On the day after the UN vote to upgrade the status of Palestine to state, the Israeli government responded by pulling out, from the drawer, plans to build thousands of more settlement units.
The most controversial is the announced plan to build in the E-1 area between Maale Adumin and Hizme.
Israeli-American lawyer and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann has just called this, on Twitter, the “weaponization” of the “settlement offensive”.
@DanielSeidemann – E-1 will signal the end of 2-state solution. E-1 can’t be built today – it requires further statutory planning, which will take 6-9 months
@DanielSeidemann – The report today indicates intent to complete E-1 planning now, leading to construction in 6-9 months.
Reuters reported here that “The decision was made on Thursday when it became clear that the U.N. General Assembly was set to upgrade the Palestinians’ status in the world body, making them a ‘non-member state’, as opposed to an ‘entity’, boosting their diplomatic clout…An Israeli official had earlier conceded that this represented a ‘total failure of diplomacy’ and warned there would be consequences – which were swift in coming. Plans to put up thousands of new settler homes in the wake of the Palestinian upgrade were always likely, but the prospect of building in an area known as E-1, which lies near Jerusalem and bisects much of the West Bank, is seen by some as a potential game changer”.
@DanielSeidemann – We learned that source of Israeli press reports on 3000 new E Jersusalem & WB settlement units, E-1 is Mark Regev, PM’s office spokesperson
While this is a response came less than 24 hours after the Palestinian move at the UN General Assembly, it also comes about a week after internal elections within Netanyahu’s Likud Party now ruling in Israel, in which all the top spots went to settlers and their far-right supporters. A few weeks earlier, also in preparation for Israel’s general elections now set for January 22, Netanyahu forged an alliance to run on a joint list with Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitenu party, currently Foreign Minister, who is now being treated as Netanyahu’s most essential partner and right-hand man.
UPDATE: UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon issued a statement on 2 December [a Sunday, but still two full days after the Netanyahu cabinet decision in reaction to the UN General Assembly vote on the state status of Palestine] which is posted here and which said:
“It was with grave concern and disappointment that the Secretary-General learned of Israel’s announcement of 3,000 new settlement units in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. This would include reported planning in the so-called E-1 envelope, which risks completely cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Settlements are illegal under international law and, should the E-1 settlement be constructed, it would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution…In the interests of peace, any plans for E-1 must be rescinded”.
In the statement, the UN Secretary-General also repeated [a ho-hum verb, less alarmist than the rest of the statement issued on Sunday] “his call on all concerned to resume negotiations and intensify efforts towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace and urges the parties to refrain from provocative actions”.
The Jerusalem Post reported here that “Israel approved the construction of 3,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and in the West Bank on Friday in response to the UN approving the Palestinian UN bid for non-member observer state status, government officials stated. The inner cabinet also decided to give the go ahead for the planning of thousands of housing units in area E1 that connects Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim”.
The JPost story, which combined Reuters and its own staff, added that “Last week, Washington urged Israel not to allow construction in the area known as E-1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim as a possible response to the Palestinian UN bid. Building in E-1, which would create contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim to the northeast beyond the Green Line, is something various Israeli governments have long wanted to do, but which US opposition has prevented”.
Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid also cited a “senior government official” as saying that the announcement was indeed intended as retributive punishment. He wrote, here that “Israel plans to build some 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements in response to the Palestinians’ successful bid for recognition at the UN General Assembly this week, a senior diplomatic source told Haaretz on Friday”.
[A Haaretz editorial published here on 2 December, stated that “The only positive aspect of this decision is the fact that Israel has recognized that the settlements are indeed a punishment”. The same Haaretz editoral also noted that the announcement “is proof positive that [Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan University speech in 2009, after Obama’s speech in Cairo], in which he ostensibly accepted the principle of two states, was merely a deception. What is particularly astounding, however, is the violation of Israel’s commitment to the United States not to build in E1, given that construction there would preclude the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. After America was left as virtually the last supporter of Israel’s position at the United Nations, Israel is repaying it with a resounding slap in the face”. The Haaretz editorial also said that “Israel’s decision is also a slap in the face to another loyal friend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who explained Germany’s abstention in the vote as stemming from Israel’s refusal to stop construction in the territories”. Haaretz said, in this editorial, that “The world – even including the United States this time – can’t allow Israel’s arrogant response to pass quietly”.]
During the Annapolis Process of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that was supposed to lead to a Palestinian state by the end of 2008, Condoleezza Rice [then U.S. Secretary of State] expressed concern about plans to build a new Israeli Police Headquarters in the E-1 “envelope” and move the Ras al-Amoud Police station in East Jerusalem to that E-1 site. She was soothed by remarks of Israeli officials that the announcement was only about planning, and the move was years away. But, it only took months.
