Land Consolidation and the One State Reality

Tareq Baconi, International Crisis Group

 

The prospect of Israel’s de jure annexation of the West Bank, following the release of the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan in January 2020, is the continuation of practices of land consolidation for Jewish settlement that began long before 1948. De facto, that is to say effective, Israeli annexation has been the reality in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem which was legally annexed in 1980, since the occupation began. Under the tenure of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s expansion into the Palestinian territories accelerated, further eroding the separation between the Israeli state and the military regime overseeing the territories, as bills that expanded the government’s jurisdiction over settlements proliferated.[1] This trend is commonly referred to as one of “creeping annexation”. The Trump plan seeks to formalize this trend, as well as practices of Zionist and Israeli colonization that are more than a century old.

Israel has been the sole sovereign on the land of Historic Palestine since 1967. Against the backdrop of calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories, Israel developed what scholar Menachem Klein refers to as “systems of control”.[2] Historically and in different guises, within Israel and the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, successive Israeli governments have consolidated their hold on Palestinian territory while isolating their Palestinian inhabitants.[3] Scholars Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir describe this process as one of integration of territory and separation of non-Jews, through the designation of Palestinians as second-class citizens, permanent residents, or non-citizens/military subjects.[4]

Policies of land consolidation and demographic isolation began with Israel’s establishment in 1948.[5]  Immediately after declaring independence, Israel placed Palestinians who remained within its boundaries under military rule, despite granting them citizenship.[6] Military rule leveraged the Emergency Defence Regulations that had been instituted by the British Mandate Authorities in 1945 to manage Palestinian civilian affairs. Those laws imposed restrictions on Palestinians that were not applicable to Jewish Israelis, including the requirement to apply for permits from the military governor for travel beyond their communities.[7]

Israel also pursued policies of territorial consolidation. In 1948, following Britain’s transfer of land to the new state, Israel owned approximately 13.5 per cent of Mandate Palestine.[8] In 1950, the government passed the Absentee Property Law, and in 1953, the Land Acquisition Law, both of which allowed the state to expropriate Palestinian lands and homes left behind by refugees, and place those in the hands of the government’s Office of the Custodian of Absentee Property.[9] Through expansive territorial acquisition, Palestinian citizens of Israel lost 40-60 per cent of their land to the state.[10] By the 1960s, 93 per cent of land in Israel was owned directly by the government, as state land, or by governmental or quasi-governmental organizations such as the Jewish National Fund (JNF) or the Israel Land Authority.[11] Palestinian citizens of Israel, who owned up to 30 per cent of the land at the time of Israel’s establishment,[12] currently own approximately 3.5 per cent, despite constituting 20 per cent of the population.[13]

Israel abolished its military rule over Palestinian citizens in 1966, but practices of discrimination and dispossession had already been codified. Israel’s consolidation of land for Jewish settlement within the state continues with policies of zoning, planning and demolitions which safeguard Jewish exclusivity to these lands and hinder the growth of Palestinian communities. Since 1948, over 1,000 Jewish communities have been authorized and developed, but not a single Arab community has been approved.[14] Such state restrictions have meant that population density in Palestinian areas has increased eleven fold since 1948, as those communities come to exist in isolated urban enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements.[15]

Confining Palestinians to urban enclaves within Israel is enforced through a host of policies. Palestinian citizens are blocked from the majority of Israel’s territory as they are refused leases for failing to fit into the social character of settlements.[16] A bill was passed in the Knesset in 2010, known as the Acceptance Committees Law, allowing Jewish communities of up to four-hundred family units in the Negev and Galilee to reject candidates that “[fail] to meet the fundamental views of the community”.[17] The government’s exclusive settlement of land for Jews was given further credence by the passing of the Nation State Law, in 2018, which defines Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” and declares that “The State views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value, and shall act to encourage and promote its establishment and strengthening”.[18]

Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian planning and building are combined with a policy of home demolition that disproportionately impacts its Palestinian citizens. Due to restrictive land allocation, Palestinian citizens suffer from a shortage of around 6,000 housing units annually, which leads to construction without permits.[19] The government deems structures that are built without permits to be illegal and issues demolition orders. In 2015, 97 per cent of all demolition orders issued and implemented by the state were in Palestinian communities.[20] These policies were reinforced in 2017, when Israel’s Knesset passed the “Kaminitz Law,” which expands the enforcement of the Planning and Building Law of 1965, leading to a spike in the demolition of Palestinian homes.[21]

These policies, all of which continue apace within Israel in relation to its Palestinian citizens, manifest themselves in different guises throughout annexed and occupied Palestinian territories.

