Israel Axes Controversial West Bank Land Procedure in Wake of Petition

State attorney’s office rescinds practice that let Civil Administration declare West Bank land state property without telling Palestinians.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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The West Bank settlement of Eli. Could such communities continue to thrive if they fall under the authority of the proposed Palestinian state?Credit: Oren Nachshon
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The state attorney’s office has rescinded a Civil Administration practice under which it could declare an area state land without informing Palestinians who might have asserted a claim to the land.

Since 1999, the Civil Administration has made use of the procedure, known as “blue line,” in which a team of legal experts, cartographers and inspectors would review maps from the 1980s on which land had been declared state land, and redraw the maps with the precision of the digital age. The process has been carried out with respect to land adjacent to West Bank Jewish settlements in anticipation of their future expansion, and in cases in which old construction plans had never been carried out and the settlements intended at this later stage to start construction.

A total of 262 parcels of land have been dealt with to date employing this procedure. Over the years, however, it has become apparent that in the guise of injecting precision into which land has been declared state land, the Civil Administration has added land that was not declared state land in the past.

The results of the blue line procedure have not been made public and there was no opportunity to appeal the way in which the lines were drawn. In practice, the procedure bypassed the Palestinians in the area.

By contrast, in other instances in which land is declared state land, the Civil Administration posts a map showing its boundaries and informs the heads of nearby West Bank Palestinian villages. In such cases, there is a right to appeal the decision within 45 days and neighboring Palestinians are given an opportunity to present evidence that the land is in fact privately owned.

In November, the Israeli human rights organizations Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights, along with the heads of the Palestinian villages Zawiya, Luban al-Sharqiya and Karyut in the northern West Bank near the settlement of Eli, challenged the blue line practice before the High Court of Justice. The petitioners contended that the master plan approved for Eli in 2012 included “blue line” that added 221 dunams (about 55 acres) to state land in the area.

It should also be noted that the master plan also removed 60 dunams (some 15 acres) that had previously been designated state land from that designation, meaning that the land was acknowledged to be privately-owned Palestinian land. Complicating matters, however, there were more than 100 homes of Jewish settlers built on the 60 dunams, but the Civil Administration has not ordered them demolished.

In advance of a May court hearing in the case, the state attorney’s office informed the High Court that it had decided to rescind the Civil Administration’s blue line practice and replace it with a new procedure: The results of the blue line procedure will be made public and may be appealed to the Civil Administration.

The petitioners, represented by attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomit Zacharia, have said they are not satisfied with the change and are demanding that the state be required to make a formal designation of state land in these instances. At the hearing, the justices asked the state to give additional consideration to its position. The case is pending.