ISSUE: On October 13, while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in Washington, DC to meet with the Biden administration and Members of Congress, the Jerusalem municipality advanced massive colonization plans in and near Jerusalem. There are four different components to this plan. First, the Jerusalem local planning committee approved the expropriation of Palestinian land to build 1,257 housing units in Givat Hamatos, which will be the first new Israeli settlement built in East Jerusalem since the construction of Har Homa on Jabal Abu Ghneim in 1997, a move calculated by then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail negotiations.
Second, the committee recommended expanding the existing East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev by 470 housing units. Third, the committee fixed December 6 as the date for it to approve another massive new settlement of 9,000 housing units at the former airport of Qalandia (Atarot in Hebrew). Fourth, the committee is also expected to discuss plans to build a new settlement in the area known as E1.
Implications of Jerusalem Colonization
As the map below--produced by the Israeli human rights organization Ir Amin--shows, the intent of these three potential new settlements, plus the expansion of an existing settlement, is to encircle Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem from the north, east, and south, and cut off any Palestinian movement between East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said of these colonization plans that “the promotion of construction at Givat Hamatos, E1 and Atarot, each one of them slated to house tens of thousands of Israelis, will turn such a scenario [establishing a Palestinian state] into something completely detached from reality. The international community will have to propose a different solution. A binational state or some kind of federation, in which millions of Palestinians and Israelis having equal rights live side by side, will become the only reasonable option.”
Suhail Khaliliah, Director of the Settlement Monitoring Unit at the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, noted the expansive nature of the proposed settlement at Qalandia/Atarot in particular. “This means accommodating about 40,000 settlers in the first construction phase, leading to more than 60,000 settlers in the final phase. This will induce a geographical and demographic change in the city of Jerusalem,” he told Al-Monitor.
In addition to its increased colonization of Jerusalem, Israel is also trying to alter the demographic composition of the city through its ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by revoking their residency permits and demolishing their homes. The most intensive current Israeli efforts to dispossess Palestinians in Jerusalem are taking place in the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
Members of Congress have expressed their concern about Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem through Dear Colleague letters led by Rep. Ro Khanna and Rep. Marie Newman. On October 28, Rep. Mark Pocan began to circulate a Dear Colleague protesting Israeli plans to colonize E1.
Colonization in Other Areas of the West Bank
Not only is Israel advancing massive colonization plans in or near Jerusalem; it is doing so as well in other areas deep within the Palestinian West Bank. On October 21, settlers in Hebron announced the beginning of construction of 31 additional settlement units in an area that was formerly an Israeli military base. On October 24, Israel announced tenders for 1,355 settlement units in the West Bank, and on October 26 Israel’s Defense Ministry’s higher planning council approved plans for more than 3,000 additional settlement units.
As mentioned above, some of these colonization plans were approved during the Israeli foreign minister’s visit to Washington, DC, making it appear that the United States is acquiescing in these plans. Rather than vigorously protest these massive colonization plans, the Department of State meekly reiterated the Biden administration’s position that “we oppose any unilateral steps that put a two-state solution further out of reach.” Private diplomatic conversations between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz about this issue, while described as “angry”, are far from being sufficient. Absent meaningful actions such milquetoast public statements and private statements will do nothing to prevent such plans from coming to fruition; rather, they merely embolden Israel to continue consolidating its one-state, apartheid rule over the Palestinian people.
Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land within or adjacent to the expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem (see map above), just like all of its colonization of land in other parts of the West Bank, is illegal under international law and considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court.
Until the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States did not recognize any party’s sovereign claims to any portion of the city. In 1947, the UN General Assembly recommended the partition of Palestine into two states--against the wishes of the indigenous majority Palestinian population--with Jerusalem and its environs as a corpus separatum under UN auspices. (See IMEU Policy Analysis #1: The Importance of Reopening the US Consulate in Jerusalem for further details.)
US Policy on Israeli Annexation, Colonization of East Jerusalem
From 1949 to 1967, Israel controlled the western part of the city and Jordan controlled the eastern part. Israel conquered the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967. In June 1967, Israel “extended the law, jurisdiction and administration” to an expanded municipal border, an act of de facto annexation. In May 1968, the United States did not veto UN Security Council Resolution 252, which called on “Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem.”
In 1980, Israel passed a Basic Law, legislation which enjoys constitutional status, declaring that “Jerusalem united in its entirety is the capital of Israel,” in an act of de jure annexation. In response, the United States did not veto UN Security Council Resolution 480, which stated that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith,” and called on “those States that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions.”
The US position against Israel’s colonization of East Jerusalem and its dispossession of Palestinians there was made most forcefully by US Ambassador to the UN Charles Yost on July 1, 1969. He stated:
“The expropriation or confiscation of land, the construction of housing on such land, the demolition or confiscation of buildings, including those having historic or religious significance, and the application of Israeli law to occupied portions of the city are detrimental to our common interests in the city. The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June 1967 war, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law governing the rights and obligations of an occupying Power. Among the provisions of international law which bind Israel, as they would bind any occupier, are the provisions that the occupier has no right to make changes in laws or in administration other than those which are temporarily necessitated by his security interests, and that an occupier may not confiscate or destroy private property. The pattern of behaviour authorized under the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 and international law is clear: the occupier must maintain the occupied area as intact and unaltered as possible, without interfering with the customary life of the area, and any changes must be necessitated by the immediate needs of the occupation. I regret to say that the actions of Israel in the occupied portion of Jerusalem present a different picture, one which gives rise to understandable concern that the eventual disposition of East Jerusalem may be prejudiced, and that the private rights and activities of the population are already being affected and altered.
My Government regrets and deplores this pattern of activity, and it has so informed the Government of Israel on numerous occasions since June 1967. We have consistently refused to recognize those measures as having anything but a provisional character and do not accept them as affecting the ultimate status of Jerusalem.”
Yost’s words are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them more than 50 years ago. The Biden administration and Congress must take effective action to stop Israel’s colonization and dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank, and bring to an end Israel’s one-state, apartheid rule over the Palestinian people.