By TOVAH LAZAROFF
The 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction is legal, the High Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday when it rejected four petitions against the measure.The move comes amid speculation that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might extend the ban, which is due to expire at the end of September.US President Barack Obama has reportedly included an extension of the moratorium in his list of demands of Israel, designed to jump-start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.Netanyahu has yet to formally respond to the demand, although the Prime Minister’s Office has said that there is an ongoing dialogue with the Obama administration on the peace process.Still, US special envoy George Mitchell, who has been expected to return to the region, has yet to schedule a date for his visit.The court upheld the right of the security cabinet to authorize such a moratorium and stated that there was no requirement to bring it to the full cabinet for a vote.It also said that the Defense Ministry had the right to issue such an order against civilians living in the West Bank.In the ruling, Court President Dorit Beinisch said, in response to one of the petitions, that it had a political agenda and dealt with policy issues that other branches of a democratic government should deal with.The justices wrote that the moratorium balanced the promotion of the peace process with the preservation of the rights of the settlers in Judea and Samaria.The justices added that it was important to compensate settlers for financial losses created by the moratorium.Attorney Yitzhak Bam of the Legal Forum for Israel represented the settlers. He said their case was weakened by the changes the state made to the moratorium decree that improved its legal standing.The forum would likely wait to see if the moratorium is extended before deciding whether to file additional petitions against it, he said.Bam said he did see a partial victory in Wednesday’s ruling, in thecourt’s focus on the significance of compensation, which meant that thestate could not ignore the issue.The court might have said the security cabinet can freeze new buildingin the settlements, but it also showed that such a move comes at a highfinancial cost, Bam said.Still, the ruling was a blow to human rights in Judea and Samaria, the Legal Forum said.
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