The Government Announces the Intention to Legalize Outposts
Peace Now, Israel
After the announcements of the Government on the intention to legalize illegal outposts that were built on what is called “State Lands”, it is now reported that Netanyahu is now seeking the way to legalize also those that are built on private Palestinian lands. According to the reports, Netanyahu will set up a task force to explore ways to legalize houses in the settlements that were built on private Palestinian land.
The announcements on the intention to legalize outposts are coming following petitions that were filed against the outposts and after many years that the Israeli government has been dragging the time and refrained from enforcing the law against the outposts. As the moment of truth is approaching (the state must update the court on the preparations for evictions on November 1st in Peace Now’s “Six Outposts” petition, the settlers are putting more and more pressure on the government, and the tensions on the ground are growing.
Unlike previous governments that promised the court to enforce the law against the illegal outposts, the Netanyahu government has changed policy and announced its intention to authorize outposts. This means that the Israeli government is admitting that it intends to establish new settlements despite the fact that it has committed not to do so. So far we are aware of at least 10 outposts that the state intends to authorize with some 650 illegal homes:
* Two outposts of the “Six Outposts”- in a petition filed by Peace Now, the state informed the court on March 7th, 2011 that the Prime Minister decided on a new policy regarding the illegal outposts: Outposts built on private land will be evacuated and the others will be authorized.
Under this policy decision, out of the 6 outposts in the Peace Now petition: One (Givat Assaf) is located entirely on Palestinian private land, thus according to the State’s announcement, should be evicted by the end of 2011; 3 outposts (Haroe, Ramat Gilad and Mitzpe Yizhar) are located partially on private Palestinian land and it is unclear whether the State plans to legalize them, and two outposts (Ma’ale Rechavam, and Mitzpe Lachish) are located on lands that were declared as State Lands and the government is likely to announce the intention to legalize them. The court ordered the state to update on the approval and/or the eviction process by 1.11.11.
In Ma’ale Rechavam there are 28 trailer homes, and in Mitzpe Lachish another 12.
* Harsha and Hayovel, in response to a Peace Now petition the government told the court in January 2010 of its intention to conduct a survey of the land in question so to explore the possibility to change the status of the land from private land to “declared state land”. On 24/8/11 the State announced that following the results of the survey, around 1,000 dunams (250 acres) were declared as state land, and that the State intends to authorize the outposts. The court gave the State 60 day’s to update on what it intends to do with those houses in the outposts that are on private Palestinian land.
In Haresha there are 8 permanent homes and another 60 caravans, and in Hayovel there are 16 permanent homes and another 27 trailers.
* Derech Haavot, in response to another Peace Now petition submitted jointly with the Palestinian landowners, on 25/4/10 the State announced to the courts of its intention to conduct a survey of the land to explore the possibility of authorizing the outpost. In June 2011 the Civil Administration informed the lawyers of the landowners that work on the survey is still in progress.
In Derech Haavot there are 18 permanent homes and another 18 trailer homes.
* Rehelim, Sansana, Bruchin, Shvut Rachel – In response to petitions filed by private landowners and human rights organizations, the State announced its intention to authorize the outposts Rehelim (24 permanent homes and 41 caravans), Sansana (21 permanent homes and 58 caravans), Bruchin (52 permanent homes and 53 caravans) and Shvut Rachel (93 permanent homes and 47 caravans)..
* Givat Habrecha – One outpost has almost completed the authorization process – Givat Habrecha (included in the list of illegal outposts that feature in Talia Sasson’s report) – the Minister of Defense has approved the authorization plan, to make this outpost a neighborhood of the settlement of Talmon. In Givat Habrecha there are 74 permanent homes and another 20 under construction), the approval plan includes the potential construction of 300 housing units.
Legalizing Outposts on Private Lands
On March 7th, 2011, in “the Six Outposts” petition by Peace Now, the government announced of a new policy according to which the outposts built on “State Land” will be legalized, and those on private Palestinian land will be evicted. Following the settlers’ pressure, it is now reported that Netanyahu decided to set up a task force to explore ways to legalize outposts that are on private Palestinian land. It is very hard to imagine a legal way to make a land grab legal (although in the framework of ongoing occupation this could unfortunately happen), but even if this “task force” doesn’t come up with legal solutions, the government will probably be able to use it in order to buy more time from the courts, and ask to wait with the enforcement of the law.
At least 70 outposts are located fully or partially on private Palestinian land (and there are many other official settlements on private Palestinian land). Although the announcement of the government from March 2011 was phrased as a general policy, it seems that only in cases where there are petitions to the court, will the government bother to try to legalize (or to enforce the law and demolish) outposts.
There are at least 8 outposts on private lands that are now under petitions:
* Givat Assaf – one of the Six Outposts at Peace Now’s petition where the government officially promised to evict by the end of year 2011.
