Within a short period of time, we have witnessed three very problematic developments all relating to the geographical are of Ma’ale Adumim and E-1 -developments that are so inter-connected they cannot be viewed as coincidental. Together they are a clear indication that the policies of an increasingly defiant Netanyahu are increasingly ambitious, and devastating in their impact.
The Potential War Crime of Khan al Ahmar: For years we’ve been reporting on threats to displace Bedouin living in the West Bank just outside of Jerusalem, in the area onto which Israeli wants expand Ma’ale Adumim and build the E-1 settlement. These threats and specific policies targeting communities in question, including home demolitions, have been documented in detail by Israeli and international human rights organizations. Most recently, the world has focused on the plight of the community of Khan al Ahmar, which drew attention months ago when Israel issued demolition orders for every home in the village.
The threat to Khan al Ahmar has become more severe in recent days, as the fate of the village goes before Israel’s High Court of Justice. The State has made clear to the court that it plans to evict the residents and demolish the village by the middle of 2018 – in effect, the State is looking to the Court to provide legal cover for it doing so. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem last week issued a press release responding to the State’s position: B’Tselem: Israel is asking the High Court’s permission to commit war crime.
The term “war crime” is something we don’t bandy about lightly, and cannot recall using it prior to the case of Khan al Ahmar. However there is convincing validity to B’Tselem’s claim that the forceful displacement of a civilian population under occupation, such as the residents of Khan al Ahmar, is a serious war crime. The question arises: why would Netanyahu risk proceedings under international law in order to remove 2,500 Bedouin from the E-1 area? We have long argued that Netanyahu’s government is carrying out a systematic policy of implementing the de facto annexation of Area C. A major component of that policy is the neutralization of the Palestinian presence in Area C, which is generally achieved by fencing or walling off the Palestinian villages, and linking them by sealed roads to Areas A and B. They are in scattered encampments, making enclosing them (as Israel has done with Palestinian villages like Azza’ayyem and Al Khadr) difficult, and – given the flimsy nature of the Bedouin dwellings – making them an easy target for outright displacement.
Peace Now statement 9/25: “This type of forceful evacuation of protected persons constitutes a severe violation of international humanitarian law…”
Haaretz lead editorial, 9/24: Stop the Forced Uprooting of Bedouin Communities From the West Bank
Haaretz 9/17: Bedouin in Unauthorized West Bank Village Urged to Relocate, Warned of Evictions
B’Tselem 9/14: Israel moves to advance forcible transfer of Khan al-Ahmar
B’Tselem 9/4: Hagai El-ad letter to Israeli Govt officials re: war crime
The Jerusalem Umbrella Municipality and de facto Annexation: In the past, we have flagged Netanyahu’s support for a legislative initiative to include settlements in Jerusalem’s environs within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Until now, this assessment was based on a sole declaration made by Netanyahu several weeks ago. No longer. In a widely covered Likud event in Ma’ale Adumim, Netanyahu elected to highlight his support and left no doubt as to just how serious it is.
Such a move has correctly been viewed in the past as tantamount to de facto annexation and the erasure of the Green Line, now bolstered by his declaration that Ma’ale Adumim would “forever remain a part of Israel” (see the Times of Israel published an article headlined: “In Ma’ale Adumim, Netanyahu promises thousands of new West Bank homes”). Coupled with another legislative initiative – excising more than 100,000 Palestinians currently within the Israeli defined municipal limits by even more gerrymandering of the city’s boundary – a new and deeply disturbing geopolitical reality is taking shape before our very eyes.
New Settlement Construction: The second centerpiece of Netanyahu’s October 2 appearance is equally disturbing. The Washington Post quoted the Prime Minister as saying he was announcing a period of “enhanced development.” The Post went on:
“’We will build thousands of housing units here,’” he [Netanyahu] said. ’We will add the industrial zone needed and the expansion needed to allow for the advanced development of this place… This place will be part of the state of Israel…’”
We have monitored developments in and around Ma’ale Adumim for more than a quarter of a century. Exhibiting caution, until now we have stated that the increased pressure on Khan al Ahmar alone was not a clear indication that the decision to proceed with E-1 was imminent. That is no longer the case: the green light to Givat Hamatos, the support for de facto annexation in the framework of an umbrella municipality, the location of the October 2 event and the mention of thousands of new settlements units leads to the inescapable conclusion that the threat of approving and implementing E-1 is a real and present danger, even if not yet explicitly declared by Netanyahu.
The last time Netanyahu took action was in December 2012, in the wake of a UNGA resolution granting the Palestinians non-member status (we covered this in detail here). In a punitive measure, he ordered the E-1 plan be deposited for public review. At that time, as prior to that in the past, the only thing that prevented Netanyahu from moving forward with the settlement of E-1 (and related settlement expansion in the Ma’ale Adumim area) was fear of the response from the international community, and especially of the United States. More than 6 months into the Trump Era, there is every indication that fear of a negative U.S. engagement is less likely than in the past. With a Brexit-torn Europe and a world preoccupied with North Korea and Crimea, Netanyahu may well believe that he as it liberty to proceed with E-1 with minimal repercussions, and ones that he can contain in ways not possible in the past.