Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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May 10, 2018
- Israeli Government Task Force Recommends Massive, Unlimited Land Theft to “Legalize” 1000s of Unauthorized Settlement Buildings
- DETAILS: Zandberg Report Recommendations (as reported in English-language media)
- REACTIONS to Zandberg: Some Celebrate, Others Sound the Alarm
- Efrat Becomes First Settlement to Acquire Private Drone to Police Palestinians
- Financing Occupation: World Zionist Organization Offers Cheap Rent in Settlements
- Israeli Cabinet Votes to Back Legislation Stripping High Court of Significant Power
- Former Top Military Prosecutor – Current NGO Monitor Employee – Lives in House Built on Stolen Palestinian Land
- Bonus Reads
Comments, questions, or suggestions? Email Kristin McCarthy at email@example.com.
Israeli Government Task Force Recommends Massive, Unlimited Land Theft to “Legalize” 1000s of Unauthorized Settlement Buildings
Last year, the Israeli government formed a task force to develop new legal solutions that will save settlement buildings and outposts that were built without Israeli authorization on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank.The committee’s final report mapping out a menu of options to accomplish that end – called the “Zandberg Report” after the committee’s chair, Dr. Haya Zandberg – was published (in Hebrew) on Friday, May 4th. Soon after its publication, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced he will be introducing a plan “within weeks” that will operationalize the report’s recommendations.
Described by the The Jerusalem Post as “the latest attempt by settler leaders, right-wing politicians and judicial experts to normalize settlement building in Area C of the West Bank by divorcing it from existing legal constraints,” it is clear that the recommendations toss out even a pretense of respect for the rule of law in order to entrench and expand Israeli settlements, rewarding Israeli settlers who broke Israeli law. If implemented, the recommendations will “legalize” the outright theft of land recognized by Israel as privately owned by Palestinians and will lay the groundwork for continued, additional expropriation of privately-owned land for settlement-related construction.
The report opens by stating that “the State of Israel, as the state of the Jewish people, has a right and claim over areas whose status is disputed in the Land of Israel.” The contents of the report make clear that the drafters define “the Land of Israel” as including all of the West Bank.
The authors go on to offer a number of unprecedented legal arguments and recommendations. Those include:
1 – Calling for wholesale implementation of the “Market Regulation” principle, and additional, similar actions. “Market Regulation” is a recently invented Israeli legal principle that involves granting post-facto legitimacy to illegally built settlement construction in cases where settlers built “in good faith,” i.e., they do so under the belief that their actions were correct and legal. FMEP has covered the “Market Regulation” principle several times in the past, and tracks the operationalization of it in real time on our annexation policy tables. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit first introduced the “Market Regulation” argument in late 2016 as an alternative legal basis to the one that was eventually adopted by the Knesset in the Regulation Law. In November 2017, the government embraced Mandelblit’s “Market Regulation” principle when it submitted a brief to the High Court of Justice announcing its plan to retroactively legalize the settlers’ construction on privately owned Palestinian land near the Ofra settlement by expropriating that land.
In addition, the report recommends legalizing illegal construction in cases where settlements have expanded beyond their borders onto private land, and where that structures in question “were built over a decade ago, without any protest and with the support of the state.”
2 – Endorsing the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land for “public use.” As an occupying power, Israel technically has the right to expropriate land for public use — meaning, for the benefit of the public that resides in the territories held under occupation. Since 1967, Israel has interpreted that authority in a manner that is both legally questionable and which discloses a very clear political and territorial agenda, using “public use” as the basis for expropriating West Bank land for the exclusive benefit of Israel and Israeli settlers. The Zandberg report makes this explicit, endorsing expropriations for the purpose of building new roads that connect isolated outposts and settlements to more developed areas. Defending this self-serving interpretation of “public use,” the report cites an opinion by (now retired) High Court Justice Salim Joubran, which held that settlers are legally a part of the “local population” of the West Bank and that the IDF is obligated to provide for their welfare. As another means of connecting isolated settlements and outposts, the report also recommends that the State consider building tunnels or bridges through privately owned Palestinian land to connect isolated settlement areas to more developed areas. The report argues “the ownership underground and [in the air] above the ground belongs to the state.”
