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The Knesset on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved in preliminary reading a bill allowing the Israel Lands Authority to continue selling land belonging to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to Jews only, despite a contradictory decision made earlier this year by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.
The bill was initiated by MKs Uri Ariel (NRP/NU) and Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima) and passed by a vote of 64 to 16.
In January, Mazuz announced that the ILA would end a decades-old policy by starting to sell JNF-owned land to Arabs as well as Jews. He added that for every dunam of JNF land sold to an Arab, the organization would be compensated by the state with a dunam of land of equal value in another part of the country.
Mazuz's decision came in the wake of petitions against the longstanding policy of the ILA and JNF filed by groups and individuals spearheaded by the Israeli Arab human rights organization Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Mazuz submitted his opinion to the High Court of Justice in response to the petitions. The court has not yet ruled on them.
Adalah and ACRI petitioned the High Court after the court had ruled in the landmark Kaadan petition that the ILA, which administers all of the land owned by the state, could not allocate it to the Jewish Agency for settlement because the agency only serves Jews.
The court ruled that the ILA could not administer land in such a way that it discriminated against a sector of the population.
Mazuz felt that unless he came up with a compromise regarding the JNF lands, the High Court would again rule in favor of the petitioners.
Nevertheless, Ariel was not satisfied with Mazuz's solution. Originally, he announced that he would file a petition against it. Instead, he decided to initiate legislation to undermine it.
The bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. Meanwhile, the court has not yet ruled on the petitions, which were submitted in 2004. However, even if the bill is legislated, the human rights groups and others will likely petition the High Court against the law, declaring it unconstitutional and in violation of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.
Meanwhile, MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL) lambasted the bill. "The Jewish anti-democratic racism has become institutionalized," he said.