Ulpana settlers frantic at steps to move them – and to end settler immunity

This posting has been updated since first posting. There are now 6 items:
1) Hunger-striking settlers battle for far more than five disputed Ulpana buildings;
2) Ynet, Pressure on Likud -‘You’re not Meretz’;
3) Haaretz, Likud fears legal, international, responses if legalise Ulpana;
4) JTA, Ulpana move not a precedent;
5) B’Tselem, Guise of legality on the West Bank;
6) Al Jazeera Knesset rejects bill to legalise settlements;

Hunger-striking settlers battle for far more than five disputed Ulpana buildings

Protesters and their supporters say the fate of the settlement movement hangs in the balance ahead of Wednesday’s Knesset vote

By Mitch Ginsburg, Times of Israel

On the corner of Zussman and Rabin streets in Jerusalem, some 200 yards from the doors of the Supreme Court, groups of young men fill the shallow pockets of shade under the olive trees. Beneath them, on a stone plaza named after Shimon Agranat, the American-born former president of the Supreme Court, many of the older men sit under manufactured shade, in a protest tent, the walls quilted with placards and the air stirred with fans.

Many of them are on hunger strike, and will remain so until the settlement regularization bills are brought before Knesset on Wednesday. But unlike the prime minister, the last matter they want to discuss are the five apartment blocks in the Ulpana neighborhood of the settlement of Beit El; the shape of the settlement movement, they say, is what hangs in the balance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, navigating through the straits of his ideological base and the dictates of the Supreme Court, has decided to abide by court order and raze the five buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood by July 1. He will transfer the buildings down the slope and on to state land, he said during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, and build 10 new buildings for each destroyed one. Finally, he will continue to seek a legal path around what has been Israeli policy since the landmark Elon Moreh case in 1979: that the government will not sanction Israeli settlement on privately owned land in the West Bank [see B’TSelem report below].

This guideline, along with its interpretation within the halls of the State Attorney’s Office, has led to a crisis in the settlement movement – heightened by a spate of unauthorized building before and during the Second Intifada (as a response to then-foreign minister Sharon’s call to “grab the hills”) and a Peace Now policy that focuses less on swaying public opinion and more on maps and legal arguments before the courts.

According to hunger-striking National Union MK Yaakov Katz, 70,000 Israelis live in homes in the West Bank that share the same legal status as the five apartment houses in Beit El. (The figure most widely cited speaks of some 9,000 homes.) Their destruction, Ulpana neighborhood spokesman and resident Harel Cohen said in a statement, “would be equal in magnitude and enormity to the Expulsion from Spain.”

Hanan Hexter, a resident of Givat Asaf, a 25-family outpost deemed to be entirely on private land, produced a sheath of laminated aerial photos. Less prone to hyperbole, he began to present the facts as they are on the ground. He pointed to the Ulpana neighborhood, indicated the spot where Netanyahu suggested relocating the homes, labeled the notion “absurd” and then turned to the heart of the matter: the three communities of Psagot, Ofra and Beit El, the backbone of settlement in the northern West Bank, will all be fundamentally affected by the government’s decision to abide by the court ruling.

A third of Psagot, he said, is situated on private land. In Beit El, there are 300 homes on private land. And in Ofra, “the least legal settlement in all of Judea and Samaria” and to a large extent the intellectual heart of the settlement movement, some 400 of the homes are on land that has the same status as the Ulpana neighborhood.

This is why the 19 hunger-strikers and their supporters feel that Netanyahu’s decision regarding the Ulpana neighborhood is largely inconsequential. Instead they are focused on a legislative initiative that would retroactively legalize the settlers’ claims to the land.

Their banners deem the two bills the “Zionistic, moral and logical” solution. But thus far the prime minister has used his parliamentary muscle to prevent the laws from being voted on in the Knesset.

Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu bureau chief who is currently vying for the top spot in the Jewish Home party, stood alongside a banner featuring the faces of the Likud ministers in government. Beside each minister was a box that said “for” and “against.” Above their mug shots a headline read: “The Regularization Law, The Moment of Truth.”

