New Peace Now/APN Report: Bibi's Settlements Boom -- March-November 2013

bibi-settlements186x140.jpg11/12/13 UPDATE: Settlement Boom Even Bigger Than Was Known

Today, Peace Now (Israel) and Americans for Peace Now released a new report looking at the first 8 months of the Netanyahu government and its record regarding settlements. The key findings are summarized below, followed by a detailed examination of the data. The full report, including all the data in table form, can be viewed/downloaded here.

Key findings:

  • During these first 8 months of the new Netanyahu government, there has been a non-stop settlements construction and approval boom.
  • The most recent evidence of this came with the latest round of Palestinian prisoners released by Israel, which was accompanied by the publication of tenders for 2,258 new units in settlements, and the promotion of plans for 2,487 new units in settlements. >
  • These tenders and approvals were just the latest symptoms of the longstanding trend. Overall, since the establishment of the current government on March 18th, 2013, tenders have been published for 3,472 new units in settlements, and plans have been promoted for no fewer than 8,943 new settlement units.
  • These facts once again raise the very serious question about the motivations and intentions of Prime Minister Netanyahu with respect to peace, negotiations, and the two-state solution.
Negotiations or Settlements: What is the true policy of the Netanyahu Government?

In recent days, Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu has worked to sell the narrative that he is serious about peace and that the only obstruction on the road to successful negotiations for a two-state solution is Palestinian intransigence. Whether Netanyahu honestly believes he is serious when he talks about wanting peace is something only he knows for certain. However, as Netanyahu constantly reminds the world with respect to his adversaries - particularly Iran and the Palestinians - political leaders should be judged on their actions, not their words.

By this standard, Netanyahu's actions over the past 8 months - the period since his new government took office - demonstrate the opposite of a commitment to peace and a two-state solution.

The data show unambiguously that Netanyahu, in his new term in office, and both before and after the launch of the latest peace effort, has forged ahead with settlements at a truly alarming pace. Prior to the start of the new peace effort, planning for settlement expansion continued unabated, as did construction on the ground. Since the start of talks, settlement-related approvals of every category have surged, with the evidence today pointing to the conclusion that Netanyahu elected to go with the Palestinian prisoner release option as cover for "bulk approvals" of settlement growth.

To be clear: there is nothing anomalous about these findings. The data for Netanyahu's current term in office is entirely consistent with his actions and policies during the previous four years in office, as documented exhaustively in our January 2013 analysis, "Settlements & the Netanyahu Government: A Deliberate Policy of Undermining the Two-State Solution." At that time, we noted that during the first four year Netanyahu's government was in office, "its policies and actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Looking ahead, the question is: can or will anyone convince Netanyahu to change course? The answer will be critical, given the damage that has already been done to the credibility of the current peace effort. It is all the more critical given that, assuming talks survive in the coming months, there is every likelihood that Netanyahu will once again seek to exploit the remaining two prisoner releases for further settlement-related provocations - provocations that represent a real threat not only to the sustainability of talks, but to the viability of the two-state solution.

  • Tenders

Over the past 8 months, tenders have been issued for 3,472 new settlement units. Of these, 1,457 are in the West Bank and another 2,015 are in East Jerusalem. Assuming a settler family size of 5 people, this means housing for more than 17,000 new Israeli settlers. (For full data/details, see tables at the end of the full document.)

Issuance of tenders is one of the final steps before a construction can get started. The tender, which is issued after the approval and validation of a plan, is actually the governmental publication of a call for proposals to buy the rights to build the project. Once the bidding process is completed, the winning bidder can apply for a construction permit from the municipality. Once that permit has been issued, work can start. In general, construction may begin several months after the issuing of the tender.

  • Promotion of Plans

Over the past 8 months, the Netanyahu government has promoted plans for 8,943 new settlement units. Of these, 6,521 are in the West Bank and another 2,422 in East Jerusalem. Assuming a settler family size of 5 people, this means housing for more than 44,000 new Israeli settlers.(For full data/details, see tables at the end of the full document.)

