AG Mazuz Rules JNF Land Can Now Be Sold to Arabs

The revolutionary decision followed a discussion held in Mazuz's office attended by senior members of the state prosecutor's office and the legal advisers to the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Lands Administration.

All land managed by the Israel Lands Administration, including land owned by the Jewish National Fund, will be marketed without discrimination or limits including to non-Jews, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided yesterday.

The revolutionary decision followed a discussion held in Mazuz's office attended by senior members of the state prosecutor's office and the legal advisers to the JNF and the ILA. The ruling was made in preparation for the state's response to High Court petitions filed on the matter.

The state prosecutor's office believes it will not be able to defend before the High Court the policy of allocating Jewish National Fund land to Jews only. Within the next few weeks, the state is supposed to inform the High Court of its position on petitions filed against the Israel Lands Administration, which prevents non-Jews from participating in tenders for JNF land.

Haaretz has learned that senior members of the state prosecutor's office believe that the policy is unreasonably discriminatory against non-Jews, and will be very difficult to defend in court.

In August and October last year, three petitions against the policy were filed with the High Court. The petitioners - the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel - charge that the policy is flawed and runs contrary to the fundamental principles of Israel as a democratic state, and first and foremost, the principle of equality.

Mazuz said at yesterday's meeting that the state could not defend the discrimination against Arabs in the framework of the marketing of JNF land by the ILA. Nevertheless, in order to preserve the original designated purpose of the JNF, which is formally defined as an organization working "on behalf of the Jewish nation," and in the name of the interests of the Diaspora Jews, it was decided that if any ILA tender for land owned by the JNF is won by a non-Jewish citizen, the ILA will transfer alternative land to the JNF.

This arrangement, say Justice Ministry sources, will achieve two objectives. On the one hand, it will preserve the principle of equality and cancel the discrimination against Arabs. On the other hand, the JNF will retain its current quota - some 13 percent of state land - and this land will continue to come under the JNF's principle of using this land "for the purpose of settling Jews."

Yesterday's discussion culminated in a decision to set up a joint state-JNF team to work out the finer details of Mazuz's decision. The team is expected to submit its recommendations within 90 days, and the state prosecution will then submit its response to the High Court petitions.

Justice Ministry sources said that in light of the attorney general's decision, the state prosecutor's office is likely to argue that the petitions are superfluous and should be rejected, subject to the fact that from now on any citizen can participate in an ILA tender for acquiring land or purchasing a housing unit.

The JNF, which is wholly owned by the World Zionist Organization, was established in 1901 and has since been collecting donations from Diaspora Jews for the purpose of purchasing land in Israel. The JNF leases the land to Jews only, in keeping with the fund's regulations.

Since 1961 JNF land has been marketed by the ILA, a state-run entity that manages state land. In contrast to the practice with regard to other state land, non-Jews are currently prohibited from participating in ILA tenders for leasing JNF land.

After the petitions were filed, senior members of the state prosecutor's office informed the heads of the JNF and ILA that it would be very difficult to defend the policy in court.

JNF sources have accused the state prosecutor's office of giving in to post-Zionist trends, and too easily waiving the principle that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people.

The JNF published a survey last week that shows that more than 70 percent of the Jewish public in Israel is opposed to allocating JNF land to non-Jews, while more than 80 percent prefer Israel to be defined as the state of the Jewish people and not the state of all its citizens.