Thursday, February 15, 2024

The year 2023 was extremely fruitful for the expansion of Israel's settlements

The almost ready Qalandia 'underpass'

 The formation of the Netanyahu government in December 2022 has created unprecedented conditions for the expansion of settlements. Among them were the promotion of a record number of construction plans, minimal law enforcement against activities of settlers, substantial budgets, and almost unconditional political support for settlers, even in cases involving violence against Palestinians, according to Peace Now. The NGO publishes the following data: 

a. Establishment of new outposts and displacement of Palestinian communities – A record number of 26 new outposts were established during 2023, while 21 Palestinian communities were forcibly displaced from their homes.

b. Advancement of construction plans – A record number of 12,349 housing units were promoted in settlements in the West Bank (East Jerusalem excluded).

c. The legalization of 15 illegal outposts was advanced.

d. Structural and administrative changes towards annexation of the Occupied Territories.

e. Development and promotion of roads – Allocation of approximately 3 billion Shekels for roads in settlements, constituting around 20% of the total Israeli road investment.

  1. a. Establishment of New Outposts
In 2023, settlers established at least 26 new illegal outposts, At least ten of them were established after the 7th of October, when Hamas attacked Israel. At least 18 of them are agricultural farms. It marks a record number since the outposts started to appear under the Netanyahu government in 1996. Also settlers established a new settlement within Hebron in a Palestinian house that they claim to have bought.
The peak years of outpost establishment were during the Second Intifada, suggesting that settlers are adept at exploiting times of conflict. Enforcement by the Civil Administration against illegal construction almost did not occur in the past year under the Netanyahu-Smotrich government.  
Moreover, settlers paved dozens of new roads during the war throughout the entire West Bank. These roads enable them to seize additional land and distance Palestinian shepherds and farmers from the surroundings.

In direct relation to the establishment of outposts, approximately 1,345 Palestinians were forced to flee from their homes due to violent attacks by settlers, according to Btselem data. Twenty-one Palestinian communities were displaced and uprooted, 16 of them during the war since October 7, and 5 communities prior to that. Dozens of more families were displaced from communities that remained in place. In almost all cases farm outposts were recently established near hem, whose residents see themselves as having a goal to expel Palestinians from the surroundings. They often threaten, and attack Palestinian farmers and shepherds. 

II, Advancement of Construction Plans

In 2023, the Israeli government promoted plans for the construction of 12,349 housing units in settlements in the West Bank. These plans were either approved for depositing or validation. According to Peace Now’s estimation, this marks a  record since the Oslo Accords. Additionally, the Ministry of Housing published tenders for 1,289 housing units. In June, a plan for a 2,700 dunams new industrial zone south of Qalqilya, named Sha’ar Shomron was deposited for public review.

The Huwwara bypass road

III,  Legalization of Outposts 

15 illegal outposts underwent the process of legalization. On February 12, 2023, the security cabinet decided to establish 9 new settlements, constituting the legalization of 10 illegal outposts (see details here). Additionally, the government advanced plans to legalize five outposts as “neighborhoods” of existing settlements (more information here). All settlements are considered illegal under international law, however Israel has established criteria by which they are deemed legal according to Israeli standards.

Appendix A: List of Outposts whose Legalization was advanced in 2023:

Avigail, Beit Hoga, Haroeh, Giavt Harel, Givay Arnon (Hill 777). Mitze Yehuda (Keidar East), Malachei Hashalom, Asael, Sde Boaz, Shaharit, Mevo'ot Yericho, Noefi Yehemiya, Pné Kedem, Zayit Ra'anan, Nativ Ha'avot. 

List of outposts established in the year 2023:

Or Meir; Seorim Farm – Immanuel South; Tko’a F; Nahal Machoch Farm; Mevo’ot Yericho West; Negohot North; Sde Yonatan; Givat Haktoret; Asa’el North; Gitit South; Avihai Farm; Ohana Farm; Beqa’ot South; Bar Farm; Old Maon Farm; Shabo Family Farm; Ma’ale Efraim South East; Yahish Tzion; Susya South; Mitzpe Danny Farm; Battir West; Migdalim North; Neve Erez South; Avigayil East; Har Kanub North, Masua West.

Avigail East (Illustrations Peace Now)

  1. Structural and Administrative Changes Towards Annexation of the Occupied Territories:
  • Appointment of “Minister of Settlements” in the Ministry of Defense – Bezalel Smotrich was appointed as a Minister within the Ministry of Defense. He established a new governmental body, “the Settlement Administration,” which is designed to manage all aspects of life in the settlements. Thus far, the Civil Administration in the IDF was responsible for civilian life in the West Bank. (According to international law, the management of the occupied territory is supposed to be carried out by the military which is supposed to serve the interests of the occupied population). The establishment of the Settlements Administration signals the virtual annexation of the territories. 
  • Elimination of the Political Echelon Involvement in Promoting Settlements – The government of Israel decided on June 18, 2023, on a significant change in the planning procedures in the West Bank. It was decided that planning procedures would no longer require approval from the political echelon and the Minister of Defense (except for the stage of the allocation of the land for planning, which is in the hands of Minister Smotrich). This means that the government leaves the power in the hands of settlers and the civil servants. For more details, see here.
  1. Development and Promotion of Roads

In April 2023, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transportation signed a budget plan for the years 2023-2024 for the Ministry of Transportation. From a buget of approximately 16.5 billion shekels close to 4 billion shekels (3.898 billion) were designated for roads for settlements in the West Bank. This was about 24%  of Israel’s road budget. was allocated to the development of settlement roads.Roads are key to the development and expansion of settlements, and the extensive construction of highways could lead to a doubling of the number of settlers in the coming years. For example, the opening of the “Liberman Road” east of Bethlehem resulted in the doubling of the number of settlers along its route in less than a decade. It is worth noting however that in January 2024, the government approved a budget cut for the year 2024, as a consequence of the Gaza war. 

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