Israel's Whitewashed Territories

Appropriating land and declaring it 'state land' is a historic injustice that is a fundamental aspect of the occupation.


The Israeli government and its proxies in the West Bank have never let up in their efforts to portray the settlement enterprise as legal, even though it is a sweeping violation of international law. An ongoing example of this is the work of the Blue Line task force, which was set up by the Civil Administration to reevaluate the validity of the status of state land.

Some one million dunams (250,000 acres) of land were declared to be state land during the 1980s, in an effort to circumvent objections voiced by the High Court of Justice to seizing lands for settlement. Appropriating land and declaring it “state land” is a historic injustice that is a fundamental aspect of the occupation. Meanwhile, as the years have passed, it emerged that these designations were not based on orderly examinations of legal ownership, a fact that has embroiled the state in numerous lawsuits.

The state has been reexamining the status of these lands for over 13 years. To get a new permit to build on “old” state lands (as opposed to newly declared lands), developers must get the approval of the blue-line team – so named because the state land designations are marked by a blue line on government maps. But in practice it seems that on some of these lands, homes and outposts have already been built. In order to retroactively whitewash them, and to enable other settlements to expand “legally,” the Civil Administration in 2013 re-designated some 28,000 dunams as state land. From the data revealed by Haaretz's Chaim Levinson on Tuesday, it emerges that most of the land in question is within the municipal boundaries of various settlements, and around half of it is east of the West Bank separation barrier.

Beyond the fact that this land reclamation is legally problematic, it also indicates Israel’s determination to maintain Jewish territorial contiguity that will link the settlements to towns within Israel proper. When you add to this land map the fact that during the nine months of negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel has advanced the construction of 13,850 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, one can only conclude that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements about desiring peace with the Palestinians are no more than a deception.

Boasting about rechecking the legal status of this land is a distortion, since for years even lands found to belong to Palestinians were not necessarily returned to their owners. Nor can this survey obscure the speed with which Israel has inserted itself into the territory of a future Palestinian state. This sham also explains Israel’s opposition to any discussion with the Palestinian Authority about borders. The prime minister, who is struggling to avoid taking the rap for the failure of the negotiations, is working behind the U.S. government’s back, but even worse, he is denying Israeli citizens any chance of achieving peace.