(UPDATED) Last week, 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.
Today, Peace Now and APN released an update to the report, to include new information regarding the Netanyahu Government's issuance of tenders for the planning for almost 25,000 new settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In addition to the approvals/tenders previously reported, it has now become public that on October 24th and October 30th the Ministry of Housing and Construction published tenders for planning of large-scale settlement construction: 19,786 new settlement housing units in the West Bank and 4,000 new settlement housing units in East Jerusalem.
These planning tenders do not mean imminent construction. However, they represent a serious government action, involving costs estimated by the Ministry at over NIS 49 million (more than USD 13,829,487) and they pave the way for construction in coming years. As such, they constitute an important indicator of this Government's intentions with respect to future construction in the planned areas. Moreover, these planning tenders are significant not only for the sheer quantity of units involved, but also for the locations involved, dealing with areas where construction is wholly incompatible with a negotiated two-state solution. NOTE: After the news of the planning tenders became public, Prime Minister Netanyahu has announced that a single element of one of the tenders - planning for a neighborhood of 1,200 units in E-1, will not be pursued; the remaining 22,586 - most of which are for construction east of the separation barrier - will apparently go ahead.
The full report - including detailed information about the planning tenders and details of all the approvals and tenders (including all the data in table form), can be viewed/downloaded here.
As APN and Peace Now observed last week about the previously-known tenders and approvals, 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.
Bibi's Settlements Boom: March-November 2013
[Updated 11/12 -- Even Bigger Boom Than Was Known]
- 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. Full details are included below.
- 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. Full details are included below.
- [UPDATED] In addition to the approvals/tenders previously reported, it has now become public that on October 24th and October 30th the Ministry of Housing and Construction published tenders for planning of large-scale settlement construction: 19,786 new settlement housing units in the West Bank and 4,000 new settlement housing units in East Jerusalem. These planning tenders do not mean imminent construction. However, they represent a serious government action, involving costs estimated by the Ministry at over NIS 49 million (more than USD 13,829,487) and they pave the way for construction in coming years. As such, they constitute an important indicator of this Government's intentions with respect to future construction in the planned areas. Moreover, these planning tenders are significant not only for the sheer quantity of units involved, but also for the locations involved, dealing with areas where construction is wholly incompatible with a negotiated two-state solution. Full details are included below.
- NOTE: After the news of the planning tenders became public, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that a single element of one of the tenders - planning for a neighborhood of 1,200 units in E-1, will not be pursued. Planning for the remaining 22,586 - most of which are for construction east of the separation barrier - will apparently go ahead.
- 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 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.
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 this 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 this 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.
- Planning tenders
In addition to the settlement approvals/construction tenders covered in this report, on October 24th and October 30th the Ministry of Housing and Construction published three tenders for planning of large-scale settlement construction: 19,786 new settlement housing units in the West Bank and 4,000 new settlement housing units at East Jerusalem. The Ministry estimates the costs involved in carrying out this planning at over 49 million NIS (more than USD 13,829,487). (For full data/details, see table at the end of this document.)
Tenders for planning are completely different from tenders for construction. Tenders for construction generally mean plan will be implemented on the ground imminently. Tenders for planning are a much earlier stage that opens the door for construction several years down the road. It is thus important to understand: these planning tenders do NOT mean imminent construction of almost 25,000 new units. However, they constitute an important indicator of the Government of Israel's long-term intentions with respect to the areas in question. These tenders are significant not only for the quantity of units involved, but for the fact that they involve planning in areas where settlement construction is wholly incompatible with the two-state solution. These include plans for:
- A neighborhood of E-1: Planning has been tendered for a new neighborhood in the E-1 area, comprised of 1,200 housing units in a previously unplanned area of the site. This new plan will be in additional to the two plans pending plans (promoted previously by Netanyahu) for construction of 3,426 units at the site. NOTE: After news of the planning tenders became public, Netanyahu reportedly declared that planning for this specific neighborhood would be frozen.
- Expansion of Maale Adumim: Planning for 2,520 new units, almost all of which would be beyond the built-up area of the existing settlement.
- A new East Jerusalem settlement in Atarot: Planning has been tendered for a brand new settlement neighborhood in East Jerusalem, adjacent to Qalandia, and just south of Ramallah. The plan is for 4,000 housing units. An Atarot settlement neighborhood exists today, but its Jewish-Israeli population is small (it is mainly an industrial zone). Thus, this plan is de facto for the creation of a new settlement neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and a large one at that. Furthermore, the location of the planned settlement - sandwiched between Ramallah and the center of East Jerusalem - would be extremely problematic for any agreement on the future of Jerusalem. Plans for a settlement at Atarot have surfaced previously, but have never progressed to the point of formal, government-backed planning (see here, here, and here).
- Major expansion of Ramallah-Area Settlements: Planning has been tendered for 12,500 new housing units in settlements located around Ramallah, all of which are located east of the separation barrier.
Major expansion of south of Bethlehem: Planning has been tendered for 3316 new settlement housing units south of Bethlehem. Of these, 2116 of the planned units are in settlements east of the separation barrier. In addition, one of the plans is for the establishment of a new residential settlement, involving construction of 840 new settlement housing units at Giva'at Eitam (an area that is currently only approved only for an agricultural farm that has zero housing units). The site is northeast of Efrat, east of the planned route of the separation barrier and adjacent to Bethlehem from the south. Finally, at least 2 plans are for construction at unauthorized outposts, for 548 housing units.