Jerusalem represents a distinctive case within the broader system. In 1950, Israel declared West Jerusalem as its capital, and after 1967, unilaterally expanded the city’s municipal borders to encompass formerly Jordanian-ruled areas (6 sq km), including the Old City, and an additional 70 sq km from the West Bank.[22] The expansion integrated 28 Palestinian villages which lie beyond the 1967 armistice line into Israel.[23] The annexation and Israel’s declaration of the city as its “undivided capital” have not been recognized by the international community – although in 2017, the Trump administration broke with international consensus and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Within East Jerusalem, the Jerusalem municipality – rather than a military regime – allocated 35 per cent of land to Israeli settlements while 13 per cent is reserved for Palestinian construction.[24] Since 1967, 11 settlements have been constructed in East Jerusalem while some Palestinian neighbourhoods have not been issued permits for expansion.[25]

As within Israel, land consolidation for Jewish settlement is coupled with home demolition policies,[26] as well as with measures that are explicitly aimed at demographic engineering. The majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites hold permanent residencies rather than citizenship, a legally precarious designation that increases the chances they get stripped of their ability to reside in Jerusalem.[27] Surrounded by settlements and disconnected from the rest of the West Bank, these residents are increasingly confined to urban silos. The separation barrier, what Palestinians refer to as the Apartheid Wall and the Israelis as the Security Barrier, physically integrated settlements outside the city’s municipal borders — Givat Ze’ev to the north, Ma’ale Adumim to the east and Gush Etzion to the south — into Jerusalem. It also placed four Palestinian neighbourhoods which are within the city’s municipal boundaries on the other side of the separation barrier; the two largest of these, Kafr ‘Aqab and Shu’fat refugee camp, accounting for 140,000 Palestinian residents, were sealed off behind the separation barrier.[28] These tactics boosted the city’s Jewish population and set the ground for the implementation of the municipality’s master plans aimed at maintaining a 60 per cent Jewish majority in Jerusalem.[29]

The policies which the state implements in Israel and Jerusalem over Palestinian citizens and residents are also applied in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over Palestinian subjects through COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, an arm of the Israeli army.

In 1967, under Absentee Property military laws, Israel’s military commander took over property in the West Bank left behind by refugees from the 1967 war, much as it had done in 1948. Only one third of the West Bank lands had been registered with Jordanian land authorities by 1967, and only 13 per cent had been registered as state land.[30] In 1968, Israel froze all further registration.[31] Making use of Mandate Laws, the Israeli government began designating lands in the West Bank as “state land” and placing them with the Central Planning Bureau of the military authorities, which answered to Israel’s Ministry of Defence.[32] This land is categorized as nature reserves, national parks, or closed military zones; or is allocated to the regional councils of the settlements, or the World Zionist Organization (WZO) for exclusive Jewish settlement. Of land designated as State Land in the West Bank since 1967, Israel has allocated 0.25 per cent to Palestinians.[33]

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1994, did not formally challenge Israel’s settlement building or the expropriation of occupied Palestinian land as Israeli “state land.” Instead, the agreement divided the administration of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between COGAT and the Palestinian Authority, whereby COGAT kept direct control of the largest and only contiguous swath of territory which, under the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Oslo II), was designated as Area C, comprising 60 per cent of the West Bank.  COGAT prevents Palestinians from accessing 60 per cent of Area C, constituting 36 per cent of the West Bank.[34] Where Palestinians do have access, COGAT has to approve all forms of construction and development, from digging water wells to paving roads. Palestinian permit applications are overwhelmingly rejected. COGAT deems any subsequent unlicensed construction “illegal”; between 1988 and 2016, Israel demolished 16,085 Palestinian structures within Area C.[35]

