The prospect of the approval of E-1 and the demolition of Khan al Ahmar has just become more serious
- Since 1996, the E-1 settlement scheme to the east of Jerusalem has been universally viewed as the most devastating of Israel's planned settlements. It would fragment the West Bank, prevent integrating East Jerusalem into its environs and alone make the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian State impossible (for a comprehensive analysis of the key facts related to the construction of E1, read our previous report).
- Consequently, every major international leader (except Trump) has told every Israeli Prime Minister not to dare building E-1 and every Israeli Prime Minister has acquiesced.
- Similarly, the EU and Israel's closest allies, have flagged the demolition of Khan al Ahmar - in the shadow of E-1 - and the displacement of its residents as the most egregious pending Israeli human rights violation in the West Bank. Our closest allies have cautioned Israel that the forceful displacement of a civilian population under occupation is a war crime.
- Even though E-1 and Khan al Ahmar have become banners around which the pro-settlers right wing has rallied, the sustained international engagement has worked (so far) and Netanyahu has implemented neither.
- This might be about to change as E-1 and Khan al Ahmar have become a centerpiece in the heated race between Benjamin Netanyahu and Gideon Sa’ar for the leadership of the Likud.
E1 and Khan al Ahmar at the heart of Sa’ar campaign
- On December 10, Gideon Sa'ar, who is vying to replace Netanyahu as head of the Likud and Prime Minister, launched his campaign. He did not launch it at Israel's collapsing hospitals, or dysfunctional public transportation, or at an Israeli school system with the lowest achievements at the OECD. He launched his campaign at E-1 and Khan al Ahmar.
- He did so by visiting the site and declaring there that Netanyahu failed to fulfill his promise while making the following statements: “I support the views that the prime minister expressed here during past election campaigns. It is possible to carry out these views better. [...] The struggle for E-1 is a struggle for the heart of Israel, Netanyahu out of all people, who built the Har Homa neighborhood [in Jerusalem] despite international pressure, should be building here. The rule for Har Homa should be the rule for E-1 and Givat Hamatos [in Jerusalem].”
Why is Sa’ar’s electioneering at E-1 and Khan al Ahmar important?
- Netanyahu is fighting for his political life and is determined to avoid criminal prosecution and prison time. There is very little he will not do in order to remain Prime Minister under indictment. His failure to approve E-1 and to evacuate Khan al Ahmar has become a rallying point for the settler right, with periodic advertisements appearing in the right wing press calling on him to implement both. The fact that he has refrained thus far from carrying out both these schemes is testimony to the impact that EU engagement on these issues.
- Sensing Netanyahu’s vulnerability, Sa’ar is attempting to use E-1 and Khan al Ahmar to embarrass and pressure the Prime Minister, and to shift votes to himself. Under circumstances like these, Netanyahu may find the price of ignoring Sa’ar’s pressure to be greater than the anticipated harsh EU response.
How would Netanyahu proceed should he decide to do so?
- The statutory planning process of the E-1 settlement has yet to be completed, and the plan needs to be approved before construction can commence. The next stage is the deposit of the plan for public review, after which hearings on objections to the plan will be conducted. The only thing needed to publish the plan is a green light from Netanyahu. Barring opposition from Netanyahu, the approval of the plan is a foregone conclusion. A year or more will pass between the publication of the plan and the publication of tenders and the beginning of construction.
The situation of Khan al Ahmar is more complicated. All of the potential legal recourse has been exhausted by the Bedouin residents, and, technically, the State is at liberty to demolish Khan al Ahmar and displace its residents at any time. However, in response to a suit filed by the Regavim settler organization, the State notified the Court that they would defer the demolition until after the elections and the formation of a new government. While nothing prevents the State from changing that position, the notification submitted to the Court may deter them from doing so.