ACRI Position Re: Reduction of Oversight on Establishing and Expanding settlements
Position Regarding Government Amendment to Decision No. 150 (1996):
Reducing Oversight on Establishing and Expanding settlements
The government's decision on June 18, 2023, determined that from now on, in order to establish and expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank, only one government approval will be required to start the planning process. The authority regarding the rest of the process was given to Minister Smotrich. This decision constitutes an act of annexation, and its consequences will be widespread violations of the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Implications of the decision
Establishing new settlements is a sovereign act for all intents and purposes. Therefore, in the last 27 years, the mechanism for establishing and expanding new settlements in the West Bank, although utterly tainted with illegality, differed from the mechanism for establishing new settlements within Israel. That mechanism allowed the government to stop the planning and approval process if they saw fit to do so.
The purpose of the decision made on June 18, 2023, was to eliminate the need for approvals from the political level throughout the various stages of the planning and approval process for establishing and expanding settlements. The requirement for the approval of the political echelon was reduced only to the first stage before a plan is submitted to the planning institutions. Once the government has decided to approve the promotion of a plan in a specific area, there will be no need for further government approval. The authority for approving the rest of the process will be in the hands of the additional minister in the Ministry of Defense (Bezalel Smotrich).
This decision likens the government's involvement in planning procedures in the occupied territories to the one within Israel. In some ways, it makes it easier than within Israel, since the oversight is given to only one minister. The decision also removes the political approval previously required to expand an existing settlement, paving the way for the full regularization of all outposts in the West Bank and a massive expansion of settlements.
The prohibition on settlement
According to international law, the settlements are illegal, to begin with, and there is not a single stone in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank that was laid legally. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from transferring its population from its territory into the occupied territory and to carry out any action that is not intended for the security needs of the occupying army or for the benefit of the ‘protected’ population. International law also prohibits the creation of permanent facts on the ground that are not intended to better the lives of the ‘protected’ population, that is, the Palestinians living in the West Bank.
These prohibitions are mainly due to the potentially harmful consequences caused by the population transfer to the occupied territory, which can violate the rights of the ‘protected’ population. The baseline assumption behind this prohibition is that the occupier is likely to prefer the interests of their own citizens over the occupied population's rights.
Consequences of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank
Indeed, not surprisingly, the settlement enterprise is responsible for utilizing the resources of the occupied territory (both public and private) and it directly causing the violation Palestinian human rights. Consequences to the rights of Palestinians caused by the settlement enterprise include;
Using the resources of the occupied territory, such as land and water so it mostly benefits the settler population at the expense of the ‘protected’ population
Restricting access to agricultural lands, especially lands located in the vicinity of settlements
Severe restrictions to the freedom of movement of Palestinians within the West Bank
Endangering the personal safety of Palestinians as a result of settler violence that is not adequately responded to by law enforcement authorities
Limiting the development and construction of Palestinian communities
The violation of the human rights of Palestinians as a result of the establishment of the settlements is exacerbated even further in the face of the inequitable regime of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in favor of Israelis in the West Bank. Under this regime, two sets of laws apply to residents of the West Bank according to nationality. Absolute preference in all areas of life is given to Jewish Israeli settlers over the Palestinians.
All of these, along with political considerations, are the basis of the international community's resolute opposition to the settlement project and its potential expansion.
The June 18, 2023, Government decision
In order to mitigate criticism from the international community, while still allowing new settlements, the first Netanyahu government made a decision in 1996 that canceled the blanket ban on establishing new settlements and created a mechanism for establishing new settlements and expanding existing ones. Within that framework, there was extensive and ongoing involvement of the political level in decision-making. The mechanism was meant to at least create the appearance that all consequences of decisions regarding planning, development, and construction of settlements are considered before any decision is made.
The current government's decision to cancel this mechanism constitutes an act of annexation.
Reducing the degree of government involvement in the initially problematic process of establishing settlements in the occupied territory shows that the Israeli government openly declares its intention to apply full sovereignty in the West Bank. By removing the few limitations the government has placed on itself in the past, this government is working to promote the official annexation of the occupied territories so that it treats them as its own. Thus, the government is working to implement what it declared in its basic guidelines - to guarantee the promotion and development of the settlements in the West Bank in light of what they claimed is “the apparent and indisputable exclusive right of the Jewish people to all areas of the land of Israel”. This is contrary to Israel’s international obligations and in flagrant violation of international law and human rights law.