Israel’s Decision to Declare 988 Acres (4 sq. km….Ed.) of West Bank Territory as State Land (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
(dailyalert.org, Sept. 1, 2014)
There is considerable confusion about the recent action of Israel’s civil administration declaring 988 acres of West Bank territory as state land. Those who oppose the recent declaration may appeal the Israeli decision. When Palestinians have brought proof of ownership of contested territory to Israeli courts, including Israel’s Supreme Court, the courts have at times issued decisions calling on the Israeli government to restore the property in question to its Palestinian claimant, even if that requires dismantling the private homes of Israeli citizens.
It should be remembered that the Oslo II Interim Agreement, signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1995, established a division of the West Bank into three areas: Israeli responsibilities in Area C included the power of zoning and planning. The territory which Israel declared as state land is within Area C.
The architects of the Oslo Agreements understood that Palestinians would develop areas under their jurisdiction while Israel would develop areas it controlled. That is why there was no settlement freeze in the original Oslo Agreements. What will determine Israel’s borders are negotiations and not construction; after all, Israel dismantled all its settlements in Sinai when it made peace with Egypt in 1979 and it withdrew all its settlements from the Gaza Strip as part of its Gaza Disengagement in 2005.
Moreover, the territory in question is part of a settlement bloc, south of Jerusalem, known as Gush Etzion, which was settled by Jews prior to 1948, but lost by Israel when it came under attack by Arab forces. During past negotiating rounds it became clear to Israelis and Palestinians alike that at the end of the day, Israel will retain the settlement blocs.
The determination that Israel will retain the settlement blocs is reflected in U.S. diplomatic communications like the 2004 letter by President Bush to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the statements made by President Obama in 2011 about demographic changes on the ground and changes in the 1967 lines. The least controversial of these settlement blocs is Gush Etzion.
The question of legality of settlements relates to Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. The view of Israeli jurists, and important U.S. jurists as well (like Eugene Rostow, the former dean of Yale Law School), is that this section relates to the forcible movement of an occupier’s population into an occupied territory. This language was incorporated as a reaction to Nazi German policies of forcibly transferring German Jews to Occupied Poland for extermination.