The recent Israel High Court of Justice decision ordering the demolition of illegally-built structures in the Ulpana neighborhood will have wide ranging consequences on the status of settlements in Israel. Although hotly contested by the Netanyahu government, the Court’s ruling does justice to the legal owners of Palestinian land.
On May 4, the state had appealed to the High Court, asking it to reconsider its ruling for Jewish settlers to evacuate the Ulpana neighborhood, which is part of the West Bank settlement of Beit El. In their ruling, Supreme Court President Ahser Grunis, together with Justice Uzi Fogelman and Justice Salim Joubran rejected the state request and stated that structures built there on private Palestinian land should be torn down and the structures evacuated by July 1.
According to the justices involved in the decision, it was particularly important that the state honor its obligations to the High Court stating that “…accepting the state’s position, according to which the need to revisit policy is a reason to reopen a finalized process, may lead to difficult consequences.”
The justices also said that “the authority to reopen a finalized legal procedure, assuming that it exists, is reserved for unusual situations and extraordinary circumstances,” and added, “Those circumstances have not been presented in this case, even if it does raise difficult questions of public and social policy.”
Initially, the state had pledged to implement the demolition orders, but last month it requested 90 days to reevaluate its policy to enforce demolition orders for illegal buildings in the West Bank, as it reassesses strategic and operative elements in the court’s decision. Legal experts believe that the government’s request could alter the delicate relationship between the executive and judicial branches, with serious consequences for the country.
During the past decade, an annual average of 10,000 people has settled in disputed territory, a significant proportion of which are babies born to growing families. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, only from 2006 through 2008 an annual average of over 14,000 new residents of West Bank settlements were registered at the bureau.
Since Lyndon Johnson, every US president has asked Israel not to build or expand settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, to no avail. There are now more than 300,000 settlers living in some 120 settlements and Mr. Netanyahu has exempted nearly 3,000 housing units from a six-month freeze. International observers and organizations believe that this illegal settlement growth is one of the most serious obstacles to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some observers believe that Netanyahu’s belligerent stand towards Iran is a smoke screen to pursue unimpeded settlement construction, at a time when President Obama is gearing up for reelection and the international community is desperately trying to avoid a strike against Iran which could have dire consequences for the whole world.
These considerations don’t seem to faze Netanyahu, who last April 4 instructed the government to authorize three legal outposts in the West Bank, despite Israel’s commitment in the “road map” to dismantle them. At the same time, tenders were issued to build a new neighborhood in Har Homa, a settlement in annexed East Jerusalem, and almost 200 new housing units in Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem.
Although officials in his government insist that Netanyahu is open to discussing the future of settlements with the Palestinians, his voracious appetite for developing new settlements continues to be one of the main obstacles to peace in the region. He refuses to see that you cannot preach a desire for peace while implementing actions to maintain conflict in the region.
Cesar Chelala writes extensively on human rights and foreign policy issues.