Expansive settlement construction in Area C confines Palestinians to isolated urban pockets. Whereas Area C is contiguous, the remaining forty per cent of the West Bank is made up of some 165 disconnected islands under partial Palestinian control, known as Areas A, accounting for 18 per cent of the territories and comprising the main Palestinian urban centres, and Area B, accounting for the remaining 22 per cent, which are surrounded by Israeli controlled land. More than 700 road obstacles, from checkpoints to road gates, obstruct Palestinian freedom of movement between these confines.[36] Israel restricts Palestinians from accessing around 60km of built highways in the West Bank, forcing them to use alternative roads that snake around, or underneath, Israeli lands and infrastructure.[37] Superimposed on this fragmented reality is territorial continuity for Israeli citizens, thousands of whom travel daily between Israel and the West Bank, crossing the 1967 armistice line without seeing any crossover between COGAT’s military regime and Israel.

The Gaza Strip, like Areas A and B of the West Bank, is entirely surrounded by Israeli territory and confined to its own enclosure, enforced in this case hermitically through the blockade that has been in place since 2007. Similar to policies adopted in Area C, Israel applies zoning and territorial restrictions within the Gaza Strip, despite its disengagement in 2005. The Israeli army enforces what it calls a “buffer zone” that extends along the northern and eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip, covering 17 per cent of the territory.[38] Israel’s army enforces the buffer zone through the use of live fire, the demolition of homes and the destruction of infrastructure, the latter two being policies that are also implemented in Area C and East Jerusalem.[39]

When speaking of the one-state reality, it is important to note the continuation of state practices that go back to 1948, first manifesting themselves within the State of Israel, before expanding into annexed Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories after 1967. Through military regulations, the state expropriated Palestinian lands and consolidated those for Jewish settlement, codifying the dispossession of Palestinians. These practices manifested themselves, and continue to unfold, in different guises throughout mandate Palestine, fragmenting Palestinians into ever-shrinking urban silos that are embedded in overarching Israeli hegemony. Since 1948, Palestinian governing institutions have been endowed with more authority in various enclaves, most expansively in the PA, but the State of Israel remains the sole sovereign in the land.

 

 

[1] See “Annexation Legislation Database,” Yesh Din, available at: https://www.yesh-din.org/en/about-the-database/.

[2] Menachem Klein, The Shift: Israel-Palestine from Border Struggle to Ethnic Conflict (London: Hurst&Company, 2010). See also Jeff Halper, “The 94 Percent Solution: A Matrix of Control,” MERIP 216, Fall 2000.

[3] While this essay focuses on systems of control within Israel/Palestine, the international facet is no less vital; the ability of the Israeli State to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees while upholding the Law of Return for Jews is a – if not the – most crucial component of Israel’s ability to maintain a Jewish majority.

[4] Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir, The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).

[5] Policies began before 1948 through the Zionist movement’s favouring of Jewish labour and gathering Palestinian land for Jewish settlement, but they emerged as “state policies” with the state’s establishment.

[6] “Palestinians under Military Rule in Israel: Governing the Lives of a Confined Population,” Palestinian Journeys. See also “Israel’s Military Rule over Its Palestinian Citizens (1948–1968)” in Sahar Huneidi and Nadim Rouhana, Israel and its Palestinian Citizens: Ethnic Privileges in the Jewish State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

[7] Ibid.

[8] 8.5 per cent owned by Zionist institutions prior to statehood plus 5 per cent owned by the Mandate Government that was transferred to the State of Israel. Alexandre Kedar and Oren Yiftachel, “Land Regime and Social Relations in Israel,” in H. de Soto and F. Cheneval, Realizing Property Rights (Zurich: Ruffer&Rub Publishing House): 129-146.

[9] “Palestinians under Military Rule in Israel,” Palestinian Journeys (https://www.paljourneys.org).

