The leader of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, reacted angrily on Tuesday to a letter sent from the Attorney-General's Office in response to his demand to investigate allegations that 40 percent of the land on which the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are built belongs to Palestinians.
"This is a scandalous letter which does not at all address the issue of the settlements built on private Palestinian land," said Oppenheimer. He was referring to a three-page letter written the day before by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's assistant, Eyal Yinon, in response to the organization's demand for a criminal investigation into the allegations.
"Either the Ministry of Justice does not know how to read a text or they are avoiding giving a serious answer to the charge that 40% of the settlements have been built on private Palestinian land," said Oppenheimer.
On November 21, Peace Now released a 173-page study consisting mainly of maps of individual settlements indicating who owned the land included in each one. At a press conference that day, Dror Etkes, head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch Team, told reporters the maps had been leaked to him from the Civil Administration, which is in charge of planning and building in the West Bank.
During the press conference, Etkes and his colleague, Hagit Ephron, demanded that Mazuz launch a criminal investigation to see "who was responsible in the past and who is responsible today for this criminal conduct which undermines and mocks the rule of law in Israel."
In his letter, Yinon did not refer to the allegations regarding the settlements at all, and it seems likely that he misunderstood Oppenheimer's charges. The entire letter dealt with the measures the Attorney-General's Office had taken against the construction of illegal outposts in the West Bank.
For example, he referred to the directive issued by Mazuz in April 2004 to the government ministries to prevent public money from being spent on the illegal outposts and his order to freeze all Housing Ministry funding to local councils until the ministry set up a mechanism for supervising where its money went.
Yinon also referred to a military order issued on June 30, 2004 authorizing the West Bank local courts to deal with violations of the building and planning laws by Jews in the West Bank. Indeed, all four topics raised in the letter dealt with the illegal outposts rather than the settlements.
Yinon wrote that Mazuz "did not think there was cause or possibility to launch a criminal investigation into this matter [referring to the outposts]. We do not think that the phenomenon in general, despite its gravity, lends itself to a criminal investigation."