The E-1 Crisis...This Is Not a Drill

Attention is focused right now, naturally on E-1. However, before going into E-1, it is imperative to take note of all of the plans that have been acted upon since mid-October:

If the 3500 units of E-1 (discussed below) are included in the analysis, then a total of more than 12,250 units have been acted upon within 60 days, and are approaching implementationThat represents a 23.5% increase in the number of settler units built in East Jerusalem since 1967.

In short, what is happening at present isn’t a mere settlement surge in and around East Jerusalem – it is a frenzy.


As the entire world knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided that Israel’s answer to the UN vote will be the construction of thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the expediting of the E-1 settlement, which has long been recognized as the “fatal heart attack” of the two-state solution.  Indeed, E-1 is not a “routine” settlement. If built, it is a game-changer, maybe a game-ender. E1 is the “binary” settlement. If you support E-1, you cannot possibly be in favor of the two-state solution; if you are in favor of the two-state solution, you must oppose E-1.

Impact on the ground.

If built, E-1 would dismember the potential Palestinian State into two, non-contiguous cantons and seal off East Jerusalem from its environs in the West Bank. This is not an accident – E-1 is designed to complete the settlement “buffer” around East Jerusalem, creating a contiguous block of settlements from Maale Adumim to the city’s east, through Neve Yaacov and Pisgat Zeev to the north, and extending to Givat Zeev, to the northwest (a map can be viewed/downloaded here).

Some argue that E-1 doesn’t actually bisect a future Palestinian state, because a series of that tunnels and bridges could be constructed that together create an efficient version of “transportational continuity” between the northern and southern West Bank.  Indeed, a sealed road, like the autobahn to Berlin pre-1989, already exists through the E-1 area for Palestinians, whose “state” under this formula would be exactly 16 yards wide.

But this “solution” is dependent on the goodwill of Israel (which can close off the road anytime), and in no way compensates for the kind of territorial contiguity which is necessary for a cohesive, viable state in which the fabric of life – political and economic activity and things like education and health services – functions normally. Indeed, under these arrangements, travel from East Jerusalem to Ramallah would be possible only through the Israeli crossing at Qalandia– which already is tantamount to an international border.  From the southern West Bank, it would require travel through the goat paths of Azzariya (the treacherous Wadi Naar road), to the sealed road through E-1.  Moreover, neither of these Rube Goldberg-like solutions addresses the problem of cutting off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, and it is simply a fact that there will be no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that doesn’t establish a viable capital for the state of Palestine in East Jerusalem.

For further maps and analysis, see our presentation, “The Imminent Demise of the Two-State Solution;” slides 21-23 focus on E-1 and its impact.

Netanyahu is using the UN vote as a pretext to “go nuclear” on Jerusalem.

From Netanyahu’s perspective – and modus operandi – the current circumstances create the perfect E-1 storm. In acting now, he is:

(a)    taking his customary punitive measures against the Palestinians;
(b)    “compensating” for his purported conciliatory move with the Gaza ceasefire;
(c)    testing the mettle of an American President he clearly does not hold in high regard;
(d)    putting Europe in its place; and
(e)    consolidating his right wing base, with an increasingly right-wing Likud, and a challenge to that base from the right (Naftali Bennet) in the run-up to January’s general elections.

Regardless of Netanyahu’s motives, the timing and substance of these moves is no less than stunning. They came only days after the White House asked Netanyahu to act with restraint after the UNGA vote (and asked PUBLICLY that he not build E-1).  They came one day after Netanyahu enjoyed the unmitigated support of the Obama Administration at the UN (in the form not only of the American “no” vote but also a strident speech by Ambassador Susan Rice that was remarkable for its tone of anger at and total non-sympathy for the Palestinians).  And it came after Netanyahu was similarly advised to refrain from acting on E-1 by Israel’s staunchest European allies.  After all of this, Netanyahu chose to act in blatant disregard to the interests and requests of Israel’s closest allies and supporters.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Netanyahu by attributing these recent moves to mere expediency.  There are clear indications that his actions are rooted in his most basic approach to the conflict.

This is not a drill. 

The Civil Administration’s West Bank Higher Planning Commission, the body in charge of decisions on West Bank settlements, convenes today (December 5) to decide whether to deposit the Specific Town Plans related to E-1 for public review. It is convening on instructions from Netanyahu, made after the strong international engagement related to the E-1 announcement had already begun.  The approval of Governmental plans brought before this committee is a foregone conclusion. Given the fact that the Master Plan for E-1 has already been approved and withstood judicial scrutiny in the past, the prospect of a successful legal challenge is remote.

A decision to deposit the Specific Town Plans for public review would constitute a firm indication of Israel’s intention to implement E-1, even in the face of U.S. and international objections.   This should cause serious doubts in the minds of those who have suggested that all of this E-1 talk is nothing more than “posturing” by Netanyahu.

