The High Court of Justice is due next Wednesday to hear the petitions against the government's decision to freeze construction in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank for 10 months, the court announced on Thursday. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch will preside over the hearing.
Four petitions have been filed. The first, by The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, protests the procedures by which the freeze was decided upon and implemented. The second, submitted by the heads of 14 regional and local councils, charges that the building moratorium will cost contractors and home-owners millions of shekels. The third was filed by several settlers directly hurt by the government's decision, while the fourth was filed by attorney Gilad Rogel on behalf of Ma'aleh Adumim and three local and regional councils, charging that the government decision violates their constitutional rights to private property.
Also on Thursday, the state filed a preliminary response in which it asked the court not to issue a show-cause order or an interim injunction that would suspend the freeze until a ruling is issued. The state's key claim was that the building moratorium was a matter of government diplomatic policy.
"The aim," wrote the state's representative, attorney Hani Ofek, "is the desire to encourage the renewal of the diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to make clear the readiness and commitment of the Israeli government to the peace process based on the perspective of all of Israel's national interests and in view of the negotiations with the American administration, in the hope that we can put an end to the conflict and achieve a stable peace accord."
The court usually refrains from intervening in matters pertaining to overall government policy, although it is possible in this case that it will be critical of the vague arrangements the government has made concerning individual appeals by settlers against the freeze or demands for compensation.
However, in this regard, the state informed the court that it intended to issue a revised moratorium order which, among other things, would take into account some of the settlers' complaints.
As to the settlers' claims that the moratorium violated their property rights, the state argued that these rights were not as strong in the West Bank as they would be in Israel, because the territory was held in belligerent occupation and therefore there was a degree of "temporariness" regarding possession of the land in general. Ofek declared that this had been the court's approach to the matter of Jewish ownership in the West Bank for the past 30 years.
The state also rejected the argument that the decision to introduce the freeze was illegal because it had been taken by the security cabinet rather than the entire government. Ofek wrote that there was no law ordering the government plenum to make such a decision or order the military commander to implement it. She also rejected the petitioners' claim that the military commander could not take orders from the government since the freeze allegedly had nothing to do with security matters.
In addition, Ofek rejected arguments that the military order was discriminatory because it did not apply to the Palestinians living in the West Bank. The distinction between the two communities was relevant in this case, she maintained.
She added that the order's status as a temporary one - it is due to expire at the end of October 2010 - contributed to its proportionality.
Attorney Yossi Fuchs, who represents The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel in the first petition, called the state's arguments "callous," asserting, "They defend the tyranny of the government, which used obscure and draconian provisions that are appropriate in time of war but not for civil life."