Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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August 31, 2018
- Setting a New Legal Precedent, Court Accepts “Market Regulation” Principle As Basis for Legalizing Outpost
- Shaked & Regavim Take Credit for Precedent-Setting Outpost Legalization Victory
- Another New Outpost – Continuing the Trend of Unannounced, Unopposed, & Highly Consequential Settlement Expansion
- Special U.S. Regulations Protect Israel’s Settlement Enterprise from Quality Aerial Documentation
- Bonus Reads
Setting a New Legal Precedent, Court Accepts “Market Regulation” Principle As Basis for Legalizing Outpost
Jerusalem District Court Ruling
On August 18th, Jerusalem District Court Judge Arnon Darel ruled in favor of retroactively legalizing the Mitzpe Kramim outpost, holding that privately owned Palestinian land can (and should) be expropriated for the settlements in instances where Israeli settlers built “in good faith” and with government support – a rationale called the “market regulation” principle. According to the ruling, the Court held that the parties responsible for the outpost – the Israeli government, the World Zionist Organization, and the settlers – all acted in “good faith.” Specifically, the Court held that the State acted in “good faith” even though it was negligent in its responsibility to protect the rights of Palestinians and correctly record/manage the status of land in the West Bank; and, that the settlers acted in “good faith,” even though they built the outpost without government authorization, without building permits, and without a master plan.
This is the first time an Israeli court has accepted the “market regulation” principle as a valid basis for legalizing outposts, setting a monumental new precedent according to which outposts that the government had previously been unable to legalize (because they were built on land recognized by Israel as privately owned by Palestinians) to petition for authorization. With this judgment, the public got a first glimpse of the incredibly broad interpretation of “good faith” that the Jerusalem District Court (now the court of first jurisdiction for land disputes in the West Bank) is inclined to apply on behalf of law-breaking settlers.
Peace Now released a statement saying:
“The court today chose to ‘align’ with the project of annexation and dispossession of the Israeli government led by the Netanyahu and the Jewish Home. It is absurd to attribute ‘good faith’ to the settlers of an illegal outpost whose homes were built illegally and without permits on private Palestinians land, because of a ‘mistake’ made by the authorities in allocating the land. The Israeli Authorities should protect the properties of the people under their control, and failing to do so cannot be used as an excuse to take the land from the Palestinian owners. Let us hope that the Supreme Court will erase this shame.”
Background on the Mitzpe Kramim Case
The outpost at the center of the case – Mitzpe Kramim – was built in 1999 without government authorization on land near the Kochav Hashachar settlement, located deep inside the West Bank, closer to the Jordan River than sovereign Israeli territory. In the 1970s, land in the area was taken by the State of Israel by military order; subsequently, the land on which the outpost was built was allocated to the World Zionist Organization (WZO), apparently based on the (mistaken) assumption that the land in question was part of that military seizure. The WZO then gave the land to settlers, even issuing a certificate of ownership in their names. However, the land in question was not included in the military seizure of the 1970s, but was/is In fact recorded in the Land Registry as privately owned by Palestinians from the village of Deir Jarir. This fact should, under Israeli law, invalidate the government’s allocation of the land to the WZO, and the WZO’s grant of the land to the settlers.
In 2011, the registered Palestinian landowners filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to have the Mitzpe Kramim outpost removed from their land, only to see the settlers file their own petition in 2013 with the Jerusalem District Court (which froze the High Court’s consideration of the Palestinians’ petition), seeking to be registered as the rightful landowners. In their petition, the settlers – who are represented by Harel Arnon, the same lawyer hired to represent the Israeli government in its defense of the “Regulation Law” – argued that they are innocent victims of a mistake by the government, and as such should not be forced to bear the consequences of having built their homes on someone else’s land. Originally the Israeli government, admitting that the Civil Administration had made a mistake in mapping the area, argued that the settlers should be removed. In July 2018, the State completely reversed its stance, submitting a new argument to the Court citing the “market regulation” principle in defense of expropriating the land for the settlers.
In its ruling this week, the Jerusalem District Court gave legal validity to the newly invented “market regulation” basis for taking Palestinian land that had previously been impossible for the State to legally expropriate.
Now that the Jerusalem District Court has ruled in favor of the settlers’ claim, the High Court of Justice is set to take up the original petition filed by the Palestinian landowners to have the outpost removed. Part of the High Court’s deliberations will now have to grapple with the new jurisprudence established by the Jerusalem District Court on the “market regulation” principle.
Regardless of whether or not the High Court allows the Jerusalem District Court’s ruling to stand, that ruling has already energized pro-settlement, pro-annexation Israeli policymakers and influencers, who (unsurprisingly) have lauded the ruling and urged more outpost legalization cases forward. The ruling also legitimizes the longstanding arrangement between Israel and the settlers: the government turns a blind eye to illegal settlement activity (including rebuffing efforts by settlement watchdogs to force it to take action, and when forced by the courts to take action, drags its feet to allow illegal activities to become more deeply entrenched), only to go to any lengths to authorize the illegal actions post-facto. This modus operandi allows Israel to circumvent the limitations of Israeli law, bureaucracy and international criticism, all of which would otherwise restrain (to some extent) unfettered settlement construction and land theft in the West Bank.
FMEP tracks the ongoing legislative, political, and legal transformations happening in the Israeli government to justify the expropriation of Palestinian land for the settlements in its Annexation Policy Tables. As a reminder, the “market regulation” principle was promoted by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who offered it as an alternative to the legal basis provided in the “Regulation Law” to legalize unauthorized outposts and settlement construction.
