Alarmed Israeli experts are using unusually strong language in warnings about their government’s authorizations this week for settlement activities in the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem — and about the possible consequences.
U.S. and world leaders interested in peace and stability in the Middle East — which President Barack Obama has said is an American strategic interest – should take note. But reaction has been very slow in coming.
Palestinian officials, meanwhile, are busy with internal feuding and possible reconciliation, and are distracted by exhaustion just over half-way through the special month of Ramadan with its total prohibitions (in public, at least) on activities such as eating, drinking (including water), and smoking for some 14 hours a day (from two hours before dawn until sunset). Palestinian officials are also keeping relatively quiet because they do not want to jeopardize President Mahmoud Abbas’s forthcoming visit to the high-level segment of the annual UN General Assembly debate in about ten days’ time, with its planned whirlwind of formal and informal diplomatic meetings with the world’s top leaders, including the head of state of the UN’s host county, U.S. President Barack Obama. In addition, Palestinian officials generally tend to believe that these problems are really not so much theirs, as the responsibility of the international community.
But, Akiva Eldar reports in Haaretz today that “Three days after the U.S. administration criticized the decision of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to authorize the construction of hundreds of new housing units in settlements, the Israel Lands Administration published tenders for the construction of 486 apartments in the neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev in East Jerusalem”.
To call the U.S. reaction to the moves that started on Monday — the Labor Day holiday in the States, when all of official Washington was taking time off — “criticism” may be a slight exaggeration. As Akiva Eldar notes in the last sentence of his piece, “a source familiar with the exchanges between Israel and the U.S. on the issue of a settlement freeze told Haaretz that the Obama administration is not interested in a crisis with the government of Netanyahu on settlements“. It might be understandable that nobody wants a “crisis” — but crisis might well be what they will get if this issue is fobbed off once again.
There has been a concentrated surge in Israeli settlement activity in and around East Jerusalem since the end of the three-week massive Israeli military attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, from 27 December to 18 January.
According to Akiva Eldar, “The new construction project is designated for the outer edge of the northeastern municipal boundary of Jerusalem, and will narrow the distance between the homes on the edge of the neighborhood and the nearby Palestinian communities. Bids have been solicited for construction on an overall area of 138 dunams (about 34 acres), which was subdivided into 25 smaller tenders. The Obama administration has made it clear on a number of occasions that it is demanding that Israel freeze settlement construction in the territories, including in East Jerusalem. Two months ago, it was reported that Netanyahu had ordered a delay in the publication of the tenders”.
Eldar also reported that “Daniel Seidemann, the founder of Ir Amim, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote coexistence in Jerusalem, said last night that tenders of such magnitude would not be announced if they did not have the support of the prime minister. Seidemann describes the bid-taking as yet another example of a fraud that leads to creating facts on the ground even though there is talk of a freeze in settlement construction”. Eldar’s story can be read in full here.
Seidemann was the founder and is now the legal adviser of Ir Amim, or *City of Nations” — an organization that is devoted to developing a politically-sustainable future for a Jerusalem that will be equitably shared between its two peoples and three religions.
Jerusalem, one of the most segregated cities in the region, is Israel’s declared capital (a move that was made in 1980 but which is not “recognized” diplomatically by almost every country in the world) and its largest — and poorest — city. East Jerusalem, which did not become part of Israel at the time of its state creation in May 1948, is where almost all of the city’s Palestinian residents (who are overwhelmingly not Israeli citizens) live. However, there are now large areas (“neighborhoods”) of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian declaration in 1988 (made in Algiers by Yasser Arafat, then endorsed by the full Palestine National Council) claimed East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state — a position that the most of the world, including the U.S. Administration. has until now appeared to endorse.
An email advisory about a new report recently released by Ir Imim notes that:
* As of today, about 2,000 settlers live in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
* In recent months, the settlement process in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem has accelerated – in the area that is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plans are meant to establish Jewish residential contiguity in the neighborhoods surrounding the Old City, and place settlers in the heart of the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City, in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah.
* These settlements are part of a strategic process, coordinated and advanced by various governmental authorities and the Municipality of Jerusalem.
