The Bedouin clusters are near the sprawling Israeli settlement town of Maaleh Adumim, a community of 40,000 that is seeking to expand into an area that would link it to Jerusalem and effectively drive a wedge between Palestinian population centers in the northern and southern West Bank.
The area of planned expansion, known as E-1, already has a large Israeli police station and a major road with lighting and infrastructure for power supply. A plaque put up at the site at a cornerstone-laying ceremony in 2009 testifies to the determination of Maaleh Adumim’s city fathers to extend their community into the zone.
However, stiff opposition from Washington, prompted by concerns that the project could scuttle prospects for a territorially contiguous Palestinian state, has held Israeli governments back from authorizing building in the contested area.
The plan to move out the Bedouins, many of whom live in the E-1 zone or its outskirts, has brought expressions of concern from U.N. agencies in the West Bank and Israeli and foreign human rights groups, which say that the step would violate international law and could pave the way for settlement expansion in a politically sensitive area.
The Bedouins near Maaleh Adumim live in part of Area C, the more than 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under direct Israeli control, where Palestinian building is severely restricted. Israeli authorities say the Bedouin camps are illegally constructed. Demolition orders have been issued for many structures; others have been razed.
Maj. Guy Inbar, the spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry’s department responsible for the West Bank, acknowledged that a plan to relocate the Bedouins in the Maaleh Adumim area has existed for several years. He said it was part of a broader blueprint to provide the Bedouins across the West Bank with sites where they can build legally with access to water, electricity and government services.
Inbar said that in the past year, the Israeli military administration in the West Bank had adopted a two-pronged policy: not only cracking down on illegal Palestinian building in Israeli-controlled areas but also drawing up master plans that would allow for legal construction in certain communities. He said that many of the Bedouin encampments were in army firing zones or on state land that had not been licensed for construction.
The plan to relocate the Bedouins around Maaleh Adumim is “still in its early stages,” Inbar said, adding that it would not be carried out before feasibility studies were complete and talks were held with Bedouin tribal leaders, a process he said could take months.