New Migron bill could lead to massive Israeli land grab in the West Bank

Israel/Palestine
on 21 Comments
migron palestinians
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.”

migron families
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.
 

21 Responses

  1. David44
    April 17, 2012, 2:47 pm

    You’re missing something pretty important in this story, Allison. The Migron deal with the government was voided a month later by the High Court (see link to haaretz.com ). So the settlers do not have two extra years there: they have to be out by the beginning of August. As for the proposed law, even if it is passed, it is not clear that it would be accepted by the High Court as applying to Migron either (see
    link to haaretz.com ).

    Of course, the High Court may act for the settlers and against the Palestinians – it wouldn’t be for the first time; and even if it protects Palestinian rights in Migron, you are right to warn against the possibility that the law would allow a broader land grab. But one needs to consider the serious possibility that the law won’t pass, or will be ruled invalid by the Court. And in any case you certainly need to describe the current legal situation correctly: what you have here is highly misleading.

    • Annie Robbins
      April 17, 2012, 3:16 pm

      david, we covered that recent supreme court ruling here in Sfard on Israeli Supreme Court ruling on Migron outpost: ‘It’s Our Brown v. Board’:

      link to mondoweiss.net

      have you heard about the slew of new bill’s coming up that the buzz of israel right now one of which affords the knesset to over rule supreme court rulings? iow, if the supreme court rules a law is not constitutional (or whatever tey call it in a land with no constitution) the knesset can overrule them. i think this is coming down BEFORE august. very shortly actually, in conjunction with the new migron bill.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 17, 2012, 3:19 pm

        here: link to jurist.org

        Monday, April 09, 2012
        Israel bill would allow Parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions
        Andrea Bottorff at 11:07 AM ET

        [JURIST] The Israeli justice minister has proposed a bill that would allow the Israeli Knesset to reinstate laws that have been struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court [official websites]. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman [official profile] last week proposed the bill, which would give parliament authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions [Haaretz report] that find laws unconstitutional. If a majority of 65 members vote in favor of the disputed law, then the law would be revived and valid for five years, after which parliament could vote to renew it for additional five-year periods. The proposed law has sparked debate. For example, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon opposes the bill, saying that 65 votes does not represent a sufficient majority and that the law would give parliament too much power [Times of Israel report]. However, Knesset member Reuven Rivlin [official profile] said the proposal would reduce conflict [Jerusalem Post report] between parliament and judiciary and said that he would pursue a vote on the bill during the summer session.

        Israel’s parliament and judiciary have experienced increasing tension. The Knesset passed a new law in January that changed the rules [JURIST report] governing the selection of Supreme Court justices. The contentious law had been criticized for undermining the independence of the judiciary in an effort to further a conservative judge favored by the government. Many fear the new laws will influence judicial decisions, impede upon the rights of the press and be used to harass liberal groups. Parliament also restricted the power of the Israel Supreme Court [JURIST report] in 2008 when it passed a bill granting the Knesset authority to revise laws overturned by the court and renewing those laws’ validity. In those cases, the Knesset could overturn a Supreme Court ruling with an ordinary one-round of voting rather than the 61-vote majority in the 120-member body in three rounds of voting currently required to overturn the Supreme Court.

        plus i was reading yesterday 65 was exactly the amount of right wing MK’s they have now.

      • Allison Deger
        April 17, 2012, 6:16 pm

        thanks annie.

      • Bumblebye
        April 17, 2012, 6:44 pm

        Annie
        OT, but what’s the “Greater Israel Conference” at Harvard? 19 – 20 Apr.
        It’s on the fun site you like:
        link to shitliberalzionistssay.tumblr.com

      • Annie Robbins
        April 17, 2012, 9:14 pm

        great article allison

      • Annie Robbins
        April 17, 2012, 9:38 pm

        there are two posters. one says Harvard Israel Conference 2012, you can find info about that here:

        link to jewishboston.com

        and commentary w/other links here: link to thecrimson.com

        it looks like the other poster, the ‘the greater israel conference harvard small country big occupation’ is a mockup/commentary overlay. what copycats. i just had lunch with someone today who attended the one at harvard, she said it was really professional and impressive.

