Court to say if JNF votes on land-swap

Petitioners want vote postponed until more plenary members arrive for WZO meeting in Jerusalem.

JNF KKL 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
JNF KKL 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Jerusalem District Court is due to decide on Sunday whether to prohibit the Jewish National Fund (JNF) from holding a plenary meeting later in the day to vote on a controversial land-swap deal between the JNF and the Israel Lands Authority (ILA.) On Thursday, the court recommended postponing the meeting until some time between June 18-21, when plenary delegates from Israel and abroad will convene in Jerusalem for a meeting of the Executive Committee of the World Zionist Organization. The members of the WZO Executive Committee also constitute the JNF plenary. The heads of the JNF, Effi Stenzler and Avraham Duvdevani, agreed to postpone the meeting on condition that the attorney-general promise that there would be no changes in the terms of the overall ILA reform proposed by the government or in the agreement of principles between the ILA and the JNF approved by the JNF directorate on June 2. According to the declaration of principles, the JNF agreed to trade land it owns in the center of the country for 70,000 dunams of land, mostly in the Negev and some in Galilee. The declaration of principles must be approved by the JNF plenary. The directorate summoned a meeting of the plenary to vote on the declaration on June 14, even though many of its members are planning to come to Israel a few days later for a scheduled meeting of the WZO Executive Committee. Last week, Uri Bank, a member of the JNF directorate who voted against the declaration, petitioned Jerusalem District Court to postpone the scheduled June 14 meeting of the JNF plenary. This, in order to allow those of its members who were coming to Israel for the WZO Executive Committee meeting after June 14 to be able to participate in the JNF vote. The petition asking for the postponement was filed by attorney Yitzhak Bam of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel. "The expected plenary meeting [on June 14] was not scheduled in good faith and is meant to exploit the moment " wrote Bam. "The gathering of the plenary on such short notice is meant to prevent a serious and substantive discussion of the issue and to make it easier to obtain approval for the directorate's decision." The government wanted the JNF vote to take place on June 14 because the 2010-2011 budget bill and the economic arrangements bill is coming up for a first reading in the Knesset the following day. The ILA reform package is included in the economic arrangements bill. The ILA reform calls, among other things, for selling 200,000 dunams of land under its control to owners of homes built on the land - who until now have leased the land from the ILA. Some of the land has not been built upon and will be sold to private land investors or contractors. However, some these 200,000 dunams is owned by the JNF. According to its charter, it is prohibited from selling land. It is also prohibited from leasing land to Arabs, although there are Arabs who own homes built on JNF land. The government's solution to these problems was the land-swap, whereby the ILA would take over ownership of JNF land in the center of the country in exchange for land in the Negev and Galilee. However, there is strong opposition to the reform among left-and right-wing politicians, environmental organizations and others, including The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel. On Thursday, Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Solberg recommended postponing the JNF plenary vote until June 18-21. "It is only proper to make the effort to enable the debate on these days with broader participation than to hold it with limited participation a few days earlier," said Solberg. However, he accepted the conditions set down by the JNF in return for their agreement to the postponement and ordered Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to state whether or not he accepted them by 11 a.m. on Sunday.