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Israel's West Bank Construction Policy: In Thrall to Settlers - Not Justice

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In November 2008, the then head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai (now the coordinator of government activities in the territories), presented an affidavit on the priorities for demolishing illegal construction in the West Bank.

The goal was to head off a High Court of Justice petition concerning construction in the illegal outposts of Kiryat Hayovel and Haresha. To do so, a plan had to be presented that would make it look as if there was logic behind the chaos. The first step was to implement court orders, and the second was tackling new construction. Third came construction on private property.

It should be clear that nothing in the affidavit was actually implemented.

In 2011, in response to a different High Court petition, a new policy was formulated. Whatever illegal construction was on private property would be demolished, and whatever was on other land would be legalized.

The state later came up with a new policy in response to further High Court petitions: Whatever was on private property and someone had filed a lawsuit against would be demolished, and everything else would remain. In other words, for the state to do a favor and demolish a house without a permit, there needed to be a Palestinian property owner who would petition the High Court – and only then would the state be ready to move.

Now the state has a new policy, its fourth. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is proud of a letter he forced out of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in which he states that all new construction will be demolished before it is occupied.

It is clear that nothing of this sort will happen. The only question is whether Ya’alon and Weinstein are fooling themselves, or us.

A short trip to the territories on Sunday revealed the widespread illegal construction. There is nowhere that is not being built upon. Inspectors from the Civil Administration appear, issue demolition orders and take pictures. The chances of anything being destroyed are zero.

The settlers long ago understood that the threat of demolition is a joke. In 2008, Palestinian landowners and the NGO Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights - petitioned the High Court to demolish nine homes without permits, built on privately owned land in Ofra (in the northern West Bank). The state said the houses would not be demolished but that from then on, they would be especially strict in enforcing the planning and building laws in the settlement. Since then, Amana – the construction arm of the settlement movement, headed by Ze’ev Hever – has started construction of a new neighborhood there, with dozens of housing units. Instead of demolishing houses, the state instead promised to issue Hever with building permits. Twenty-five other building violations weren’t dealt with.

We cannot expect anything from the Civil Administration. When Hever – the greatest of construction law violators – runs around freely in the Civil Administration and brings gifts to the departing heads of the Civil Administration, the message is passed on to the inspectors below. Imagine a major crime boss being invited for a toast in the offices of the fraud squad. The political leadership is being held captive by the settlers.

Last week, the Civil Administration demolished the home of Sagi Kreizler, near the illegal outpost of Kida. The major Likud vote contractors in the West Bank immediately announced their cancelation of support for Ya’alon; he, for his part, invited them for a meeting. Kreizler has justifiable complaints about the destruction of his home – there are others higher up the priority list. But if that is the response to just one house being demolished, imagine what the response will be to the demolition of many more homes.

The alternative to demolition is criminal proceedings, like those against criminals within Israel. Here, the ball is firmly in Weinstein’s court. For the past year and a half, he has been sending agitated letters on the matter. But such proceedings are at least two years off. Instead of ordering the police to investigate Hever and Amana, to seize documents and close down construction (the case against Hever was recently closed), Weinstein prefers to organize meetings between the heads of the police, Ya’alon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

He has also learned that it is easier to send letters than to confront powerful political interests.

An Israeli flag flies near the settlement of Ma'alah Adumim.Credit: AP
Ze’ev Hever in the Knesset. A convicted member of the Jewish terrorist underground of the 1980s is the beacon of the settlement movement. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Construction in Ofra, June 16, 2011.Credit: Gili Magen-Cohen

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