In its latest push for de facto annexation, the Knesset approved a law on Tuesday that would limit Palestinian access to the High Court of Justice and expand the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court beyond sovereign Israel.
It marks a 51-year change in the way West Bank land cases will be handled, by moving them first to an administrative court which previously did not have judicial purview with regard to the West Bank.
Right-wing politicians hailed the law’s passage, in a 56-48 vote, as a victory toward granting Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria equitable rights to those within sovereign Israel.
They also said it was an important step toward placing West Bank land cases in a judicial venue more favorable to Jewish Israelis.
Left-wing politicians have charged that the bill is one more step toward de facto annexation that deprives Palestinians in Area C of judicial rights in their battle to prove land ownership.
“Fifty years after the liberation of Judea and Samaria, the Knesset approves a law that will normalize the lives of the residents there,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who championed the legislation.
“The Knesset today has made an important statement – the residents of Judea and Samaria are indistinguishable from other Israeli citizens,” Shaked said.
“Hebron, Ra’anana, Elon Moreh and Kiryat Arba are all inseparable parts of the Land of Israel,” Shaked said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has quietly delayed a number of legislative drives designed to annex – otherwise known as the formal application of sovereignty – Area C of the West Bank.
But he has allowed the Knesset to incrementally pass right-wing sponsored legislation, such as the one just passed, which would apply Israeli laws to Judea and Samaria.
The left-wing has referred to this as de facto or creeping annexation, because such a move is considered to be the full application of Israeli law to Area C, which is under Israeli military rule and outside of sovereign Israel.
Yesh Atid MK Yael German charged that “this legislation is essentially another law that attempts to annex Judea and Samaria.”
MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said that “this law is part of a dangerous revolution that is trying to erase the Green Line.”
“It is contrary to international law, which holds that the state is forbidden to legislate in occupied territories outside its borders,” Khenin said.
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said that the government has “paved the way to steal Palestinian land” and has created the “basis for an apartheid regime.”
Left-wing organizations such as Yesh Din, Peace Now and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel have all opposed the law.
They claim that it was designed by right-wing politicians to lessen the impact of Palestinian and left-wing NGO appeals to the High Court of Justice on behalf of Palestinians, particularly with regard to cases against illegal and authorized settler building.
Court rulings against illegal settler building have led to high-level demolitions, such as the evacuation of the Amona and Migron outposts and the razing of homes in the Ulpana and Netiv Ha’avot outposts.
It transfers many of these cases to the lower level administrative courts, which also deal with land cases within sovereign Israel. These courts have a wider purview to investigate ownership claims than does the High Court of Justice, which only looks at the narrower question of whether the Civil Administration followed proper procedure.
Shaked said that the law ends the phenomenon by which “extreme left-wing organizations submitted” petitions to the High Court of Justice against the settlements in Judea and Samaria.
“The lust to destruct will be curbed; settlement development will continue,” Shaked said.
“From now on, those cases will now have to go through the same legal hurdles as those that Israeli citizens undergo,” Shaked said.
Until now, she said, Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria were fast-tracked to the High Court without the opportunity to go through the administrative courts and were therefore denied the right of appeal.
The new legislation will also reduce the burden on the High Court of Justice which now hears a total of about 10,000 cases annually.
The law also transfers other issues with regard to Civil Administration rule in the West Bank including visa issues and freedom-of-information requests.
Geo-political issues aside, left-wing groups have argued that the law places an undue financial burden on the Palestinians, because the process is more costly and protracted. But they did not give an exact breakdown of the figures.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that the Administrative Court has a much smaller number of judges who deal with land cases. One of them, Haya Zandberg, has already written a report in support of the right-wing interpretation of land use in Judea and Samaria for settlers.
The High Court of Justice draws from a wider pool of judges, she said.