Celebrating the Jerusalem District Court’s ruling on the Mitzpe Kramim outpost case (covered above), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Likud) said:
“The District Court today clearly stated that whoever settled [the land] with the state’s approval and in good faith, would not be evacuated. The injustice done in the evacuations of the Amona and Netiv Ha’avot [outposts] should not be repeated. The court should not be a party to the political debate between the Right and Left. That should be left to the ballot box. Through joint and intensive work, we have brought about a policy change in the state’s responses to the High Court of Justice. Now we are seeing a change in the district court.” [emphasis added]
Indeed, Justice Minister Shaked has led a years-long effort to re-make the judicial branch, injecting pro-settlement policies and figures into key positions within the Court system, with the explicit goal of protecting all Israeli settlements and outposts from any legal accountability for illegal actions. Part of that effort was her decision in 2015 to hire a private lawyer, Amir Fisher (who also represents the settler group Regavim), to essentially write the State’s responses to petitions before the High Court that deal with settlements.
As noted in the section above, the state of Israel reversed its own position vis a vis the future of Mitzpe Kramim in its 2018 submission to the Court, a reversal that happened after Fisher and Shaked were firmly in control of the State’s handling of outpost legalization cases. What’s more, Shaked installed a pro-settlement judge on the Jerusalem District Court (which issued the precedent-setting ruling this week), and then promoted legislation that strips the High Court of Justice of its primary jurisdiction over certain West Bank legal petitions (including Palestinian petitions relating to land disputes, travel permits, and building permits) and gave that jurisdiction to the Jerusalem District Court. Shaked is currently promoting another bill which would allowed the Knesset to reinstate any law struck down by the High Court of Justice. The Ministerial Committee on Legislation, of which Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are members, voted to give government backing to the bill in May 2018. The totality of Shaked’s efforts are documented, on an ongoing basis, in FMEP’s Annexation Policy Tables.
Shaked’s fellow travelers at Regavim released a statement following the Jerusalem District court ruling, emphasizing the far-reaching implications:
“This is a product of a long legal battle, run by the settlements and settling bodies. They asked to legalize outposts that were established by the State of Israel. This blessed decision is a historic one. We call upon the attorney general to apply the principles of this decision to all other outposts in Judea and Samaria that need regularization.”
The fruits of Shaked and Regavim’s work was applauded by many others in the government, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), who said the ruling was a:
“victory for decency and common sense, another step toward legalizing the settlements in Judea and Samaria and turning them into an integral part of the State of Israel.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said she was:
“happy that common sense and justice prevailed over cold formalism..[the ruling sends] a clear-cut message to the Palestinians and their collaborators from far-left organizations, that you don’t destroy and evacuate communities in the Land of Israel.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said:
“This is a blessed month of settlement, and after the decision of the Housing Cabinet to establish three new towns [in the Negev], comes the court’s decision regarding Mitzpeh Kramim. Such significant decisions strengthen and expand the settlement of the Land of Israel.”
Knesset speaker Yuli Edenstein (Likud) said:
“The determination and strong spirit of the people of Mitzpeh Kramim proved themselves. I welcome this just, requisite ruling from the District Court in Jerusalem. We will continue to strengthen settlement in Israel!”
Another New Outpost – Continuing the Trend of Unannounced, Unopposed, & Highly Consequential Settlement Expansion
Haaretz reports that settlers have built a strategic new outpost deep inside the West Bank near the settlement of Eli, in a bid to eventually annex privately owned Palestinian land that falls between Eli and pockets of “state land” in the area. The new outpost was built without Israeli permits on the outer edge of newly declared “state land,” some of which had been used as farmland by Palestinians. Haaretz notes a trend:
“Around the West Bank, settlers have been setting up farms near the outer edge of state-owned land, as in the case near Eli, in an effort to expand existing settlements. Even though they have been established without permission, no legal action has been taken against them.”
The Israeli Civil Administration – responsible for enforcing building laws in the occupied territory – told Haaretz that it is unaware of the new outpost. The Head of the Binyamin Regional Council (an Israeli municipal body responsible for settlements in the northern West Bank – recently proven to be bankrolling new outposts), Avi Roeh, denied that the Council was involved with the new outpost.
The new outpost is the fifth illegal satellite of the Eli settlement, stretching the band of Israeli settlements further and further east towards the Jordan Valley. Eli is located between the Ariel and Shilo settlements (both of which have seen tremendous growth and government support over the past two years – Ariel with its new medical school and Shilo with the promotion of the new Amichai settlement to its immediate east), in an area where settlers are working to connect settlements and outposts into a contiguous band of settlement stretching from sovereign Israeli territory all the way to the Jordan Valley.
As evidenced this week in the Israeli court system, the government – which consistently turns a blind eye to illegal outpost construction – is willing to go to great lengths to retroactively legalize outposts, even when the cost to Israeli taxpayers is enormous and even when doing so contradicts any notion of justice under the law.
Al-Shabaka published a new report this week detailing a little-known U.S. law that restricts companies from producing high quality satellite imagery of the West Bank. Al-Shabaka explains the significance of that limitation on U.S. companies like Google:
“Although the legislation was implemented under the pretense of protecting Israel’s national security, it is better characterized as an act of censorship. By deliberately blurring aerial images of Palestine-Israel, the [The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) to the US National Defense Authorization Act] hinders the work of archaeologists, environmentalists, geographers, and humanitarians. It poses serious obstacles, not only for the preservation of cultural heritage, but also for holding Israel to account for land grabs, home demolitions, and settlement activity….While the legislation only applies to US companies, their hegemony in the commercial market for satellite imagery has elevated the legislation to de facto institutionalization on a global scale, affecting the access of researchers worldwide.”
The report can be accessed here.
- “The West Bank Model is a Failure” (The New York Times)
- “Israeli Taxpayers Bear Financial Burden of Evicting Illegal West Bank Outposts, And Sometimes, Making them Legal” (Haaretz)