Bill to limit Palestinian access to High Court passes first reading

Left-wing politicians hold that the bill is part of a right-wing push toward creeping annexation.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A bill that would limit Palestinian access to the High Court of Justice has passed its first Knesset vote.
The measure would send many of their cases, particularly with regard to land ownership and demolitions in Area C of the West Bank, to Israeli district courts instead.
Right-wing politicians hope the legislation will sharply reduce the high number of West Bank land cases filed in the High Court of Justice (HCJ) by left-wing non-governmental groups and Palestinians.
They have also argued that the HCJ is not the right venue for land cases; they should be handled by the same court that deals with such issues inside sovereign Israel.
Left-wing politicians hold that the bill is part of a rightwing push toward creeping annexation because it expands the district courts’ purview outside of sovereign Israel.
They have also argued that the process will now become more expensive and protracted.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been blunt about her goal of erasing the Green Line, so that Judea and Samaria receive the same legal treatment as sovereign Israel.
“The Knesset today took a big step toward the normalization of life in Judea and Samaria,” Shaked said after the vote. “The rights of Judea and Samaria residents are no less important than the rights of other citizens. The move will also reduce the heavy burden imposed on the HCJ,” she said.
“[It] handles more than 2,000 petitions each year, [and] should reject many of them outright,” she added.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), who opposed the legislation, charged that Shaked was deceiving the public and playing innocent by pretending that this was an attempt to reduce the burden on the HCJ.
“It’s complete nonsense,” she said.
Shaked and right-wing politicians want to “create a situation in which Israeli citizens will think that annexation is normal,” said Livni.
Laws like this strengthen the argument that West Bank Palestinians should vote in Israel, said Livni, as she described a move that would be part of a one-state solution.
“The road [for them] to the Knesset passes through the Jerusalem District Court. If everything is so normal, then why shouldn’t they [Palestinians] vote?” Livni asked.
According to Shaked’s office, the bill transfers administrative- affairs issues for Area C of the West Bank from the HCJ to local district courts.
Such a move, it said, places the burden of proof, in land cases against settler building, on the Palestinians and not on the residents of Judea and Samaria.
The HCJ is tasked with the question of whether the building occurred “illegally” and takes into account the existing understanding of the status of land ownership.
But it does investigate the veracity of land ownership claims. Shaked’s office said that district courts could conduct such a factual investigation.
The burden of proof will now be on the plaintiff and not the defendant, Shaked’s office said.
Her office also charged that the myriad of Palestinian cases to halt demolition orders against illegal Palestinian construction had stymied the court and made it difficult to deal with the issue, which again can be better handled by district courts.
The bill also refers other issues to lower courts, such as permission to enter and leave Israel; restraining orders barring individuals from regions of the West Bank; and freedom- of-information petitions.