High Court Allows Time for Talks on Pipeline on Druze Land

The High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction yesterday barring any work on a project to lay a gas pipeline through agricultural lands on the slopes of Mount Carmel for the next eight days.

The court was responding to a petition by the lands' Druze owners, from the towns of Ussfiyeh and Daliat al-Carmel.

The delay is meant to allow time for negotiations between the owners and all the bodies involved in the pipeline project, including the Prime Minister's Office and the pipeline company, on a solution to their dispute over the compensation the owners would receive.

Justices Asher Grunis, Elyakim Rubinstein and Neal Hendel noted that the government and the company have already taken significant steps toward meeting the landowners' demands. However, there is still a dispute over how a promised land swap would be carried out in practice.

The court will hold another hearing on the case on July 12. The petition, filed by 79 landowners, charges that the government has failed to keep its promise to compensate them, and therefore demands that work on the project be halted until it does.

Druze protest
Tomer Neuberg

About six months ago, the cabinet approved a plan to lay a natural gas pipeline from Haifa Bay to the central region. That decision followed lengthy negotiations between the landowners, the Ussfiyeh and Daliat al-Carmel municipalities and the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabai, over the compensation the owners would receive.

The parties agreed on a package comprised partly of money and partly of alternative lands, but the agreement specified neither exactly how much money the owners would receive nor exactly what quality specifications the alternative lands would have to meet.

Two months ago, violent clashes erupted between Druze residents of the area and the police who had come to provide security for workers laying the pipeline.

That prompted more negotiations with the Prime Minister's Office, but these ended with the landowners still unsatisfied. They consequently petitioned the court about a month ago.

Ussfiyeh Mayor Wajia Khiyuf told Haaretz that the owners are willing to reach an agreement, but they must first be convinced that the cabinet's compensation decision will be carried out.

Moreover, he said, the owners insist on finalizing all the details before they agree to let the work proceed: They are not willing to simply trust that a vaguely worded cabinet resolution will result in satisfactory compensation.