Judge: Israeli Law Applies in Disputed West Bank Territory

Decision effectively enacts Israeli law on villages east of 1967 border, whose land can now be confiscated.

Israeli authority applies to disputed territory near Latrun, Judge David Shoham of the Ramle Magistrate's Court said last week. Sovereignty over the land is supposed to be settled in the final-status agreement.

The territory, near Latrun, was never annexed (unlike East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights). The judge's decision implies Israeli law applies to several Palestinian villages east of the 1967 border, as well as applying to Israelis living in the disputed territory. The decision of the Ramle judge, that the application of the law is territorial, means that Israel could confiscate land belonging to Palestinians who used to reside in the area and are now refugees, in accordance with the Absentee Properties Law.

Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas had said on several occasions that the territory of the Palestinian state should amount to 4,502 square kilometers. This includes the 46 square kilometers in question. The territory includes the villages of Makkabim, Reut, Kfar Ruth and Shilat and parts of Lapid and the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom.

The judge was giving an intermediate decision in a lawsuit over a plot of land near Shilat. He said that since Israel operates full sovereign authority in the disputed territory despite avoiding publicly announcing its annexation, it should be considered as Israeli territory. "There is, therefore, no need of an explicit enactment of Israeli law over that territory," the judge wrote. He was not convinced by the respondent's attorney, Anat Meiri, who argued that the issuing of demolition orders by the Judea and Samaria Civil Administration to the residents of the Palestinian village of Midiya proved the various state institutions were in dispute over the territory's legal status.

The judge based his decision partly on a statement by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who said in September 2006 that Israeli jurisdiction and administration applied to any disputed territory since 1967.

Judge Shoham's decision contradicts an earlier one by Judge Alexander Ron of the Beit Shemesh Magistrate's Court, who in 2005 acquitted an Israeli charged with transporting a Palestinian civilian without an entry permit into Israel over a road near Neve Shalom. Ron based the acquittal on his belief the incident occurred outside sovereign Israeli territory. He rejected the Livni statement out of hand, saying that although Israeli law applies to dozens of settlements, no one claims full Israeli sovereignty over any of them on that basis.