Bennett feels that the far-left, “which represents maybe two to three percent of the public,” has managed to shackle the government through the “left-dominated” court and legal systems and that since “the Palestinian state paradigm is over” the Israeli government should annex Area C, home to some 350,000 Jews and 45,000 Palestinians.

In the meanwhile, though, he has his sights on Wednesday’s vote, which he predicts will pivot on the decisions of four key Likud ministers: Moshe Ya’alon, Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Katz and Gilad Erdan.

“We’re not looking for their sympathy or their presence here in the tent,” he said. “We’re looking to see their fingers in the air on Wednesday.”

Settlers press Likud ministers on Ulpana: ‘You’re not Meretz’

Knesset expected to shoot down bill aimed at preventing evacuation of Beit El neighborhood, but residents continue struggle by flooding Likud ministers with emails, text messages and phone calls urging them to back legislation. IDF fears violence during eviction

Ynet news

The settlement regulation bill, which is aimed at circumventing a High Court ruling to prevent the evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, is not expected to pass when it is brought before the Knesset on Wednesday, but residents of the West Bank settlement haven’t lost hope.

One minister said the Ulpana residents are applying “atomic pressure” by “texting, phoning and emailing” Likud ministers “every few minutes.”

“They are trying to frighten the ministers into voting in favor of the bill,” the minister said.

According to the bill, structures that were built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank would be legalized retroactively. Any land owner who did not challenge construction on the land he claimed to own within four years would lose the legal right to do so.

Israel’s Supreme Court agreed ordered that the five disputed buildings in Ulpana be demolished no later than July 1.

Labor, Independence and the Arab parties plan to vote against the bill. The rightist Yisrael Beitenu party said it would support the bill unless a solution that would satisfy all sides involved – including the settlers – would be found. Shas also announced it was supporting the law, but it remains unclear how ministers from both parties will vote.

On Monday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bill could achieve “the opposite of its intended effect, causing both the evacuation of the neighborhood and harm to the settlements.”

“We have proposed solutions that would strengthen settlements,” the prime minister added.

While it appears that most ministers belonging to the ruling Likud party will vote against the bill, Netanyahu has made it clear that he would not hesitate to dismiss those who will support the motion.

“There is a majority within Likud against the bill, but the situation is explosive. Everyone is pressuring everyone else,” a Likud official said.

MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), who tabled the bill, said “as far as we are concerned, the destruction of homes and the evacuation of communities cannot pass. The bill is aimed at solving the (Ulpana) residents’ problems, and therefore we will put it up for a vote and hopefully it will get broad support.”

Ministers told Ynet on Monday that one email sent by the Ulpana settlers read, “We wish to remind you that you were elected to implement Likud’s platform and not serve as the contractors for plans supported by Meretz and the Israel-haters who fund it.

In a protest tent pitched near the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, protesters placed a photo of Likud ministers alongside their telephone numbers. They further urged visitors to send text messages to the government officials to convince them to support the bill.

Likud MK Danny Danon encouraged visitors to personally address the ministers, and said: “Don’t give up.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of settlers protested outside the homes of ministers Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Erdan and Limor Livnat on Sunday night. Settlers from the Givat Assaf settlement protested the impending eviction of the West Bank settlement. They stood in front of Erdan’s house and began building tents around his property. They demanded that the minister support the settlement regulation bill.

The settlers will continue their march from Beit El to Jerusalem on Wednesday, where dozens of Ulpana residents are staging a hunger strike. “We aren’t violent people but it’s hard to know what will happen,” said one of the settlers.

“We fear that a single protester’s foolish actions could lead to grave consequences, such as the settlement’s eviction,” he added.

Settler leaders and the IDF fear that extremists may instigate violence, but a right-wing source said they “do not intend to cooperate with those who negotiate with the government on the possibility of evacuating their homes.

“If they (settlers) decide to fight, of course we will come and help,” the source said.

AG likely to back PM plan to relocate Ulpana settlers

Likud officials say Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein prefers relocating homes, built on private Palestinian land, to legalizing them.

