Welcome to FMEP’s Weekly Settlement Report, covering everything you need to know about Israeli settlement activity this week.
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November 22, 2017
- Israeli AG Support for Land-Grab Paves Way for Legalization of [at least] 13 Outposts
- Israeli AG Approves Retroactive Legalization of “Mistaken” Land Theft
- Israeli AG to Present Argument on the “Regulation Law” This Week
- Threatened Eviction of Another Palestinian Bedouin Community in E-1
- Israel Fast-Tracks Jerusalem Cable Car Project Despite Political Concerns
- Settlers Fight for the “Right of Return” to Illegal, Inaccessible West Bank Settlements
- Bonus Reads
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The far-reaching implications of the legal opinion issued last week by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit, in the context of a case dealing with the Harsha outpost, are becoming alarmingly clear. Haaretz reports that the opinion will pave the way for Israel to retroactively legalize 13 unauthorized outposts, many of which are deep inside of the West Bank. The 13 outposts (and many others) were all built without Israel’s permission on pockets of state land, surrounded by privately owned Palestinian land. Roads leading to these outpost – without which the outposts cannot be fully planned and legalized – were (or will be), by necessity, built on land owned by Palestinians. This opinion paves the way (pun intended) for that to happen.
Dror Etkes, founder of the anti-settlement group Kerem Navot, notes that the impact of the decision is actually far greater than reported by Haaretz: “The real number of [affected] outposts is over 60.” Etkes adds,
The story [is] that the settlers are striving to resolve, with Mandleblit’s help, involves hundreds (yes hundreds!) of roads that have been illegally paved for decades around settlements and outposts, on land that even Israel recognizes as privately-owned. Now, with a little creativity and a lot of nerve, a legal mechanism has been invented to enable settlers to retroactively authorize the road system, without which the national land grab enterprise championed by Israel in the West Bank, can’t function.
Notably, several outposts that spun off from the Itamar settlement are among those that could benefit from this new legal precedent. Near Nablus, Itamar’s hilltop outposts form a contiguous land bridge – with roads connecting them – from Itamar to the Jordan Valley. Itamar’s residents are notorious for their ultra-nationalism.
Attorney General Mandleblit has endorsed an argument, made for the first time since 1967, in a legal brief submitted this week in Court by the Israeli government, that paves the way for Israel to expropriate privately owned Palestinian land inside the Ofra settlement, and potentially in other places as well. The land in question was “mistakenly” included as part of the settlement. The State filed the brief this week in response to a legal challenge to the Ofra settlement’s Master Plan.
The case centers on a “mistake” which happened when the Ofra settlement master plan was approved; Israel argues that at the time it did not know that some of the land in the area had not been declared “state land” (suggesting, at best, extraordinarily faulty due diligence in the planning process, and at worst, a policy of treating Palestinian land ownership claims as irrelevant). In 2016, the State acknowledged Palestinian claims to the land and announced its intention to rectify the problem by re-drawing the settlement’s master plan.
With this new argument, the State, backed by the Attorney General, has reversed the 2016 commitment and is instead moving to formally expropriate the Palestinian plots, arguing that the Ofra settlers acted in good faith based on the government’s approval of the Master Plan (i.e. that settlers should not be punished for the State’s mistake). Earlier this year, AG Mandleblit suggested this exact argument (that land stolen by mistake, in good faith, could be legalized as long as the Palestinian owners were compensated) as an alternative law for the Knesset to pass instead of the Regulation Law, which he opposed.
Commenting on the AG’s opinion, Tawfiq Jabareen, the lawyer representing the Palestinian petitioners, told Haaretz:
Attorney General Mandelblit is continuing to destroy the status of the rule of law and severely undermine Palestinian property rights in the occupied territories.
On Nov. 23rd, Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit is expected to present his argument on the “Regulation Law” to the Supreme Court. As we reported previously, Mandleblit was staunchly opposed to the Regulation Law, arguing that the law is unconstitutional and refusing to defend the law against legal challenges mounted by several civil society groups earlier this year. At the time the law was being considered, Mandleblit proposed an alternative legal strategy to accomplish the same goal: the retroactive legalization of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.
