The government expropriated an area of 815 dunams (202 acres), similar in size to the Old City of Jerusalem, in order to legalize the illegal outpost of Haresha, whose area is only 70 dunams (17 acres). According to a statement submitted by the government to the court in a petition by Peace Now against illegal houses built in the outposts of Haresha and Hayovel, the government has confiscated 815 dunams for legalizing the outpost of Haresha (from the Palestinian villages of Mizra’a Al-Qibliya and Al-Janiya, west of Ramallah), and another 189 dunams (47 acres) from the Palestinian village of Qaryut, north of Ramallah, for legalizing the outpost of Hayovel.
The Peace Now petition was submitted in 2005, when the houses in Haresha and Hayovel were still under construction. Until 2009 the state continued promising the court it would exercise the demolition orders against the houses and that it was acting to enforce the law and asked the court for more time to demolish the houses. But after the Netanyahu government was established, in January 2010 the state changed its response and informed the High Court of Justice that the government intends to retroactively legalize the illegal outposts and approve the illegal construction, and therefore it asked to reject the petition.
A number of stages are needed in order to legalize illegal outposts:
- A government decision – there needs to be a specific decision by the government plenary to establish a new settlement in the territories – since 1992 and the beginning of the peace process no Israeli government has dared decide to build a new settlement in the territories. The Israeli government always promised that Israel would not build new settlements because Israel was seeking peace.
- Acquiring the land rights – the land has to be in the possession of the state (or the possession of the settlers), and the government has to approve allocating the land for a settlement. In the case of Haresha and Hayovel the land was considered private Palestinian land. The recent order declaring the two outposts as “state land” constitutes the initial stage of acquiring the land rights. After hearing the appeals that were submitted against the declaration order, if the appeals are rejected, the lands will officially become “State Lands” and the Defense Minister will need to approve the allocation of the land to plan and build the settlement.
- Planning – after the Minister approves the land allocation the next required stage is the drawing up of a building plan and its approval by the Civil Administration’s planning bodies. This procedure usually takes a few years. Only after there is a valid plan can building permits be issued for the illegal buildings.
Only after all of those stages are completed can the outpost be legalized.
The meaning of the declaration order of state land
The land was expropriated by an “order concerning government property” based on a draconian Israeli interpretation of the 1858 Ottoman land law, according to which the Israeli government can declare private Palestinian land that has not been cultivated for a few years as “state land” and transfer it to the use of the settlers. By this interpretation, since the 1980s Israel has declared nearly one million dunams (one fifth of the West Bank) “state land,” thereby forbidding the Palestinians from using it, and allocated most of it to the use of the settlers. For more about methods of expropriation in the territories see here.
Israel‘s commitment not to expropriate additional land
The Israeli government has committed many times not to expropriate land to expand settlements. That commitment was part of the agreement between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush concerning the settlements, and Prime Minister Olmert also repeated it on a number of occasions. Prime Minister Netanyahu also reiterated Israel’s commitment not to expropriate new land. For example, in his Bar Ilan speech he announced: “We have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.”