Karmel settlement can be seen in the background of Um al-Khair village in the West Bank. (Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN/TSR)

Mar. 29, 2013 (TSR-IRIN) – Palestine, now upgraded to a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly, recently threatened to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel if it moves forward with E-1 (Palestine would first have to sign onto the Rome Statute that created the Court).

There was much fanfare over Netanyahu’s announcement last year but what has happened since? How quickly could E-1 become reality? And what of the oft-overlooked humanitarian implications?

What’s the process?

The master plan for E-1 – including 3,500-4,000 housing units, 2,100 hotel rooms, an industrial area and a regional police headquarters west of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummim – was first conceived in 1994, expedited in 1999 and approved in 2002 but has been frozen for years due to US resistance.

On 30 November 2012, one day after the UN General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as an observer state, Netanyahu announced the plans would move ahead.

On 5 December, the West Bank Higher Planning Council of the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s Civil Administration arm approved two specific plans for a total of 3,426 housing units in E-1. But according to Israeli groups that monitor settlement expansion, the plans have not yet been formally deposited for public review.

Once that happens (usually a sign is publication of the plan in a local newspaper), the public will have 60 days to submit objections. The Planning Council would then hear the objections, and decide whether to approve the plan as is, reject it or send it back for amendments.

Once fully approved, there are two further steps. The municipality of Ma’ale Adummim, to which E-1 belongs, must approve building permits. The final step is for the Ministry of Housing to issue tenders for contractors to begin construction.

“No decision has been taken to allow construction in E-1,” David Baker, senior foreign press coordinator for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, told IRIN. “We have allowed so far for preliminary planning and zoning work only.”

To what extent is politics relevant?

So when would bulldozers actually start breaking ground? The whole process could take as little as six months, more likely at least one year, if not two. But it depends on political will. The government can freeze the plans at any point in the process up until the tender stage.

Photo: OCHA/TheSantosRepublic.com
Click Map to Enlarge. Photo: OCHA/TheSantosRepublic.com

Alternatively, “if there is willingness, it can happen fairly quickly,” said Yehezkel Lein, head of research at the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem.

The political will depends on who ends up joining Netanyahu’s governing coalition. The union of his right-wing Likud Party with the centrist Hatnuah Party, led by Tzipi Livni, a long-time advocate of peace negotiations, is likely to slow the process. But to form the rest of his government, Netanyahu is still in negotiations with others, including the far-right Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) Party, led by religious Zionist Naftali Bennett.

Still, to avoid a diplomatic incident, movement is unlikely in the lead-up to or immediately after US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region this month. In addition, “given the instability in the region right now, [moving forward on E-1] would be a very risky, ill-advised decision,” said Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Israeli NGO Ir Amim (“City of Nations”), which works to preserve Jerusalem as a home for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The decision to move ahead with E-1, she pointed out, came as a “retaliatory gesture to the UN resolution” and in the lead-up to Israeli elections, when there was “a lot of political cachet to be gained” from such an announcement. Because of the ill-understood, multi-level process of planning and approvals, such an announcement could be made, and yet, “theoretically, [construction] might never happen.”

On the other hand, she and others said, Netanyahu could agree to freeze settlement expansion for one year, continue with the preparatory bureaucratic steps required, and begin construction of E-1 one year later without any delay in the process.

Much of the infrastructure for a settlement in E-1, including a major road, utilities, and levelling of ground as a preparation for the future neighborhood, was built in 2004 and 2005; as such “if construction gets going at the site, it will proceed far more rapidly than under normal circumstances,” Peace Now, an Israeli NGO, has said.

Regardless of whether construction starts, Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch project at Peace Now, told IRIN, the bureaucratic steps would bring any future government that much closer to implementation.

What are the implications of starting construction?

The Israeli government argues that the status of settlements will be determined in future peace talks. But many diplomats and rights groups have termed E-1 a “nail in the coffin of the two-state solution”, because it effectively puts a wedge between Palestinian East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, destroying the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

A Palestinian Bedouin herdsman stands in front of an Israeli settlement. With UN help, he used the courts to stop the seizure of more of his land for Israeli settlements. Settlers have turned their dogs loose on his cattle; in other places, entire herds have been poisoned. (Photo: Edward Parsons/IRIN/TSR)
A Palestinian Bedouin herdsman stands in front of an Israeli settlement. With UN help, he used the courts to stop the seizure of more of his land for Israeli settlements. Settlers have turned their dogs loose on his cattle; in other places, entire herds have been poisoned. (Photo: Edward Parsons/IRIN/TSR)

E-1 would also have more immediate consequences.

In the 1990s, when Ma’ale Adummim was first expanding, more than 200 Bedouin families were relocated – some forcibly – further south right next to a landfill near Al Ezariya town. According to OCHA, the move left 85 percent of them unable to practice their traditional herding livelihoods and exposed them to the health hazards posed by the garbage site.

“It was a very painful process,” Lein told IRIN.