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to give the go-ahead on Tuesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to relocate the settlers living on Ulpana Hill, senior Likud ministers and officials in Netanyahu’s bureau said.

Weinstein’s likely support for the plan to relocate the settlers reportedly stems from his disapproval of a bill that would legalize the presence of the homes on Ulpana Hill, which were built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Weinstein believes a major battle with the High Court of Justice would erupt if such legislation were to go forward.

Sources in the coalition said they believe the bill would not pass when the Knesset votes on it on Wednesday.

A senior Likud minister said he believed Netanyahu had guaranteed the support of a majority of Likud ministers and many other MKs against the bill.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told his fellow Likud ministers at a meeting on Monday that Weinstein had made clear that he would find it difficult to defend the legislation to legalize the Ulpana settlement.

Netanyahu told the Likud ministers that such a bill could create “international complications that must not be taken lightly.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a conference in Eilat on Monday that he wanted to know Weinstein’s decision before he decides how his Yisrael Beiteinu faction will vote.

Lieberman said he hoped “another reasonable solution” would arise, and if not, “the only thing left to do would be to approve a bill” legalizing the status of the Ulpana neighborhood.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, meanwhile, announced he would support the bill.

However, sources close to the prime minister said both Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu had left themselves a way out so they could oppose the bill if Netanyahu pressured them.

Likud officials said Netanyahu would convene the cabinet or Ministerial Committee on Legislation before the Knesset vote to discuss the objection of ministers Daniel Hershkowitz and Yuli Edelstein to an earlier decision, which had obliged the ministers to vote against the bill.

On Monday, Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset faction: “We are a government that respects the rule of bill and strengthens settlement, and there is no conflict between the two.”

Several ministers, among them Limor Livnat, Moshe Kahlon and Yuval Steinitz, were not present at the meeting and have not come out either for or against the legislation.

Those present expressed their support, albeit with some hesitation, for the prime minister’s plan. “It was clear that all the ministers present at the meeting support Netanyahu and all the deputy ministers and MKs support the bill,” a Likud MK said Monday.

As of Monday, the only minister who said outright that he would vote for the bill was Yuli Edelstein.

Ya’alon said Monday: “The solution the prime minister has devised is that we build alternative housing for the people living in the five buildings in an area already earmarked for this 300 more housing units in Beit El with the legal defense of the attorney general.”

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said he still had not taken a position on the bill, but he praised Netanyahu’s conduct toward the settlers. Others at the meeting said they believed Sa’ar would support Netanyahu’s plan.

Participants said Ya’alon’s and Sa’ar’s nod in favor of Netanyahu’s plan could allow other ministers to oppose the bill or at least abstain without overly angering Netanyahu and risking their positions. Netanyahu has not yet said whether he will dismiss ministers who vote for the bill.

Netanyahu Ulpana plan is not a precedent, AG says

JERUSALEM — A plan to relocate five apartment buildings from the Ulpana neighborhood on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement in the West Bank is not a precedent for similar situations, Israel’s attorney general told Benjamin Netanyahu.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein provided an official response Tuesday to the prime minister’s plan. Under the plan, the five apartment buildings, home to about 30 families, would be moved several hundred yards to land that is not privately owned by Palestinians, instead of being razed as ordered by the Supreme Court. In addition, 10 new housing units would be constructed in the settlement for every building moved.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in September that the neighborhood should be razed, siding with a lawsuit filed by Palestinians who said they owned the land.

Weinstein said Tuesday that the main legal problem facing the plan is that the buildings would be moved to a military zone and land there can be used for only security purposes, which this move is not, according to Ynet.

The decision comes a day before a scheduled vote in the Knesset plenum on a bill that would override the Supreme Court decision to remove the buildings. The legislation would retroactively legalize buildings built on contested land if the owner does not challenge the construction within four years.

During a heated meeting Tuesday of the Knesset’s State Control Committee to discuss the settlement regulation bill, Likud minister Benny Begin told lawmakers that Netanyahu cannot promise an end to the demolition of Jewish homes in the West Bank.