A “public review” of the Specific Town Plans is a prerequisite for their final approval.  This involves depositing the plans for public review (i.e., publication of the plans in the press and public gazette) and the solicitation of formal objections to the plans within a 60-day period.  A hearing procedure ensues to deal with any objections, and once objections are either rejected or integrated into the plans, they may be signed into law.  Once signed into law, building permits may be issued and the lands marketed to building contractors for development and construction.

The capacity of the E-1 Master Plan is 3500 units, with additional areas designated for industrial parks, tourism, commerce, etc. The number of units that will be included in the Specific Plans that will soon be deposited is not known at this time.

Under normal circumstances, once plan for E-1 are deposited for public review, it takes about 6-9 months to complete the review process and approve the plan, with tenders and construction permits coming 3-6 months later, The E-1 plan is currently being fast-tracked, but since many of the dates and timeframes are determined by law, the approval and implementation process can only be shortened so much. We estimate possible groundbreaking could be as early as a year from now. However, construction of additional infrastructures could commence in a matter of weeks. Since much of the infrastructure is already in place, once construction commences it will proceed more rapidly than normal.

“Settlement Planning” = Settlement Construction.

Some Israel officials and right-wing pundits are brushing off criticism regarding E-1 by insisting that Israel is not pursuing construction, just planning.  We have worked on these issues for more than twenty years, and our professional careers are littered with real settler homes that were initially “only plans.” Indeed, it has been the refrain of Israeli officials in the context of virtually every settlement approval in East Jerusalem for years.  When approved, Israel asserts a plan is “only planning”; when implemented “it’s not new.”  By now, anyone hearing this refrain should immediately understand: Israeli planning in settlements equals Israeli construction in settlements, sooner rather than later.

Let no one be confused: if E-1 is granted statutory approval, as is anticipated, all that will be required is for Netanyahu to have a “bad hair day” for the construction of E-1’s 3500 units to commence. After the Netanyahu’s actions of last Friday, nobody should find that prospect remotely reassuring

We believe that Netanyahu isn’t bluffing.

Some have suggested that Netanyahu has moved ahead with E-1 as a bargaining tactic, so that, if and when he compromises on E-1, he can demand a green light for other actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  This is certainly possible, but nobody should count on it (and if it is the case, it bodes ill for other seriously problematic plans, like Givat Hamatos, discussed above, which could be as devastating to the two-state solution as E-1).

We believe that Netanyahu isn’t bluffing.  We believe that this E-1 announcement reflects Netanyahu’s true determination to build E-1, and is belief that conditions are optimal for him to proceed – i.e., that he truly can get away with anything, whether in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.  We also believe it reflects his very serious determination to fully exploit the UN vote as a pretext for killing the two-state solution as perceived by virtually anyone else in the world except himself and his ideological supporters

E-1 – Stopped in its Tracks in 2005

The Master Plan for E-1 was approved in the 1990’s, under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first government. This plan gives the general designations and building capacities, but does not allow for building permits to be issued. This requires the additional approval of Specific Plans.

In 2005, such Specific Plans were approved by the Maale Adumim Municipality. These specific plans provide for the construction of high rise dwellings, low-density residential units, and the police station in E-1.   Once signed into law, it will be legally possible to issue building permits for the commencement of construction in E-1.

However, following direct intervention by then-U.S. President George W. Bush, then-Prime Minister Sharon agreed to remove all of the residential units from the plans. However, under the approved plans, much of the infrastructure of E-1 has already been put in place, including a six-lane road, electricity, lighting, water, drainage, and terracing.  Indeed, more streetlights have been installed in E-1 than in all of East Jerusalem.

That said, Sharon’s undertaking to the U.S. not to act on E-1 was strictly observed not only by Sharon, but also by Prime Minister Olmert, and until last week, by Netanyahu, who reportedly gave President Obama similar assurances that he would not act on E-1 – undertakings his associates assert “are no longer relevant.”

E-1 can be stopped again, in 2012.

Netanyahu’s determination to forge ahead with E-1 has run up against what appears to be unprecedented clarity and unanimity in the international community regarding the impact of the plan on the two-state solution.  This, in turn, appears to have catalyzed an unprecedented determination by key EU member states to engage on the issue.

Nobody should doubt the potential this engagement has for very serious impact on Netanyahu’s decisions.  Already, the Israeli press is dominated with reports of possible EU actions to punish Netanyahu, and for the first time a real debate has been sparked over the price Netanyahu’s settlement policy is exacting on Israel’s relations with Europe.  Coming on the heels of the UN vote last week – in which Netanyahu is perceived as having “lost” Europe – this debate is resonating in the Israeli public and cannot be ignored by Netanyahu.

Not an isolated provocation or a unique threat.

As noted above, E-1 is not an isolated project. Today it is not an exaggeration to say that East Jerusalem is hemorrhaging settlements.

While the current focus on E-1 is entirely appropriate, it would be a huge mistake if the world focuses on E-1 to the exclusion of other threats in Jerusalem. Doing so will only pave the way for disingenuous protestations with respect to action on other settlements (like, “what’s the big deal?  This time we’re only talking about units at Givat Hamatos!”).