      • Matt Giwer
        April 17, 2012, 8:01 pm

        The article does not mention the court gave them an additional six months to find a way around its decision. It was supposed to have happened by the end of March. Now it is the end of August.

      • Hostage
        April 18, 2012, 9:11 am

        have you heard about the slew of new bill’s coming up that the buzz of israel right now one of which affords the knesset to over rule supreme court rulings?

        That’s nothing new. Primacy of parliamentary legislation has always been a key feature of the Israeli High Court’s rulings on the occupied territories. David Kretzmer, held the Bruce W. Wayne Chair of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a founding member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and served on the Executive board of B’Tselem. In “International Law in Domestic Courts: Israel”, he explained:

        In the absence of domestic legislative provisions the Supreme Court looked to the approach of the English legal system.

        The English approach rests on three principles: 1. Parliament is supreme in the field of legislation. Hence, any law enacted by parliament is valid, even if it is incompatible with the state’s international law obligations. 2. Customary international law is part and parcel of the common law of the land, and will be enforced by the domestic courts unless it is incompatible with parliamentary legislation. 3. International treaties that were duly ratified by the state and bind it in international law will not be enforced by the domestic courts unless their provisions have been incorporated in domestic law through parliamentary legislation. The Supreme Court of Israel adopted all three principles.

        link to papers.ssrn.com

        So long as Israel has no formal Constitution, any unpopular Supreme Court ruling is simply an accident waiting for a new statute to overturn it.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 19, 2012, 1:58 pm

        That’s nothing new. Primacy of parliamentary legislation has always been a key feature of the Israeli High Court’s rulings on the occupied territories.

        hostage, would it be new for israel within israel..or do you mean the precedence has been set previously wrt the occupied territories? your blockquote referencing “domestic legislative provisions “, means inside israel? if this is so why are so many making a big deal of this now? here’s another recent link: Mounting criticism of bill to limit Supreme Court powers.

        link to 972mag.com

      • Hostage
        April 19, 2012, 4:29 pm

        hostage, would it be new for israel within israel..or do you mean the precedence has been set previously wrt the occupied territories?

        Oh sure, after the landmark 1979 decision the Knesset adopted laws that superseded the Court decision with respect to East Jerusalem and the Golan. Those same three principles are the ones that the High Court employs to resolve conflicts in all the occupied territories between the Hague Regulations, the Geneva Conventions, the Basic Law Jerusalem, the Golan Heights Law, and statutes that provide funding for the settlements and Jewish sector infrastructure throughout the West Bank on a cases by case basis.

        The Prime Minister, speaking with the backing of his governing coalition, had already publicly promised that Court orders to dismantle certain West Bank outposts are never going to be enforced, e.g. See Netanyahu forbids demolition of illegal West Bank homes of slain IDF soldiers link to haaretz.com

        The very narrow line of cases regarding the construction of settlements on private property in the remainder of Palestine date back to the 1979 Elon Moreh case. There was no getting around the fact that the Nuremberg Tribunal had declared that the Hague rules were part of customary international law. In the Elon Moreh decision, the High Court noted that the customary rules did not (then) conflict with the explicit terms of any Knesset Statute. The rules prohibit expropriation of private property or expropriation of state lands for any purpose other than military necessity.

        The Court simply reasoned that settlements built without the prior knowledge or consent of the military commander could not possibly be retroactively justified on the basis of military necessity. That didn’t stop the Knesset from adopting statutes that amounted to creeping expropriation and annexation, e.g. universities, museums, national heritage sites, public transportation, and utilities.

