Israeli Attempt to 'Legalize' Settler Homes Built on Private Palestinian Land Gets Legal Backing

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, January 16, 2017.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, January 16, 2017.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Israel's attorney general is planning to retroactively "legalize" more than 1,000 settlers' homes that were built on seized private Palestinian land in the West Bank, a law enforcement official told Haaretz.

Avichai Mendelblit's plan involves formally seizing lands mistakenly classified as state-owned, clearing the way for the settlements built on them to be legalized, the official said.

The official said Mendelblit will not implement the so-called 'expropriation' law, which allows Israel to seize private Palestinian land in the West Bank where settlements or outposts have been built. Mendelblit expects the High Court of Justice to quash the law after he declared it unconstitutional and said it must be annulled.

The Knesset passed the expropriation law in February, but the High Court of Justice suspended it at Mendelblit's request.

However, though not using that law, Mendelblit is acting to legalize almost one third of the homes built on private Palestinian lands that were previously mistakenly thought to be state-owned.

So far petitions against construction on such lands led to the tenants' evacuations. Now Mendelblit wants to invoke Article 5 in the Government Property Order regarding Government Property in the West Bank, which enables the state to seize these lands. This plan is not legally identical to the expropriation law, but the implications are the same: The Palestinians will not have access to their lands, the settlements will remain in place and the land owners will be compensated without having the right to object to their land's confiscation, he said.

The source said the state may use this clause even before the High Court of Justice quashes the expropriation law in response to various petitions to tear down structures in West Bank settlements.

Mendelblit has already authorized the state to take over 45 dunams of private Palestinian land in the West Bank settlement of Ofra this week, on the basis of Article 5, the state notified the High Court this week. This is the opposite of the state's statement to the High Court last year that the land had been expropriated by mistake, and would not be part of Ofra's master plan.

At the end of last year, during Mendelblit's bid to block the expropriation bill, he agreed to the state's taking over plots of land on the basis of Article 5 as an alternative to the expropriation bill. Official legal and political sources said Mendelblit wouldn't have made that move if Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked hadn't pressed him to advance the expropriation bill, which he objected to.

A senior official said Shaked had pushed Mendelblit to advance "new legal means" that would enable "legalizing" settlements that were built on private Palestinian lands.

Unlike the expropriation law, which enables legalizing any construction on private Palestinan land, Article 5 enables to legalize only structures that were constructed on Palestinian land in good faith, based on the belief that the land belonged to the state.

On Wednesday Mendelblit submitted his response to the High Court of Justice regarding the expropriation law. He wrote that the law is unconstitutional and that its "purpose is unworthy." There is no option, he said, "but to declare it unconstitutional and annul it."

Mendelblit also said the law blatantly favors the settlers over the Palestinians. "The authority of allocating land rights is in the hands of a settling establishment. This means a body dealing with settling people on land. In reality, examining the bodies listed in the law shows that in all probability, and that's an understatement, their purpose is to settle only Israelis."

Mendelblit also wrote the law "seriously infringes on the right to private property that is protected by the Basic Law: Human dignity and freedomit also applies to situations where there is no justification (for expropriation), like recent construction, when the builder is aware of whom the land belongs to and acts without a legal permit."

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