JNF to suspend Jewish-land-only policy

High Court gives state, JNF three months to reach agreement on how to sell JNF land to Arabs.

September 23, 2007 23:56
3 minute read.
JNF to suspend Jewish-land-only policy

JNF KKL 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

The High Court of Justice on Monday agreed to postpone by three months the scheduled hearing of three petitions attacking the government's policy of selling Jewish National Fund-owned land to Jews only. In the meantime, the Israel Lands Authority (ILA,) which administers state- and JNF-owned land, and the JNF are to work out a policy which will allegedly not discriminate against the Israeli Arab community. In a brief presented to the court on Sunday, the state announced that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz had brokered a temporary agreement between the ILA and the JNF which will be in effect during the three months before a final agreement between the two institutions is reached. "The state and the JNF aim, during a period of time which will not exceed three months, to reach a comprehensive agreement that will provide for large-scale exchanges of land between the ILA and the state in such a way as to enable the ILA to maintain the principle of equality in administering Israeli land," wrote the state's representative, Attorney Osnat Mandel. "In the meantime, the ILA will sell lands, including those belonging to the JNF, without any restrictions regarding the identity of the purchaser. In each case where a non-Jew wins a tender [for JNF-owned land], the ILA will [compensate the JNF] by giving it state land in exchange." Mandel explained to the court that the land which the JNF would receive as compensation would be located in an area far from development and would not be sold for the time being. She also made it clear that three months would not be enough for the ILA and the JNF to come up with a final agreement and that the state would have to ask for a further extension. "Everyone knows that three months will take two years," added Acting Justice Uzi Fogelman. The first of the three petitions was filed in 2004 by the Abu Ri family, who wanted to buy an apartment in Carmiel in a residential building situated on land owned by the JNF. They have since bought the apartment but cannot register it in their name because of problems arising out of the fact that the JNF owns the land and they are not Jews. The other two petitions were filed by public interest groups protesting against the alleged discrimination involved in the current JNF and ILA policy. The petitioners include Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning. The representative of the Abu-Ri family complained to the court that the interim solution did not help his clients register the apartment in their name. Mandel promised that the state would address that issue during the three-month period. Adalah attorney Hassan Jabarin objected to the provision that the state would "compensate" the JNF for every plot of JNF-owned land it sold to an Arab. Jabarin said he was afraid that in accepting the temporary arrangement, Adalah was giving its consent to the same arrangement in the final agreement between the state and the JNF. This would mean giving its support to the perpetuation of the principle of "land for Jews only," which Adalah rejects. However, the court told Jabarin that he would have the opportunity to object in court to the compensation mechanism if, indeed, it were included in the final agreement. Meanwhile, a group of well known figures including Nobel Prize winner Yisrael Aumannman and former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon opposed the compromise. The group has asked the court to accept them as respondents in the petition so that they can state their views in court and try to persuade it to reject the petitions. Its members belong to a think tank entitled The Institute for Zionist Strategies. One of its members, Joel Golovensky, told The Jerusalem Post that "it is appropriate in a Jewish state that the government allocate land for Jewish settlement. This is not inconsistent with democracy." Golovensky said there was no need for a compromise that circumvented this principle.

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