On 6 May 2020, Israel's provisional defense minister, Naftali Bennett, announced his intention to advance some 7,000 units on 1,100 dunams in the settlement jurisdiction of Efrat, in the area known by Palestinians as a-Nahle, and settlement opponents as E2, and settlers as the future settlement of Givat Eitam. This declaratory gesture came after the Civil Administration gave permission to the Ministry of Housing to craft a plan for the housing project, following the Civil Administration's rejection on 3 May of a letter of appeal sent by Peace Now and 14 Palestinian landowners in February 2019 against the allocation of the land for settlement purposes. The announcement also comes ahead of the presumptive swearing-in of a new Israeli coalition government in the coming weeks, during which Bennett will step down as defense minister.
Peace Now has in response sent a letter to the Civil Administration announcing its intention to file a court petition against the allocation of the land for the settlement, and asking for 30 days to prepare it. Just as in the 2019 letter of appeal, this petition will challenge the allocation of the land itself, rather than the housing plan that the Housing Ministry will prepare and submit.
Peace Now's main arguments were threefold: 1. The allocation of land to build a settlement contravenes Israel's duties to protect the land for the local Palestinian population according to international law; 2. Allocating land to Israelis over Palestinians is tainted by discrimination since 99.8% of West Bank land allocated since 1967 has been gone primarily to Israeli purposes, and 3; The Palestinian need for the land in question is far greater than that of the Efrat settlement, as a Peace Now spatial Planning analysis confirms. For more on the legal arguments of the appeal, read here.
In late 2018, the state had announced its intention to allocate the land to the Housing Ministry for settlement planning. Peace Now was notified of this intention due to a previous High Court case filed by Peace Now demanding that the state notify Peace Now before allocating the land so that it can challenge this intention in court. That 2018 announcement came after settlers founded an illegal outpost in the wake of the terror-related stabbing of Gush Etzion resident, Ari Fuld. Several months later, the Israeli authorities retroactively legalized the outpost.
The area in question is a barren hill near the Palestinian village a-Nahla, abutting Bethlehem to the south, and is nicknamed "E2" by settlement opponents for its resemblance to E1, inasmuch as a settlement there would severely dismember Palestinian territorial contiguity and thereby threaten the very possibility of a two-state solution. Officially, Israeli authorities would classify the Givat Eitam settlement as a "neighborhood" of Efrat.
Peace Now: "This is a cynical move by a caretaker defense minister at the end of his mandate while the nation is still reeling from the corona crisis to advance a dangerous plan aimed at entrenching permanent Israeli domination in the southern West Bank and harming the prospect of a two-state solution. The right thing to do is to allocate the land for Palestinian construction, but the Ministry of Defense is currently run by an irresponsible politician willing to cross any red line in the name of his anti-democratic ideology."