The Amona outpost in the West Bank.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit intends to rule by the end of August on whether the Defense Ministry may use the Absentees’ Property Law, also known as the abandoned property law, to save the West Bank outpost of Amona.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is hoping a new interpretation of the law can be found that would allow the state to seize Palestinian property that had been abandoned for decades.
If Mandelblit authorizes such a move, then the Defense Ministry could legalize construction on a plot of land close to the existing site of the Amona outpost, on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement.
The High Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the IDF must raze the outpost by the end of this year, because it was built without permits on private Palestinian land. It issued the verdict in response to a petition by the Palestinian landowners, who live in the nearby village of Silwad.
The state had initially wanted to relocate the 40 modular Amona homes to a nearby plot of land that could be legalized.
It’s a compromise solution that it has been successfully used to avoid conflict in other cases when the court ruled that an outpost on private Palestinian land must be taken down.
In 2012, the defense minister relocated both the Migron and the Ulpana outposts in that manner. But there is not enough state land in the area to support a viable community.
The Amona residents have insisted that they will not leave their homes and will not consider a relocation plan that takes them away from the Ofra settlement. They refused a state offer of legalized lots in the Shiloh settlement.
Right-wing politicians then proposed sweeping legislation that would have dealt with all the more than 2,000 instances in which unauthorized settler homes were built on private Palestinian land.
The legislation, a revamped version of the failed outpost bill in 2012, offered to compensate the Palestinian property owners for the loss of their land.
But Mandelblit ruled that such legislation is unconstitutional.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) flirted with the idea of bringing the bill for approval before the Ministerial Legislative Committee anyway.
She had hoped to place it before the Knesset plenum for a first reading in the last hours before legislators left the building for the summer recess, but a bureaucratic glitch made it impossible to fast-track the legislation.
The Knesset reopens for legislative matters only at the end of October.
Politicians have now placed their hope on Mandelblit, even though legal experts in the past have frowned on the use of the abandoned property law in this way.
The most famous of them, attorney Plia Albeck, who died in 2005, had argued that settlements could not be legalized in this way. Her opinion was taken seriously, as the legal construction of Jewish communities in Area C of the West Bank is based in large part on her legal interpretations.
Even if Mandelblit approves the use of the Absentees’ Property law, it is unclear whether Amona residents would accept that compromise. First built in 1995 with the help of NIS 2.1 million from the Construction and Housing Ministry, Amona is among the oldest of the West Bank outposts.
It is most famous for the violent clashes that took place there between security forces and right-wing activists in 2006, when the IDF demolished nine homes that had just been built in Amona.
The outpost residents believe that, since they moved there with initial informal nods from officials, the government now has a responsibility to authorize their homes.
“The responsibility for this lies with the prime minister, the defense minister, the justice minister and the rest of the politicians,” said a statement by the Campaign to Save Amona, after a legislative solution had once again been deferred. “If that doesn’t happen, we plan to wage a stiff battle for our homes,” the statement said.