Israel Hints It May Retroactively Legalize Settlement Construction

Move would represent major turnaround from state's policy that the structures are illegal.

The state prosecutor's representative twice hinted that construction in West Bank settlements might be retroactively legalized Wednesday, seemingly representing a major policy turnaround.

The two responses are a departure from the state's usual response that the structures are illegal and are expected to be demolished.

The responses, coming three weeks after Deputy Premier and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that the state prosecutor is not faithfully representing the current government's view on settlements, seems to signal a change in policy.

In several past cases, including construction in the settlements of Harsha, Hayovel, Neveh Tzuf, Netiv Haavot and Amona, the state told the court the structures were illegal and were due to be destroyed in keeping with the priorities of the defense establishment.

The first of the two cases Wednesday was a petition by Peace Now with a request to issue a demolition order for 12 new structures in the settlement of Kiryat Netafim. The state responded that "while the work is illegal, a detailed master plan had been published in the past with the aim of arranging the planning status of the settlement. This situation requires a deep scrutiny of the issue by the government."

The state also told the court it opposed an interim order against populating the structures, another unusual move.

The second petition, submitted by Yesh Din, sought the demolition of 12 mobile homes in the settlement of Kokhav Yaakov, which was built on Palestinian land.

Unusually, the state's response ignored the issue of the ownership of the land, which the settlers say belongs to the state, but rather said orders to stop work have been issued and that the settlers "have been summoned to a meeting of the oversight subcommittee to discuss the matter of demolition orders. It goes without saying that after these meetings and in keeping with the outcome, we will act according to priorities."

Peace Now secretary general Yariv Oppenheimer wrote Wednesday to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz that political pressure coming from senior ministers was behind the change in the state's responses. "We ask you to instruct the High Court petitions department to ignore any hint of political pressure. Surrender to pressure, as manifest in the two responses of the state, will lead to the crumbling of the rule of law," he wrote.

The head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Shaul Goldstein, who had protested to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the state prosecution's responses to the High Court, said Wednesday that he was pleased with the state's responses. "The whole issue of construction is a political issue, not a legal issue," Goldstein said.