… [And] in the first half of 2009 plans to build 150 additional residential units in East Jerusalem were advanced. These would be able to house about 750 additional settlers in strategic sites in the eastern part of the city. Moreover, plans were advanced to build public Jewish structures like synagogues, mikvot, and community centers in these sensitive areas. The report notes that the majority of the building is carried out by private bodies, and [settler] associations like ‘Elad’ and ‘Ateret Cohenim’. However, it is clear that these activities are part of a strategic plan conceptualized, coordinated, and advanced by various government agencies, as well as by the Municipality of Jerusalem. The latter’s role includes support of the accelerated processes in approving settlement plans; and ‘vigilance’ in demolishing homes in these neighborhoods. In the report’s appendix, other processes likely to influence the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are tracked, especially the expansion of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the demolition of Palestinian homes. The appendix notes reports of land acquisitions in Samir Amis — in northern Jerusalem on the other side of the separation fence [n.b., Semiramis is also on the other side of what Israeli military officials call a “border crossing”, the Qalandia checkpoint] — in Beit Hanina, in Jabel Mukaber, in the Muslim quarter, as well as in other areas”.
The text of the Ir Amim report says that there are “three urgent threats to a negotiated agreement in Jerusalem:
1. The accelerated process of Israeli settlement in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem.
2. Plans for development of E-1, which would prevent future development of a Palestinian capital to the east, and sever its connection with the West Bank.
3. The proposed Jerusalem master plan (Jerusalem 2000), which threatens to reengineer the demographic distribution of Palestinians and Israelis in East
Jerusalem; and to isolate a number of Palestinian communities”.
The report also states that “Recent months have seen the acceleration of the process of Israeli settlement in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. These settlements create a crescent of Jewish population along the ridges surrounding the Old City, and implant Jewish population in the midst of the Muslim and Christian Quarters, as well as in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah – precisely in the areas of most intense dispute in the Palestinian /Israeli conflict. At the start of 2009 approximately 2000 Israeli settlers were living in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem – primarily in the historic area. In the first half of 2009, plans are being advanced for the building of an additional 150 housing units that could settle another 750 people in strategic areas of disputed East Jerusalem. In addition, plans were advanced for Jewish community facilities (e.g., synagogues, community centers, ritual baths, etc.) in these areas. Most of this activity is executed by private bodies, such as the Elad and Ateret Cohanim associations. However, it is evident that individual settlements are part of a strategic move, coordinated and facilitated by national governmental units, as well as by the Jerusalem Municipality. The latter’s contribution is manifested in expedition of planning processes and increased ‘vigilance’ regarding housing demolitions in the affected communities. Of special concern are the recently exposed plans for a massive expansion of settlements in Ras Al-Amud and Silwan, as well as the approval of plans for construction in Sheikh Jarrah and attendant evictions … A number of reports have appeared in the Israeli press about land purchases by settler organizations in various Palestinian neighborhoods. Ir Amim understands that there have been undisclosed purchases in Samiramis (north of the Separation Barrier, but within the Jerusalem municipal lines), Beit Hanina, Jabel Mukaber, and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City … According to the Municipality of Jerusalem, in the first six months of 2009, 40 Palestinian structures were demolished, including 15 which were demolished by the owners. This number is roughly representative of the average number of demolitions carried out in half a year in past years (i.e., 42 homes). Over the years 2004 – 2008, an average of 84 Palestinian homes were demolished in Jerusalem yearly. In 2008, 88 homes were demolished. In this half-year period, demolitions occurred in virtually all of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including 5 in the Old City. It is notable that in the entire year of 2008, only 3 homes were demolished in the Old City”.
The full Ir Amim report in English can be viewed here .
Shaul Arieli, a military aide to then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the time of the Camp David negotiations conducted with the Palestinians under the auspices of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the year 2000, has just published on his website a dramatic power point presentation of the extensive Israeli preparations to develop the “E-1 envelope” in the West Bank half way between East Jerusalem and Dead Sea, opposite the very large Israeli settlement Maale Adumim, which is just south of the main Road One (1). Arieli’s photographs and explanations show massive Israeli infrastructure development of a new area designated as “Mevasseret Adumim”, on the northern side of the main highway to the Dead Sea, Road One (1), where now there is only the recently-relocated Police Station (moved from the East Jerusalem area of Ras al-Amud earlier this year, despite straight-faced statements of Israeli officials last year to then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the police station move would not take place in the near future).
