Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday declared his intention to evacuate illegal settlement outposts that are located on private Palestinian land. This declaration reportedly applies to “at least 3 outposts.”
This declaration is problematic, for a number of reasons:
1. The number of outposts on private land is 70, not 3. Of these, 16 are fully on private land and 54 are partially on private land. Of the 16, 11 are on land which is fully registered as private. See here the full list.
2. The Israeli obligation under the Roadmap (2003) is to remove all outposts established after March 2001. According to Peace Now’s count, this requires the removal of 45 settlement outposts, not 3. According to the Ministry of Defense, it requires the removal of 26 outposts (again, not 3). So this new commitment represents a clear violation of Israel’s Roadmap obligation regarding outposts. It also appears to be an effort to re-define Israel’s obligation regarding outposts from removing all outposts to removing only those on private land. This, in order to pave the way for legalization of the remaining 90+ outposts (which technically cannot be legalized) into fully official Israeli settlements – something that would nearly double the number of “legal” settlements in the West Bank.
3. The Israeli commitment under the Roadmap to remove outposts established only after March 2001 was based on the demand by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he should not be held accountable for outposts that were established under someone else’s authority. However, the person whose authority those remaining outposts were established under is Ehud Barak, who has been back in government since 2007.
4. It appears that Netanyahu is playing games with the distinction between registered and unregistered private land. This bears some examiniation:
– Only a small portion of privately owned West Bank land is formally registered as such. The Ottomans did not invest in land registration and when the British came in, they established a registration process that was lengthy and costly, and which was kept in place by the Jordanians. Under all these regimes, the ruling authorities were not actively looking for pretexts to seize private land, making the land registration process more of a modern formality. Thus, most West Bank land owners did not go through the registration process, confident that their tax records, as well as community knowledge of who owns what land, sufficed to establish ownership.
– In 1968, shortly after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 War, the Israeli authorities closed the process by which Palestinians could register land, making it impossible for land owners to register their ownership, regardless of any documents or other proof of ownership they might have (for example, documents proving the owner has paid taxes on the land). Since that time, only land that was formally registered before 1968 is recognized by Israel as registered private land. All other West Bank land is viewed as “unregistered” and subject to “survey” to determine if it can be seized by the State of Israel as State Land, on the basis of old Ottoman law under which the State can declare unregistered land as State Land if the land lies fallow for a certain number of years. Around 16% of the West Bank has already been declared as State Land. Most of this land has been used for settlements.
– The issue of registered land vs. unregistered land is key to the issue of outposts, because in many cases, the private land on which the outposts are built is unregistered. This opens the door for the State of Israel to eventually declare it as State Land and then begin efforts to legalize the outposts in question.
– The State has already indicated an intention to do precisely this. For example, there is the outpost of Harasha, which according to the data that the State gave Peace Now officially is on unregistered private Palestinian land. When Peace Now appealed to the court against the construction of some of the houses in Harasha, the State responded that it intended to try to declare the land as State Land and then approve the houses.
NOTE: All our data on private land is based on official data given to Peace Now by the State of Israel in response to a Peace Now Freedom of Information petition filed in Israeli courts. Our data is coming from official maps we got from the State itself, so it is not that we are saying it is private land, it is the State of Israel saying it is private land.