FMEP has repeatedly reported on the events related to the legal basis created by Justice Joubran’s opinion, and FMEP tracks the operationalization of the legal basis on our annexation policy tables. Joubran’s opinion was made public in October 2017, prompting the Israeli NGO Yesh Din to file a new petition regarding the case it was related to – the Amona outpost case. Then, in November 2017 the High Court accepted the “local population” argument as an adequate legal basis for expropriating Palestinian land near the unauthorized outpost of Haresha in order to legalize an access road that had illegally been built on the private land.
3- Recommending a principle of flexibility in defining “adjacent areas.” The basis of this recommendation is the idea that Israel’s right to use land that is immediately adjacent to authorized settlements cannot be questioned, and that by interpreting the concept of “adjacent areas” broadly, Israel can justify taking large swathes of West Bank land located around and between settlements, including private land. Doing so would enable Israel to incorporate unauthorized outposts as “daughter neighborhoods” of existing settlements, even when located a great distance away. Doing so would also allow private Palestinian land surrounding isolated outposts to be seized and zoned for settlement construction and expansion (some outposts are located on pockets of territory designated by Israel as “state land,” prohibiting, under current law, the outpost to expand).
4 – Calling for the establishment of new, official settlements. The report endorses the establishment of independent new settlements for satellite outposts that are not connected to the main settlement area, like what Israel is in the process of doing for the Havat Gilad outpost.
5 – Recommending an end to the work of the “Blue Line Team.” This is the team within the Israeli Defense Forces which was tasked with examining and correcting the demarcation of land in the West Bank that Israel has granted to settlements. Ending the work of the team means Israel will cease making any effort to identify if and where settlement boundaries include private Palestinian land, let alone retroactively returning such land to the control of its owners. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly already agreed to this recommendation.
6 – Calling for Regional Settlement Councils to be allowed to provide municipal services to (currently) unauthorized outposts. Many unauthorized outposts – being outside the jurisdiction of regional councils (because they are not officially recognized by the government) – lack connections to the Israeli power grid and water supply. This recommendation will allow settlement Regional Councils to hook up outposts to the Israeli grid, an ability which had already been extended to local settlement councils.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked: “The end of the era of uprooting settlements without purpose in Judea and Samaria, was led by a team that found legal ways to regulate settlements in Judea and Samaria and to end the shame of evacuating settlements for no real reason. The report gives legal tools that are compatible with international law, for the settlement of settlements in Judea and Samaria.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home): “We act responsibly and creatively and within a few weeks we will present a comprehensive and systematic plan of action for the legalization of outposts in Judea and Samaria.”
Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home): “The Settlement Committee was established in order to find a solution for thousands of houses in settlements that are in danger because of petitions by radical leftist parties and the Palestinian Authority, which exploit the judicial system to harm and sabotage Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. The report sets before us, the government, the simple truth that it is possible and necessary to settle settlement in Judea and Samaria after 50 years of settlement. I call on the prime minister to immediately adopt the report and put an end to the unnecessary and painful demolition and destruction of homes and settlements in Judea and Samaria established with the encouragement and support of successive Israeli governments.”
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union): “Because the government was unable to implement the Levy report, they need to be able to show some sort of result on this issue…It will give a tailwind to settlers to continue building illegally…” She referred to the report as a “legal carte blanche,” providing another avenue for advancing the so-called “Regulation Law.” She added, “I believe in international legitimacy, and nobody has recognized our sovereignty in the West Bank.”
Peace Now: “This is a serious and dangerous report, which recommends that Israel blatantly violate international law and trample on the protected needs and rights of the Palestinian population…the implementation of its recommendations would lead to apartheid in practice.
Talia Sasson (author of the 2005 Sasson Report and current head of The New Israel Fund): The report was written “on the basis that the political debate over the West Bank is over…Their legal attitude to issues of land ownership is one of ‘we don’t want to know.’ ”
Michael Sfard (human rights lawyer): Referring to a 1979 court ruling that held Palestinian land could not be confiscated by the state for the use of settlement building, Sfard said: “The adoption of this report would signify the end of that ruling. It has been abused quite regularly on the ground, but never before at the legal level.”
[Updated post-publication with new statements]
The Efrat settlement, located south of Bethlehem, recently became the first settlement to have its own drone to police the skies. The settlement held a demonstration of the drone’s capabilities over the weekend, stressing that the drone is able to quickly identify Palestinians on the ground.
