The Israeli Right helped solidify its hold on Area C of the West Bank through the creation of 41 herding outposts during the four years former US president Donald Trump was in the White House, according to a report by left-wing NGOs Kerem Navot and B’Tselem.
“You can see that in the last four years, this trend has become the main trend of land grab in the West Bank,” Kerem Navot founder and researcher Dror Etkes told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “Most of the herding outposts have been established in the last four years during the Trump administration period,” he said.
In a report on settlement activity slated to be published Tuesday, the NGOs explained this new phenomenon where settlers placed a few illegal modular structures at key points in Area C with a focus on using the larger area around it for herding or farming.
It was part of a larger push in the past decade to illegally expand Israel’s hold in Area C of the West Bank, the NGOs said in the report on Israel’s overall settlement policy titled, “This is Ours – And This, Too.”
At a Zoom event, Etkes spoke of 65 illegal settler outposts that had been built in the past decade under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, of which 24 were designed to initiate new communities and 41 erected in the last four years that were agriculture and herding endeavors.
This has allowed the settlers to take over thousands of dunams very quickly, he said.
Each herding outpost could involve five to seven dunams on land that was either private Palestinian property or state land, Etkes later told the Post. These outposts have created friction with the Palestinians, he said, adding that violent attacks against Palestinians were carried out from these herding outposts.
“Some of these farms and the routes leading to them lie within areas declared as firing zones, mostly along the Alon Road,” the report said.
“Many of the settlers in these outposts violently prevent Palestinian shepherds and farmers from grazing their flocks, cultivating their land or moving around in them,” it said.
In the aftermath of the failed annexation campaign, settler leaders and right-wing politicians have focused heavily on the issue of unauthorized outposts.
At issue initially were some 100 unauthorized outposts built between 1991 and 2005. In many cases, the illegal fledgling communities were funded by government ministries.
The settlement movement has argued that these outposts were not illegal; rather, they were communities that had received initial nods of approval from the government and whose legalization process has never been completed.
Multiple failed attempts have been made to legalize these outposts.
There was a lull in outpost activity for seven years, but the initiative was restarted in 2012 under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, with the construction of some 19 to 20 such outposts during the last five years of the Obama administration.
In 2017, Netanyahu created a committee to plan for the legalization of West Bank outposts, but its work was never completed.
Community Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi wrote the text of a government decision by which ministers would declare their intention to legalize the outposts.
The exact number of outposts was never included because Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz blocked the initiative, which had Netanyahu’s support.
But the settler leaders had focused on some 70 outposts that they wanted to be legalized.
The settlement report also spoke of increased infrastructure construction in the past decade, as well as a focus on development in the Gush Etzion and Ariel regions of the West Bank.
B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad said the report was intended to highlight the extent to which settlement activity had the support of the state.
Infrastructure and building projects the state has supported would lead to a rise in the settler population in the coming years, he said.
Settlers have spoken of a projected spike from about 440,000 settlers to a million within a decade.
El-Ad said this was not unrealistic.
At the same time that Kerem Navot and B’Tselem held their Zoom event, the Makor Rishon news organization held a virtual conference on the “silent war” in Area C in which speakers warned of the Palestinian takeover of the area.
Speakers at the conference spoke of the importance of eventual Israeli sovereignty over Area C of the West Bank, which is now under IDF civil and military control.
Meir Deutsch, executive director of the right-wing NGO Regavim, spoke of a plan already created in 2009 by former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad to ensure Palestinian control of Area C through illegal construction.
The Palestinians were similarly attempting to ensure their hold on open territory in Area C by focusing on the number of dunams they could control, Deutsch said.
“The Palestinians don’t ask how many building units; they ask how many dunams,” he said, adding that in 2009, the Palestinians had built on 45,000 dunams (4,500 hectares) that they then doubled in a decade to 80,000 dunams.
Israel in turn had built on 21,000 dunams, but it has only expanded its hold by an additional 3,000 dunams, Deutsch said.