Hebron 2008
West Bank city of Hebron, in 2008. Photo by Archive
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A panel of ministers has decided to instruct the army to transfer possession of a Hebron building that Jewish settlers were living in illegally to the city's Jewish community, after first evicting the squatters.

However, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein believes there may be legal obstacles to the position of the Ministerial Committee for Settlement Affairs, which was created in June and consists mainly of Likud cabinet ministers. Weinstein is trying to formulate a new position on the matter.

The ministerial committee was assigned to formulate the state's response to a High Court of Justice petition filed by Peace Now, demanding the removal of the squatters.

The building, in Hebron's wholesale market, had been rented by Palestinian shopkeepers until its closure by military order after the 1994 massacre by Baruch Goldstein of 29 Muslim worshipers in the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

At Tuesday's meeting, the ministers agreed unanimously that the squatters should be evicted, but decided that after the eviction, the property should be transferred to the Jewish community of Hebron.

The state's response to the Peace Now petition was to have been submitted to the High Court yesterday, but yesterday morning Weinstein noted problems with the legality of the position. Until now the state has recognized Palestinians as protected tenants of the property because their businesses were closed by military order. Transferring possession of the property to the Jewish community would constitute a de facto cancellation of Palestinian possession of the property. Weinstein is recommending that the Jewish squatters be evicted and that the property not be given over to anyone at this stage.

The state is expected to request a one-month extension of its deadline for submitting its response to the court.

This is the second confrontation between the ministerial committee and Weinstein. The state must soon submit its response to a High Court petition by 17 families from the Migron outpost who are seeking permission to remain in parts of the outpost that they claim were purchased from its Palestinian owners.

The committee had decided not to oppose the families' continued residence, but in the course of a discussion, the prosecution reversed its position on the grounds that the attorney general said that stance might be difficult to defend.

Yesterday morning, in an interview with Galei Yisrael radio, Minister Gilad Erdan attacked Weinstein, saying that he and Minister Moshe Ya'alon had suggested hiring a private attorney to replace Weinstein.