Israel's Peace Now movement revealed on Monday that the Israeli authorities are planning to build a new settlement in the heart of the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron. It warned that this move might undermine all peace efforts in the region.
The movement explained that this would be the first new settlement in Hebron since the 1980s, and that it would have "potentially devastating consequences" for both the Palestinian residents of Hebron, increasing the tensions and violence in that already volatile city, as well as the ongoing peace talks, including the two-state solution.
In the wake of the death of an Israeli soldier in Hebron last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his intention to encourage the establishment of a new settlement in Hebron at a house owned by the Al-Rajabi family, with an area of 4,000 meters squared.
While the movement said that, "The new settlement is facing legal hurdles that may postpone it for months or even years," with Netanyahu's support the settlement "is likely to take place in the coming days or weeks."
The movement is expecting a ruling from the Israeli High Court of Justice on the case regarding the settlers' ownership of the large property in the heart of Hebron. It said, "It is almost certain that the court will rule that the settlers own the property."
Meanwhile, the movement insisted that the settlement could still be stopped: "Any ruling in favour of the settlers on the issue of ownership does not grant them any legal right to take control of, develop, or move into the sites."
The movement reported that, "under Israeli law, absence of explicit approval of the Minister of Defence, settlers cannot register under their names any property purchased from Palestinians in the occupied territories."
It added: "Without such an approval, the settlers cannot establish a new settlement."
And even if all the aforementioned conditions were fulfilled, the movement said: "The Israeli army still has the authority to prevent the establishment of any settlement for security reasons."
Regarding the history of the settlers' claim of ownership to the Palestinian house, the movement explained that: "In March 2007, settlers moved into a large building in Hebron, popularly known as the 'House of Contention', claiming to have purchased the property. Palestinians disputed that claim.
"Subsequently, Israeli police found that some of the purchase documents were forged and the government ordered the eviction of the settlers. That eviction took place in December 2008, following a week of settler violence against Palestinians in the area.
"On 13 September 2012, an Israeli Court ruled that, despite the forged documents, the purchase was still legal. That ruling was appealed to the Israeli High Court, which held a hearing on 2 September 2013, and is supposed to issue its own ruling at any time."
The movement said that the exact timing of the upcoming ruling is "unknown", but it believes that the Israeli High Court is expected to rule again in favour of the settlers.
"It is in the hands of the judges, and in theory the ruling will be issued as soon as they finish writing it," it said. "This could be a matter of days, weeks or months."
It also added: "However, once there is a ruling there may be very little time, if any, to prevent the settlers from taking over the site."