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Report: 3,455 Israeli structures in West Bank established on private Palestinian lands

Aug. 23, 2017 8:38 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2017 11:33 A.M.)
Israeli forces talk with Jewish settlers from the Esh Kodesh settlement, 2013 (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Reports emerged on Wednesday that almost 3,500 Israeli structures in the occupied West Bank were established on private Palestinian land, and are at risk of being retroactively legalized owing to Israel’s outpost Regularization law that was passed earlier this year.

According to Israeli daily Haaretz, data released from the Israeli civil administration revealed that 3,455 Israeli homes and buildings were built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, making their construction illegal under both Israeli and international law.

The report detailed that these structures are included in three categories of private land.

The first category includes 1,285 structures that were established on “clearly private land” that was never declared as Israeli state land. Of these structures, 543 have been constructed on land whose Palestinian owner is known and has formally registered the lands - referred to as “regularized private land” by the civil administration.

The other structures were found to be privately owned after aerial photos later revealed that they had been cultivated by Palestinians for years, which, according to Ottoman-era laws that are still applicable in the West Bank, means that these lands would be owned by the Palestinians who were cultivating them.

The second includes 1,048 Israeli structures that “were built on private land that had earlier been erroneously designated as state land.” The third consists of 1,122 structures that were built in the West Bank more than 20 years ago “when planning laws were barely enforced in the West Bank.”

In total, Haaretz reported, around 45 percent of the structures built on private Palestinian land were established on “regularized private land” while the other structures are on lands that have unconfirmed owners.

All of these structures risk being retroactively legalized owing to Israel’s controversial Regularization bill.

The law states that any settlements built in the occupied West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending minimal proof of governmental support in its establishment and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

The Israeli government had defended the law in Israel’s Supreme Court, claiming that the expropriation of Palestinian-owned land would benefit Palestinians because they would receive financial compensation for it.

However, rights groups have said that the law actually violates international law and is unconstitutional. Israeli rights group ACRI said that passing the law was “a clear act of applying sovereignty” to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while Israel would continue to rule Palestinians with Israeli military law. ACRI called the law "an act of illegal annexation."

Others have pointed out that the discriminatory logic of applying the controversial law to Israeli settlers residing in the West Bank in violation of international law, while denying Palestinians in the West Bank the rights to their lands, would set the groundwork for exacerbating Israeli land grabs in Palestinian territory, while further entrenching a regime of separation in the region.

Israeli NGO Peace Now had warned in November that some 4,000 Israeli structures could be retroactively legalized owing to the law.

Since the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, an upwards of 600,000 Israelis have moved into Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, despite the international community routinely condemning settler activities as a major impediment to peace in the region and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have also made bold moves in recent months to consolidate control over occupied East Jerusalem, formally annexed by Israel in 1980 and at the same time considered the capital of any future Palestinian state.

A bill aimed at preventing any possible divisions of Jerusalem in the future, by mending Israel’s Basic Law on Jerusalem to necessitate the approval of 80 of the 120 Knesset members to make any changes to the law, instead of the regular majority vote, passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset last month.

Right-wing Israeli ministers have stated that the law aims to prevent the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

During a United Nations Security Council session on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenea said that the bill “could further cement Israeli control over occupied East Jerusalem and would limit the ability of both sides to reach a negotiated solution that is in line with UN resolutions and prior agreements.”

He also warned that the move could “spark violence” in the region.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right, with more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current Israeli government publicly stating their opposition to a Palestinian state.
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