additional road closures and increased harassment of Palestinian residents by both settlers and IDF soldiers.
  • When tensions rise, it may lead to a total closure of the area to Palestinians (as is the case with Shuhada Street). This would mean the cutting off of neighborhoods from one another, the closing of shops and businesses, and increasing pressure on Palestinians to abandon the area altogether.

Hebron has long been one of the most volatile flashpoint in the West Bank with respect to relations between settlers and Palestinians.  This in part reflects the fact that Hebron is the only place where Israeli settlers live side-by-side with Palestinians.   It also reflects the related fact that Hebron settlers are among the most hardcore, ideologically-motivated, and heavily armed of all West Bank settlers.  It is no coincidence that the worst single act of settler terrorism against Palestinians – the 1994 massacre of Palestinians at prayer in the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque – took place in the heart of Hebron, carried out by a resident of Kiryat Arba.


One of the Plans in Givat Hamatos is Rejected, But the Threat to the Two States Persists

December 18, 2012


A petit drama happened today. At the midst of the planning strike on East Jerusalem, in which 6,500 units are approved in four days, the Regional Planning Committee rejected today the plan of Givat Hamatos C – for 813 units. This rejection means that the plan is canceled, and that in case one wants to build, there should be a new plan that will pass through all the planning process.

Unfortunately, we can’t really celebrate the annulment of one of the plans in Givat Hamatos. First of all, because it is only one of the plans that are planned in Givat Hamatos, with less than ¼ of the planned units. The local planning committee will probably approve tomorrow the Givat Hamatos A plan, for 2,610 units, which is large enough to prevent a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and thus may prevent the two state solution.

Secondly, the reason behind the rejection of the plan has to do with one of the objections that was filed by an Israeli company that bought a small part of the land at the planned area, and is wishing to suggest an alternative plan where they propose to build 900 units on their part of land alone (in addition to potential construction on the other parts of the area). So eventually we might end up facing a new plan, that will be brought for approval, in which much more construction may be approved…

The Court Orders the Eviction of a Palestinian Family from their home in Sheikh Jarrah

December 12, 2012


On Thursday (6.12.12) the Jerusalem District Court rejected the appeal of the Shamasne family against the ruling ordering their eviction from their home.

The house is located in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, in the area called Um Haroun (AKA Nahalat Shimon), and was owned by Jews before 1948. After 1948, Sheikh Jarrah became under the Jordanian control and the Jordanian government became responsible for the Jewish properties. The Jordanian Custodian for Enemy Properties rented the Jewish houses of Sheikh Jarrah to Palestinian families. After 1967, the management of the properties was given to the Israeli General Custodian, who continued the rental agreements with the Palestinian families. Those who had agreements with the Custodian before 1968 got the status of protected tenants.

Um_HarounA view of Um Haroun area in Sheikh Jarrah

On 2011, the Israel General Custodian filed a suit against the Shamasane family, arguing that their rent agreement ended in 2008. The Custodian didn’t mention that there were previous rent agreements with the family, and that they continued to pay the rent even after 2008. The Shamasne family claimed that they live in the house already from 1964, and therefore they have the status of protected tenants. They showed rent agreements from 1977 and proofs that show that they live in the house since 1972, but they didn’t manage to prove, with all the necessary legal evidence, that they were living at the house before 1968, and the court did not accept their status to be of protected tenants. They also claimed that the General Custodian didn’t translate the rent agreements into Arabic and that they were deceived by the representatives of the Custodian, who misinterpreted the agreement and never mentioned that the agreements are at a non-protected status.

On May 2012, the Magistrates Court of Jerusalem rejected the family’s claims and accepted the lawsuit of the General Custodian ordering the family to evict the house by the end of December 2012. Last week, on December 6th, the District Court rejected the family’s appeal against that ruling, and if the request of the family to appeal to the Supreme Court and to halt the eviction till the appeal is heard would not be accepted, the Shamsane family would have to leave the house by the end of December 2012.

The involvement of the settlers

This is not a regular case between renters and tenants. Surprisingly, the Israeli General Custodian, which is an official governmental body, was not represented in court by the State Attorney office nor by the legal adviser of the custodian office. The lawyers who represented the custodian and led the case were private lawyers that are connected to settlers, who received power of attorney from the custodian office.

Shortly after the court’s ruling, a settlers group twitted: “Good News! On Thursday we won a court case to evict the Shamsane family”. Two days later, according to reports in the media, the head of the settlers group showed up in Sheikh Jarrah in order to hand the family the ruling of the court.

So, if the General Custodian wins a court case against a Palestinian family, why should the settlers claim victory? Or in other words, who is truly behind the fight against the Palestinian family?

According to an Israeli law from 1970, if Jewish owners of properties in East Jerusalem that were under Jordanian control after 1948 request from the Israeli General Custodian their properties, it must release the property to them, and they become the official owners of the property. If the property is occupied by protected tenants, the Jewish owners should continue to rent the property to the tenants and will receive the payments, otherwise, they are free to rent or sell the property to whoever they wish.

