A Guest Post by Daniel Luban:
Earlier this week, I reported on the marked expansion in West Bank settlement construction in 2008, as documented in a just-released Peace Now report. This expansion occurred despite Ehud Olmert’s pledge at the beginning of the year to halt all construction.
Today, Haaretz revealed the findings of an even more significant study of illegal settlement construction – more significant because it comes from the Israeli government itself. The study was conducted by Brigadier General Baruch Spiegel at the behest of then-Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; although it was completed over two years ago, its findings have remained secret until now. While the study’s results will not come as a major shock to those who have been paying attention to the settlement issue, the database produced by Spiegel’s team presents a damning portrait of the Israeli government’s knowledge of – and support for – illegal settlement expansion.
Haaretz summarizes the main findings:
An analysis of the data reveals that, in the vast majority of the settlements – about 75 percent – construction, sometimes on a large scale, has been carried out without the appropriate permits or contrary to the permits that were issued. The database also shows that, in more than 30 settlements, extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure (roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas and even police stations) has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents. The data, it should be stressed, do not refer only to the illegal outposts (information about which was included in the well-known report authored by attorney Talia Sasson and published in March 2005), but to the very heart of the settlement enterprise.
This final point is worth noting – illegal construction and land seizures have by no means been limited to what are commonly identified as the ‘illegal outposts’.
Not only does the illegal expansion contradict government claims, but the database reveals that the government itself was responsible for much of the construction:
The information contained in the database does not conform to the state’s official position, as presented, for instance, on the Foreign Ministry Web site, which states: “Israel’s actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law – Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements.” Since in many of the settlements, it was the government itself, primarily through the Ministry of Construction and Housing, that was responsible for construction, and since many of the building violations involve infrastructure, roads, public buildings and so on, the official data also demonstrate government responsibility for the unrestrained planning and lack of enforcement of regulations in the territories.
The article also includes several revealing interviews with settlers and government officials. All make the same basic point: that the illegal construction had not merely the tacit complicity but the active support of the top political decision-makers in the government.
Here, for example, is Ron Nahman, mayor of the large Ariel settlement, explaining how the Housing Ministry supports his settlement’s expansion onto privately-owned Palestinian lands:
When told that dozens of settlements include construction on private lands, he [Nahman] is not surprised. “That’s possible,” he says. The fact that in three-quarters of the settlements, there has been construction that deviates from the approved plans doesn’t surprise him either. “All the complaints should be directed at the government, not at us,” he says. “As for the small and communal settlements, they were planned by the Housing Ministry’s Rural Building Administration. The larger communities are planned by the ministry’s district offices. It’s all the government. Sometimes the Housing Ministry is responsible for budgetary construction, which is construction out of the state budget. In the Build Your Own Home program, the state pays a share of the development costs and the rest is paid for by the individual. All of these things are one giant bluff. Am I the one who planned the settlements? It was Sharon, Peres, Rabin, Golda, Dayan.”
But perhaps unsurpisingly, the Housing Ministry also chooses to pass the buck to their superiors:
Kobi Bleich, spokesperson for the Ministry of Construction and Housing: “Let me emphasize that the ministry’s employees are charged with implementing the policies of the Israeli government. All of the actions in the past were done solely in keeping with the decisions of the political echelon.”
The full article is well worth reading. (It also includes a link to the actual database in Hebrew, but as of this writing I was unable to access it.) Again, few will be shocked to hear of the Israeli government’s support for illegal expansion or for land confiscation. The Spiegel report and its suppression do, however, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Israeli government has known for at least two years the precise scope of illegal settlement construction, that it has supported this construction, and that it has taken pains to prevent this knowledge from coming to public light.