The purchase of the drone was supported by a $37,000 donation from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization which claims to be the “largest Christian-supported humanitarian agency helping Israel and the Jewish people around the world,” counting 1.6 million Christian donors who contribute a total of $140 million annually. The group’s founder, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, told the Jerusalem Post that he plans on equipping more settlements with their own private drones.
Military-grade drones have long been a part of the Israeli military’s blockade of Gaza, and Gaza residents have long noted with despair the audible buzzing of drones above them. The Washington Post wrote that the buzz of drones is the “the most enduring reminder of Israel’s unblinking vigilance and its unfettered power to strike at a moment’s notice.” Just last week, and for the first time ever, Israel used drones to drop tear gas on Palestinians participating in protests along the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The privatization of drones follows the diffusion of drone technology throughout the Israeli armed forces; as of last year, Israel had furnished camera-equipped drones to hundreds of IDF units.
A freedom of information request filed by two Israeli NGOs has revealed that the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) offers mobile homes for rent in West Bank settlements for 20-30% cheaper than in Israel proper. According to the data, 37% of the division’s rental properties are located inside of West Bank settlements.
The Settlement Division is technically part of the World Zionist Organization, but in practice the unit is fully funded by the Israeli government and even splits its real estate profits with the Israeli Housing and Construction Ministry. Together, the WZO and the Israeli government work in coordination to develop West Bank settlements and encourage Jews to move into them.
From the beginning of the Israeli settlement movement, the Israeli government has provided significant economic subsidies to encourage its citizens to move to the West Bank (subsidies which is not offered to citizens living in Israel proper, where a housing shortage has been front-page news for years).
On May 6, 2018, the Israeli Cabinet voted to support legislation that, if passed by the Knesset, will empower the Knesset to reinstate laws struck down by the High Court with a bare-bones majority vote (61 of 120). This move by the Cabinet sends the bill – known as the override law – to the Knesset, where it appears to have been put on ice due to opposition within the governing coalition.
The Cabinet’s decision to vote on the bill and send it to the Knesset took place entirely at the insistence of Jewish Home leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, in defiance of a request from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s (Likud) to delay the Cabinet vote until the Ministers could reach a compromise on the text of the bill. Instead, Bennett and Shaked plowed ahead with their own version of the bill without consensus in the Cabinet. The Jewish Home version is the most extreme: it would allow the Knesset to reinstate bills with just 61-votes, a threshold so low that it would effectively allow governing coalitions to pass laws that are immune to judicial review. Chief Justice Esther Hayut warned that the 61-vote version sets the bar too low, calling it a “danger to democracy and to the court.”
As of this writing, Netanyahu has not yet weighed in on the Cabinet’s action on the bill, which leaves Likud faction votes uncertain. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon – who heads the Kulanu Party, the second largest party in the governing coalition – has promised to instruct his faction to vote against the bill should it be brought up, a move which could shelve the bill for six months according to Knesset procedures. Kahlon, who was not present during the Cabinet’s discussion or vote, said:
“The passage of the bill in the Ministerial Committee of Legislation is a violation of the coalition agreements and a blow to law enforcement. The Kulanu faction will continue to struggle against the override powers clause and we will fight. We will not allow extreme elements to lead the daily agenda in the State of Israel.”
Adding to the dissent, a spokesman for Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reiterated the AG’s opposition to all versions of the bill currently under consideration. As an alternative, Mandelblit has recommended a bill that would require a majority vote in the High Court (6 out of 9) to overturn a bill, and then a vote of 70 MKs to reinstate any bill that was struck down.
Former Top Military Prosecutor – Current NGO Monitor Employee – Lives in House Built on Stolen Palestinian Land
Dror Etkes – founder of the anti-settlement watchdog group Kerem Navot – revealed that Maurice Hirsch, Israel’s former chief military prosecutor in the West Bank – lives in a house that the Israeli Defense Ministry has admitted was built on privately owned Palestinian land. Hirsch is currently employed by NGO Monitor, a group dedicated to quashing activisim critical of Israel or Israeli policies.
- “Ultra-Orthodox population grows in Israeli settlements” (i24 News)
- “Israeli forces expel Palestinian families from homes in Jordan Valley for army training” (Maan News)
- “How the U.S. State Department Deleted the Occupied Territories” (Haaretz)