High Court to rule on ILA land sales

2 petitions seek to nullify amendment authorizing state land sales.

A view of the Galilee: Argamon Nature Reserve's la (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
A view of the Galilee: Argamon Nature Reserve's la
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday began to hear two petitions calling for the nullification of an amendment passed by the Knesset last year, allowing the Israel Lands Administration to sell 800,000 dunams (80,000 hectares) of state-owned land to private investors.
One petition was filed by attorney Gilad Barnea on behalf of a group of public petitioners including four youth movements, MKs from the left and right side of the political spectrum and other organizations.
RELATED:Bill limiting land sales to foreigners passes early readingGolan bill advances - but put on holdThe other was filed by Hadash MK Hanna Sweid and an Israeli-Arab landowner, Saleh Titi. Titi owned land that was expropriated by the state for public needs, but never used, and now belongs to the reservoir of ILA-owned land that will be sold on the private market.
The courtroom was packed by blue-shirted youth movement members and many had to remain outside because the courtroom could not accommodate them.
Barnea argued that the new law, an amendment to the Israel Lands Administration Law passed on August 3, 2009, violated the Basic Law: Israel Lands. The basic law states that “the ownership of the lands of Israel, that is, the lands belonging to the State of Israel, the Development Authority and the Jewish National Fund will not be transferred, either by sale or any other way.”
Barnea argued that “the provision included in Article 1 of the basic law adopted the principle of public state ownership of the land and embedded it as a constitutional order that must be obeyed and that cannot be changed or contradicted in regular legislation. The amendment to the Israel Lands Administration Law creates a substantial and dramatic change in the land regime in Israel, causing critical injury to the constitutional principle of public-state ownership of the land.”
The state’s representative, attorney Ori Keidar, argued that Article 2 of the Basic Law allowed for exceptions to the principle established in the first article of the law whereby under certain circumstances, the ILA could sell off state-owned land. In 1960, it was given permission, in accordance with Article 2 of the basic law, to sell 100,000 dunams of land to private investors.
In 2006 the ILA was given permission to essentially sell another 100,000 dunams of land on which private houses and other structures were built, by amortizing the long term payments and allowing the leasers to pay one lump sum rather than pay monthly rental charges over the entire leasing period.
Keidar maintained that no one had claimed that these exceptions violated the basic law, and that the new amendment was no different in principle.
Barnea argued that there was a qualitative difference between 200,000 dunams and 800,000 dunams of land. He also presented statistics which, he said, proved, that the law was unreasonable.
For example, of the 21 million dunams of land that comprises Israel, only 1.5 million dunams is allocated for housing and other urban uses. Of these 1.5 million dunams, 1.2 million is already built up. That leaves 300,000 dunams of land for housing and related uses.
Why, then, asked Barnea, did the law give the ILA the right to sell of 800,000 dunams of land on the private market? Barnea also argued that according to current trends, an average of 8,600 dunams of land are built upon each year. By this rate, it would take about 90 years for the private investors to use up all the land they are being offered according to the amendment. Yet the law calls for putting all 800,000 dunams of land on sale within 10 years.
According to these figures, the law would grant private developers a monopoly on land development and construction for the coming century.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told Keidar that even if his figures were correct, they did not advance his constitutional argument. “The state argues that it can make exceptions [to the Basic Law: Israel Lands] according to the law.
I have the feeling that we have here an important ideological debate, but it is not for the court to deal with.”
The court ended the procedures without deciding whether to issue a show-cause order or reject the petition on the basis of the preliminary hearing. It will hand down its decision soon.
Beinisch also indicated that the court would reject Sweid’s petition on the grounds that Arab-owned lands expropriated by the state had already been sold to private investors as a result of the 200,000 dunams which had already been privatized. The amendment did not have an impact on this state of affairs, she said.