Settlements Take Center Stage
The struggle continues between the Israeli Supreme Court and the 50 families living in Migron, the Israeli outpost near Ramallah built on private Palestinian land -- illegally under Israeli law but with Israeli government assistance.
After weeks of speculation, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the compromise made between the government of Israel and the settlers living in Migron, the largest outpost in the West Bank.
Last August the court ordered the government to evacuate the outpost by March 31, 2012. After weeks of wrangling, the government and the families of Migron agreed that by 2015 the government would build a new settlement for them nearby on what is considered Israeli state land; meanwhile the settlers could remain in Migron until their new homes were ready.
On March 25, the court ruled the deal did not comply with their previous decision and ordered the government to dismantle the outpost by August 1, 2012. The written decision said abiding by court rulings “is a necessary component of the rule of law to which all are subject as part of Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Israeli NGO Peace Now reacted to the ruling on their website saying the ruling “sent a clear statement to Migron settlers and the Israeli government – all groups and people are equal in the eyes of the law, and that a Supreme Court verdict must be honored. Now, the citizens of Israel await and hope that the Migron settlers will keep their promise and comply with the supreme courts' verdict by peacefully evacuating from the illegal outpost.”
Hours after the ruling, Ha’aretz reported the government offered to move the 50 Migron families to a temporary mobile home site nearby until a more permanent solution could be found. Migron founder and spokesman Itai Harel said the residents would not accept such a deal, saying "The government reached compromises with us and we demand that the prime minister uphold the agreement and the understandings and do everything that was discussed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government would honor the ruling, saying, “The government of Israel, along with its citizens, respects the court and acts according to the nation's laws."
Right-wing members of the Knesset were not willing to concede defeat. Danny Danon and Uri Ariel called on their fellow lawmakers to pass legislation to nullify the court decision by legalizing all of the outposts, including Migron. Sources in the Knesset told Ha’aretz the bill’s passage is “unlikely.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) put together a useful guide to explain the different types of demolitions taking place in unrecognized Bedouin villages, Area C and settler outposts.
According to the report, the government of Israel demolishes Bedouin structures in the Negev – located inside the 1967 lines of Israel -- built without permits in hopes of getting the residents to move into urbanized communities despite their preference for nomadic life. In Area C, consisting of the 60 percent of the West bank administered directly by Israel under the Oslo Accords, Palestinians must get building permits for any construction; permits are rarely issued. When residents of Area C build without permits to accommodate the natural growth of the population, the structures are at risk of demolition. ACRI notes that both denying building permits for natural growth and demolitions violate international law.
In contrast to the Bedouin villages and Area C, ACRI believes that demolition of illegal Israeli outposts – such as Migron -- is justified because “The outposts were not created for lack of an alternative or the need to provide shelter. They are an ideological-political act designed to ‘establish facts on the ground’, i.e., to increase the Israeli presence in and control over the land of West Bank.”
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a lower court could decide whether a child born in Jerusalem could have “Israel” listed as his country of birth. Following the lead of past U.S. presidents, the Obama administration insists that the city’s status should be determined in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky’s parents want his passport to say he was born in Jerusalem, Israel. Right now, it only lists Jerusalem and leaves the country blank. In 2002, Congress passed a law declaring the U.S. can consider Jerusalem part of Israel on passports, but the Bush and Obama administrations refuse to implement it, citing foreign policy concerns. Presidents have used the same excuse to justify keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem, despite Congressional approval for the move.
Lower courts refused to rule on the issue previously because they did not want to meddle in foreign policy. Instead making an ultimate decision, eight of the Supreme Court justices agreed that the federal courts should decide the matter first. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Ours is a court of final review and not first view.”
The longstanding policy of not recognizing Jerusalem as part of Israel also gained attention this week when the State Department listed a U.S. diplomat’s itinerary, saying she is visiting “Algeria, Qatar, Jordan, Jerusalem, and Israel” during an upcoming trip. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland admitted the itinerary was an error and never got the appropriate approvals. It was later changed to, “Algiers, Doha, Amman, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.”
Reporters grilled Nuland during a briefing, questioning the administration’s support for Israel. She insisted Jerusalem's status must “be resolved through the negotiations between the parties. We are not going to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, including the final status of Jerusalem.” She stuck to that answer despite pressure from reporters to directly say if the U.S. considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
On March 22, the UN Human Rights Council voted to appoint a panel to investigate the effects of Israeli settlement activity on Palestinian human rights in the West Bank. 36 countries voted in favor of the resolution, 10 abstained; the U.S. was the only country to vote against it.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said the body is a “hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel." He noted, “Until today, the council has made 91 decisions, 39 of which dealt with Israel, three with Syria and one with Iran.”
On Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced Israel will bar the investigative UN team from entering Israel or the West Bank and will sever ties with the council. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declared “we’re not going to work with them. We’re not going to let them carry out any kind of mission for the Human Rights Council, including this probe.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon made a 24-hour trip to Washington to ask the Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to try to limit the committee’s mandate and make the recommendations less binding. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has suggested the U.S. and other countries pull out of the council completely. It is unlikely that the Obama administration would take such a drastic measure. The U.S. boycotted the council under the George W. Bush administration and only re-joined in 2009.
In a meeting in Copenhagen, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Maliki said Israel’s reaction does not surprise him because “Israel never cooperated with all fact finding missions that were sent and established by the U.N. to investigate the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians.”
Thanks to a Freedom of Information request by anti-settlement activist Dror Etkes, new details are emerging about Israel’s possible expansion plans in the West Bank. Akiva Eldar, a writer for Ha’aretz explains that the documents show Israel’s Civil Administration has been mapping available West Bank land and naming it after nearby settlements, likely with hopes of expanding the communities in the future. Some of the boundaries of the land surveyed coincide with the separation barrier, suggesting authorities planned the barrier’s route based on available land to increase the settler population. Israel told the High Court and the Court of Justice in The Hague that Israel designed the barrier’s path to meet Israel’s security needs.
The documents show that about 10 percent of the West Bank has been marked as available land for settlements. Since the 1990s, settlers have built 23 illegal outposts on land designated on the map. According to Ha’aretz, Etkes believes this is “more proof of the government’s deep involvement in the systematic violation of the law in order to expand settlements.”
Ha’aretz reports the Civil Administration responded to the allegations by saying, “the maps are a data bank that is updated from time to time and does not indicate plans to expand settlements, which is a complex procedure requiring discussions and permits.”
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a coalition of 24 national Church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.