Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared last week to the Supreme Court that he is cancelling an initiative by the defense establishment that would allow Jews to buy land in the West Bank privately. The move was made in order to avoid conflict with the Palestinian Authority, since the initiative would significantly accelerate building settlements in the West Bank.
In 2019, legal advisers in the Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces issued opinions in favor of cancelling a law which allows Israeli Jews to make real estate purchases in the West Bank only via a company and not privately, subject to the approval of the Civil Administration.
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According to the law – still applied in the West Bank from the time it was under Jordanian rule – only Jordanians, Palestinians or “foreigners of Arab origin” are allowed to buy land in the West Bank.
Last week, Gantz told the Supreme Court that “After having considered the issue at stake with the relevant parties, it was decided that, as of now, there is no room to make changes in Law no. 40\1953 of renting and selling real estate to foreigners.”
He was responding to a petition by the right-wing Regavim NGO that demanded the law be amended, arguing that it “Discriminates on ethnic grounds regarding the possibility to purchase land in Judea and Samaria.”
While the legal opinion issued in 2019 and first published in Haaretz confirmed the initiative, it voiced concerns about international law and international fallout.
“Opening up the possibility to acquire land to private citizens will lead to an irresponsible acquisition of land by Jews and provoke the Palestinian Authority,” a source in the Defense Ministry told Haaretz.
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In a response to the petition in June, the state called the requested remedy an “irregular step of annulling legislation which has been in force since 1953.” The state argued that the law should not be changed, as according to the provisions of international law local laws should not be changed. It called the 2019 opinion an “internal opinion,” and wondered how the petitioners had obtained such documents.
The Defense Minister’s bureau responded: “Over the past few months we thoroughly researched the implications involving amending regulations regarding real estate purchase in the Judea and Samaria region. As was presented in the state response to the amendment request, we have concluded that it is doubtful any practical benefit will arise from such change. As such, it has been decided not to amend legislation at this point in time.”