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Illegal settlements aren't rogue, they're government policy

Consecutive Israeli governments have fabricated a sophisticated system designed to lend a guise of legality to the seizure of land in the West Bank.

By Adam Aloni

Israeli soldiers stand in front of the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, which was partially built on expropriated land belonging to the Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin, West Bank, September 26, 2014. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers stand in front of the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, which was partially built on expropriated land belonging to the Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin, West Bank, September 26, 2014. (Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

A month ago, with nearly no public debate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retroactively approved an urban building plan (UBP) for the West Bank settlement of Itamar. A week later, on October 29, Netanyahu retroactively approved UBPs for another three settlements: Shvut Rachel, Sansana and Yaqir. Once again Israeli authorities “laundered” construction in the West Bank that even they deemed illegal for years. Contrary to attempts in the media to represent this move as a Netanyahu capitulation to settler leaders, this was nothing more than the implementation of a long-standing Israeli policy of extensive unauthorized construction followed by retroactive approval. This allows the state to maintain a semblance of the rule of law while violating it on a daily basis.

In many settlements, the government itself has been responsible for illegal construction, primarily through the Housing and Construction Ministry. An analysis of Defense Ministry data shows that in the overwhelming majority (approximately 75 percent) of West Bank settlements, construction – sometimes extensive construction – was carried out without the necessary permits or in breach of the permits that were granted.

In 2005, the director general of the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, which serves as the Israeli government’s branch for establishing and reinforcing rural settlements, testified that the Settlement Division expressly advocates violating planning and building laws in the West Bank. He said that the modus operandi is first to establish Israeli communities, then reinforce them, and only several years later to approve plans for the construction – “This is the mode of operation”.

The establishment of settlements – with or without building permits – violates international humanitarian law and the human rights of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Over the years, Israeli governments have all disregarded this prohibition and fabricated a sophisticated legal system designed to lend a guise of legality to the seizure of land in the West Bank.

Construction in the Israeli settlement of Gilo is seen over the West Bank separation barrier. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Construction in the Israeli settlement of Gilo is seen over the West Bank separation barrier. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

While Israel employs the same planning and legal language to describe Israeli and Palestinian construction in the West Bank, in practice these procedures and regulations are implemented completely differently in Jewish-Israeli settlements and in Palestinian communities. In the case of settlements, Israeli authorities provide assistance, turn a blind eye to violations, and retroactively approve unauthorized construction, all as part of a long-standing policy to facilitate the de facto annexation of West Bank land to the sovereign territory of the State of Israel. Palestinian communities on the other hand, face an exacting, by-the-book, bureaucratic approach, a freeze on planning, and extensively implemented demolition orders, all as part of an ongoing policy to prevent Palestinian development and dispossess Palestinians of their land.

Israeli government policy regarding planning and construction for Palestinians in the West Bank is the very reverse of the modus operandi described above. With regard to Palestinian construction in Area C, the Israeli government cynically explained to the UN that in order “to facilitate proper planning procedures, illegal construction is not tolerated. Such illegal construction harms the local population, given the fact that it does not take into consideration planning policies that will ensure a reasonable quality of life, and public needs.”

However, in practice the government has no such planning policy, nor will it have any such policy. In approximately 70 percent of Area C, Palestinian construction is completely prohibited, while stringent restrictions are imposed on another 29 percent of the area. In the remaining one percent of Area C – some 1,824.3 hectares – there are approved outline plans that enable Palestinian development. However, most of this area is already built up.

In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has prepared outline plans for 116 communities, and 67 plans have already been submitted to the planning bodies in the Israeli army’s Civil Administration for approval. However, these efforts have been to no avail. Only three plans have been approved, and they cover a total area of a mere 57 hectares (equal to 0.02 percent of Area C). This outcome is hardly surprising, given that Palestinians are completely excluded from the decision-making process with regard to planning in Area C.

