High Court orders state to explain expansion of Hebron settler autonomy

Flashpoint city’s Palestinian municipality claims military order establishing new body to tend to infrastructure needs of city’s Jewish residents would trump its own authority

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A general view of the West Bank city of Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs, on January 18, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
A general view of the West Bank city of Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs, on January 18, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ordered the state on Wednesday to explain the legality of a recent decision to expand the autonomy of Israeli settlers in the divided West Bank city of Hebron.

The panel of three judges gave the state 120 days to explain why it should not revoke a military order that transfers responsibility for the settlers’ infrastructure needs — including electricity, road pavings, and sewage — from the city’s Palestinian municipality to a new Israeli municipal committee under the Interior Ministry’s jurisdiction that supersedes the local authority.

The August 2017 order signed by the head of the IDF’s Central Command had been lauded by right-wing ministers as a move would strengthen the Jewish community in the flashpoint city.

“I am determined to continue to promote settlement so that it will flourish and thrive, and I will do so with responsibility and discretion,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman regarding the decision he green-lighted.

The Israeli locals said the military order would allow for the “regulation of normal life and municipal services.”

But the Palestinian municipality has asserted that the move is illegal and is purposefully vague regarding the population the new municipality is authorized to serve.

Border Police officers remove structures placed by Israeli settlers at the contested Machpela House in the West Bank city of Hebron on July 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

Under the Hebron Protocol signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 1997, the West Bank’s most populous city was divided into two sections. H1 includes 80 percent of the city and lies under full Palestinian control. In H2, 500 Israeli settlers live in fortified compounds heavily guarded by the IDF in the midst by 40,000 Palestinians, whose movements are highly restricted.

The municipal body established by the August military order would serve the population in H2.

Samer Shehadeh, one of the three attorneys representing the Hebron municipality said that the military order authorizes the new settler body to make decisions affecting not just the settlers but also the Palestinian residents of H2.

“The Palestinians voted to democratically elect the members of the Hebron municipality and this order strips the residents of their representation,” he told The Times of Israel.

He claimed that the new municipal body will be able to overrule decisions made by the Hebron municipality.

For its part, the state has insisted that the order will not impact the city’s Palestinian residents.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog has said the military order had been a form of compensation to the city’s settlers, who had recently been told they would be evicted from a disputed house in Hebron. The left-wing NGO called the decision “another illustration of the policy of compensating the most extreme settlers for their illegal actions.”

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