The High Court of Justice Sunday evening gave the state four months to present a written argument in support of building on private Palestinian property in the Beit El settlement that was initially seized by the IDF for military purposes before 1979.

The court cautioned the plaintiff and the defendant against viewing the decision as a sign of support for one side or the other. At issue are five apartment buildings, two of which are already under construction and three others which a developers hope to build.

The nongovernmental organization Yesh Din, which represents the Palestinian land owner, attacked the state.

The state’s argument as already partially stated, both in a September brief to the court and in a hearing on Sunday, runs counter to 33 years of legal interpretations with respect to a 1979 High Court Decision that dealt with the Elon Moreh settlement. In that ruling, the court prohibited Jewish construction on private Palestinian property seized for military purposes.

Following Alon Moreh, the government turned its focus to the development of state land for West Bank settlements.

The state is trying to upend 33 years of legal precedent, Yesh Din said.

It added that if the state’s “new” arguments, as they referred to them, are validated by the court, it would impact private Palestinian property located within the boundaries of 40 West Bank settlements.

Yesh Din first filed a petition with the court in December 2010, on behalf of a resident of the nearby Palestinian village of Dura al-Quara. In April 2011, the state promised to remove the buildings, but has subsequently changed its position, and is now looking to legalize them.

The court’s interim decision on Sunday was that the state would have four months, until March 11, 2013, to elaborate on its position.

The state said that its request to continue with the building and legalize the land are not a question of an old or new position.

According to the state, until recently, not all of the legal tools available for legalizing and promoting building in the West Bank were being used.

Attorney Chani Ofek, representing the state, said that military orders applying to the structures in question had been issued prior to the 1979 Elon Moreh decision.

Ofek added that the same military orders that apply to these structures were the basis for the entire Beit El settlement.

Thus, according to Ofek, the idea of fulfilling the “potential” of the Beit El settlement and the rights to use these lands predated the Elon Moreh decision, and cannot be “reversed” by that decision.

Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard, representing a resident of Dura al-Qara, slammed the state for changing positions in the case, and emphasized that the position was not only new, but could undermine the Elon Moreh precedent throughout the West Bank.

Sfard said that while he had no problem recognizing the legality of actual housing built before the Elon Moreh decision, where military orders were issued for taking land, but the building itself all occurred after the Elon Moreh decision, the timing of when the military orders were issued was irrelevant.

According to Sfard, the Elon Moreh decision made new building on private Palestinian property illegal.

An earlier or later military order did not make the new building any less illegal once the court had ruled.

According to a press release issued by Yesh Din, such a large change in settlement policy would violate international agreements that Israel has committed to, such as the road map peace plan and at the Annapolis Summit.

Before this round of court discussions, the High Court had acceded to several delays, at first for the state to properly prepare to destroy the illegally built structures.

However, in April, the state said it was weighing the possibility of authorizing buildings plans that would legalize the structures.

Since then, the state was granted several more delays to present additional arguments.

The structures are located outside the area included in Beit El’s master plan but are within the boundaries of the 1970s land-seizure order that allowed the IDF to take land from Dura al- Qara for military purposes. Beit El was built on that land.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this story.

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