The E-1 Police Headquarters was quickly built. It sits on a spectacular hilltop site just north of Maale Adumim, with a convenient exit just across from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, which is just below the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. But, the Issawiya road going up to Mt. Scopus, which connects Issawiya to East Jerusalem, is now blocked by boulders. Palestinian traffic has been re-directed away from Jerusalem to a large new bypass road network that passes near the new Police Headquarter. Palestinians suspect there are further traffic changes being planned by Israeli authorities that have not yet been announced.
The Obama Administration gave the usual perfunctory reaction. General remarks were attributed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The White House issued a statement.
But, at the Gala Opening Dinner of the Saban Forum in Washington D.C. on 30 November, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — who himself lives in a settlement in the West Bank, east of Bethlehem — said, according to a live Tweet from the Brookings Foreign Policy Twitter account:
@BrookingsFP – Lieberman: “We have a need and a right to pursue our settlements. This is a right and a necessity. To argue otherwise is hypocracy”.
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, sitting in the same room, said nothing special… She must have felt it was too confrontational, inappropriate for the occasion at which she was being specially honored.
As the Jerusalem Post reported, here: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert and other Israel political leaders were in attendance”. It would have been a good moment to make a strong statement — none of them could have claimed not to have heard it, especially if she really meant what she said a few moments later, which the JPost noted: “she also pointed to missed chances by Israelis as well, and added that she was not making excuses for ‘the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy that I think goes hand-in-hand with the suspicion’. She continued, ‘The Israelis need to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people’.”
What she did say, in her prepared remarks, was oblique, perfunctory, and completely in line with her pre-prepared text, which can be read in full here:
“…[W]e have to be honest with ourselves that, right now, all of this needs our political and economic support to be sustainable. It also needs a political horizon. So particularly in light of today’s announcement, let me reiterate that this Administration – like previous administrations – has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace. We all need to work together to find a path forward in negotiations that can finally deliver on a two-state solution. That must remain our goal. And if and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations to solve the conflict, President Obama will be a full partner”.
Does the U.S. Secretary of State honestly think that the goal of the current Israeli government is a “negotiated peace”?
[Instead, as Israeli journalist and editor Amir Mizroch Tweeted on Sunday: @Amirmizroch — “To stop Likud voters migrating further right Netanyahu will build and be seen to be building “…]
Clinton didn’t even go as strong as the standing U.S. State Department policy on settlements — which is, at any given time, such as in a briefing on 12 October 2011, posted here, is: “The United States has a clear policy – we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity”.
Here’s what Haaretz was told, as Tweeted on 30 November by correspondent Barak Ravid:
@BarakRavid – State Department official on Israeli settlement decision: It’s counterproductive & make it harder resume talks & achieve 2 state solution
What Clinton did do is severely embarrass the Palestinian Authority leadership by saying, despite extensively reported Palestinian criticism of exactly this point, that “The leaders of the West Bank – President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad – deserve credit for their real achievements on the ground. They made their streets safe again; they brought a measure of peace; they overhauled governing institutions. They have cooperated with Israel to help enhance Israel’s security“…
Of course the U.S. Secretary of State had to know that, even if Palestinians didn’t attend the Saban Forum gala opening session, they would nevertheless still be listening.
On the E-1 matter, the New York Times reported here:
“This is not just another few houses in Jerusalem or another hilltop in the West Bank,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and Egypt. “This is one of the most sensitive areas of territory, and I would hope the United States will lay down the law.”
After a day in which Israeli government officials insisted that the United Nations vote was a purely symbolic one that had not changed anything on the ground, the revelation of the development late Friday stunned and outraged even some of Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters.
“A number of important countries are telling us that they think it’s wrong to do settlements, and these are our best friends,” noted one senior Israeli government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired. “After they say this directly or indirectly, the immediate response is to build more settlements, even in one of the most controversial areas. E1? How does that make sense? What is the message the government is sending its best friends?”
Dani Dayan, the leader of Israel’s settler movement, said the development of E1 was an “important Israeli strategic interest,” but he, too, was somewhat dismayed by the timing. “We don’t like the idea of developing our communities as a sort of retaliatory or punitive step,” he said.
It is hardly the first time Israel has been criticized for bad timing on settlement expansion. In August 2011, a month before a previous bid by Mr. Abbas for upgraded status at the United Nations Security Council, Israel’s
Interior Ministry gave final approval for the construction of a 1,600-unit apartment complex in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
On the eve of an April 2011 meeting between Mr. Obama and Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, a Jerusalem planning committee gave its go-ahead for 1,000 units.
