Israel on Its Way to Legalizing Theft

The very fact that the government is discussing the illegal outposts after the High Court has ruled undermines the most basic principles of the rule of law.

talia sasson
Talia Sasson
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talia sasson
Talia Sasson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to establish a committee to recommend ways to legalize Israeli construction in the territories. In particular, the committee is to find ways to legalize the confiscation of land owned by individual Palestinians who had the bad luck to have illegal outposts built on their property.

It is not by accident that the idea of establishing this committee arose now. A burning problem had been placed on Netanyahu's doorstep: The High Court of Justice ordered the state to dismantle several illegal outposts by March 2012, among them Migron, which is built on private Palestinian land.

The order raises difficult questions about the government's policies and its commitments to the United States. It is also not clear how it is possible to establish a committee to discuss the outposts' legal status after the High Court has already found them illegal and ordered them dismantled.

The very fact that the government is discussing the illegal outposts after the High Court has ruled undermines the most basic principles of the rule of law. Court rulings must be obeyed without question.

And on a substantive level, how can we legalize the theft of private property, which was carried out by force and without any proper legal procedure? There's also another problem: International law applies in the territories, and according to this law, private property can be expropriated from the Palestinians only for security needs. But the High Court of Justice ruled in 1979 that establishing settlements is not a security need.

Therefore, it is not possible to expropriate private land from a Palestinian for an Israeli settlement. And if your answer is 'let's change the law,' that isn't an option, since the law that applies in the territories is international law. If it were possible to create some legal mechanism to legalize the theft of these lands, why wasn't it presented to the High Court when the case was heard? Why are we trying to invent it now, after the High Court has spoken?

And why has Netanyahu decided that the committee's members will not be lawyers from the State Prosecutor's Office? The answer is clear: Because no lawyer worthy of the name would sign the requested opinion - and certainly no lawyer in the State Prosecutor's Office would do so.

The suspicion thus arises that the committee is really intended only to waste time and to provide a lame pretext for not carrying out the High Court's decision. After all, if Netanyahu really wanted to legalize the construction situation in the West Bank, he could easily find a way to do so in the report on the illegal outposts that is sitting on his desk.

Yes, I mean that same old report from 2005. When the cabinet voted on it, the present prime minister raised his hand in favor of accepting its principles and implementing them. And at the time, I didn't hear the slightest complaint about its findings, conclusions and recommendations. Moreover, then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz went over every line of the report before it was submitted, and at the cabinet meeting, he did not object to a single issue discussed in the report. All the data used in that report was provided by the Defense Ministry of the State of Israel, and its recommendations followed the rulings of the Supreme Court.

But beyond the dry legal questions, maybe the time has come for Netanyahu to explain why his government is even searching for a way to launder the theft of property committed in violation of the state's own laws. It was bad enough that the state did nothing to prevent these criminal and illegal acts. It was bad enough that the state helped finance these acts time after time. But now we've gotten to the point where, in the government's view, theft could even become legal, and nobody is even laughing. And there's no one left who will cry.

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