Israel’s High Court has ruled that 40 Jewish families in an illegal West Bank outpost near Ramallah can stay put even though their homes were built on private Palestinian property.
The court ruling, which follows a protracted legal battle lasting almost a decade, overturned an earlier court decision which determined that the residents of Mitzpe Kramim must evacuate their homes within three years.
Mitzpe Kramim was established in 1999 after it was relocated from another West Bank area, with the Israeli government promising the new location would be formally legalised.
Mitzpe Kramim was built on private Palestinian land that had been apparently seized by military order, but was in fact situated outside the seized area, so the land it was built on was never under the Israeli state’s claimed control.
A majority of four on the panel of seven judges accepted the government’s argument that the land’s expropriation met the “good faith” test because at the time of the transaction the settler purchasers genuinely believed the land to be state-owned.
The judges also ruled that although the existing settler homes will not be demolished no new homes will be allowed to be built. The court also ordered that Palestinians who can prove ownership of the disputed land must be compensated by Israel.
More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law.
Left-wing politicians and anti-settlement NGOs condemned the court ruling. The anti-settlement Peace Now warned that the decision could act as a precedent.
“The decision will enable retrospective legalisation of many cases in which settlers seized control of private Palestinian lands. It’s unfortunate that the criminality and thievery received a tailwind today from none other than the High Court of Justice,” the organisation said.
“The decision to legalize the Mitzpe Kramim outpost is dangerous and its implications for other settlement outposts in the West Bank are worrisome,” said Mossi Raz, a Knesset member for the left-wing Meretz party.
“The settlements, and certainly those that are built on privately-owned Palestinian land, are a violation of Palestinian human rights and property rights.”
Residents of Mitzpe Kramim described the ruling as an historic breakthrough.
“We’ve scored a tremendous achievement for ourselves and for the settlement enterprise,” Doron Leshem, Mitzpe Kramim’s spokesperson said.
“This is the first time that the ‘good faith’ argument has been accepted – things that were built with the state’s approval, even if that approval contained substantive flaws, are allowed to remain standing. For the first time, the ruling isn’t either demolition or eviction, and with God’s help we will continue to build within the permitted boundaries. The odds were really against us, but we believed the entire time that anything is possible.”