Israel has surrounded the Palestinian residents of the West Bank in a planning stranglehold, while at the same time approving outline plans for settlements that already cover a total area of 28,217.4 hectares, equal to 8.5 percent of Area C. In addition, Israel has allocated extensive areas to the municipal authorities of the settlements, thereby blocking any Palestinian use of the land and ensuring that it remains available as a reserve for settlement expansion. Given the relative size of the two populations, the planned area for each settler is at least 13 times greater than that for each Palestinian. And that is how Israel expropriates West Bank land for itself at the expense of local Palestinian residents.

Adam Aloni works as a researcher at B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Ben

      The cynicism and deviousness of the occupation is mind blowing. The sheer criminality. And organized. Organized crime. Good organizations like B’Tselem document this kind of thing well but there are few if any English language publications that succinctly put it all together like +972. +972 Magazine is indispensable. Keep up the outstanding work, guys. Your journalistic and ethical standards are excellent.

      Folks, have you donated to +972 today? It’s easy. You can make a small automatic monthly donation or a larger one-time one. Don’t put it off!

      Reply to Comment
      • Merkava

        BEN, it is our country and our land. We build as we choose according to the Laws Of Israel and there is nothing YOU can do about it. The most you can do is stop your feet and foam at the mouth on this comment section. Nothing more. Nothing less.

        Got it, BEN?

        Now, as to contributing to +972, the obvious first question is: has BEN ever contributed anything to +972 or is BEN just being the complete hypocrite he is?


        You still have outstanding challenge here. http://972mag.com/palestinian-groups-present-war-crimes-evidence-to-the-icc/114152/

        Reply to Comment
        • Mike

          Merkava, it’s your country and your land and with laws of Israel huh? Maybe you can enlighten us how you practise Israeli laws to land which has never been legally annexed?

          Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, Right

          You know something, I often read this sort of arrogant screed from carpetbaggers like Merkava, and whenever I come across it I am reminded of an old joke.

          Q: What’s the last thing that goes through a blowfly’s mind when it hits the windscreen?
          A: Its arse.

          So continue on with nary a care in the world…. until the day when your little Zionist enterprise runs SMACK! into its Outside Context Problem.

          No doubt when (not if, but when) that happens you will be the most surprised person on Planet Earth, but I hope that you will have time for a last fleeting thought that, heck, you really are a shit-for-brains.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      For the legal beagles there’s an awful lot here in terms of a legal trail, and a complete lack of complementary. Israel’s High Court of Justice has never even agreed to hear a single argument on the legality of settlements. (That’s in terms of building a strictly legal case. For those assessing the common sense and moral case, the evidence is in plain sight and all over the place.) >>>>>>>>>>>>

      Reply to Comment
      • Merkava

        In the link, BEN copied and pasted this as his own comment:

        “Israeli officials may ultimately be far more exposed to the risk of ICC prosecution for settlement activities than suspected war crimes in Gaza. Whereas Israel can attempt a complementarity defense with regards to war crimes in Gaza by pointing to domestic investigations of its soldiers, Israel’s High Court of Justice has never even agreed to hear a single argument on the legality of settlements. …“The magnitude of the crime and the number of people and communities who have been affected by it over nearly 50 years, Sfard added, “makes it the perfect case for a world criminal court.”

        So, I challenge you again, my good friend BEN, as follows:


        1. How so, BEN? Does the ICC have jurisdiction over the “settlement activities”? If so, why and how?

        Does my good friend BEN have the intellectual power to make coherent legal arguments to support his claim, OR, is BEN going to continue to hide behind un-substantiated, un-supported headlines, slogans and clichés like his copy and paste post above?

        Oh, this gonna be good debate, folks. Get your popcorns and chilled Coke ready, for the debate is about to start.

        Now, pls. present your arguments, BEN!

        The time starts now…..

        We are waiting…..

        Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      Wait, the Settlement Division of the WZO is a branch of the Israeli government? Like what, a contractor? appointed by the PM? What parallel could that be in USA, it would be as if Federal Reserve Bank were a branch of USA government. Which of course it is not, it is a private for-profit business that creates money from thin air then collects real dollars in interest from its host like a leach. It was denied twice and both of those presidents were executed. But I digress. To know that WZO is a “branch” of Israel government tells me Israel, and USA support of Israel, are just chess pieces in a larger game. I hope it’s USA’s game.

      Reply to Comment