According to Adv. Mouhanned Jabara who represents the Shamasne family, the settlers group found the heirs of the original Jews who owned the house before 1948, and made a deal with them. The General Custodian agreed to allow the settlers to represent him in court, in order to evict the Palestinian family, and then, to transfer the ownership of the house to the heirs of the original Jewish owners (who have already made a deal to give the property to the settlers). This way, the Palestinian family would face in court the General Custodian who is an official body representing the public interest, and not just another private owner suing his tenants.

I think that it is a severe case where the authorities are serving the settlers’ interests in order to evict a Palestinian family from its home in East Jerusalem and to give it to settlers. The creation of a settlement at the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, especially when a Palestinian family is evicted as a result of this, increases the friction and tension in Jerusalem. It additionally creates another obstacle for achieving the Two State Solution that is based on a compromise in Jerusalem.

And finally, if it was right and ethical to return the properties in East Jerusalem to Jews who owned them before 1948, and kick the Palestinians out, then it should equally be right and ethical to return properties in Israel to Palestinians who owned them before 1948. This is a dangerous precedent that would undermine the Israeli rightful claim that the issue of the refugees and pre-1948 claims should be resolved in a compromise and compensation and not by implementation of the right of return kicking Israelis out of their home.

The eviction of the Palestinian family can still be stopped. The General Custodian, who is still the owner of the house, can decide to rent the house to the Shamasne family as protected tenants, and if the original owners request it, they may become the owners and receive the rent from the Shamasne’s. However, it is in the hands of the government to order the Custodian to do so, and within the current political constellation, it likelihood of this to happen seems as far as the moon.

A Fast Track to Approve More Plans in East Jerusalem

December 10, 2012

Today, 10/12/12, the Jerusalem Regional Committee for Planning and Construction will nominate a representative for a special committee which is called: “a Committee for Completion of Plans”. The committee is comprised of three members: a representative of the Minister of Interior, a representative of the Regional Committee for Planning and a representative of the Local Committee for Planning.  This committee is only established in rare occasions, and it is meant to promote plans that are “stuck” in the pipeline for too long. Specifically the committee that is being nominated today should discuss several of the most politically disputed plans in East Jerusalem, mainly: the Ramat Shlomo plan (for 1,600 units), Givat Hamatos B, C and D, and Hashalom Forest.

A member of the Jerusalem Regional Committee for Planing told me that it is the first time in at least 8 years that a Committee for Completion of Plans is established in the Jerusalem district. It seems to me that there are forces within the Government that are trying to push forward as many plans as possible in East Jerusalem before the election in Israel in order to set as many facts on the ground before any political change takes place, and are using this rare committee in order to do so.

The plans that will move to the authority of the Committee for Completion of Plans (what i call “the fast track committee”) are:

Plan no. 11085 – for 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo (the famous plan from the Beiden visit)
Plans no. 5834B, 5834C and 5834Dfor Givat Hamatos
Plan no. 10188 – for Hashalom forest (where the settlers have a visitors center and makes many controversial touristic activities)
Plan No. 11382 – for 57 units in Gilo
and another two small plans in West Jerusalem.

Last Week, the Ha’aretz newspaper published that the “fast track” committee will convene next week to hear the objections to the plan in Ramat Shlomo and to the Givat Hamatos plan. I don’t know whether there is already a date for the hearings of the other plans. However, it seems that there is a strategic effort by the Netanyahu government to set as many facts on ground as possible (such as the promotion of the E1 plan and the declaration on 3000 tenders) before any change in the political atmosphere takes place. Those facts on the ground might be lethal for the two state solution.

The Agenda for the Planning Committee on 10.12.12 – (in Hebrew)

Settlers Move in another House in Jaebl Mukaber

December 3, 2012

A group of settlers’ guards, entered this morning at 2.00 am, into a 5 floors building in Jabel Mukaber. The building was built several years ago by a Palestinian, and was probably sold to the settlers.

Two years ago, settlers moved in another house, at the same street, which is being guarded by guards and cameras 24 hours a day.

For me, this new settlement, at the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood is not only a dangerous provocation which is threatening the stability in the fragile situation of Jerusalem, but also a threat to the possibility to get to a two states solution and a compromise in Jerusalem.  It is no accident that the settlers choose to move in now, just after the Government announced 3000 units in settlements. It seems as if the Government has set the norm, and showed that it wishes to establish as many settlements as possible, to prevent the two states solution.


JabelMukaber031212The new house, now settlement, in Jabel Mukaber

jabel mukaber2 - small

Settlers move in another apartment in A-Tur

November 5, 2012

After years of  legal struggle, the last Palestinian family living in the A-Tur settlement  building, evicted today their apartment and settlers moved in. The building, called by the settlers “Beit Hachoshen”, is located on top of Mt. of Olives, not far from the 7 Arches Hotel, in the Palestinian neighborhood of A-Tur in East Jerusalem. In 2006, settlers moved into the house and established the settlement in A-Tur on Mt. of Olives, while one of the Palestinian families continued to live in their apartment at the first floor of the building.

The court recently ruled that the apartment belongs to the settlers, who bought it from the Palestinian owner, and today the police ordered the family to move out. The settler moved in, only few minutes after the Palestinian family left.

The settlers, connected to the Elad association, are now controlling the whole building in addition to another apartment in the the house next to it.

The “Beit Hachoshen” settlement in A-Tur. Settlers moved into the first floor


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