Israel tells High Court will demolish illegal West Bank buildings according to own 'priorities'
High Court of Justice gives authorities 60 days to present new policy regarding settlement construction on private Palestinian land.
Illegal buildings built on private land will be demolished in any scenario, Israel's State Prosecutor's said on Sunday, however, the state has asked that such actions be hinged upon a 'list of priorities'.
The state's answer was given following a petition to Israel's High Court of Justice demanding the demolition of two housing projects in the settlement of Beit El in the West Bank. The case in question is separate than the Ulpana neighborhood issue.
The petition, filed by Abed al-Rahman Kassem and the human rights organization "Yesh Din," asks the High Court to order the demolition of two buildings being constructed by a private contractor in the west part of Beit El.
The lands in question were seized in the 1970s for military purposes. In 2010, the land owners asked the High Court to order the demolition of the buildings. On April 2011 the state agreed to demolish them in a year's delay, but at the last moment asked for more time in order to examine the action's political implications.
Judge Edna Arbel, former Israeli Attorney General, pressured head of High Court petitions in the State Prosecutor's Office Osant Mendel, asking her whether there has been a change in the state's policy regarding the demolition of buildings built on private land.
Mendel answered that "the policy stands. What the state asks now is to prioritize its implementation." Mendel quoted a past case, in which a petition asked for the demolition of similar buildings in the settlement of Ofra. The state's answer, she said, was that "for the time being, we are not evacuating Ofra."
Mendel added that a team made up of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will discuss cases involving building demolitions. According to Mendel, the team will decisions will consider whether buildings are populated or not, and if a dispute exists over the ownership of the land. The state asked for 90 days in order to present a new policy on the matter. The court gave the state 60 days to do so.
In the past, Israel has declared that its top priority in enforcing planning and construction laws in the West Bank is unpopulated buildings. The state's answer Sunday constitutes a change in the list of priorities submitted to court.
Representing the petitioners, attorney Michael Sfard said that both Netanyahu and Barak have pledges to demolish the two buildings in the past. Sfard added that on Sunday, the court and the petitioners were unfairly presented with a fact just days before the scheduled demolition.
"The state's story doesn’t hold up in reality. What are the legal options of the state's plea? What other legal options do they have besides the removal of the buildings?" Sfard asked, and claimed that there are no legal ways to expropriate the lands or to legalize the buildings.
"Is the reason prioritizing, or political?" asked Sfard. "The state's leaders have already publicly declared that they don't intent to demolish the buildings, and are now trying to cut corners. Their request is no less than arrogance."