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IDF Civil Administration pushing for land takeover in West Bank

Inclusion of Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and area surrounding Ariel in 'settlement blocs' whose takeover the administration is advancing, would prevent establishment of Palestinian state with territorial contiguity.

By Akiva Eldar   Haaretz  22 July 2011

Construction in West Bank Settlement of Modi'in                Photo by AP

The IDF Civil Administration is taking steps to increase state-ownership of West Bank lands, an internal military document reveals. The policy enables increased construction not only around settlement blocs like Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, but also in strategic areas like the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea.

Until now it was not known that the administration, which is a military agency, was charged with distinguishing between the blocs Israel is demanding to annex as part of a final-status agreement and the rest of the settlements.

The document was written by Lt.Col. Zvi Cohen, head of the civil administration's infrastructures department, in January. On the same day, Cohen signed a procedure stipulating that the custodian of government property is authorized to take possession of lands whose ownership is undefined.

The first document, setting the civil administration's priorities in advancing Israeli take over of West Bank lands, says the construction would take place on state-owned land. Cohen writes that in view of the fact that building settlements on private Palestinian land, as in the case of most illegal outposts, constitutes a violation of international law and a government decision.

The document was passed on to the Rabbis for Human Rights under the Freedom of Information law.

The inclusion of the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and area surrounding Ariel in the "settlement blocs" whose takeover the administration is advancing, would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity. In addition, the scope of land in question thwarts the possibility of exchanging areas in a peace settlement, according to the formula presented by U.S. President Barack Obama on May 19.

This is because on the western side of the Green Line there is not enough open land to compensate the Palestinians for such an extensive annexation, according to examinations carried out during previous talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

It has recently been reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants Obama to ratify the letter of his predecessor George Bush, of April 2004, saying the United States is in favor of the new borders, which take into account "the new reality on the ground," including the existence of "major Israeli population centers."

However, the letter says the changes on the border must have the agreement of both sides. A position paper submitted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the American envoy George Mitchell a year ago rules out the possibility of a settlement that includes Israeli control of the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and Ariel.

Cohen details the work procedures of the administration's team, dubbed "Blue Line," for demarcating state lands in the West Bank. He writes that the team's major task is to examine the state's declarations of ownership on lands mainly in the 80s and 90s. But the team, which has been working since 1999, is also examining the possibility of declaring lands with undefined ownership as state lands.

The document says the team gives priority to territories whose ownership is subject to a court debate or to dispute between settlers and Palestinians and between Palestinians and the state. The team also gives priority to advancing building public institutions, schools, parks and "other matters classified as urgent by the authorized bodies."

The document says the team's goal is to make sure the planning procedures and land allocations are advanced only on lands that are government property and not Palestinian-owned, in keeping with international law.

The document also says the government's decision of 1979, saying that extending West Bank settlements and building new ones would only be carried out on state-owned land, must be adhered to.