The residents of the village of Al-Mazra'a al Qibliya, near Ramallah, look set to lose their land as Israeli bulldozers have started to clear the way for yet another illegal settlement.
Abdullah Ladadwa, the head of the village municipality, told Reuters on Monday, "In 2007, Israel confiscated hundreds of acres of Palestinian land by citing outdated laws under the pretext that this land was abandoned and was not being farmed. They gave the land to settlers who planted it with grapes."
Speaking from his home across the way from the land in question, with its new housing, he pointed out that those homes will form the nucleus of the new settlement. "Residents and owners of the land have been given 60 days to appeal against the decision to turn the fields into a settlement," he said. "However, that is just a formality and not worth the paper it is written on as the bulldozers have already started to level the land and install mobile homes prior to the permanent buildings going up."
Once again, explained Ladadwa, Israel is imposing a fait accompli on the 30 families who own the land. "When land was confiscated in 2007 for agricultural purposes, we weren't afraid we were going to lose it, but today, with the beginning of the construction of the settlement, it seems that we are going to lose it forever."
Along with the land owners, the municipality head is working with Israeli human rights groups to stop the establishment of the settlement. Although the villagers are taking action as land owners, this not only affects them, said Ladadwa, it is also a national issue, and the Palestinian Authority must take action, as well as the Palestinian organisations. "What is the point of us becoming a non-member state in the UN if Israel is going to continue to confiscate our land and build settlements on it?" he asked.
Noting that the settlement will need additional land "for security purposes", Ladadwa pointed out that once the settlement is built, Israel will control the hills all around the village. "This is also strategic building," he said, "not just for new homes." Forty per cent of the occupied West Bank has now been taken by Israel for settlements and their infrastructure. With 170 illegal settlements, around 500,000 settlers live on occupied Palestinian land, almost 200,000 of them in Jerusalem.
The first anniversary of Palestine's accession to non-member observer state status at the UN passed just a few days ago. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promised not to join the international institutions and International Criminal Court, as part of the agreement with the US providing for the resumption of peace negotiations in return for Israel releasing 104 prisoners detained before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Israel has released half of the prisoners in two batches; the rest are due to be set free later this month and in March next year.
In the meantime, Israel has continued to approve new settlement building, leading to the resignation of the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. According to him, it seems that members of the Israeli government do not care about the negotiations process and are disregarding the peace efforts. "Israeli violence, including the latest murders of 5 innocent and defenceless citizens and the injury of several more, methodical house demolitions and the continued construction of illegal settlements, is an indication of Israel's lack of concern regarding the peace process," insisted Erekat in a recent statement.
Despite this, Abbas has stressed his commitment to see the talks through their full allotted 9 month time span.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to arrive in the region again this week to meet with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in an effort to reach a peace agreement between the two parties. The issue of settlements is considered as one of the so-called final status negotiations, which is why Israel is building so many, to create "facts on the ground" before the discussions take place.