On December 26, 2018, the State informed the High Court of Justice that the government had allocated to the Ministry of Housing an enormous area of 1,182 dunams south of Bethlehem, near the village of a-Nahla, for the purpose of planning a new settlement (Givat Eitam).
This is a plan known by the diplomatic world and the media as “E2,” which, like the infamous “E1” area that would cut West Bank in half if settled, is considered a plan that, if implemented, could cut in half the southern West Bank and destroy the chances of a two-state solution.
This allocation constitutes a highly significant step in promoting the plan. The Ministry of Housing began many years ago to prepare a skeleton plan for the establishment of a settlement of about 2,500 housing units in the area, but it was a preliminary plan that was far from being implemented, as were many plans in Israel and the territories. In 2014, Peace Now revealed that the Housing Ministry had moved forward to prepare a more detailed plan, but on a limited area of an enclave of approximately 300 dunams owned by the Jewish National Fund.
The significance of allocating all the land now to the Housing Ministry for planning is that it will be possible to prepare in a few months or a few years a detailed plan to be approved by the planning institutions, after which it will be possible to begin construction.
Due to the importance of the settlement in E2, Peace Now had asked the Civil Administration to announce publicly and in advance any intention to allocate the land for settlement purposes. After the Civil Administration refused to commit to it, Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that it be given advance notice (along with this petition, Peace Now petitioned that all land allocations be publicized in advance, a petition still pending).
As part of the petition for publishing allocations for Givat Eitam, the State has now announced its intention to allocate the land to the Housing Ministry and that within 30 days the allocation will take effect.
Peace Now: The government is crossing a red line in promoting the new settlement in a-Nahla, which could be a fatal blow to the chances for a two-state solution and an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Moreover, the Netanyahu government is taking a dangerous step to avoid public criticism in Israel and around the world; it is no accident that this and other settlement announcements over the past few days have been done during the Christmas holidays, when the entire Western world is on vacation, and immediately after the elections in Israel were announced.
The allocation of land for the settlement is not automatic – The land allocated to the Housing Ministry was declared by the Civil Administration as “state land” in 2004, and only after a protracted legal battle was it finally decided in 2016. The Palestinian landowners’ claims were rejected and the government completed the takeover of the land. The plan of the government was to build a settlement on those lands according to Israel’s policy since 1967, which has been to allocate all “state land” for Israeli use only.
Despite the fact that this is occupied territory and land that is considered to be public land that is supposed to be allocated for the use of local Palestinian residents (the protected population under IHL), recent data revealed by Peace Now proves that less than half a percent of the land was allocated to the Palestinians, of which even that was almost always connected to the development of settlements (e.g. compensating Palestinians for taking their private land for the purpose of establishing a settlement). All the rest was allocated for Israeli use.
The area of a-Nahla, located south of Bethlehem, is one of the most important and strategic areas for the potential development of Bethlehem. The development of the city of Bethlehem is blocked to the north by Jerusalem and the neighborhoods of Gilo and Har Homa that were built after 1967, and to the west by the separation barrier and the tunnel road that Israel built to connect the Gush Etzion settlements to Jerusalem. In the Bethlehem metropolitan area there are three crowded refugee camps. As such, there is a considerable shortage of land for development and construction, and many residents have purchased land in the area of a-Nahla for future construction, but their land has since been declared by Israel as “state land.”
Politically, the area on which the new settlement is planned is one that Israel will undoubtedly have to evacuate in order to facilitate a two-state solution. Like the E1 plan east of Jerusalem, which is designed to create a corridor from west to east that will sever Palestinian contiguity in the heart of the West Bank, the E2 plan also aims to create a corridor from west to east–from the settlements of Gush Etzion, through the settlement of Efrat and eastward to the settlements of Tekoa and Nokdim (south of Bethlehem towards Hebron).
The only main road (Route 60) connecting Hebron and the southern West Bank with Bethlehem and onward to the northern West Bank is located west of the Efrat settlement and the a-Nahla plan.
This means that if Israel wants to annex Efrat and E2, this vital transportational artery for the Palestinians will be cut off, and it will not be possible to connect the southern and northern parts of the West Bank. Therefore, this plan is considered particularly lethal in terms of the chances of a two-state solution.
Recent developments in a-Nahla (Givat Eitam) – Following the murder of Ari Fuld, a resident of Efrat, in September 2018, the Efrat Local Council re-established the outpost in Givat Eitam. This time, in contrast to previous attempts to establish an outpost, the Higher Planning Committee approved a plan for an agricultural farm in the area purchased by the JNF, following the approval of the political echelon.
Soon afterward, work began on roads surrounding the entire area of E2 (Givat Eitam), without a permit to do so, and the Civil Administration’s response to Peace Now requests for an explanation was that the work was “marking state lands” carried out by the army.