Settlements Update: Netanyahu Government’s Strategic Agenda

Recent months have been witnessing a number of developments that disclose fundamental changes in the trajectory and nature of the conflict gripping Jerusalem. Some of which pose threats not only to the potential of any future political agreement, but to the unique character of the city. Many of these developments have been years in the making but are only coming to fruition or reaching a tipping point now. The current Netanyahu regime bears responsibility – but many others share culpability and have done so for several years.

Many, but not all of these developments derive from settlement expansion. However, this is not an exercise in “bean-counting,” and this update does not intend to quantitively list all of the settlement units being planned, implemented or under construction. The focus is, two-fold: firstly, on those developments that disclose a qualitative shift in the nature of the conflict and secondly, on singling out settlement plans that have been deliberated upon or expedited after the temporary lull in settlement expansion announced in the Aqaba Communique of February 26, 2023.

The Tally: Upon the conclusion of the Aqaba Summit on February 26, 2023, Israel and the Palestinian Authority reaffirmed their “commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3-6 months, [including a halt to discussion] of any new settlement units for 4 months.” This was followed by the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit on March 19, 2023, that sought to solidify and reaffirm the agreed-upon terms, geared primarily towards de-escalation ahead of the overlapping Ramadan/Passover/Easter holiday period.

Since then, the Government of Israel and the Jerusalem Municipality have deliberated upon or taken significant (and not merely technical) statutory steps towards the construction of approximately 11,179 residential units and 1,950 hotel rooms in the settlements of East Jerusalem. For an earlier analysis of specific settlement plans advanced please see our report here.

The various plans advanced in this period fall into the following strategic and geographic arenas: (please click on the items below for more details on each component):

  • The creation of a settlement buffer between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem along the southern flank of Jerusalem.
  • Major developments along the eastern flank in the area of E-1, Khan al-Ahmar and together with the completion of the segregated road system.
  • Government of Israel construction in existing Palestinian neighborhoods, namely enclaves.
  • Developments in the urban corridor of East Jerusalem and Ramallah to the north, centering on Atarot.
  • The biblically-inspired encirclement of the Old City and settlement-related projects.

All of these plans and developments contribute to fulfilling the strategic agenda the successive governments of Israel for many years, and of the current Netanyahu government. This entails the fragmenting Palestinian East Jerusalem, cutting it off from its West Bank hinterland to the north, east and south (as shown by the conceptual map below), and the consolidation of an exclusionary Israeli hegemony over all of Jerusalem, precluding a Palestinian national capital in the city. Previous governments have been more efficient at pursuing this goal; none have been more dangerously extreme.