Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday night open the door to the possibility of using the Abandoned Property Law to relocate the West Bank Amona outpost to a nearby plot of land that was privately owned by Palestinians.
“There is no legal impediment to examining the status of the adjacent property lots [next to Amona] that could, according to an initial indication, be considered abandoned property,” Mandelblit said.
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On immediately condemned his statement, which she charged appeared to support the seizure of Palestinian land for settler use.
Such a move, she said, would set a precedent for the state to “create a settlement on private Palestinian property just so it could solve the problem of the settlers in Amona.”
“The government is ready to authorize the theft of private Palestinian property just so to quit the settlers politically,” Gal-On said.
It would be the equivalent, she said, “of giving a prize to organized theft in the light of day.”
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said she was grateful that Mandelblit “had paved the way for a legal solution that corresponds to the government’s policy.”
If she had her preference, Regev said, Amona would remain where it is currently located so that it could “develop and flourish.”
But legal sources warned not to read too much into Mandelblit’s initial statement, which they said was done more to move the process along than as a signal of what his final opinion might be on the matter.
According to a statement from Mandelblit’s office, the attorney-general held a meeting on Sunday night with members of his staff, relevant attorneys and government representatives to discuss the Amona outpost.
The High Court of Justice has ordered that the small hilltop community of 40 families must be demolished by the end of December because it was built without permits on private Palestinian property.
Mandelblit confirmed that the outpost’s small modular homes must be taken down by that date.
The court issued its ruling in response to a petition by Peace Now on behalf of Palestinians from the nearby village of Silwad who own the property.
There was no initial wiggle room for the court to consider relocating the outpost to land nearby, because those lots also have the status of private Palestinian property.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has suggested that the 40 settler families could be relocated to land adjacent to the outpost if the Abandoned Property Law was used on lots who owners had left the area after the Six Day War.
According to Army Radio, under Liberman’s proposal those abandoned lots would be rented to the Amona families and the funds put in escrow for the owners should they be found. The new homes would be constructed in such a way that they could be relocated in the future should the original property owners return.
“The suggestion raises serious legal considerations, both with respect to property rights and the status of abandoned property when it comes to building and planning,” Mandelblit said.
Nothing barred the legal investigation into those options, he said.
Mandelblit, therefore, planned to consider them so that it is possible to deal in an organized way with the recommendations that had been made by the authorizations committee for Amona.
“The starting point for the discussion,” Mandelblit’s office said, is an “uncompromising compliance with the rule of law in general and in the West Bank in particular.”
It is therefore important to comply with the High Court ruling that all the buildings must be removed from the current location of the Amona outpost no later than December 25, the office said.
A spokesman for the Amona outpost said the families still believe the best path forward is legislation that would retroactively legalize settler homes built on private Palestinian property in return for compensating the property owners.
Mandelblit, however, has already ruled that such legislation is unconstitutional.
Lawmakers have therefore to look toward the use of the Abandoned Property Law in the belief that the Amona families would agree to relocate voluntarily to a nearby plot of land.
The Amona outpost was first built in 1995 with a NIS 2.1 million grant from the Housing and Construction Ministry. The families have argued that this money was part of initial vows government officials made to eventually legalize the community.
Amona residents therefore argue that the government must hold to the initial promise and find a solution that allows them to remain in their homes.
Agriculture Ministry Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said he agreed with the Amona families that a global solution was needed so that the government did not have to continuously come up with a piecemeal approach to the issue.
He spoke about the matter at a conference in Nitzan, which marked the 11th year of the Gaza withdrawal and the demolition of 21 settlements there.
“We have a national obligation not to evacuate the people of Amona,” Ariel said.