The Israel Defense Force’s Civil Administration in the West Bank is promoting legislation that would allow Jewish settlers to build new dirt roads without planning approval if their purpose is to protect state-owned land.
Currently the creation of any new road or even changing its route requires full approval of the planning authorities, including the National Planning and Building Council, and is followed by the issuance of individual building permits.
If approved, the new policy would substantially expand the ability of Jewish settlers in the West Bank to take control of additional land.
Under the new approach, no permits would be required for the construction of roads designed to “protect state lands” unless the roads were constructed from gravel or asphalt.
Construction of gravel and asphalt thoroughfares would still require the full planning approval process, but dirt roads accommodating all-terrain vehicles would no longer require approval.
Most West Bank settlements are surrounded by fencing, but lying beyond the fences there is often considerable state-owned land, and the shift in policy would enable the Civil Administration to keep Palestinians off this land by giving access to security vehicles from the settlements, in an effort to keep the West Bank’s Arab residents from encroaching on the land.
The proposed change in policy would not be required for dirt roads needed to maintain security in areas around West Bank settlements, as the IDF GOC Central Command already has authority to seize land for the construction of security roads around the settlements without a building permit.
If the change in policy is approved with regard to the protection of state land, as a practical matter it would significantly expand the amount of land around West Bank settlements that is off-limits to Palestinians.
In response, the Civil Administration issued a statement in which it said a question was put to the Justice Ministry, but it was not regarding the creation of roads but simply putting markers on the land itself to indicate where the boundaries of state land are located.
“The request did not deal with the paving of roads for vehicular traffic to preserve this land. Work at the headquarters on the issue has not yet been completed,” the Civil Administration said.
At a hearing last week at the Ofer military court, however, Lt. Col. Zvi Cohen testified regarding land beyond the security fence at the Nili settlement east of the Israeli city of Modi’in.
As the hearing progressed, legal questions were raised about roads on state lands. The Civil Administration advised the court that it would seek to amend the law and would seek approval from Deputy Attorney General Malkiel Balas for roads protecting state lands.