UN Map of the West Bank settlements 2006I hope the implications of this event don’t get buried in other news, because this stands to blow the settlement project’s lies out of the water for good: Haaretz reports it has a copy of the Israeli government’s database of settlement construction — including Palestinian land appropriation, building violations, and illegal settlements. Read the lengthy Haaretz article and a report from the database (Hebrew).
Among the information revealed:
–  In about 75 percent of settlements, construction occurred without permits or contrary to the permits that were issued.
–  In more than 30 settlements, “extensive construction” — roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas, and even police stations — has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents. (Approx. 120 full settlements exist, plus 12 East Jerusalem settlements, and over 100 outposts, according to Peace Now.)
This contradicts the government’s claims, mainly “Israel’s actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law – Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements.”
The settlement legitimacy question has changed, and thank God it’s less of a question.
The article reports that the government found itself unable to address questions from Peace Now and the US Government, both of whom had more comprehensive data. Over two years, the government drew on Civil Administration (the military department which manages civil governance in the territories) documents and orders not available to the public to compile a Geographic Information Systems-based database. How this was leaked to Haaretz was not disclosed.
Land allocations were made by the Civil Administration and the housing ministry. Construction then proceeded by acts of multiple government ministries, the World Zionist Congress’ settlement department, and the Gush Emunim settler’s organization. (And how many of you knew the WZO had a department for building settlements?)
The sudden burst of transparency has vast implications.
Palestinian land claims are verified both in concept and in vast numbers of specific cases. Suits against the settlements could proceed in huge numbers. The scope of settler dependence upon government support is widely apparent. For example, a media tiff between Peace Now and the settlement of Ofra has grappled with whether the entire settlement is built on illegally appropriated land — that debate is now laid to rest: almost all of it is. And the implication most damning for all concerned with Israel’s relationships with the Obama Administration, the Palestinians, and the international community, the Israeli government has been exposed as liars.
This is great for ending the occupation. This means that not only has some semblance of transparency been imposed on the political actors, but also the question of settlement legitimacy has been brought back home. While Israeli officials (and their Jewish defense parrots in the US) assert that the settlements are not in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, they surely must admit now that huge chunks of them are illegal by Israel’s own law and that the government did so knowingly.
As Obama’s envoy Mitchell has stated in past missions to the region and will likely state again, a settlement freeze is crucial to peacemaking and stabilization. Meanwhile, Bibi campaigns on not freezing any settlements.
There is going to be a showdown between Israel’s respect of its own rule of law and its own settlement beligerence — which will win? I’m out of time for more in-depth speculations, but this bodes well for a seachange in ending the occupation.