Despite Construction Freeze, Winery Rises Near W. Bank Outpost

Winery being set up 3 kilometers from Migron, an outpost the state promised Supreme Court would be removed by August.

A new winery is currently being set up in the West Bank, in an area three kilometers from Migron, an outpost that the state promised the Supreme Court would be removed by August. The establishment of the winery contravenes the promise made by the State of Israel to U.S. President George W. Bush, to freeze all construction outside recognized settlements.

Bush is due to visit Israel this week, and in the past he declared that he intends to check whether Israel is meeting its commitments to him.

The winery is being established by the Binyamin Regional Council Development company, with the backing of the regional council and permission from the Civil Administration. The area where the winery is being constructed is a mere two kilometers from the Binyamin Industrial Area, many of whose buildings have been vacant for years.

The office of Defense Minister Ehud Barak learned of the development early last week, but has so far not taken any steps to prevent the construction.

According to Dror Etkes, of Yesh Din, an Israeli human-rights NGO working in the territories, the regulations of the Civil Administration allow the laying of infrastructure - such as access roads to the winery - on private Palestinian land, without the permission of the owners.

On Civil Administration maps, the area where the winery is being set up is shown to be an enclave that is surrounded by privately owned Palestinian lands.

"The structure in question is part of the city construction plan that has been approved by the Binyamin Regional Council, and that was published in 1998, therefore granting construction permits in this area is within the authority of the council," was the official response of the Civil Administration to an inquiry from Haaretz.

According to this interpretation, the regional and local councils that are controlled by settlers would be empowered to carry out dozens of construction projects that have been authorized.

According to the report prepared for the government in 2005 by lawyer Talia Sasson, then of the state prosecutor's office, "the legal conditions according to which an Israeli can receive legal authorization for construction without permission from the political echelon, undermines the government decision and the interests of the state. This situation must be changed."

The report recommended that construction be conditioned on the authorization of the official in charge of lands at the Civil Administration, in the same way that the Israel Lands Administration must authorize any construction being allowed in Israel on the basis of an previously approved plan.

Sasson had stressed that an existing order allows the defense minister to prevent any construction out of concern for security or public order. The order, which deals with construction permits in the territories, dates back to 1970.