Court to tackle issue of allocating state land in Efrat to Palestinians

“This is the first time the issue of land allocation [in the West Bank] is being brought to trial,” the left-wing NGO Peace Now stated.

 Palestinian construction workers work at a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the West Bank, on September 29, 2020. (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)
Palestinian construction workers work at a construction site in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the West Bank, on September 29, 2020.
(photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

The High Court of Justice has chosen to tackle the issue of whether state land in the West Bank can be allocated to Palestinians.

It has given the Attorney-General’s Office until the start of May to explain why some of the state land within the municipal boundaries of the Efrat settlement designated for 7,000 apartment units should not also be set aside for Palestinian use.

“This is the first time the issue of land allocation [in the West Bank] is being brought to trial,” the left-wing NGO Peace Now stated.

The organization had petitioned against the project in May 2020, received a response from the court on January 30, and published details on the matter only on Sunday.

At issue is a project on a 124-hectare (306-acre) tract of land on a hilltop in Efrat known as Givat Eitam, which would help increase the population in the settlement of 11,400 to that of a city closer to the size of Ma’aleh Adumim.

Peace Now Executive Director Shaqued Morag and Meretz Party head Nitzan Horowitz on E1. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)Peace Now Executive Director Shaqued Morag and Meretz Party head Nitzan Horowitz on E1. (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

The project dubbed E2 is twice the size of Ma’aleh Adumim’s E1 project that would involve the construction of 3,500 apartment units.

Left-wing opponents of the plan have argued that this would deprive Bethlehem of land necessary for growth.

The area “located south of Bethlehem is one of the most important and strategic areas for the development of Bethlehem,” Peace Now explained. “The development of the city of Bethlehem was blocked to the north by Jerusalem and the Gilo and Har Homa neighborhoods built after 1967.It is further blocked by the barrier and the tunnel road, the group added.

Now in addition, Bethlehem would have to contend with the E2 project on Givat Eitam, Peace Now said.

It has been blunt about its desire to stop the project, but the petition itself has focused on the inequity in the allocation of state land in the West Bank.

“For more than 50 years, Israel has allocated the precious resource of land in the West Bank to Israelis only,” Peace Now stated.

It argued that 99.8% of land allocated in Area C of the West Bank has been for settlements while only 0.2% “was apportioned for Palestinian needs.”

Efrat Council head Oded Revivi could not be reached for comment. The High Court of Justice has turned to the state on the matter at a time when Israel is under pressure from the Biden administration to allocate state land for Palestinian development in Area C.

The Right and settler leaders have argued that Area C must be preserved for Jewish development to ensure its inclusion within Israel’s permanent borders at a future date.

The Palestinians and groups such as Peace Now hold that Area C, including all the settlements, should be part of the final borders of a Palestinian state.