Accelerating the Pace for Construction of E-2

On December 26, 2018 – while most of the world was busy with the Christmas/New Year’s holidays – the Israeli government quietly notified the High Court of Justice that it had transferred 1182 dunams (291 acres) to the Israeli Ministry of Housing for the construction of a new “neighborhood” of the Efrat settlement to be called “Givat Eitam,” aka, “E-2.” This same plan – initial plans for which promised 2500 new settlement units (see our previous report here and here) – will in effect establish a new major settlement located south of Jerusalem, in an area deep inside the West Bank, east of Efrat and southeast of Bethlehem, adjacent to the village of A-Nahla.

Geo-political context: While E-2 would be well outside of Jerusalem, its potential impact with respect to Jerusalem and the two-state solution is enormous, akin to that of the construction of E-1 on Jerusalem’s eastern flank (which is why it has been dubbed “E-2”). As we have noted previously, the E-2 plan, if implemented, will significantly prejudge the border between Israel and Palestine. It will contribute to the urban suffocation of Bethlehem, preventing Palestinian use of one of the few remaining areas within which Bethlehem can develop. And, in conjunction with other existing and planned settlements, it will dismember the southern West Bank in a manner similar to the way E-1 would divide the northern and southern parts of the West Bank. For an in-depth look into the danger posed by E-2, see this report by Peace Now, Kerem Navot, and Combatants for Peace.

The battle for a new settlement, 2004-2016: Settlers have been seeking approvals to build E-2 since at least 2004, starting with a long legal battle to have a key area of land declared “State Land.” That battled ended with the Israeli government declaring the land to be “state land” in 2016 (and given that since 1967 the Israeli government has given over virtually all “state land” for the exclusive use of settlers, it was a foregone conclusion that the settlers would be given the rights to use it). The construction of an agricultural farm and residential units for 40 families was also part of this effort. That plan received the approval of then Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Netanyahu government in 2011.

Stalled, until now: Since the 2016 state land declaration, E-2 has been stalled, at least in part due to international opposition. That stall appears to have ended, in all likelihood for a combination of reasons. These include Netanyahu’s legal troubles and the upcoming elections – with Netanyahu eager to portray himself as the true friend of the West Bank settlement movement. They also include the successful efforts by settlers to use the recent murder of a high-profile Efrat resident both as a pretext to build an illegal outpost at the site and as leverage to pressure the government to finally approve the establishment of the new settlement.

The Nomenclature of “Doublespeak”: One of the impediments that has thwarted the implementation, to date, of plans for E-2 has been the Israeli undertaking to the U.S. not to build “new” settlements. The method by which Israel has customarily circumvented this restriction is by means of describing each new settlement as a “neighborhood” of an existing one. The plans to build E-2 also invoke the “neighborhood” nomenclature, describing it as a “neighborhood” of Efrat — and taking the political doublespeak to new levels of absurdity. E-2 will not be a neighborhood of Efrat, and E-2 is likewise not just another outpost or isolated settlement masquerading as a neighborhood of an existing settlement. When built, it will be the 6th largest settlement in the West Bank, and the largest new settlement built in decades. It will be discontiguous with the settlement of Efrat but adjacent to the southern flank of Bethlehem. E-2 will be beyond the route of the separation barrier and be used to expand the already problematic definition of “the Etziyon bloc” of settlements (for our in-depth analysis of the spurious use of the term “settlement bloc”, see Limiting Settlement Construction to the “Blocs” – Implications for Jerusalem). The systematically manipulative use of terms like “neighborhood” and “settlement bloc” – terms that are being invoked to justify the construction of E-2 – has rendered the terms meaningless, except as they serve as cover for settlement expansion in the service of a de facto annexation of Area C.
What next? The allocation of the land by the government of Israel to the Ministry of Housing is the first meaningful step required in order to enable the Ministry of Housing to start the operational planning of this settlement.