An outline for a forthcoming Ir Amim paper
Currently, the newly inaugurated Israeli government's annexation plan aims to annex roughly 30% of the West Bank along the lines of the "conceptual map" published as part of the Trump Plan. For an in depth analysis of the ramifications of the Trump Plan in Jerusalem please see Ir Amim's paper. This alert focuses on the implications of annexation in Greater Jerusalem. Although the annexation plan itself does not give special significance to the so-called “Greater Jerusalem” area, it is worthwhile for a number of reasons to consider the implications of annexing this specific area:
- Annexation of Greater Jerusalem will further erode the Palestinian space around Jerusalem as well as magnify its disconnection from East Jerusalem. Together with accelerated settlement construction, these actions will not leave much of a chance for a future Palestinian capital in Jerusalem and thereby its negative impact may be irreversible.
- Greater Jerusalem is where the Israeli plans for infrastructure, settlement construction, and population displacement are most detailed and in different stages of implementation. Therefore, the practical consequences of annexation and its manifestations on the ground may be seen most immediately and widely in the Greater Jerusalem area.
- Due to the density of the Palestinian population around Jerusalem, both in the area targeted for annexation and - no less importantly - in the area immediately outside it, annexation of the Greater Jerusalem area will result in grave human rights violations.
- Last, but not least, if the combination of international pressure and internal Israeli differences of opinion will lead to a "compromise" of annexing a smaller area than currently planned, it may well be that Greater Jerusalem will be the area to be annexed.
Erosion of the Palestinian space around Jerusalem
Around Jerusalem, annexation will reach deep into the West Bank and include areas on both sides of the Separation Barrier. It will turn the Palestinian space around the city into a twisted "fractal" form that continuously breaks up into isolated enclaves: to the north of Jerusalem, annexation will surround Ramallah from three sides; to the east, it will engulf Abu Dis and Azaria and will reach as far as Jericho; in the south, annexation will surround Bethlehem from three directions and disconnect it from many of the nearby villages. Thus, the area between Ramallah and Bethlehem – as the crow flies, a distance of merely 25 kilometers– will be broken up into five enclaves. The area of Jericho will be a sixth, separate enclave. The Palestinian cities will be disconnected not only from each other but also from significant parts of their surroundings and neighboring villages on which they rely economically and for future urban development.
Furthermore- and most importantly- the disconnection of all of these enclaves from East Jerusalem will be solidified by road infrastructure and massive settlement construction.
This “enclavization” will result in the continued deterioration of the Palestinian economy and will likely weaken Palestinian institutions. At the same time accelerated Israeli construction in the annexed areas may create an irreversible disconnection between those enclaves and East Jerusalem. A two-state solution will cease to be a viable option while the Palestinian Authority will have less and less ability to provide for the needs of the Palestinian population.
Accelerated settlement construction in E1 and other areas around Jerusalem
Israel will quickly advance settlement construction plans in the annexed areas around Jerusalem. Outline plans for such construction are already in different stages of approval. Much of the road infrastructure necessary for such expansion has been constructed in recent years with the investment of billions of shekels.
Due to their destructive impact on the possibility for a viable Palestinian state, the best known of these plans – are those for the construction of thousands of housing units in E1 between Jerusalem and the Maale Adumim settlement. Indeed, two of the E1 plans with a total of 3,400 housing units have been deposited two months ago after an eight year freeze.
But the scope of Israeli plans for the areas around Jerusalem is notably larger. In 2015, a Freedom of Information appeal by Peace Now revealed that the Ministry of Construction has hired planners for dozens of outline plans in the so called "settlement blocks" around Jerusalem:
- The area around Givat Zeev, northwest of Jerusalem
- Settlements along Road 60 such as Geva Binyamin and Kochav Hashachar, northeast of Jerusalem and cutting off Ramallah in the east
- Maale Adumim-E1, east of Jerusalem cutting off Jericho from East Jerusalem and Abu Dis from Ramallah
- Gush Etsion regional council, south of Jerusalem and surrounding Bethlehem.