Some 2,300 Palestinian Bedouins live in 20 communities in the hills to the east of Jerusalem, in and around the Ma’ale Adummim settlement, within the contours of the Israeli separation barrier. More than 80 percent of them are refugees from what is now Israel and over two-thirds are children, according to OCHA. Ir Amim says around 1,100 of them live within the area slated to become E-1.

Bedouin communities – not only in the area around Ma’ale Adummim, but even more so in the Jordan Valley and other parts of Israeli-controlled Area C – have had their homes demolished and are regularly displaced on the basis that they do not have legal building permits or are living in Israeli military zones.

The Israeli government has long planned to relocate Bedouin living in and around E-1, arguing they are living there without permits. It says their planned transfer (still under legal negotiations) is completely unrelated to the E-1 settlement plan. But observers say their transfer will likely be expedited if E-1 goes ahead. After many objections to the old site near the garbage dump, the Civil Administration has identified a new relocation site next to Jericho.

Forcible transfer of an occupied population is a violation of international humanitarian law. But aid workers fear the communities may “choose” to leave voluntarily, knowing they will soon be kicked out anyway, in order to settle on the best possible land in the new location.

“When you don’t have a meaningful option, even if you agree, it’s not legitimate consent,” Lein said.

An international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory recently found that the effects of settlements go much further, affecting nearly every aspect of Palestinian life.

The wider impact of Israel’s Illegal Settlements

Last month, an international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found that settlements constituted a violation of international human rights and humanitarian law and called on Israel to stop all expansions immediately and withdraw from settlements.

Karmel settlement can be seen in the background of Um al-Khair village in the West Bank. (Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN/TSR)
Karmel settlement can be seen in the background of Um al-Khair village in the West Bank. (Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN/TSR)

A controversial Israeli plan, known as E-1, to build thousands of housing units and hotel rooms near the Ma’ale Adummim settlement, has garnered much attention in the media because it would sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

But at the same time, Israel has been moving forward with equally controversial settlement plans under less scrutiny and with unusual speed.

As US President Barack Obama prepares to visit the region this week, IRIN takes a look at some of the details that have been overlooked in the discussion.

What’s the Giv’at HaMatos plan?

According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim (“City of Nations”), which works to preserve Jerusalem as a home for both Jews and Palestinians, one settlement plan of “critical importance” is Giv’at HaMatos.

In a sense, Giv’at HaMatos does in the south what E-1 does in the east. The planned large housing and hotel complex at the southern perimeter of Jerusalem would further disrupt the contiguity of land between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank required for a future Palestinian state, seriously impeding a two-state solution, research and rights groups say. It would also mark the first new settlement construction in Jerusalem since 1997.

“All construction is problematic but there are several plans that are, in our view, more dangerous if implemented,” Hagit Ofran, director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli NGO Peace Now, told IRIN. “Giv’at HaMatos is the most dangerous plan that is now approved.”

Part of the plan – to build 2,612 units – was approved by the Jerusalem Regional Planning Committee on 19 December.

Most of Giv’at HaMatos is currently uninhabited, but according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), which recently released a two-part report on the future of East Jerusalem, its build-up would cut off Arab neighbourhoods in southern Jerusalem, like Beit Safafa and Sharafat, rendering them “Palestinian enclaves”.

Giv’at HaMatos would connect the dots of several other planned or expanding settlements along southern Jerusalem – including Giv’at Yael in the southwest; and Har Homa and East Talpiyot in the southeast – forming “a long Jewish continuum severing Bethlehem’s urban continuum from Palestinian Jerusalem”, ICG said. Last year, the Israeli government also approved more than 2,000 new units in neighbouring Gilo.

This kind of attachment to Jewish expansions could make peace negotiations even harder.

“From an Israeli public opinion perspective, Giv’at HaMatos is in the municipal border of Jerusalem,” Ofran said. “It’s considered a legitimate part of Israel.”

Barak Cohen, the Jerusalem Municipality’s adviser for foreign affairs and media, told IRIN Giv’at HaMatos is part of Jerusalem’s “natural and much-needed growth”, allowing both Arab and Jewish landowners to develop their properties.

Indeed, part of the Giv’at HaMatos plan, approved on 18 December, allows for the building of 549 units for Palestinians – though Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, points out much of it retroactively legalizes building that has already been completed. The figures, she added, amount to just over one-fifth of the Jewish expansion.

Still, Cohen insisted, the development would benefit Jerusalem as a whole: “Not planning and developing Jerusalem neighbourhoods ultimately harms all residents and landowners – Arabs and Jews alike.”

Last year, Israel also issued tenders for the construction of 606 new housing units north of East Jerusalem, in the Ramot settlement, just north of the Green Line marking the border between Israel and the West Bank, and approved another 1,500 units in the neighbouring settlement of Ramot Shlomo, according to Ir Amim.

What other settlements are planned?

Beyond Jerusalem, there was movement on a number of other settlements projects in disputed areas, according to Settlement Watch.

