The West Bank outpost of Givat Asaf
The West Bank outpost of Givat Asaf Photo by Nir Kafri
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The very first meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama following the latter's assumption of the American presidency was preceded by a dramatic decision by Israel's Supreme Court. On May 18, 2009, the High Court of Justice issued gave the state 90 days to detail steps it had taken to dismantle six unauthorized outposts in the West Bank (Mitzpeh Lachish, Givat Asaf, Ramat Gilad, Ma'aleh Rehavam, Mitzpeh Yitzhar and Givat Haro'eh) .

As with all outposts, the houses, roads and infrastructure in these locations had all been constructed illegally, some on private Palestinian land. And, following a petition by the left-wing NGO Peace Now, the justices demanded that the state explain why it had not ousted these trespassers.

A few days later, Netanyahu announced in his Bar-Ilan speech that his "vision for peace includes two free peoples living in this small country with mutual respect as good neighbors." One can only assume that being a "good neighbor" doesn't for him mean the systematic theft of lands owned by Palestinian farmers, under the aegis of both the government and the Israel Defense Forces.

And yet, as Netanyahu's next meeting with Obama approaches, it turns out that the half dozen outposts featured in the petition are still standing. Civil and military authorities are spitting in the High Court's face, and the judges accept that spit as they would blessed rainfall. The outposts are a badge of shame for both the State of Israel and the High Court. There's no better emblem of the gap between the "two states for two peoples" rhetoric expressed by Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan and the policies that mark that solution as dead on arrival.

The 90 days the High Court gave the state in May 2009 are long past, with one delay following another. At the beginning of March (in other words, more than 20 months since the petition was filed), the State Prosecutor's Office submitted an affidavit to the High Court, saying that in a meeting convened by the prime minister in late February, attended by security officials and the attorney general, it was decided that "illegal construction on private land will be removed."

Regarding petition 7891/07, which deals with the said six outposts, the affidavit stated that, the relevant authorities "have been ordered to work toward the removal of illegal construction located on private land by the end of the year."

Because of this, the High Court decided on March 23 to give both the state and settlers more time to dispossess Palestinian land owners; the justices asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the commander of the IDF troops in the West Bank to submit a supplementary affidavit by November, in which they were to outline the steps required to execute the position expressed in the current affidavit.

Meanwhile, the West Bank continues to be managed by Wild West rules. Settlers invade private Palestinian land, the state provides infrastructure, the IDF acts as look-out, the Palestinians seek assistance from the High Court of Justice, the State Prosecutor's Office gets a time-out, and the Civil Administration explains that they're "working according to priorities." To illustrate the point, the residents of the village of Deir Jarir recently asked the High Court to evacuate Mitzpeh Kramim settlers, who they say invaded their land and are building new homes. While waiting for a court hearing on the matter, their attorney Hossam Younes presented updated photographs that indicated that construction was underway.

The Justice Ministry said in response that "the construction that appears in the photographs was not undertaken on the lots mentioned in the petition, but rather on adjacent ones." The ministry spokesman suggested that any questions regarding the "adjacent" lots should be directed to the Civil Administration. The Civil Administration, however, relayed that "supervision measures have recently been implemented regarding several structures in the Mitzpeh Kramim area." But the photographs indicate that new construction has been taking place in that area as well.

Love thy neighbor

Another instance of the rule of law and a shining example of how to be a good neighbor comes in the form of a High Court petition submitted by attorney Jiyat Nasr in the name of residents of the town of Daharia in the Hebron Hills, who claim that authorities have for years barred them from entering their own lands, which were annexed to the Sansana settlement.

In early April and after a four-year legal battle, the local Palestinians aided by attorney Kamar Mishraki-Asad from Rabbis for Human Rights won an exceptional legal victory: A settler from Susiya was ordered to evacuate their land and remove a vine he had planted there.

The evacuation order was met by a volley of rocks hurled by settlers at Palestinian shepherds. The squatter did not face criminal justice, the landowners were not compensated for the damage, none of the assailants were arrested, and the land is still off-limits to its lawful owners. The Civil Administration said that they were working on amending the edict which had prevented the Palestinians from entering the compound for the past four years.

All these "trifles" will probably be left out both of Obama's anticipated "pragmatic speech," and Netanyahu's "vision of peace," which he will present before the U.S. Congress in the near future.

Educating for peace

Following the massacre of the Fogel family of Itamar, Netanyahu again rejected Mahmoud Abbas' call to renew the work of a joint Israeli-Palestinian-American committee to end incitement. The reason? The Palestinian president lent his patronage to a ceremony to name a square after a suicide bomber.

During the recent Passover holiday, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, a government institution which works in conjunction with the Education Minister and receives state funding, proposed a new "trip for the whole family." On the agenda are "the two explosions that shook Jerusalem following action by Etzel at the train station and the King David Hotel." The July 1946 attack at the King David killed almost 100 people - 41 Arabs, 28 Britons, 17 Jews and five others.