The outline plans for these areas (currently in different stages of the approval process) contain a total of more than 30,000 housing units. These not only expand settlements but aim to create contiguous Israeli built-up areas that will prevent development of Palestinian towns and hugely disrupt the integrity of the Palestinian space.
Far reaching human rights violations
The area targeted for annexation is determined along the lines of a well-known Israeli policy: "Maximum territory, minimum Palestinians". Judging from Israeli practices in East Jerusalem and Area C, one can understand that its implementation will also be done in accordance with this maxim - and aggressively so:
- Legal status of Palestinian population in annexed territory: a mechanism for wide scale displacement – Palestinian communities in the area around Jerusalem targeted for annexation include small to medium sized villages in addition to tiny and very vulnerable communities which many times do not even enjoy electricity or water infrastructure. Among the former are villages such as Walaja (to the south of Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem) and A-Nabi Samwil (to the northeast); among the latter, Khan al-Akhmar,in the E1 area to the east of Jerusalem, is best known. All three suffer from a variety of displacement policies. Although these three communities are the best known, they are certainly not the only ones in the Greater Jerusalem area. Among the numerous other examples are villages such as A-Zaim and small Bedouin communities in E1 where roughly 2,000 Bedouins are living.
As of today, the Israeli government has revealed nothing of its intentions towards the status of the Palestinian population living in the areas to be annexed. This crucial issue is completely missing from the Israeli public discourse.
Perhaps Israel will use a similar mechanism to the one used with the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, i.e. grant residency (or some other) status to the annexed population. But it is very likely that this time residency status will not be granted automatically to all the annexed population: Israel may make up conditions for eligibility for residency status with the intention to use bureaucratic obstacles as a means to deny residency and force as many Palestinians as possible out of the annexed area.
Another possibility, which fits more with the outline depicted in the Trump plan, is that the Palestinian communities will not be annexed but will remain as tiny, isolated enclaves engulfed by annexed territory. Since all of these communities rely heavily on Palestinian towns in areas A and B for their most daily needs, it is unimaginable that they will be able to survive as such enclaves. Furthermore, most of these communities cannot survive without their agricultural or pastoral lands which are likely to be annexed and thereby become off limits to them. For example, the Bedouin communities make a living from their herds of sheep and goats which need access to those pastures.
- Potential for wide scale demolitions – Even if the legal status of the annexed population will be resolved, it will remain vulnerable to displacement. After decades during which Israel has prevented these communities from receiving building permits, a significant portion of the dwellings within them are built without a permit. Applying Israeli sovereignty will likely be an incentive for Israel to carry out "law enforcement" much more aggressively. In practice, this will mean wide-scale home demolitions. Thus, under the guise of planning regulations, Israel will be able to displace parts of or even whole communities and force them out of the annexed territory.
- Land Expropriation – Today there are many obstacles preventing Israel from expropriating privately owned Palestinian land in area C. In many cases Palestinian ownership is preventing settlement expansion or the legalizing of outposts. Annexation will allow expropriation that has not been possible so far: The area targeted for annexation includes large swaths of lands owned by Palestinians who live outside of the annexed area. For example, to the south of Jerusalem, Al-Makhrour is a large area rich with agricultural lands. These belong to the residents of Batir and Beit Jalla. Whereas Al-Makhrour is marked for annexation, Batir and Beit Jalla where the landowners live will not be annexed. Once their land comes under Israeli sovereignty, these land owners who have no legal status in Israel will not have the right to access it. Israel may even set up fences, checkpoints etc. that will physically prevent Palestinians living outside the annexed territory from accessing their land.
Finally, the Absentee Property Law may be applied to these lands, thereby annulling ownership rights of the "absentees" living outside the annexed territory and turning private land into state land.
Thus it is important to comprehend that annexation will gravely impact the human rights and daily lives of Palestinians not only in the annexed area but also those living outside of it.
Coming back to the example of Al-Makhrour, last year a small illegal outpost was established there. Today, it is surrounded by private Palestinian lands the expropriation of which will enable the expansion of the outpost towards the Har Gilo settlement.