State to Pay Millions to Palestinian Landowners of Homesh

Palestinian landowners on whose property the West Bank settlement of Homesh was constructed are demanding NIS 40 million in compensation and the right to access their land. The state is trying to reach an out-of-court compromise in order to avoid a precedent setting ruling.

The Palestinians brought their claims to the Civil Administration through Ramallah-based lawyers, arguing that the West Bank land where Homesh had stood, before it was evacuated during the 2005 disengagement, belonged to them.

In recent Justice Ministry talks, Attorney General Mike Blass concluded that if the case goes to trial, the court is likely to rule in favor of the plaintiffs. As such, efforts are being made to reach an agreement that would enable compensating the property owners without the case becoming a legal precedent.

The Israel Defense Forces took over the property by means of "holding warrants." This means security forces are taking over the land in order to secure the area.

These types of warrants do not change the ownership of the property, and when the warrant expires, the property is restored to its owners.

Meanwhile, the owners are entitled to compensation for the use of the land.

To date, there have been nearly no instances of Palestinians demanding compensation for the use of their property. One of the reasons is that receiving usage fees from Israel is perceived to be akin to selling the land, or agreeing to its takeover by the IDF.

Many of the property owners are also concerned that if they ask for usage fees, they will be targetted by Palestinian groups and dubbed as collaborators with the occupation.

When warrants initially were issued for the IDF takeover of the property, the Palestinians turned down a compensation offer. Following the evacuation of Homesh, the owners decided to demand compensation.

Several weeks ago, the Justice Ministry held talks on the subject. Civil Administration officials told their ministry counterparts that the Palestinians are demanding NIS 40 million in compensation for the use of the property. Ministry officials believe that a minimum payment of NIS 20 million will have to be made, even if the case is resolved out of court.

A major sticking point among government authorities is which ministry will have to pay the compensation. At this point, it is most likely to come out of Defense Ministry funds.