Plan to Legalize West Bank Settlement of Eli Paves Way for Its Expansion

The approval of the urban plan for Eli, submitted thirty years after the settlement was founded, will legalize hundreds of illegal houses. Legalization of further outposts will soon follow.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Some thirty years after the settlement of Eli was established to the north of Ramallah, the Civil Administration has published for objections a detailed master plan for Eli. The plan's approval would legitimize hundreds of illegal structures – houses, commercial and public buildings – built over the years by the Housing Ministry and Amana, the settling and construction organ of Gush Emunim – illegally, without planning or permits.

The plan (no. 237) would not only legalize construction on the lands of Palestinian villages As-Sawiye and Al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya, already declared as state lands; by using unorthodox planning procedures and verbal acrobatics, the plan would also legalize houses and roads built illegally on private Palestinian lands, in the heart of Eli or on its borders – the "blue line."

The plan does not stop at legitimizing illegal structures within the settlement's borders, but further signals that it intends to legitimize structures in Eli's four illegal outposts, two of which are built on the land of the village of Quaryut. The present plan includes 1,000 dunams, but it contains planning elements that would allow the settlement to include, in the future, the outposts and other illegal constructions, thus expanding to 6,000 dunams, including both privately owned Palestinian as well as state lands.

Approving settlements' master plans years after they were built is not a new procedure. As with other settlements, advancing Eli's urban plan was dependent on Israeli authorities' success in declaring the Palestinian land in question as "state land."

This is no simple bureaucratic move; based on an old Ottoman law, Israeli authorities manage to treat collective property of Palestinian villages as ownerless, which can then be declared "state property," to be allotted to Jews alone.

As in other settlements, here too, the plan was initiated by the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization. As in other settlements, the borders of the urban plan were not determined according to regular planning considerations, but rather according to ownership of the lands. The "blue line" is a property line, separating between land already declared as state property and land over which the Civil Administration did not succeed in denying Palestinian private ownership.

This does not include only private lands beyond the plan's limits. In the midst of the area there are seven enclaves, which are not destined for construction, since they are recognized as private Palestinian property. (In principle, the Civil Administration believes that Palestinians have the right to use the areas for agriculture, but not for construction.) These enclaves are not an invention of Eli's urban planner, Yehoshua Shachar of Tel Aviv. Similar enclaves appear in the maps of other settlements as well.

Still, Eli's plan differs from its predecessors in one way. In other settlements, the condition for the urban plan's approval was the demolition of all illegal construction in the private enclaves, and their rehabilitation as lots suitable for agriculture. This was the Civil Administration's way of demonstrating that they respect the sanctity of Palestinian private property.

In Eli, a new category was invented: "construction lots to be completed." There is no explanation for the new term in the list of plan definitions, but the aim is clear; these are fifty lots with existing houses. Each of these houses is at least partially built on private Palestinian property, (in an inner enclave, or on the border of the plan), and part of it is built on areas within the plan.

There is no intention of demolishing these building constructed illegally on private Palestinian land: on the contrary, the plan offers to legitimize them, and, in fact, adapt the plan and its boundaries to fit reality. As opposed to past master plans, in this case the authorities are signaling that they know that in the future the houses will all be completed on the map as well. One possibility is that the Palestinian landowners will give up on ever receiving their land back and will agree to sell it, or simply, the whole affair will be forgotten.

In the table specifying the size of the plots to be "completed" one can also find plot number 92. Its size: zero dunams. This house is built entirely on an enclave of private Palestinian land, without bulging beyond it by even one square meter.

The same is true of several roads passing through the enclaves or beyond the surrounding borders of the plan: on paper, only the parts within the "blue line" are marked as planned roads that after approval will become legal. All the parts that pass through enclaves or beyond the borders are marked, but not as legal roads. On the other hand, they are not slated for demolition.

The verbal acrobatics of "construction lots to be completed," together with ignoring the roads in the enclaves, are no more than lip service to the declaration that "private property is not infringed upon."

"The said plan creates the illusion that it respects private property and refrains from building on private Palestinian property, when in fact, the plan intends to widen the blue line, whose limits were based on the question of ownership, and take over private Palestinian lands," said Nir Shalev and Architect Alon Cohen Lifshitz of "Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights," who wrote objections to the urban plan.

In communal settlements such as Eli, the public buildings and commerce centers are usually found in the middle of the settlement, in order to make them accessible for all residents. As opposed to this planning logic, almost all of the land allotted to public and commerce activity is not in the center of Eli, but rather on its northern and north-eastern borders. The plan doesn't make do with the existing road leading to the settlement (part of which passes through private property). Architect Yehoshua Shachar planned another road, 20 meters wide, in the eastern part, leading to the northeastern end. An even wider road is planned within the settlement, also leading northeastern.

To the east and north of Eli, there are three outposts which even according to the Civil Administration were partially built on private Palestinian property, belonging to residents of Quaryut and As-Sawiye. The message is clear: public buildings, commercial centers and the roads are intended to serve a significantly larger population living on more land that, at present, is not marked in the plan.

Thus, the plan suits Eli's long term plans, as described on Amana's Web site: "In the future and in accordance with the initial vision of the settlement, it will reach beyond the adjacent hills and even beyond Road no. 60, closer to Ma'ale Levona. Thus there will be one long territorial contiguity of Jewish settlers between Eli, Shiloh and Ma'ale Levona."

Shachar, the architect, refused to answer Haaretz's questions about the plan. The Civil Administration responded by saying that the plan is in the phase of hearing the objections, and answers to Haaretz's questions will be given as part of the process.

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

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