Court Keeps JNF Land Deal on Hold

A Jerusalem judge left a temporary order issued last month in place, preventing implementation of a Jewish National Fund agreement with the government regarding land deals with the Israel Land Administration.

The agreement was originally approved by the JNF board of directors and submitted to a vote in the organization's general assembly. However, a petition to the Jerusalem District Court was later filed by a member of the assembly, Tzofia Diamant-Yosef, who said she had intended to vote against the agreement - on behalf of herself and 12 other members for whom she had power of attorney - but she had mistakenly abstained. The vote passed 62 to 55 with 13 abstentions, and would have failed had Diamant-Yosef's 13 votes rejected the proposal.

The JNF suggested that it was not reasonable to think that Diamant-Yosef voted in error. The organization said she served on its election committee and instructed other voters for over two hours on various procedures.

The agreement involving the JNF and the ILA allots certain benefits to the former, including representation of the organization on the ILA's council, and government exemption from tax levies on property exchanges and from other financial obligations.

In leaving the temporary order against the JNF agreement in place, after it was originally issued last month, District Court Judge Moshe Sobel ruled that indeed the government had decided to implement reforms at the ILA, which included land exchanges with the JNF, however, in order to implement said agreement, the relevant land-reform legislation had to be passed first by the Knesset.

The legislation in question has not yet passed the Knesset after it was withdrawn last Wednesday by the government, after it was apparent that the reform scheme would not be approved.

It should be noted that the JNF land deals alluded to in the petition at the District Court represents just part of the larger reform package under discussion at the Knesset. The vote on the bill has been delayed until this week and efforts are being made to ensure its passage, although it is not clear whether that will happen.

Should the agreement between the JNF and the government be annulled, tens of thousands of people leasing JNF land would not be able to acquire actual ownership of the property.

Meanwhile, the judge's temporary order is to remain valid until he is able to rule on the merits of Diamant-Yosef's petition regarding her claim of mistaken abstention.