Washington DC, Feb. 16
The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) today urged the United States government to use its influence to work with the Israeli government to stop announced plans for a major expansion of the Givat Ha'eytam settlement in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli occupation Civil Administration has reportedly declared 1,700 dunams (approximately 370 acres) of land in the northern part of the Efrat settlement, south of Jerusalem between Bethlehem and Hebron, to be “state land,” which sets the stage for the potential construction of 2,500 new settlement housing units. This settlement is particularly sensitive given that it would help complete a ring of hilltop settlements in Efrat that threaten to cut Arab East Jerusalem off from the West Bank.
ATFP called on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as leading members of Congress, to use all of their influence to ensure that these provocative and dangerous settlement plans are not pursued. ATFP, and many others including numerous US officials and members of Congress, have frequently pointed out that settlement activity constitutes the most significant threat to the long-term viability and credibility of an end-of-conflict agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Any additional settlement activity intensifies the core problem, complicates the creation of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security, and undermines Palestinian and Arab public opinion regarding Israeli intentions to achieve a reasonable agreement. This planned settlement is particularly problematic given that it would continue the process of separating Arab East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and undermine prospects that East Jerusalem could serve as the capital of a Palestinian state, which is a key requirement of any viable peace agreement.
Coming in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war, these announced settlement plans are particularly dangerous. ATFP President Ziad Asali said, “it is vital that President Obama and his Administration, as well as leaders in Congress, mobilize American influence and our strategic relationship with Israel to make it clear that any continuation of settlement activity, particularly in and around Jerusalem, is in neither the Israeli or the American national interest. Settlement activity threatens the very prospect of a viable, reasonable peace agreement. One of the most urgent and important expressions of American leadership on peace in the Middle East must be to move quickly to help prevent major setbacks such as this proposed major expansion in Givat Ha'eytam, and preserve the viability of a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.”
West Bank settlement gets green light for major expansion
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent
Feb 15, 2009
Some 1,700 dunams of land in the northern part of Efrat were declared state land last week, paving the way for the West Bank settlement to start the process of seeking government approval to build there.
The Civil Administration issued the declaration after rejecting eight appeals by Palestinians against the move. A ninth appeal was accepted, and the land covered by this appeal was consequently removed from Efrat's jurisdiction.
However, construction is still a long way off. First, the Civil Administration must formally allocate the land to the Housing Ministry, which, under new rules adopted by Ehud Olmert's government, cannot be done without approval from both the prime minister and defense minister.
Then the Housing Ministry must give Efrat's local council a permit to start the usually long planning process, which involves securing permits from various agencies. Only then can the work of building some 2,500 housing units in the Givat Ha'eytam neighborhood begin.
Since the outcome of the elections makes it likely that the next government will lean more to the right than the current one, Efrat plans to wait until the new government takes office before submitting its request.
Efrat, with around 9,000 residents, is the largest settlement in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, and Givat Ha'eytam is the last unbuilt hill of the seven within the town's jurisdiction. Despite being the hill nearest Jerusalem, Ha'eytam lies outside the planned route of the separation fence, which has yet to be built in this area.
Gush Etzion is one of the settlement blocs that all Israeli governments have said they want to retain under any final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
Comment from Cienfuegos blogsite:
As a reminder, Israeli colonies in the West Bank are illegal according to international law insofar as they relate to the occupation of Palestinian lands:
The duties of the occupying power are spelled out primarily in the 1907 Hague Regulations (arts 42-56) and the Fourth Geneva Convention (GC IV, art. 27-34 and 47-78), as well as in certain provisions of Additional Protocol I and customary international humanitarian law.
Agreements concluded between the occupying power and the local authorities cannot deprive the population of occupied territory of the protection afforded by international humanitarian law (GC IV, art. 47) and protected persons themselves can in no circumstances renounce their rights (GC IV, art. 8).
The main rules of the law applicable in case of occupation state that:
The occupant does not acquire sovereignty over the territory.
Occupation is only a temporary situation, and the rights of the occupant are limited to the extent of that period.
The occupying power must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory, unless they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the international law of occupation.
The occupying power must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.
To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.
The population in occupied territory cannot be forced to enlist in the occupier’s armed forces.
Collective or individual forcible transfers of population from and within the occupied territory are prohibited.
Transfers of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territory, regardless whether forcible or voluntary, are prohibited.
Collective punishment is prohibited.
The taking of hostages is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons or their property are prohibited.
The confiscation of private property by the occupant is prohibited.
The destruction or seizure of enemy property is prohibited, unless absolutely required by military necessity during the conduct of hostilities.
Cultural property must be respected.
People accused of criminal offences shall be provided with proceedings respecting internationally recognized judicial guarantees (for example, they must be informed of the reason for their arrest, charged with a specific offence and given a fair trial as quickly as possible).
Private property cannot be confiscated by the occupier.