Also on Tuesday, Netanyahu told two families living in Ulpana that the bill, if passed, will harm settlements,

“Even though for some people the High Court decision over Ulpana is hard, we have to respect it,” Netanyahu said, Haaretz reported. “The alternative, in the form of the bill, is likely to achieve the opposite: the evacuation of the neighborhood, and damage to the settlements. We are a government that respects the rule of law and strengthens settlement, and there is no contradiction between the two things.”

Under the Guise of Legality: Declarations on state land in the West Bank


Summary, March 2012

Since the 1979 judgment of the High Court of Justice in the Elon Moreh case, which prohibited the requisition of private Palestinian land to build civilian settlements, the settlement enterprise has been based on the use of state land. However, the amount of land recorded in the land registry as government property prior to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967 was limited (527,000 dunams, 9 percent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem), and was concentrated in the Jordan Valley. The Central Mountain Ridge region contained almost no state land.

Following the court’s ruling in the Elon Moreh case, and in line with policies of building settlements throughout the West Bank, including on the Central Mountain Ridge, the State of Israel declared more than 900,000 dunams as state land. Over the years, B’Tselem and other human rights organizations criticized Israel’s declarations policy, both on procedural grounds – Palestinians were often denied the right to effectively object to the declaration – and on the substantive claim that the declarations were intended to promote an unlawful objective: the establishment of settlements, which, because it creates permanent change in occupied territory, is forbidden under international law.

B’Tselem’s new report considers the subject from a novel perspective: it examines the declarations policy from the aspect of the local land laws, the most important being the Ottoman Land Code of 1858. The report provides a detailed analysis of the 1858 Code and the Ottoman, British Mandatory, and Jordanian land laws that amended and revised it. The report also discusses relevant court rulings from the Mandatory period. The analysis shows that Israel’s application of its declarations policy was unlawful, since it classified some land as government property even though, under the local Law, it was private Palestinian property.

Most of the declarations were made on miri land, which is defined as all land that lies within a radius of 2.5 kilometers from the built-up area of the village, as it was in 1858, regardless of whether the land was under cultivation or not. Declarations were made also on metouae grazing land. Under the Guise of Legality shows that the declarations policy breaches the local land laws in three principal manners:

Nature of the type and scope of cultivation that grants ownership rights
Under article 78 of the Ottoman Land Code , a farmer who cultivated miri land for 10 years without objection by the state acquires ownership rights in it. The statute does not define the nature of the cultivation needed to acquire the ownership. This has important implications as the Central Mountain Range in the West Bank is characterized by rocky land, only a small portion of which is arable. The Mandatory Supreme Court ruled that in a rocky parcel of miri land, cultivation of pockets of fertile land scattered here and there grants the farmer ownership rights in the entire parcel. This doctrine was applied in the West Bank also during the period of Jordanian rule.

In its declarations policy, Israel applied a different and more stringent interpretation: a person who claimed rights in rocky land must prove that he cultivated at least 50 percent of the entire parcel. If the pockets of land under cultivation amounted to less than 50 percent, the entire parcel was deemed state land, leaving the farmer with no rights whatsoever. By doing so, Israel classified as government property land that, under the local Law, was private Palestinian property.

Demand of continuous cultivation of the land
The Mandatory Supreme Court ruled that a farmer who cultivated miri land for 10 years and then ceased cultivating it did not lose the ownership rights he had acquired in the parcel, even if he did not register it on his name in the land registry. This interpretation was applied in the West Bank also during the period of Jordanian rule.

In its declarations policy, Israel adopted the opposite interpretation, whereby unregistered miri land which had been cultivated for 10 years or more, after which cultivation stopped at some point, was government property and could be declared as state land. In this way, Israel declared large swaths of land in the West Bank as state land, though under the local Law they were private Palestinian property.

Disregard for community rights in grazing land
Under the 1858 Code, metruka land is defined as public land of two kinds: one, land that serves the entire public (for example: roads), and two, land designated for a specific group, such as grazing land that a certain village has used for many years. The Mandatory Supreme Court ruled that in order to establish their collective rights in the land, it is sufficient for residents of the relevant village to prove that they used the land for many years for grazing.

