Court puts JNF-ILA land-swap deal on hold

The land-swap agreement between the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and the Jewish National Fund is still in abeyance, after a Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday issued a restraining order against the JNF signing it until it fully evaluates the result of a vote on the plan. The court is scheduled to convene again on July 21. The decision came in response to the petition of Tzofia Diamant, a JNF assembly member, who said that she accidentally swayed the Tuesday vote by marking "abstain" instead of "against" on her ballot and on that of 12 other delegates. The vote results were 62 in favor, 55 against and 13 abstentions. Diamant claims that all 13 abstentions were on ballots she herself cast, in her own name and in proxy for 12 absentee voters, and that if counted appropriately would have reversed the decision. Diamant, who is an active member of the JNF and functions as secretary-general for Kadima and Hanoar Hatzioni faction within the organization, explained her mistake. "I was the last person left to vote. I was handed an English-language ballot. We went over the list of delegates to make sure the people I had proxy for, didn't in fact vote. "During the whole process I was under constant pressure, with people urging me to cast my votes already. I mistakenly marked abstain instead of against. It's a mistake that could happen to anyone. It even happened to Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset earlier this week and his vote was subsequently corrected." Diamant, who was also a member of the elections committee, said she discovered her mistake immediately upon counting the votes. "I have witnesses who are willing to testify that I announced the mistake the second they opened the ballot box, before I even saw my own vote," said Diamant. Diamant said she was willing to do anything to have her votes corrected. "Since the ballots were signed, it's easy to identify who voted which way," she said. Prior to the Tuesday vote, members of the Kadima faction in the JNF approached a judge to try and have the vote ordered secret. They were confident that if ballots were cast anonymously people would feel more free to vote their own views. But the judge rejected their petition, which, in retrospect, may have saved the day for them. It is because the ballots were signed that the results can now be checked. "A recount is out of the question," said JNF chairman Effi Stenzler. Stenzler said the decision was already made by the JNF's board of directors, management and the General Council of the World Zionist Organization. "Those who are against the agreement are acting out of motives which are foreign to the JNF, the good of the organization, our Zionist obligations and the continued existence of the JNF for the next hundred years," he said. Some in the JNF find it difficult to believe that the vote was a mistake. One person, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Diamant had spent two hours guiding other delegates through the voting process. "The ballot was pretty simple, it had room for the delegate's name and signature on the right and a table with three columns on the left. All you had to do was mark an X in the right square," the person said. The deal was supposed to transfer 70,000 dunams (7,000 hectares) of land owned by the JNF in the center of the country to the state, which could then, assuming the reform is passed in the Knesset, transfer full and permanent ownership of the 290,000 homes there to the people who live in them and currently lease them. In exchange, the JNF was to receive the same amount of land in the Negev and the Galilee. Netanyahu himself came to the JNF assembly before the vote and urged delegates to vote in favor of the deal, before taking off for Rome.