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PLO: Leasing private Palestinian land an Israeli move to 'swallow' West Bank

Aug. 6, 2016 8:08 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 7, 2016 4:50 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- The Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) National Bureau to Defend Land released a statement Saturday warning of the “dangerous” consequences of Israel's policy of legalizing illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, in response to recent recommendations by an Israeli government committee seeking to relocated evacuees of the Amona outpost to privately-owned Palestinian land.

The bureau described the actions taking place in Amona as an “unprecedented” move with the goal to “swallow” more Palestinian lands.

The special committee from the Israeli Ministry of Justice, established specially for the purpose of relocating Amona's residents, recently submitted a suggestion to the Israeli Attorney General recommending moving the settlers to a nearby privately-owned Palestinian land whose owners have been living abroad since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.

The bureau highlighted that the committee suggested that after being relocated to the privately-owned Palestinian land, Amona's residents would pay rent to the Israeli government, which the state would hold in a bank account for the owners.

The committee, according to the Israeli Army Radio, is chaired by Chaya Zandberg, head of the civil law department in the Israeli State Attorney’s Office, and includes the Israeli Defense Ministry’s legal adviser and head of its planning administration, as well as a representative of far-right Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now slammed on Tuesday the Israeli committee's plan, which would allow the privately held Palestinian properties near the outpost to be leased to Israeli settlers for three years, with the ability to renew the lease after each lease period.

According to Peace Now, the proposal to lease property from absentee Palestinians in the West Bank would “create an opening for the takeover of tens of thousands of dunams in the West Bank. The scope of absentees’ property (property owned by Palestinians not currently residing inside the West Bank) is estimated at around 100,000 dunams (double the size of Tel Aviv and similar to the land taken up by all of the settlements today).”

Peace Now warned that the move could pave the way for the construction of even more settlements across the West Bank.

“The most severe implication is that the state of Israel will crush the basic rights of Palestinians under its rule in the occupied territories, while violating international law -- all out of the will to comply to the demands of a group of settlers that established an illegal outpost on stolen Palestinian land with the backing of the government,” the group added.

Peace Now said that the potential move would constitute “the crossing of a red line.”

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2008 to demolish the Amona outpost after eight Palestinians from neighboring villages -- with the support of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din -- successfully petitioned the court to remove the outpost on grounds that the construction was carried out on privately held Palestinian land.

The Amona outpost also received demolition orders after rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1997, 2003, and 2004, with only nine structures having been demolished in 1996.

In 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court issued an injunction on the Israeli government demanding an explanation as to why no steps had been taken to begin the demolition of the illegal outpost.

Allowing the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank under the pretext of the owners of the property being absent would mark a significant development in Israeli land confiscation strategies.

The proposal would also resemble Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law, which permits the Israeli government to transfer so-called “absentee" property belonging to Palestinians to Jewish residents, established following the 1948 creation of the state of Israel, that resulted in the mass displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians.

Palestinians have continued to be denied access to their properties for having been absent from their homes, even if just for a few days, as of 1947, when many Palestinians fled from their homes to escape Jewish Zionist forces during the Arab-Israeli war.

The Amona outpost, located near the settlement of Ofra, which was constructed on top of privately held Palestinian land, has some 40 Israeli families residing in the area.

The more than 200 Israeli settler outposts in the West Bank are considered illegal by the Israeli government. However, Israeli authorities often legalize the outposts retroactively by declaring them official settlements after they have been connected to Israel’s water and electricity infrastructure.

Each of some 196 Israeli government-approved settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory were constructed in contravention to international law.

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