Arieli, who is now a member of Israel’s Council on Peace and Security, an independent organization of former military and other officials, later developed the maps and the 1:1 land swap proposal that were an important part of the Geneva Initiative — a proposal for a conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations that was launched with Swiss support in December 2003 by “civil society” (critics, however, called them has-been and wanna-be politicians). The 1:1 land swap was a feature of the reported offer (details are only very sketchy) that was apparently made by Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last year.
In his powerpoint presentation, Arieli concludes that “the strategic consequences [of Israeli settlement development in the West Bank] are alarming. Israel continues to invest in the [E-1] plan as if no final status negotiations are taking place, or as if it does not treat the negotiations with the seriousness needed to conclude an agreement. It continues to position itself in the West Bank, including entrenching the settlement enterprise under an apparent work assumption that the conflict would continue … On the one hand, Israel is negotiating over final status … on the other hand, it is investing heavily in creating reality that eliminates the ability to reach such an agreement. Either the government is knowingly wasting the taxpayer’s money, or is purposefully undermining the ability to conclude a final status agreement”.
Arieli’s powerpoint presentation, with its photos and maps, can be viewed here .
For background on these complicated local issues with international ramifications, here is some information compiled by BTselem, which calls itself “the Israeli information center for Human Rights in the occupied territories”:
“At the end of 2008, the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) contained 121 settlements that the Interior Ministry recognized as ‘communities’, even though some of them contain stretches of land on which the built-up area is not contiguous. Twelve other large settlements and small settlement points are located on land annexed by Israel in 1967 and made part of Jerusalem. There are an additional 100 or so unrecognized settlements, referred to in the media as “outposts,” which are usually smaller than the recognized settlements. By the end of 2008, the number of settlers in the West Bank stood at 479,500. This figure is based on two components: according to Israel´s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in 2008, 285,800 settlers were living in the West Bank, excluding East. In addition, based on growth statistics for the entire population of Jerusalem, the settler population in East Jerusalem at the end of 2008 is estimated at 193,700. According to CBS´s estimate, in 2008, the settler population (excluding East Jerusalem) grew at a much faster rate than the general population: 4.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent respectively [And] In 2007, the population of the settlements (excluding East Jerusalem) grew faster than Israel´s general population: 4.5 percent compared to 1.5 percent”. This information can be examined in full here.
“Since East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967, the government of Israel´s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city. To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews, and reduce the number of Palestinians, living in the city. At the end of 2005, the population of Jerusalem stood at 723,700: 482,500 Jews (67 percent) and 241,200 Palestinians (33 percent). About 58 percent of the residents live on land that was annexed in 1967 (45 percent of whom are Jews, and 55 percent Palestinians). With the Palestinians having a higher growth rate than the Jews, Israel has used various methods to achieve its goal:
* Physically isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, in part by building the separation barrier;
* Discriminating in land expropriation, planning, and building, and demolition of houses;
* Revoking residency and social benefits of Palestinians who stay abroad for at least seven years, or who are unable to prove that their center of life is in Jerusalem;
* Unfairly dividing the budget between the two parts of the city, with harmful effects on infrastructure and services in East Jerusalem.
Israel´s policy gravely infringes the rights of residents of East Jerusalem and flagrantly breaches international law. East Jerusalem is occupied territory. Therefore, it is subject, as is the rest of the West Bank, to the provisions of international humanitarian law that relate to occupied territory. The annexation of East Jerusalem breaches international law, which prohibits unilateral annexation”. This can be studied on the BTselem website here.
“Between 1948 and June of 1967, Jerusalem was divided in two: West Jerusalem, which covered an area of about 38 square kilometers was under Israeli control, and East Jerusalem, which contained an area of some 6 sq. km [n.b., this refers just to the Old City, which is all there was of East Jerusalem until Israeli unilateral annexation of suburban areas in 1967 created Greater Municipal Jerusalem, an area over which Israel formally extended, at that time, its administration and law], was ruled by Jordan. In June 1967, following the 1967 War, Israel annexed some 70 sq. km to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, and imposed Israeli law there. These annexed territories included not only the part of Jerusalem that had been under Jordanian rule, but also an additional 64 square kilometers, most of which had belonged to 28 villages in the West Bank, and part of which belonged to the municipalities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala. Following their annexation, the area of West Jerusalem tripled, and Jerusalem became the largest city in Israel. Prior to 1967, therefore, most of the area comprising present-day Jerusalem was not part of the city (West or East), but rather part of the West Bank. The new borders, set by a committee headed by General Rehavam Ze’evi, then assistant to the head of the Operations Branch of the Israel Defense Forces’ General Staff, were approved by Israel’s government”. This information can be viewed on the BTselem website here.
