Youssef Moussa Abdel Raziq Nabboud (right) owner of land the illegal settlement of Migron is built over, 2006. (Photo: Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times)
Last year Migron, an illegal outpost home to around 50 families in the West Bank near Ramallah, was ordered to be evacuated. The encampment was built over ten years ago on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank—without the proper Israeli building permits. Then in February with support from a Knesset working group, the settlers negotiated a postponement of the Supreme Court-ordered eviction. Now, they have another two years on the hilltop. But a new Knesset bill to be introduced in two weeks may extend Migron’s mandate permanently by legalizing the outpost, and in the process, transforming the entire system of how Israel builds settlements in the West Bank. Under the bill, the West Bank will be ripe for any manifest destiny “greater Israel” pioneer, so long as compensation is paid to the Palestinian owner.
Earlier this year in January, Danny Dayan, Yesha Council Chairman, proposed a prelude to the current “Migron bill” that would legalize the settlement by allowing settlers to purchase the land from the Palestinians owners. At the time, Dayan amassed enough support for the bill that it seemed as though it would pass.
But in a surprise move, Dayan shelved the bill after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed it. A furious settler committee responded by vowing to rescind settler support for the prime minister: “Mr. Netanyahu must understand that relocating Migron would mean that he will be relocated from his [position]. The nationalist public won’t allow another Amona,” said the group.
The following day Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party threatened to leave the Likud government coalition. He also likened Migron to the government: “dismantling Migron and Givat Asaf would be grounds for dismantling the government,” he said, continuing, “we wouldn’t be able to stay in the government, and some members of the Likud party also won’t be able to live with it. Some 30% of the residents of these two outposts are standing army personnel.”
Residents of Migron, 2006. (Photo: Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times)
Though the purpose of the bill is to legalize only one community, its scope is broad enough to affect the entire West Bank. Under it, Israelis could grab any piece of land in the occupied territories and build on it. Though this may appear already to be a practice of settler expansion, it’s not. Settlers are greatly restricted as to where they can live by Israeli building codes. Legally, they can only build Israeli “state-owned” land in the West Bank. This restriction helps keep the built-up area of settler houses to a mere two percent of the occupied Palestinian territories.
In 2002 Yehezkel Lein, a researcher with B’tselem explained how little of the West Bank settlers live on, in juxtaposition to how much territory they control:
The built-up areas of the settlements constitute less than 2 percent of the land in the West Bank (1.7 percent). However, the non built-up areas within the municipal boundaries of the settlements are three times as large (5.1 percent) most of which is already planned for construction. In addition, the settlements control another 35 percent of the land in the West Bank, which is under the jurisdiction of six Jewish regional councils (i.e., local government entities that provide services for their member settlements). This 35 percent is not yet planned for construction, but constitutes land reserves for the future expansion of the settlements.
Of course, some settlers do construct illegally. Approximately one-fifth of the settlements are built on land the Israeli government recognizes as owned by Palestinians. This past week alone, two new illegal encampments were established, one near Hebron and one near Modi’in Illit. But only a handful of settlers are actually residing in the shanty outposts. Without access to the electrical grid or running water, life on an illegal outpost is grueling.
But what if it weren’t? What if the illegal outposts had all of the comforts of Ma’ale Adumim—with swimming pools, shopping malls, belly dancing aerobic classes, a country club and a Planetarium?
By allowing Migron a path to legalization, the Migron bill would in effect green light corporate construction anywhere in the West Bank. And with “legal” status, these potential outposts will have all of the accoutrements that makes living in the West Bank desirable for Jewish colonists.
Now with the new Migron bill, Netanyahu is placating his political bloc. And while he stays silent a group of 25 Knesset ministers have already pledged their support to legalizing scores of illegal settlements. The ministers are meeting this week on Wednesday to prepare the newest version of the Migron bill. And if passed, look for the Migron law to lead to a massive land grab in the West Bank.