A lawyer appointed to serve on a government committee seeking ways to legalize illegal settlement outposts was on the payroll of a settlers' organization advocating such legalization until nine days ago.
On Monday, the Prime Minister's Bureau announced the members of the panel, which "will examine real estate issues in the West Bank": former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, chairman; retired Judge Tchia Shapira, the daughter of former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren; and attorney Alan Baker, who formerly served both as legal advisor to the Foreign Ministry and as Israeli ambassador to Canada. Today, Baker - himself a resident of the settlement of Har Adar - runs a small law firm specializing in international law.
Baker's firm was recently hired by an organization working to legalize the outposts, which was set up by MK Uri Ariel (National Union ) and Nachi Eyal, secretary general of Tekuma, one of the parties that ran jointly on the National Union slate. And just nine days ago, Baker and attorney Harel Arnon issued a legal opinion on the issue of abandoned property in the territories - an issue with direct bearing on Migron, one of the largest of the illegal outposts, which is currently slated for demolition on orders of the High Court of Justice.
Migron is built on land registered to Palestinian owners. But the settlers claim that even if this registration is valid, the owners have left the West Bank and relocated to enemy countries, turning their land into "abandoned property" that ought to be managed by Israel's Civil Administration in the territories.
A legal opinion written by the Justice Ministry 20 years ago states that abandoned land cannot be used to build new settlements. But the Baker-Arnon opinion argues that the Civil Administration is authorized to lease such land to settlers.
At Monday's Likud faction meeting, MK Tzipi Hotovely gave a copy of the opinion to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised to read it.
The Prime Minister's Office said in response that Baker's appointment, like those of the other committee members, would be approved only after he signs an agreement on preventing conflicts of interest. Baker could not be reached for comment.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has ruled that the new committee cannot discuss outposts built on private Palestinian land, nor can it discuss any outpost whose demolition has already been ordered by the High Court. Whether the panel will be able circumvent these orders in order to put Migron on the agenda remains unclear.
However, it is certain to address the issue of settlements and outposts built without permits on land that isn't privately owned. Currently, even the slightest violation of the building code renders an outpost illegal. The committee is expected to create an intermediate category for outposts that have obtained some but not all of the necessary permits.
It will also discuss issues such as abandoned property, criteria for approving new settlements and takeovers of agricultural land.
Meanwhile, Migron announced on Monday that it has appointed attorney Jacob Weinroth to represent it in talks with Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin on ways of legalizing the outpost. Begin has proposed moving the entire outpost to a nearby tract of land that isn't privately owned.
Migron settlers are also planning to wage a legal battle against illegal Bedouin construction in the Negev, arguing that if their outpost must be demolished, so must illegal Bedouin buildings. The Regavim organization, which is working with Migron on the issue, plans to flood the courts with petitions against various Bedouin developments.
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