[10] Kedar and Yiftachel, “Land Regime and Social Relations in Israel.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Palestinians owned 4.2-5.8m dunums, which corresponds to 22 -30.5 per cent of lands that came under Israeli control, in addition to 12m dunums, or 63.2 per cent of land that was uncultivated and used by the Palestinian population but not officially owned by them. Calculated from the data provided in ibid., 138.

[13] “Population by Population Group,” CBS, 6 November 2019 (https://www.cbs.gov.il/he/publications/DocLib/2019/yarhon1019/B1.pdf).

[14] “Land and Planning Rights,” Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (https://www.adalah.org/en/content/index/2007?Content_sort=). This does not include communities like Rahat, established by Israel in 1972 to house Bedouins from villages the state destroyed in the Negev.

[15] “Adalah’s Objections to Discriminatory “Kaminitz Bill”,” Adalah, 30 March 2017.

[16] Ibid.; and “Off the Map,” Human Rights Watch. The state’s privileging of Jewish settlement is clearest in the Galilee and the Negev. See also “Israel: Discriminatory Land Policies Hem in Palestinians,” Human Rights Watch, 12 May 2020.

[17] “Acceptance to Communities Law,” ACRI, 9 November 2011.

[18] “Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People,” Knesset (https://knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/BasicLawNationState.pdf).

[19] “Adalah’s Objections to Discriminatory “Kaminitz Bill”,” Adalah, 30 March 2017.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Increase in Arab Home Demolition Orders Since 2016,” ACRI, 28 March 2019.

[22] “Reversing Israel’s Deepening Annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem,” ICG.

[23] “East Jerusalem,” B’tselem (https://www.btselem.org/topic/jerusalem).

[24] “Record number of demolitions, including self-demolitions, in East Jerusalem in April 2019,” OCHA, 14 May 2019.

[25] “East Jerusalem,” B’tselem.

[26] Since 2016, the rate of demolition increased, reaching an average of 14 structures monthly between 2016 and 2019, up from 6 structures monthly in 2015. “Record number of demolitions,” OCHA.

[27] Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem refuse to apply for Israeli citizenship and the path to citizenship faces significant hurdles to block applications. Nir Hasson, “All the Ways East Jerusalem Palestinians Get Rejected,” Haaretz, 15 January 2019. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency of more than 14,500 Jerusalemites. “East Jerusalem,” B’tselem.

[28] Residents continue to hold onto their Jerusalem IDs, are eligible to travel into Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, and get their health insurance and social security, but they are physically sealed off from the city. The other two neighbourhoods are al-Walaja and al-Sawahra.

[29] “Reversing Israel’s Deepening Annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem,” International Crisis Group, Middle East and North Africa report No. 202, 12 June 2019.

[30] “Israeli Land Grab and Forced Population Transfer of Palestinians,” Badil: Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (2013), 18.

[31] “Status of Palestinian Territories and Palestinian Society under Israeli Occupation,” ARIJ.

[32] George Bisharat, Land, Law and Legitimacy in Israel and the Occupied Territories (1994): 539; and Raja Shehadeh, “The Land Law of Palestine: An Analysis of the Definition of State Land,” Journal of Palestine Studies (1982): 95.

[33] Yotam Berger, “Palestinians Have Received 0.25% of State Land,” Haaretz, 19 July 2018.

[34] “Planning Policy in West Bank,” B’tselem, (https://www.btselem.org/planning_and_building).

[35] “Israeli Demolition Orders against Palestinian Structures in Area C, 1988-2016,” OCHA, http://data.ochaopt.org/demolitions/index.aspx?id=311650).

[36] “Over 700 road obstacles control Palestinian movement,” UNOCHA, September 2018.

[37] “West Bank roads on which Israel forbids Palestinian vehicles,” B’tselem, 31 January 2017.

[38] Al-Haq, Shifting Paradigms: Israel’s Enforcement of the Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip (Ramallah, 2011): 6-7.

[39] “Israeli Land Grab and Forced Population Transfer of Palestinians,” Badil.