Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank has postponed the public auction of prefab classrooms and other equipment donated by the European Union to Palestinians. The administration confiscated these materials last fall because it claimed that they had been erected illegally.
The one-month postponement of the auction, slated to be held by the Israel Defense Ministry this week, comes after the EU reportedly rejected a deal whereby the structures would be returned to the Europeans in return for their commitment not to restore them to the West Bank without proper building and planning authorization. EU sources have denied receiving an official proposal to that effect from Israel.
Israeli officials hope that the postponement will allow time for Israel and the EU to negotiate a solution and head off further deterioration in diplomatic relations between the two sides.
Meanwhile, The Guardian published an article last Friday about the items being put off for sale.
In October 2018, the Civil Administration – a civil-military body tasked with implementing Israel's policies in the territories – dismantled and seized two prefabricated buildings intended to be used as classrooms for 49 schoolchildren in the small Palestinian community of Ibziq near Nablus in the northern West Bank. The following month it confiscated two tents and three metal sheds from the Al-Hadidiya community in the Jordan Valley. The Civil Administration said all the structures were put up illegally without building permits or planning permission.
Such confiscations are conducted regularly in the West Bank, in Palestinian communities and sometimes also in unauthorized Jewish outposts. The Civil Administration routinely auctions off items that have been seized after 90 days. EU sources said unofficially they are concerned that the structures in question might be sold to settlers if auctioned.
While EU officials are aware that they are violating Israeli law by erecting structures that they donate to the Palestinians, they say they are allowed to do so under international law – a claim that Israel rejects.
A source in Israel's defense establishment told Haaretz that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (under whose auspices the Civil Administration operates) had proposed to the EU that the structures seized last fall would be returned to it – if the Europeans signed a document stating they would not erect them illegally again. The EU rejected the offer, the source added, and refused to receive the confiscated items. Still, due to the tensions in Israel-EU relations, the Civil Administration agreed to put off the auction.
A spokeswoman for the Coordinator of Government Activities said the postponement was made for “technical” reasons and was not related to pressure from the EU.
In response, the European organization said that, “the direct financial injury to donors caused by these seizures amounts to 15,320 euros." The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah called on Israeli authorities to “return the confiscated items to their intended beneficiaries without precondition as soon as possible; otherwise to provide compensation without delay for the dismantled and confiscated assets.”
The EU noted that its position on Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under complete Israeli control, is clear: “It is part of the occupied Palestinian territory and part of any viable future Palestinian state. All EU activity in the West Bank is fully in line with international humanitarian law. The EU provides humanitarian assistance to communities in need in Area C in accordance with the humanitarian imperative. While Israel has overall security and administrative responsibility in Area C, under international law Israel also has the obligation to protect and facilitate development for the local population, and to grant unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance.”
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said in response, “As part of the activities of the supervisory unit of the Civil Administration to enforce the law in Judea and Samaria, equipment that was placed without a permit was seized. The Civil Administration holds public auctions of these materials from time to time after at least 90 days have passed from the date of the seizure, if the owners of the property have not come to release it, and if no legal hindrance exists.”
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