World News

02.02.14

Controversial Landfill Prompts West Bank Showdown

Israeli settlers and local Palestinians are uniting in opposition to a landfill in Ramallah, which could see the Palestinian Authority asking Israel’s government to confiscate land from Palestinians on its behalf.

Israeli settlements will be allowed to dump municipal waste at a controversial landfill planned by the Palestinian Authority for the Ramallah governorate in the central West Bank, according to a leaked report from the Israeli environmental consulting company AYGL—an arrangement that could see the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government teaming up to evict Palestinians in order to claim land for the project. 

Officials of the Joint Service Council (JSC) of Ramallah and Al-Bireh—the office of the PA Ministry of Local Government overseeing the landfill project—dispute the relevance of the report.  They claim it was created during the preliminary stages of the planning process and say that the final report, submitted to the Israeli Civil Administration with the project’s permit application, made clear that settlements would be barred from dumping in the landfill.

The ICA did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on the landfill project.

All construction projects in Area C, the 61 percent of the West Bank where Israel maintains civil and security control, must be reviewed and licensed by the Israeli Civil Administration.  Jacob Abraham, director of AYGL, says his position and that of the Civil Administration is that the dumpsite “is supposed to serve everybody in the area...settlements should be able to use the landfill.”

In an unusual alliance, Israeli settlements near the proposed site in Rammun have lined up with the Palestinian townspeople against the landfill’s location.

According to Husain Abuoun, executive director of the Palestinian Authority’s JSC, this would be impossible both politically and logistically.  He points out that any settlements using the landfill would first have to receive approval from the PA Ministry of Local Government, an unlikely proposition.  The settlements would also have to send a representative to Ramallah every month to take part in the Board of Directors meetings of the JSC—legally unworkable because Israeli citizens are prohibited from visiting Area A where Ramallah is located, the 11 percent of the West Bank under full Palestinian control.

“It will not work,” says Abuoun flatly.

Since the founding of the JSC in 2007, residents of Rammun village, where the dump is planned, have risen in opposition to the landfill project.  They claim that the landfill would displace them from necessary agricultural land and cause massive public health problems in the town.

Rabah Thabata, head of the Community Society—the association of Rammun landowners working against the project—says that the AYGL report was leaked to the Community Society by a sympathetic source inside the JSC.  The report states that the landfill “is designed to serve the cities of Ramallah and Al-Bireh...and Israeli settlements in the region.”

Thabata claims it was agreed at a hearing in the offices of the Israeli Civil Administration in December 2011 that settlements would not be able to use the landfill.  He and the Community Society say that the AYGL report is a violation of that agreement.

According to Abraham, his company’s report said that the landfill “would service all of the area for convenience of dumping,” including the Israeli settlements nearby.  He says that the attempt to shut settlements out of the project is about “much more than money or solving a problem; it’s about politics.”

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Farmland near the village of Rammun, in the West Bank, that the Palestinian Authority plans to turn into a landfill. (Daniel Tepper)

Johannes Albrecht-Wunder, a consultant from the German government’s technical cooperation agency helping to manage the project, says that the landfill’s funding would be in jeopardy if settlements were allowed in.  He says that the German development bank KfW, GIZ’s sister organization which has promised €14 million to the JSC, would pull its money from the project under those circumstances. 

“If we agree that settlements can dump, we accept the occupation,” says Albrecht-Wunder.

Thomas Eisenbach, director of KfW’s office in the Palestinian territories, agreed with the JSC’s statement that the final proposal to the Civil Administration specified that only members of Palestinian cities and towns would use the landfill, but added, “If [the Civil Administration] were to reject the proposal for whatever reason, that would have to be discussed with …the financial backers.”

The European Union has frequently expressed opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Late last year, Israel was nearly shut out of a potential €300 million from the EU’s lucrative scientific research initiative Horizon 2020 after eligibility guidelines were included that banned any organization with operations over the Green Line, the armistice line of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, from receiving funding.

Isam Daqqa, a lawyer for the Community Society, is skeptical of the AYGL report.  He says that the chief engineer of the Civil Administration commission tasked with approving the landfill told him of a high-tech waste disposal factory planned in the industrial settlement Mishor Adumim to cover all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Abraham, however, says that construction on the Mishor Adumim factory has been bogged down in legal issues and may not be able to proceed.

Daqqa believes that the report was commissioned by the JSC in an attempt to win backing for the project from the settlements, which could help sway the Civil Administration to approve construction.  “It’s a political thing...they’re fishing for the settlers [to support the project],” Daqqa says.

That support has not been forthcoming.  In an unusual alliance, Israeli settlements near the proposed site in Rammun have lined up with the Palestinian townspeople against the landfill’s location.  “The strongest objections are coming from the settlements,” says Abraham.

The local settlers object to the environmental threat that the landfill poses to a nearby nature reserve and the possible pollution of water supplies in the area.  “The construction of a landfill in proximity to a nature reserve would severely damage the vegetation in the area,” reads a June 2013 editorial in the Jerusalem Post by Yitzchak Me’ir, executive director of the Municipal Environmental Association of Samaria, an intergovernmental umbrella organization of environmental protection groups in the West Bank settlements.

“Entrepreneurs’ claim that the landfill is safe and would not cause environmental damage is a pure sham,” writes Me’ir.

The coalition between the settlers and Rammun’s landowners is unsurprisingly tense.  Daqqa believes that the settlers are more concerned about the property values of their homes decreasing because of the dump than they are about the potential for environmental damage.  At any rate, he says, “they’re not interested in being users of this landfill.”

A more troubling alliance has developed on the other side of the fight over Rammun.  If the landowners continue to refuse to sell their claims in the area, officials from the JSC say they will turn to the Israeli Civil Administration to confiscate the land.

Abuoun refers to this possibility as “a direct acquisition process from the Civil Administration.”  An announcement of the evictions would be placed in the local paper, he says, and residents would be instructed to come to the JSC to claim their compensation.  They would receive $10 per square meter.

“It’s a sensitive issue, but this is the procedure,” says Abuoun.  He points out that this procedure is how all land-buying occurs in Area C—every land sale, voluntary or compulsory, must go through the Civil Administration.  “It’s the same case that we have over here,” he says.

While evicting the landowners is legally within the purview of the Civil Administration, as the overseer of all land in Area C, Daqqa says it’s hard to imagine how such evictions could benefit Israel.  “How can [they] accept being the intermediary for this?” he asks.

One answer could be found in the report from AYGL—the undisclosed, disputed possibility that settlements would use the landfill as well. If the Civil Administration were to follow through on the JSC’s threat, says Daqqa, it would be the first time ever that the PA has used the Israeli government to evict Palestinian citizens.