For background on the E-1 or E1 issue discussed in Shaul Arieli’s powerpoint presentation, here is some information from a leaked and not-officially-adopted report by the EU Heads of Mission in East Jerusalem and in Ramallah — in 2005, so some of the details are out-of-date:
“E1 (derived from ‘East 1’) is the term applied by the Israeli Ministry of Housing to a planned new neighbourhood within the municipal borders of the large Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim (30,000+ residents), linking it to the municipal boundary of Jerusalem (a unilateral Israeli line well east of the Green Line). E1, along with a maximalist barrier around Ma’ale Adumim, would complete the encircling of East Jerusalem and cut the West Bank into two parts, and further restrict access into and out of Jerusalem. The economic prospects of the Wset Bank (where GDP is under $1000 a year) are highly dependent on access to East Jerusalem (where GDP is around $3500 a year). [n.b. – In Israel in 2005, the GDP may have been around $18,000 per year, and it is now more like $24,000 per year] Estimates of the contribution made by East Jerusalem to the Palestinian economy as a whole vary between a quarter and a third. From an economic perspective, the viability of a Palestinian state depends to a great extent on the preservation of organic links between East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem.
“E1 is an old plan which was drawn up by Rabin’s government in 1994 but never implemented. The plan was revived by the housing Ministry in 2003, and preliminary construction in the E1 area began in 2004. Since his resignation from the Cabinet, Netanyahu has tried to make E1 a campaign issue.
“The development plans for E1 include:
§ the erection of at least 3,500 housing units (for approx. 15,000 residents);
§ an economic development zone;
§ construction of the police headquarters for the West Bank that shall be relocated from Ras el-Amud;
§ commercial areas, hotels and ‘special housing’, universities and ‘special projects’, a cemetery and a waste disposal site.
§ About 75% of the plan’s total area is earmarked for a park that will surround all these components.
§ So far only the plans for the economic development zone have received the necessary authorisations for building to commence. The plans related to residential areas and the building of the Police Headquarters have been approved by the Ma’aleh Adumim Municipality but not yet by the Civil Administration’s Planning Council.
“The current built-up area of Ma’aleh Adumim covers only 15% of the planned area. The overall plan for Ma’aleh Adumim, including E1, covers an area of at least 53 square kilometres (larger than Tel Aviv) stretching from Jerusalem to Jericho (comment: Israel’s defence of settlement expansion ‘within existing settlement boundaries’ therefore covers a potentially huge area). In August 2005 Israel published land requisition orders for construction of the barrier around the southern edge of the Adumim bloc, following the route approved by the Israeli cabinet on 20 February 2005 (including most of the municipal area of Ma’aleh Adumim).
The E1 project would cut across the main central traffic route for Palestinians travelling from Bethlehem to Ramallah. This route is actually an alternative to route 60, which until 2001 was the main north-south highway connecting the major Palestinian cities (Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron) on the ridge of mountains in the West Bank. And Palestinians currently have only restricted access to route 60 (either permits are required for certain segments or roads are blocked), especially from/to the Jerusalem area.
“Since 2003, some preparatory work has taken place. In the northern sector of E-1, where residential housing is planned, the top of a hill has been levelled in order to allow construction. In the southern section, where a police station and hotels are planned, an unpaved road has been constructed. But no further work has been carried out for over a year. On 25 August 2005 Israel announced plans to build the new police headquarters for the West Bank in E1, transferring it from its present location in East Jerusalem. Many previous settlements have started with a police station, and we are aware from Israeli NGOs that Israel has plans to convert the existing West Bank police headquarters, in Ras Al-Amud, into further settlement housing”.
This 2005 EU document — which was never officially adopted — can be viewed in full here on the Electronic Intifada website.