The state revealed a plan Tuesday to triple the size of the new settlement for Amona evacuees by including within its jurisdiction a nearby, larger, illegal outpost.
The Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that authorizes construction in the West Bank — publicized the plan in response to a High Court of Justice petition by four Palestinian villages in the central West Bank that demanded the demolition of the Adei Ad outpost, which they argue has prevented residents from reaching their farmland.
The state, in a number of legal proceedings, has announced its intention to legalize the hilltop community established in 1998, which is on what Israel considers to be state land, but which lacks the necessary permits or official cabinet approval.
In a Tuesday letter to the attorney of the Yesh Din rights group that is representing the Palestinian villages, a Civil Administration official explained that its plan to legalize the outpost comes on the heels of a survey conducted by the Defense Ministry’s “Blue Line Team” last year, which confirmed Adei Ad’s establishment on state land that doesn’t belong to private Palestinian owners.
Yesh Din legal representative Shlomi Zacharia said his Palestinian clients have filed objections to the Blue Line Team’s conclusions, but that they have yet to be ruled upon.
The Civil Administration official’s letter revealed what will likely be the state’s defense against the High Court appeal — when the outpost is legalized, the petitioners will no longer be able to call for its razing.
Moreover, by simply including Adei Ad within the jurisdiction area of Amichai — the new community that evacuees from the Amona outpost moved into last March — the government can avoid a certain degree of international outrage by asserting that it has not established Adei Ad as a new settlement but rather just expanded an existing one.
Adei Ad, which is twice as large as Amichai, will not be connected to Amichai as the Blue Line team found that land in between them belongs to private Palestinian owners. Consequently, the outpost will function as a massive island-neighborhood of the settlement.
The expansion of Amichai’s jurisdiction area will mean that the Binyamin Regional Council will replace the Civil Administration as the party responsible for enforcing planning and construction laws in Adei Ad.
The settlement body has had a rather checkered past with such enforcement. A state comptroller report last month found that the regional council has not only failed to prevent illegal construction within its borders, but has actively encouraged it.
For its part, the Binyamin Regional Council argues that its duty is to serve its residents wherever they they live, whether it is in a settlement or illegal outpost.
While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.
Amichai was established nearly 14 months after the High Court-sanctioned demolition of Amona, which was found to have been built on private Palestinian land.
The hilltop community was the first new settlement established by the government in over 25 years. The town is home to all 42 families that were cleared from Amona in February 2017, but the government plans to expand it nine-fold in the coming years.
Yesh Din argues that the expansion of Amichai will further bisect the West Bank with Israeli settlements from Ariel to the Shiloh valley, where Amichai and Adei Ad are located, to the Jordan Valley.
“Such a sequence would harm a Palestinian territorial contiguity in the West Bank and further harm Palestinians’ freedom of movement within the West Bank,” the left-wing NGO stated.
“This legalization plan is a significant step toward realizing the government’s plan to annex Area C to Israel,” Yesh Din added.
Area C is the part of the West Bank where Israel maintains military and administrative control. Most Jewish settlers live in Area C, which is about 60 percent of the West Bank.