        The decision hasn’t prevented the military commanders from illegally expropriating private property for military or other so-called public use (e.g. staging areas, Highway 443, bypass roads, utility easements, & etc). Conflicts between the Hague rules are resolved in favor of the Defense Emergency Regulations Act of 1945 and other Israeli statutes. Once the land has been expropriated, it frequently gets converted for the exclusive use of the settlers or citizens of Israel.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 19, 2012, 10:57 pm

        thank you. i always appreciate being able to ask you questions y’know.

  2. Philip Munger
    April 17, 2012, 2:49 pm

    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.

    — and what sort of devils are found in the details of that? Can the Palestinian refuse to sell? Does it have to be a fair offer? etc…..

    • Allison Deger
      April 17, 2012, 3:18 pm

      No, the Palestinian owners do not need to agree to the sale, although there is some limitations that the owners can’t be contesting the property in court. If there is not case for a period of four years, the bill appears to allow for the sale, without the owners consent. However, as the text of the bill is not yet public, the particularities could change in the next two weeks… What we do know is: in this case with Migron, the Palestinian owners do not want the settlement on their land, and do not want to sell their property. Yet, the Israel government is seeking to legalize and force the sale through the bill.

      It’s important to remember the Israeli courts already ruled on Migron. It is built on Palestinian private property, and the owners have the documents to prove it! This bill will override Palestinian property rights in the West Bank, which is way outside of Knesset’s jurisdiction. It erodes civil autonomy in the West Bank and pushes the construction one single state, Israel, through land code and property laws.

      • ritzl
        April 17, 2012, 4:29 pm

        Sounds quite a bit like a silent auction.

      • Hostage
        April 18, 2012, 9:35 am

        This bill will override Palestinian property rights in the West Bank, which is way outside of Knesset’s jurisdiction.

        The Knesset was originally created as a Constituent Assembly to author a Constitution (which conceivably will limit the scope of its jurisdiction when it finally gets around to that unpleasant bit of business).

  3. seafoid
    April 17, 2012, 2:56 pm

    Hevenu Shalom Aleichem is so empty in 2012, so meaningless

  4. BillM
    April 17, 2012, 4:39 pm

    Somewhat off topic, but does anyone know if Andrew Sullivan was already on this list of Respectable People who have declared the 2-state solution dead? He hit it pretty hard today:

    I have to say it was great to have a break from all of this for a few days. Because when you step back a little from the fray, you see, I think, how pointless it is close to becoming. I simply cannot see a two-state solution any longer, given what we have learned about where Israeli and US politics are heading. Obama was the last train from the station. He may push again if he gets a second term, but he knows he cannot win. The Christianists, neocons and Democratic Israel fanatics are far stronger than any president. Romney, for his part, would put the settlements on steroids, and re-open a hot religious global war by attacking Iran. The real shift in US policy toward Israel has been the embrace of the settlements by the Christianist base of the GOP over the last decade and their continuing power. The real development is the fusion of Jewish and Christian fundamentalism around the cause of Greater Israel.

    Which means to say that a democratic Israel is living on borrowed time.

    • Kathleen
      April 18, 2012, 10:12 am

      Sullivan has really been coming out on this issue the last two years. Better late than never. Looks like most of the folks who have come out the last five years are a case of too little too late. Two state solution door closing. Some believe closed

  5. ahadhaadam
    April 17, 2012, 10:03 pm

    Although it is always interesting to learn how Israel implements its criminal colonization and ethnic cleansing policies under a legal facade, the endless analysis of the Israeli “legal” aspects, the Israeli Supreme Court, “state lands”, etc. seems to me like two fleas fighting each other for territory on the back of a dog. And the dog is of course the fact that none of the settlements are legal, including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, and they are all blatant violations of international law and the Geneva Convention so no such thing can ever be “legal”.

  6. Kathleen
    April 18, 2012, 10:10 am

    “Legally, they can only build Israeli “state-owned” land in the West Bank.”

    None of this building is legal. All illegal. Illegal. Get the illegal settlers out of the West Bank. They are very dangerous radicals. Everything they do is illegal based on UN resolutions and international law.

    Israel is really sealing the door for a two state solution

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