And in 2010, Mr. Netanyahu was embarrassed by an early approval of the Ramat Shlomo development hours after a Jerusalem visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
But E1 — where a plan approved years ago calls for 3,910 housing units, 2,192 hotel rooms and an industrial park, in addition to the police station — is more contentious than all those projects combined. Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have all strenuously objected to any settlement there.
Dani Seidemann, a Jerusalem lawyer and peace activist, described E1 as “the fatal heart attack of the two-state solution” and said Mr. Netanyahu was wielding “the doomsday weapon”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement Saturday, posted here saying that “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties. If implemented, these plans would alter the situation on the ground on a scale that makes the two state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve. They would undermine Israel’s international reputation and create doubts about its stated commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians. The UK strongly advises the Israeli Government to reverse this decision”.
Maale Adumim is already huge. It sits on high ground in a beautiful Judean desert landscape, east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho; its land area is larger than the greater Tel Aviv municipality.
This is being explained as retaliation by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for the Palestinian decision to go to the UNGA to ask for upgraded status to state — which Netanyahu’s government strongly opposed now, as last year, and as in 1999. As such, this amounts to nothing less than an effort to interfere with and prevent another people’s right to self-determination.
Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth suggests that Israel may be trying to get the Palestinians to go to the International Criminal Court to complain [which may then bring U.S. punishment down on their heads, and may also risk a counter ICC action to investigate rocket-firing from Gaza].
@KenRoth — After Palestine state decision, #Israel retaliates w/ new illegal settlement plan, seemingly inviting #ICC involvement. http://trib.al/jv6WVB
Israeli-American lawyer and Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann wrote — in 2004 — in The Washington Post: “There is nothing new in the E-1 plan; it has been on the planning boards for a decade. Until now, each successive U.S. administration has made it clear that E-1 is the quintessential, unilateral act that predisposes the outcome of final status. As such, implementation will not be tolerated. The fate of E-1 is to be determined around a negotiating table, not by bulldozers. Until now. The work on E-1’s infrastructures has commenced, and the plans for building the neighborhoods proceed apace, only months from execution. And Jerusalem is interpreting the messages it is receiving from Washington, their style and substance, as a green light to proceed”.
That was written in 2004, during the George W. Bush administration. But it could have been written today.
In that piece, Daniel Seidemann also wrote: “For the past 13 years, I have gotten up in the morning, scanned the horizon here and asked: ‘What the hell can go wrong today?’ What can happen that will undermine the stability of this delicate ecosystem in Jerusalem? What facts created today will deprive us, or our children, of the possibility of arriving at a final status agreement in the future?”
The E-1 construction plan is it. Too much is at stake, he wrote, and vital U.S. interests are jeopardized.
The map below, though it shows developments a month ago, gives a very good idea of where the E-1 area is located. To get an idea of some of the disruption it will cause, the red line indicates Israeli construction, which is happening now, of The Wall around the whole area of which E-1 is just a part. This map was Tweeted on 6 November by Daniel Seidemann, founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem:
He wrote [in 2004] that: “It is not only that the current administration has disengaged from micromanagement of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The Bush administration is turning a blind eye to Israel’s disingenuous representations regarding settlement expansion, indicating to Ariel Sharon’s government that so long as it proceeds with plans to withdraw from Gaza, Israel is at liberty to consolidate its hegemony over the public domain in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The discreet braking mechanism has all but disappeared — and, silently, trends have been unleashed that will soon make the two-state solution impossible. All this takes place under the auspices of an administration that professes unprecedented support for Israel. If that is the intent, it is hardly the result. Nothing undermines the feasibility of President Bush’s two-state vision more than President Bush’s abandonment of reality-principle diplomacy. As such, the president is neither friend nor supporter of the Jewish state — because friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And that is precisely what this administration is doing”.
Specifically, what the Israeli E-1 plan will do is this, Seidemann explained: “Given the topography, it will dismember the West Bank into two cantons, with no natural connection between them. If implemented, the plan will create a critical mass of facts on the ground that will render nearly impossible the creation of a sustainable Palestinian state with any semblance of geographical integrity”.
Practically, it will mean that all Palestinian traffic between the north and the south of the West Bank will have to be rerouted almost all the way to the Dead Sea — unless the unannounced Israeli highway plans do, as Palestinians have suspected, mean a new separate Palestinian road system to the east of Jerusalem, with massive traffic problems expected at several huge new checkpoints for people as well as for cargo.
Developing E-1 will also mean the displacement of the Jahalin bedouin tribes who have lived in this area since being expelled from other areas, including the Negev, following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
And, it will mean a brutal squeeze on any possible expansion of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem and also in the area of the West Bank that Israel named the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality” following its unilaterally extension of its laws and administration in late June 1967.