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The cabinet Has Decided to Establish Five New Settlements Deep in the West Bank

Based on media reports, at the cabinet meeting on Thursday, June 27, 2024, it was decided to establish five new settlements in isolated areas deep in the West Bank by legalizing five illegal outposts: Givat Assaf, Adorayim, Sde Ephraim, Evyatar, and Heletz. At this stage, the full text of the decision has not been published and the announcement about the legalization of the outposts was released to the media by Minister Smotrich’s office.

All five outposts are located in isolated areas deep in the West Bank, far from any contiguous settlements, and close to Palestinian communities in the Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron areas. In almost all cases, the land is either privately owned by Palestinians, or with challenging ownership issues that require significant legal maneuvers to reclassify them as “state land” and thereby legalize the settlements. It appears that the transfer of control over land and planning issues from the Civil Administration of the army to the Settlement Administration, and the transfer of authority from the head of the Civil Administration to a “Civilian Deputy” directly under Minister Smotrich, enabled the cabinet to approve the establishment of these settlements.

Peace Now: “The Israeli government is subordinating Israel’s security interests to messianic interests. New settlements in the heart of Palestinian populations severely undermine security and Israel’s interest in a two-state solution. In the midst of an exhausting and destructive war, with thousands of Israelis displaced from their homes and 120 hostages still in Gaza, the government is forcibly attempting to ignite another front in the West Bank.”

The process of legalizing outposts

Bearing in mind that all settlements are illegal according to the international law, the government of Israel has set laws and regulations on how to “legally” establish settlements. This involves three main stages:
1. Government Decision: A government decision to establish a settlement (this was accomplished with the cabinet decision on Thursday, June 27, 2024).

2. Land Ownership: The land must be considered public land, known as “state land.” A settlement cannot be legally built on private Palestinian land.

3. Planning Procedure and Building Plan Approval by the planning authorities in the Civil Administration (the Higher Planning Council, HPC).

The cabinet decision constitutes the first stage in the settlement establishment process. For all five settlements approved by the cabinet, there are legal issues related to land ownership that require changes in land status before planning can begin. In most cases, this requires a “state land declaration” or work by the “Blue Line Team” to determine the boundaries of state land. The Givat Assaf outpost was established on lands registered as privately owned by Palestinians, and it is unclear how it can be legalized.

It is worth noting that four of the five outposts—Adorayim, Evyatar, Givat Assaf, and Sde Ephraim—are already on the list of 70 outposts recently designated as “sites under legalization” for infrastructure investment and budgeting. The fifth settlement, Heletz, is planned to be built in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Details of the Settlements Approved by the Government:

Givat Assaf –  established in 2002 on lands registered in the land registry as privately owned by Palestinians, east of Ramallah. Recently, it made headlines after settlers viciously attacked a Palestinian truck driver passing near the outpost who they suspected was carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza.
A decade ago, Peace Now filed a petition to evict the outpost. During the proceedings, settlers claimed they had purchased portions of the land from Palestinians, but police determined these claims were falsified (at least regarding two alleged purchases, while investigations continued regarding other claims). Nonetheless, the state informed the Supreme Court that even if the purchases were validated, residential construction could not proceed due to ownership and land conditions.
The outpost is situated amidst a string of Palestinian villages east of Ramallah: Ein Yabrud and Beitin to the north and west; Burqa to the south; and Deir Dibwan to the east.

“Heletz” (Neve Ori Farm, Makhrour) – located on a UNESCO World Heritage site, intended to disconnect five Palestinian villages and tens of thousands of Palestinians from Bethlehem. The new settlement is planned in the area known as “Makhrour” between the village of Batir and the village of Walajeh west of Bethlehem. In 2019, the Neve Ori Farm was established on the site, and recently, in December 2023, another outpost was erected, 1.5 km from the Neve Ori Farm.
Since its establishment, settlers and soldiers prevented Palestinian farmers from working their lands in the area. The entire area has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in danger, preserving ancient traditional agriculture, already damaged by the construction activities of the recent settlement. UNESCO’s convention, to which Israel is also a signatory, obligates states not to harm World Heritage sites, prohibiting construction on the site and endangering its uniqueness as a scenic heritage site.

The Makhrour area is particularly strategically important for a future Palestinian state. The area lies at the heart of a continuum of Palestinian presence west of Bethlehem, connecting five Palestinian villages to Bethlehem (the villages: Walajeh, Batir, Hussan, Wadi Fukin, and Nahalin), inhabited by approximately 25,000 Palestinians. The intention of the new settlement is to create a sequence of settlements that will disconnect the Palestinian villages from Bethlehem while connecting the Gush Etzion settlements to Jerusalem.

Most of the land in the area is considered private Palestinian land cultivated by Palestinian farmers, with only a portion previously declared as “state land,” though exact boundaries have yet to be delineated by a Blue Line team.

Adorayim – Located in the heart of a Palestinian continuum southwest of Hebron, without much public land available. The outpost of Adorayim was established in 2019 within a large military structure that was part of an IDF abandoned military base southwest of Hebron. The establishment of the military base required a military seizure order seizing private lands of the town of Dura. Most of the land surrounding the outpost are private Palestinian lands (with less than 100 dunams considered “state lands” in the area).
Adorayim outpost is deep within Palestinian territory amidst a sequence of Palestinian villages, including the town of Dura and the Al-Fawwar refugee camp. In recent years, due to pressure from settlers, the IDF opened a road for settler traffic passing through Area A from Adorayim outpost to the Ngohot settlements, compelling the IDF to establish a military presence within Area A.

Sde Ephraim – An agricultural farm serving as a focal point of violence in the heart of a continuum of Palestinian villages west of Ramallah. Sde Ephraim is an illegally established agricultural farm set up in 2018 west of Ramallah amidst the villages: Kafr Na’ama, Bil’in, Harbata Bani Haris, and Ras Karkar. The settlement is built on lands declared as state lands, but boundary delineation by a Blue Line team has not yet occurred, while the road leading to it passes through private land. Over the years, there have been numerous violent clashes between settlers and Palestinians near the outpost. In one instance, a Palestinian was fatally shot by a settler.

Evyatar – An isolated outpost south of Nablus on private lands. Evyatar was established in 2021 on the lands of the Palestinian villages of Beita and Qabalan south of Nablus. The area surrounding the outpost consists of privately owned and cultivated Palestinian lands. However, under pressure from settlers, former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to initiate a declaration process for 60 dunams of the land as state lands. This process is still ongoing.
Following the establishment of the outpost, the IDF was compelled to establish a new permanent military position. In protests by Palestinians in the village of Beita against the establishment of the settlement on their land, at least 7 Palestinians were killed and dozens were injured from IDF gunfire.