In June 2012, the Israeli government announced it would build 851 new units in the West Bank, including more than 230 in the controversial settlements of Ariel and Efrat. Like Giv’at HaMatos, these two settlements make a contiguous Palestinian territory impossible, Settlement Watch says.

Overall, settlements expanded much faster than usual last year.

In 2012 the Israeli government approved the construction of 6,676 settler housing units in the West Bank, compared with 1,607 in 2011 and several hundred in 2010, according to Peace Now.

For plans that were already approved, it issued more than 3,000 tenders to construction contractors – more than any other year in the last decade, Peace Now said. Construction has actually begun on 1,747 homes.

Regardless of the settlements, Palestinians, especially in Area C, are under immense pressure. Recent weeks have seen a considerable upswing in demolitions of Palestinian structures. According to the Displacement Working Group, a grouping of aid agencies helping displaced families, Israeli forces destroyed 139 Palestinian structures, including 59 homes, in January – almost triple 2012’s monthly average. The demolitions occurred in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – with a majority taking place in Area C – and left 251 Palestinians, including over 150 children, displaced.

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the (Palestinian) Territories (COGAT) told IRIN there was no connection between the removal of unauthorized buildings and the construction of Israeli settlements. “All construction in the West Bank is subject to building codes and planning laws and unauthorized constructions are dealt with accordingly,” the office said in an email.

What are the knock-on effects?

Settlements are often discussed through the lens of their illegality under international law or as obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But everything associated with the settlements – including Israeli-only infrastructure, the separation barrier, military checkpoints, restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, suppression of freedom of expression and political life, and control of Palestinian natural resources – causes a ripple effect through Palestinian society, adversely impacting the people.

The UN estimates there are now 520,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with 43 percent of the land there allocated to local and regional settlement councils. According to the UN Secretary-General, Israel has transferred roughly 8 percent of its citizens into OPT since the 1970s, altering the demographic composition of the territory and furthering the Palestinian people from their right to self-determination.

Baker, of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, said a future Palestinian state should include a Jewish minority. “The assumption behind this… is that Jews have no right to live in the West Bank, an assumption that we reject. In fact we see ourselves as the true indigenous people of this land.”

But Israeli settlements have violated Palestinian rights to equality under the law, to religious freedom and to freedom of movement, according to the UN fact-finding mission. They have also eroded Palestinian access to water and to agricultural assets, and the ability to develop economically, it said.

Photo: OCHA/TheSantosRepublic.com
Click Map to Enlarge. Photo: OCHA/TheSantosRepublic.com

For example, Bedouins from the Palestinian village of Khan Al Ahmar, northeast of E-1, cannot sell their dairy products at their traditional Souq Al Ahmar market any more. Because of movement restrictions (they hold West Bank IDs and lack the proper permits to enter East Jerusalem), they cannot get there.

The UN secretary-general has said that Palestinians “have virtually no control” over the water resources in the West Bank, with 86 percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea under the de facto jurisdiction of the settlement regional councils.

There is a statistical correlation between Palestinians’ proximity to settlements and their rates of food insecurity, according to a UN and government survey, which found that one quarter of Palestinians who live in Area C, home to the largest number of settlements in the West Bank, are food insecure. In Areas A and B, the average rate of food insecurity is 17 percent.

In addition, “all spheres of Palestinian life are being significantly affected by a minority of settlers who are engaged in violence and intimidation with the aim of forcing Palestinians off their land,” the mission said.

Operation Dove, an international organization working in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani and the South Hebron Hills, reported that Palestinian children have a very hard time going to school due to settler attacks.

The UN and rights groups say radical settlers use violence against Palestinians with impunity and their illegal outposts are often recognized and retroactively legalized by the government.

Since the occupation began, Israel has detained hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, some of them without charge, and some of them children. Most of the minors are arrested “at friction points, such as a village near a settlement or a road used by the army or settlers”, the fact-finding mission said.

Israel uses what they term “administrative detention” when it considers the detainee a threat to the security of the state.

Ir Amim’s Herschman says Israel is also attempting to create a “greater Jerusalem” through additional means, for example: the Israeli separation barrier, planned national parks, and the construction of highways dividing villages, dispossessing Palestinians of their land and making it harder for them to access services like schools and mosques.

In recent weeks, residents of the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa have been protesting against the planned extension of the Begin Highway that would divide their village in order to connect major Israeli settlement blocks outside the city to Jerusalem.

The planned root of the separation barrier, in addition to a potential national park around the perimeter of the barrier would also close off nearby Palestinian village al-Wallajeh.

The planned route of the barrier extends all the way around and far beyond Muale Adummim and in other areas south and north of Jerusalem. “These lines are a unilateral declaration of a much greater Jerusalem, a unilateral expanding of the boundaries, an exponential increase,” she told IRIN.

Or as the ICG put it, “for many Arab East Jerusalemites, the battle for their city is all but lost.”


UN: Israeli Settlements are War Crimes and must end, Israel must have full accountability (Unedited Report Included)


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