The planning process for settlements includes a number of steps (for details, see Peace Now's document, Making Sense of the Planning Process; for details of East Jerusalem planning, see this presentation by Danny Seidemann). Each step of the planning process takes a settlement plan closer to implementation. History has demonstrated clearly that approval of planning for settlements translates to settlement construction - that is, Israeli official arguments that planning approvals should not be controversial, since construction is still theoretical or a long way off, do not pass the laugh test.

It should be noted that there has been some confusion in the media about the total number of units involved. This is because during this period, some plans have been promoted multiple times, through different stages of the planning process. When we count the total number of units that have been promoted through the various stages of planning during this period, we get a much larger number (11,873 units). This number reflects the fact that some plans are being counted more than once. For example, a plan is considered as being promoted when a decision is made to take it up in the relevant planning committee, to determine if it will be deposited for public review. The plan is also counted as being promoted when a decision is taken to formally deposit the plan for public review (bureaucratically an entirely distinct step from the planning committee consideration).

In terms of timing of promotion of plans during the past 8 months, the breakdown is as follows, with some plans appearing multiple times:

  • 5,577 units were promoted during the 5 months prior to the start of talks
  • 3,053 units were promoted in the two-week period around the first prisoners release.
  • 756 units were promoted during the 2 months of talks.
  • 2,487 units were promoted at the time of the second round of prisoners release.
  • The Public Domain

Over the past 8 months, the Netanyahu government has promoted two major plans related to the public domain in East Jerusalem - one in Silwan, the other on Mount Scopus. The impact of these plans should not be underestimated.

Specifically, in tandem with the second prisoner release, Netanyahu permitted the promotion of the Givati Parking Lot plan, which involves construction of a huge settler-run visitor center outside of the Old City, near the Dung Gate. This site happens to also be the entrance to Silwan - an area targeted for years by settlers. Implementation of this project would have potentially devastating consequences for the two-state solution and for the currant stability of Jerusalem.

In addition, Netanyahu permitted promotion of the Mt. Scopus Park plan. As Danny Seidemann has written, this plan seeks "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, forging a geographical link between the Old City basin and E-1."

In East Jerusalem, the battle to dominate the terrain is not limited to individual settler homes and housing projects. In recent years, it has increasingly focused on the public domain - parks, archeological areas and tourist facilities, etc. A large number of plans have been promoted in recent years that place huge areas of the public domain under the control of settlers and settler-linked groups, or that develop the areas of the benefit of a settler-oriented ideology. The underlying logic of such plans is to marginalize the Palestinian presence in core areas of East Jerusalem, to link up these areas to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and to create a contiguous Israeli/Jewish presence that anchoring Maale Adumim and the proposed E-1 settlement to Israel.

  • Benefits to Settlers

In addition to continued construction and approval of planning for more construction in settlements, on August 4, days after the start of new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Israeli Government approved a new list of Israeli localities eligible for special benefits as national "priority development areas." The 2013 list designated 90 settlements as national priority development areas, including some settlements located deep inside the West Bank. These special benefits are designed to attract Israelis to move into the designated areas, and to entice those already living there to stay put.

  • Construction without Tenders

As Peace Now documented, the first six months of 2013, bridging between the two Netanyahu governments, saw a 70% increase in new construction starts in settlements, as compared to the same period in 2012. This comprised starts on 1,708 new settlement units, 180 of which were in illegal outposts (compared to 995 for the same period in 2012). Peace Now documented, too, the completion of 1,794 settlement units. In total, 2,840 housing units were started, under construction, or completed during this period. Assuming a family of five, this translated to more than 14,000 new settlers.

Notably, 86% of the construction that was started during this period did not involve any tenders. This is why construction was able to surge ahead at a time when popular wisdom held that Netanyahu, in a show of good faith and generosity toward President Obama's new peace effort, was quietly "freezing" new settlement projects by ceasing to issue tenders for settlement construction. What few people understood, then or now, is that Israeli planning regulations grant authority over a great deal of settlement construction to settlement municipalities - meaning that decisions over construction in many settlements is in the hands of the settlers themselves.