'State must prepare zoning plan to legalize Derech Ha’avot'

High Court: ‘It is inconceivable that only Jews will be able to build housing.’

If the state wants to legalize the buildings in the outpost of Derech Ha’avot, it ought to start drafting a zoning plan for the area so that those who wish to live there may apply for the appropriate building permits, High Court Justice Edmond Levy told the state on Monday.
Levy, along with Justices Edna Arbel and Neal Hendel, was hearing a petition filed by the left-wing Peace Now movement and eight Palestinians from the village of El Khader, demanding that the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria implement the demolition order it had issued against all 17 permanent and 15 mobile homes in the outpost.
In a response to the petition, filed on Sunday, the state’s representative, attorney Gilad Shirman, said the state intended to conduct a survey of the land on which the houses had been established to determine whether it was state- or Palestinian-owned. Shirman said the survey would be completed by the end of 2010.
But Levy said on Monday that who owned the land was irrelevant for zoning purposes. A zoning plan determined allowed land usage according to planning principles and necessities, he said. After the allowed land usages were determined, said Levy, whoever owned the land would be entitled to build accordingly.
“If the state wants to legalize the buildings, it needs to have a zoning plan first,” Levy told Shirman. “It is inconceivable that only Jews will be able to build housing and that Palestinian land will remain agricultural.”
However, Shirman, without spelling it out, replied that the ownership issue was “relevant” to the question of whether the state would prepare a zoning plan or not. He said the political echelon was unwilling at this time to declare whether it would prepare a zoning plan for the land.
Attorney Michael Sfard, representing the Palestinians, charged that the ownership of the land had everything to do with whether the state would prepare a zoning plan. If the survey determined that the land belonged to Palestinians, he said, the state would not prepare a zoning plan allowing them to build on it.
In any case, he said, the truth was that the state had no intention of conducting a survey and preferred to leave the situation as it was. Even though the petition was filed two years ago, the state had never before mentioned the possibility of a survey, he said.
“All of a sudden, they tell us that they are going to conduct a survey,” he said.
Sfard accused the state of not behaving “honestly and in good faith.”
“They don’t really intend to conduct a survey,” he said. “I’ll tell youwhy: If they had really intended to do so, they had 10 years to do it[before the petition was filed]. What they really want is to continueto maintain the current situation.”
According to the current situation, the illegal homes are inhabited by the Derech Ha’avot settlers.
In that context, Sfard added that if it wanted to, the state couldconduct the survey in a few weeks instead of the eight months it wasasking for.
In the meantime, the court granted Sfard’s request for 21 days to replyto other arguments raised by the state in its 40-page response to thepetition. In addition to the survey argument, the state added that thecivil administration was preoccupied with enforcing the building freezeon West Bank settlements. Shirman provided figures to support theclaim. Sfard said he wished to study the figures and present a responseto the court.