The West Bank .
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
The office of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has asked the High Court of Justice to issue an injunction that would freeze the Settlements Law passed earlier this year until the justices have ruled on its legality.
The legislation, which the Knesset approved in February, authorizes 3,921 illegal settler homes built on private Palestinian property while offering the Palestinian landowners monetary compensation.
According to the left-wing NGO Peace, 797 of those structures are located in outposts and the remaining 3,173 are in settlements.
In March, Peace Now and a consortium of 12 additional left-wing NGOs, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the legislation, arguing that it was tantamount to land theft and constituted a de facto annexation of Area C, particularly since the Knesset does not have the purview to legislate for territory outside of sovereign Israel.
Action on the legislation was initially frozen based on an agreement between the Civil Administration and the NGOs not to take any action to change the status on the ground. This included planning activity with the Civil Administration to legalize the settler homes or enforcement actions against the structures.
Since then, settlers have appealed to the court, asking that the Civil Administration be allowed to prepare the property lots for authorization even in advance of a ruling.
In response, Mandelblit’s office has asked for an injunction.
Attorney Simcha Dan Rothman, who represents the Binyamin Regional Council, immediately sent the High Court a response asking that the Civil Administration be allowed to take initial steps that would not have any long-lasting consequences if the court strikes down the legislation. This includes giving the IDF rights to use the property. According to the legislation, this step should by occur by August 13.
Similarly, Rothman said the IDF needs to map out what the different properties are and where they are located.
Mandelblit, he added, initially had said the mapping process would proceed while the legislation was being adjudicated.
“These lands are already used by those who are not their owners. There is no justification for a temporary interim injunction regarding the implementation of the first stage of the law,” he told the High Court.
Rothman told The Jerusalem Post
that he now fears this step has not taken place.
“The fact that Mandeliblit turned to the court without reporting on how much mapping had been done, is a very suspicious act,” Rothman said.
The fear, he said, is that if the initial process is not taken care of, settlers could be caught in a bureaucratic loop by which their homes could be demolished even if the High Court approves the law.
Peace Now, along with two other consortium NGOs – Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel – told the court it supports Mandelblit’s request, but reserves the right, if necessary, to ask for a waiver in the future to protect Palestinian property.
“In light of the damage caused to the rule of law and the property rights of the petitioners by freezing enforcement actions, the petitioners reserve their future right to request an injunction renewing such enforcement procedures,” their attorney Dan Yakir wrote in response.
The government has until August 17 to respond in general to the case, and it is likely that a hearing on the matter will not take place until the fall, said Yesh Din.
Without the legislation, the settlers living on the property lots have no option of legalizing their homes because the High Court has long held that structures on private Palestinian property cannot be authorized.
A judicial ruling upholding the legislation would overturn almost four decades of Israeli legal opinion. Leftwing NGOs have argued that the legislation runs counter to international law.
The 15 families in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost are excluded from the law because the High Court of Justice has already ruled that their homes must be demolished by March 2018.
It is likely that their request to relocate their homes to another spot in the outpost could be expedited if the High Court rules that the legislation is constitutional.
At present, zoning plans to approve the outpost are waiting for the result of a Yesh Din appeal to the Civil Administration regarding eight lots in the outpost, which it claims are not state land but private Palestinian property.