(photo credit: Peave Now)
The government is considering legalizing a settlement for the first time since 1996, and, by doing so, might violate its promise to the US not to create any new Jewish West Bank communities, according to information provided in the state’s response on Sunday to a petition regarding the Derech Ha’avot outpost in Gush Etzion.
In a response filed ahead of a High Court of Justice hearing scheduled for Monday, the state wrote that even though the entire Derech Ha’avot outpost, with its 17 permanent homes and 15 mobile homes, was built without a permit, the state is considering retroactively legalizing all of those structures that were not built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“The state has decided to order a survey of the lands in Derech Ha’avot,” the state’s representative, attorney Gilad Shirman, informed the court. “To the extent that the survey reveals that some or all of the houses are built on state land, the state will consider the possibility of legalizing the construction. Regarding buildings that are found to have been built on private land, the demolition orders will be applied in accordance with the [state’s] order of priorities.”
The state was responding to a petition filed by eight Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of El Khader and Peace Now, charging that the land upon which the buildings of Derech Ha’avot stand belongs to the Palestinian petitioners.
They maintain that they owned the land and cultivated it until the outbreak of the second intifada, when they had to abandon it because of curfews and closures that forced them to remain at home.
In its initial response to the petition, the state acknowledged that all the construction was illegal and that the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria had issued demolition orders against all the structures. It did not confirm the petitioners’ allegation that the buildings were erected on private Palestinian land but said that since the land was not registered, it was unclear whether it was state- or privately-owned.
According to the government, Derech Ha’avot was established in February 2001, one month before the cut-off date established by the Israel and the US in the road map agreement. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon promised to dismantle all outposts built after March 2001. Israel maintains that 26 were built after that date and, although the overwhelming majority of them still stand, they are slated, on paper at least, for demolition.
Derech Ha’avot is not one of them, according to Israel. However, the US has a different list of outposts built after March 2001, and it is possible that Derech Ha’avot is on the American list. Furthermore, Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran told The Jerusalem Post that her organization has aerial photos of the area showing that construction of Derech Ha’avot began only in May 2001.
Whatever the relationship between the outpost and the road map, should
the government recognize the legality of the buildings or even some of
the buildings, it will be recognizing a new settlement, the first since
An Israeli official, however, denied that legalization of the homes would constitute the creation of a new settlement.
“There are no new settlements being built. This policy goes back to the
previous government and the government before that,” the official said.
Derech Ha’avot is located outside the jurisdictional boundaries of Elazar, the closest settlement to it.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.