Mandleblit has been expected to argue forcefully against the law, which provides a new legal basis for the retroactive legalization of outposts and agricultural land seizures, with Palestinian owners provided “compensation” (but no choice in the matter). Following the opinion Mandleblit issued last week regarding the Harsha outpost case (implications of which we detail above), and given his recent support for the retroactive legalization of land theft for the benefit of the Ofra settlement (detailed above), it is quite possible that his opposition to the retroactive legalization of land seizures has softened.
If upheld, the Regulation Law can be used to retroactively legalize 55 outposts and 4,000 unauthorized settlement structures by expropriating over 8,000 dunks of privately owned Palestinian land.
The wave of IDF-ordered evictions continued this week, with the Jabal al-Baba bedouin community only the latest to be affected. The approximately 300 residents were ordered to leave their encampment near the Maale Adumim/E-1 settlement area east of Jerusalem within 8 days. The Jabal al-Baba community has been living in the area since 1948, after it was expelled from the Negev.
The Jabal al-Baba community is the second bedouin community in the Maale Adumim/E-1 area to be faced with eviction this year. In August, Israel escalated its longstanding threat to forcibly relocate the Khan al-Ahmar bedouin community to a site near the Abu Dis garbage dump – a move that B’Tselem warns will constitute a war crime. FMEP has covered the story in detail, including as it relates to the prospects for the construction of the doomsday E-1 settlement.
Israeli actions to remove Palestinian bedouin communities from Area C are not confined to the Jerusalem area. On November 1st, the Israeli army ordered the eviction of an entire bedouin community in the northern Jordan Valley.
Haaretz reports that Israeli planning authorities are moving ahead with plans to build a controversial cable car line in East Jerusalem, despite growing opposition. As FMEP reported in July, the planned cable car line is designed to facilitate tourism to Jewish sites in East Jerusalem while preventing tourists from encountering Palestinians. It features a stop at the settler-run Kedem Center, which was built in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
Jerusalem expert Daniel Seidemann explained
There are four worrisome aspects to this project. Without reference to political matters or religious sensitivities, this is a crime against Jerusalem. Disrespect for the unique value of the city and another example of the ‘disneyfication’ of Jerusalem under [Mayor Nir] Barkat. Someone who loves Jerusalem could not conceive of such a project. [The idea that] someone can send a cable car 150 meters away from the Al Aqsa Mosque is smoking the wrong thing….[the project] is another example of how the public interest and the interests of Jerusalemites are being subverted for the good of the settlers of Silwan, with the final station shamelessly at the Kedem Center, serving the narrow ideological interests of the settlers….[the project is] a clumsy attempt to unify the divided city by means of engineering gimmicks.
Israeli settlers are angling to return to four settlements – Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur and Homesh – that were dismantled in 2005, as part of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan. Settlers have long insisted they will “return” to the sites.
In this latest effort, they are focusing on the argument that the land has not been used since they abandoned it. Falling in Area C, and therefore under the full authority of Israel’s Civil Administration, the former settlements remain vacant despite Palestinian desire to develop it. The Jenin Municipality, which has nominal jurisdiction over the location, reportedly wants to develop the areas but has not yet applied for the necessary Israeli permits; applying to do so, in any case, would almost certainly be futile, given that Israel issues virtually no permits for Palestinian construction in Area C. In the meantime, the sites have become a garbage dumpsites.
Two or the sites – Ganim and Kadim – can only be accessed by driving through the Palestinian city of Jenin, raising security issues that make their redevelopment into settlements a remote possibility. Sa-Nur and Homesh, in contrast, are easily accessible by settlers. Earlier this year settlers and supporters, including right-wing Israeli lawmakers, gathered at the site of Sa-Nur demanding that the government let them return. At the site of Homesh, radical settler youth are already squatting, have established a yeshiva (religious school) and actively prevent Palestinian access.
- “How Israeli settlers turn archeological sites into political tools” (Al-Monitor)
- “Ombudsman: Settlement council doctored tenders to reward right-wing NGOs” (Times of Israel)
FMEP has long been a trusted resource on settlement-related issues, reflecting both the excellent work of our grantees on the ground and our own in-house expertise. FMEP’s focus on settlements derives from our commitment to achieving lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, and our recognition of the fact that Israeli settlements – established for the explicit purpose of dispossessing Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of land and resources, and depriving them of the very possibility of self-determination in their own state with borders based on the 1967 lines – are antithetical to that goal.