* Migron – in the case of Migron there is a court ruling ordering the eviction of the outpost by March 2012, the government might try to postpone the implementation of the ruling.
* The outposts of Jabel Artis (near Beit El), Amona, and Mitzpe Kramim are all on private Palestinian land and are pending in courts.
The outposts of Haroe, Ramat Gilad and Mitzpe Yizhar (of “the six outposts”) – are partially on private land.
Outposts & the Abuse of Law in Service of the Settlements
Lara Friedman and Hagit Ofran, Huffington Post
Outposts are again taking center stage in the settlements debate, as the Netanyahu government announces two new policies aimed at legalizing illegal outposts. In doing so, the Netanyahu government is sending a clear signal that it values settlements over negotiations, and it prefers “Greater Israel” to peace.
In March the Israeli government announced a new policy: it would demolish outpost construction on private Palestinian land, but would seek to “legalize” all other outpost construction. Previous Israeli governments consistently promised the Israeli High Court they would enforce the law against illegal outposts, but for the most part found legal pretexts to delay doing so. The Netanyahu government, in contrast, was refreshingly honest — declaring its policy openly rather than continuing the charade.
It was clear from the outset that this new policy was a Pyrrhic victory in the fight against the outposts. It meant that for the first time the government had firmly committed to demolishing some outpost construction, but it also meant that the majority of the outposts — whose construction is unequivocally illegal under Israeli law — would be laundered, leading to the establishment of numerous new settlements in the West Bank. This, despite the fact that since 1992 it has been the policy of every Israeli government NOT to establish new settlements.
This new policy made news last week when it was reported that the government is making final preparations to legalize the isolated outpost of Shvut Rahel. There are at least 10 outposts that the state intends to “legalize” under this policy, involving some 650 illegal homes (approximately 3900 people).
Now Netanyahu also wants to “legalize” outpost construction on private Palestinian lands. This development is the next stage in this same outposts saga, with the Netanyahu government now obliged to update the Court by November 1 on its plans to remove outposts on private land, per the policy it announced in March (for details see Peace Now’s “Six Outposts” petition). While the government’s March announcement was phrased as a general policy, it appears for now that it will implement the policy only in cases where construction has been challenged in court, of which there at least 8, out of a total of at least 70 outposts located fully or partially on private land, along with many official settlements).
As that deadline nears, settlers are increasing pressure on the government and Netanyahu appears to be caving. In order “legalize” these outposts, the State will have to find a pretext to void the Palestinians’ claims to the land (e.g., by declaring it absentee property — a mechanism used over the years to seize land), or expropriate it, ostensibly for “public” use.
This battle over outposts is significant, for a number of reasons.
It shows Netanyahu doesn’t want peace. Any actions related to settlements, and particularly high-profile actions like legalizing outposts, make it difficult if not impossible for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Legalizing outposts located deep inside the West Bank only bolsters the conclusion that Netanyahu prefers settlements to peace.
It threatens the rule of law. Rule of law means that there is one law and nobody is above it. This is the case inside Israel, where even prominent politicians are held to account for their actions. However, Netanyahu is seeking to formalize a reality in which West Bank settlers can freely break the law, knowing that the law will be ignored or adjusted to accommodate their actions. This erosion of the rule of law undermines the foundations of Israel as a democracy and as a civilized nation.
It exemplifies Israel’s longstanding abuse of power in the West Bank. This effort to “legalize” illegal outposts is only the most recent, and brazen, example of what the occupation has always been about: finding “legal” pretexts to allow Israel to do whatever it wants, and what it has generally wanted has been to appease the settlers. Previous policies are no less cynical or self-serving. Like the 1979 policy declaring it illegal to take Palestinian private land for settlements, but legal take “State Land” for settlements. That policy formed the basis of the entire settlement enterprise, with Israel defining nearly 20% of the West Bank as “State Land,” and using this ostensibly public resource for the exclusive benefit of settlers.
It is linked to the rise in settler terrorism. The outpost issue is set to be a major issue in Israel in the coming weeks and months, with the story focused on “to evict, or not.” The settlers are putting tremendous pressure on the government, and this is playing out not only in the courts and in political circles, but also on the ground, where there has been a sharp increase in settler violence and terror. As the November 1 deadline approaches, this situation is likely to become more acute. The government’s readiness to cave to the settlers sends a troubling message that tactics like intimidation of and attacks against Palestinians, peace activists, Israeli officials, and the IDF work.
It should not be allowed to distract from the bigger issue. The reality is that the Netanyahu government continues to expand settlements all over the West Bank — in a policy that undermines the very possibility of a two-state solution. Outposts are just one small part of the picture. In some ways the situation is reminiscent of the period after the Annapolis Conference, when the U.S. allowed the issue of checkpoints/roadblocks to become the only issue on the peace agenda — a focus that permitted settlement expansion in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem to accelerate.