In its declarations on state land, Israel disregarded the collective rights of Palestinian communities in grazing land. Quite to the contrary, in many cases, Israel’s declarations were based on the claim that the land was not cultivated, but only used for grazing. A government survey conducted in 1976 showed that the West Bank had 3.6 million dunams of grazing land, two million of which (about 35 percent of the entire West Bank) were not arable. Undoubtedly, a substantial portion of these lands are designated metruka land and belong to local Palestinian communities. Declaring these lands state land and allocating them to settlements breach local Law.

In addition to the theoretical discussion on the local land laws, the report contains a survey of the Ramallah area that compares the amount of state land that was recorded in the land registry during the period of Jordanian rule with the amount of unregistered land in this area which Israel declared government property. The survey revealed dramatic differences between the percentage of land that had been defined as government property by Jordan and the amount that was defined as state land by Israel.

For example, the Jordanians completed land settlement (recording in the land registry) for half of the village land of ‘Ein Qinya, in which not one dunam was registered as government property. In comparison, in the case of the lands of the adjacent village Al Janya, which did not undergo land settlement, Israel declared 34 percent of the land as government property and built the Dolev and Talmon settlements on it. In Kafr ‘Aqab, which lies south of Ramallah, in the course of the Jordanian land settlement, 3,240 dunams of land were registered, with only 2.4 dunams (0.1 percent of the area that underwent land settlement) being classified as state land. In comparison, of the land of Kafr ‘Aqab that had not undergone land settlement (2,250 dunams), 1,415 dunams (63 percent of the land that had not undergone land settlement) were classified as government property by Israel and used to build the Kochav Ya’akov settlement.

These data and other facts and figures included in the report show that the declarations of state land by Israel were substantively different from the results of the land settlements that were carried out in the West Bank during the Mandatory and Jordanian periods. This fact supports the conclusion that a significant percentage of the land that Israel declared as state land is privately owned Palestinian property, which was taken from their lawful owners by legal manipulation and in breach of local Law and international law alike.

For full report click here

Knesset rejects bill to legalise settlements

Israeli legislators reject attempt to prevent demolition of outpost built on Palestinian land.
Al Jazeera

Israeli legislators have voted against a bill to retroactively legalise settler homes built on private Palestinian land, in a move which has sharply divided Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

The bill was an attempt to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling ordering the removal of five buildings from a settlement outpost known as the Ulpana neighbourhood by July 1.

The planned demolition, which would affect 142 people, has sparked fury among settlers and their supporters in parliament, with right-wing parliamentarians set to bring the two bills for debate and a vote in a Knesset session later on Wednesday.

The legislation would essentially have legalised the outpost in the eyes of the Israelis and offered compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

Israel differentiates between “legal” settlements and “illegal” outposts, but the international community views all settlements on occupied territory as a violation of international law.

Netanyahu strongly opposes the bill on the grounds it would create an international backlash, and has reportedly threatened to sack any cabinet minister or deputy who backs the proposed legislation.

He has said he backs the idea of physically relocating the five buildings, moving them stone by stone to a new location, in a plan which is being examined by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

Despite a commanding majority of 94 within the 120-seat coalition, Netanyahu has struggled to rein in the far-right members of his ruling right-wing Likud party, many of whom have said they will back the move to legalise the Ulpana homes.

Protest march
At least two ministers have said they will back the bill – Yuli Edelstein, a Likud minister who holds the public diplomacy portfolio, and Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who heads the Jewish Home party.

But after some hesitation, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction, said he and his party of 15 seats would vote against, a statement said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of settlers began the last leg of a three-day march to Jerusalem in support of the bill.

The march began on Monday morning outside the condemned buildings, which lie on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement near Ramallah.

Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from Jerusalem, said hundreds of people had gathered in the city.

“They carry banners saying ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’. That’s the message to politicians, particularly to Prime Minister Netanyahu.” he said.

“What everyone is wondering is exactly how far it [the vote] will lead to a split within the prime minister’s own party.”

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down three years ago, and the Palestinians refuse to restart negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, for a future state.

Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions and has refused calls for a full settlement freeze.

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