The High Court of Justice agreed Monday to postpone by three months a hearing on three petitions attacking the government's policy of selling Jewish National Fund-owned land to Jews only.
In the meantime, the court has instructed the Israel Lands Administration, which administers state- and JNF-owned land, and the JNF to forge a policy that does not discriminate against Israeli Arabs.
In a brief presented to the court on Sunday, the state announced that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz had brokered a temporary agreement between the ILA and the JNF to be in effect until a permanent agreement is reached between the two institutions.
"The state and the JNF aim, during a period of time that will not exceed three months, to reach a comprehensive agreement that will provide for large-scale exchanges of land between the ILA and the state in such a way as to enable the ILA to maintain the principle of equality in administering Israeli land," wrote the state's representative, attorney Osnat Mandel.
"In the meantime, the ILA will sell lands, including those belonging to the JNF, without any restrictions regarding the identity of the purchaser. In each case where a non-Jew wins a tender, the ILA will [compensate the JNF] by giving it state land in exchange."
Mandel told the court that the land to be transferred to the JNF would be located far from development and would not be sold for the time being.
She also made it clear that three months would not be enough for the ILA and the JNF to come up with a final agreement and that the state would have to ask for a further extension.
"Everyone knows that three months will take two years," added acting Justice Uzi Fogelman.
The first of the three petitions was filed in 2004 by the Abu Ri family, who wanted to buy an apartment in Karmiel in a residential building situated on JNF land. They have since bought the apartment, but cannot register it in their name because they are not Jews. The other two petitions were filed by public interest groups protesting against the alleged discrimination involved in the current JNF and ILA policy. The petitioners include Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning.
The representative of the Abu Ri family told the court that the interim solution would not help his clients register the apartment in their name. Mandel promised that the state would address that issue during the three-month period.
Adalah attorney Hassan Jabarin objected to the provision that the state would compensate the JNF for every plot of JNF-owned land it sold to an Arab. Jabarin said he was afraid that in accepting the temporary arrangement, Adalah would be in effect consenting to the same arrangement in the final agreement between the state and the JNF. This would mean lending its support to the perpetuation of the principle of "land for Jews only," which Adalah rejects.
However, the court told Jabarin he would have the opportunity to object in court to the compensation mechanism if, indeed, it were included in the final agreement.
Meanwhile, a group of well-known figures including Nobel Prize laureate Yisrael Uman and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon expressed opposition to the compromise. The group has asked the High Court to recognize them as respondents in the petition so they could try to persuade it to reject the petitions. Its members belong to the Institute for Zionist Strategies think tank.
One of its members, Joel Golovensky, told The Jerusalem Post: "It is appropriate in a Jewish state that the government allocate land for Jewish settlement. This is not inconsistent with democracy." Golovensky said there was no need for a compromise that circumvented this principle.