The Ministry of Housing has handed to the Planning Committee of the settlement of Efrat a plan (No. 410/7/1) for the establishment of a new settlement on the JNF-owned land, in the a-Nahla area, also known as E2 or “Givat Eitam”, within the Palestinian area of Bethlehem.
The plan covers an area of about 300 dunams that apparently was purchased from Palestinians by the Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL) in 1979 and 1990. The Ministry of Housing is in fact using the JNF land to promote the settlement, although an additional 1,200 dunams that have been declared “state land” and are designated for the settlement are still under petition in the High Court. The petition was filed by Palestinians and Peace Now, demanding that the land be allocated to the Palestinians and not to the settlement, and the petition is still pending. The area of the plan is located within the Palestinian area of the Bethlehem metropolitan area east of the Separation Barrier that was partially established by Israel in the area.
Peace Now: This is not just another plan in the settlements, this is a very dangerous plan. It is an area essential for the development of the Bethlehem metropolis and if a settlement is built there, it will be very difficult to reach a two-state solution. The Ministry of Housing is trying to bypass the High Court and establish a fait accompli before the issue of the settlement in the entire area is decided. The Minister of Housing should be reminded that the Ministry of Housing is not his private property, and that he is part of a coalition. According to the law, even if the Ministry of Housing prepares a plan for settlement in the Occupied Territories, it cannot be promoted without the explicit approval of the Minister of Defense. We call upon the Minister of Defense not to approve the promotion of this dangerous plan.
Background: The program at E2
In 2004, about 1,300 dunams of land in the area of the village of a-Nahla in the Palestinian area of Bethlehem were declared as “state land” for the purpose of promoting a plan for thousands of housing units. The plan is called “Givat Eitam” and is formally considered part of the Efrat settlement, although there is no territorial continuity between them. Palestinian landowners filed appeals and petitions against the declaration and after years of legal battle, the court approved most of the land as state land.
About a year ago, the residents of the area, together with the Peace Now movement, filed a precedent petition with the High Court against the allocation of land to the Ministry of Housing demanding that it would be allocated for the Palestinians. The petition claims that the area is essential for Palestinian development and that in light of the discriminatory policy in the territories, according to which almost all of the lands are allocated to Israelis only, the land in E2 should be allocated to Palestinians. The petition is still pending, and the state should update the court in early September.
The Israeli intention is to establish a large urban settlement in the area, with thousands of housing units, thus preventing the possibility of developing the area as an integral part of the Palestinian space. This means severe damage to the possibility of developing a Palestinian economy and a viable Palestinian state, and therefore has a fatal impact on the ability to reach a two states solution. In addition, it should be noted that the area is located east of Road 60, the main road leading from the south of the West Bank and Hebron to Bethlehem. If Israel seeks to annex the settlement, it will mean a separation of the southern West Bank from all other Palestinian territories. To read a spatial analysis and the implications of a settlement on the environment [in Hebrew] – see here.
This week, the State Attorney’s Office informed Peace Now’s lawyer that on 5/7/21, the Ministry of Housing handed to the Local Planning Committee of the Settlement of Efrat Plan No. 410/7/1. This means that the preparation stage of the plan has ended, and it can now be brought for approval. The process is that the settlement local committee discusses the plan and then passes the plan, with a recommendation for approval, to the Higher Planning Council at the Civil Administration (HPC). The HPC has the authority to approve the plan, first to approve the deposit of the plan, and then, after the publication of the deposit for objections, to approve its validity. However, it is important to mention that by law, the Higher Planning Council can not discuss any plan, even if it is a plan of the Ministry of Housing, without the explicit approval of the Minister of Defense. The Minister of Defense should approve each and every step of advancing the plan and he can also prevent its advancement. The E2 plan is now at the beginning of the process, at the settlement local committee. Read more about the planning procedure in the territories – here.
The idea of this plan is to promote the plan at this stage on a small part of the area (about 300 dunams out of about 1500 dunams designated for settlement), even before a decision was made regarding the rest of the area, of about 1,200 dunams considered “state lands” and against which the petition was filed by the residents and Peace Now, which is still pending before the court.