Israeli AG Strikes Down Successor’s Plan to Legalize Buildings at West Bank Outpost

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Avichai Mendelblit (right) consults with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting, September 2015.
Avichai Mendelblit (right) consults with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting, September 2015.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg (Pool)

Less than a month before the Attorney General’s Office changes hands, incumbent Yehuda Weinstein has struck down recommendations by his designated successor that were aimed at legalizing illegal construction in a West Bank outpost.

The recommendations were issued by Avichai Mendelblit in his most recent role as cabinet secretary. In that capacity, the government appointed him last July to head a professional committee examining legal issues relating to West Bank lands. The committee was established at the request of the Habayit Hayehudi party, and was seen as an attempt to circumvent the state’s official legal service, headed by the attorney general.

One issue the committee discussed was the outpost of Netiv Ha’avot, located near the settlement of Elazar in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. One of the outpost’s residents is Ze’ev Hever, head of Amana – the settlement movement’s construction arm.

Israel’s Civil Administration examined the outpost and found that while part of it was on state land, 17 buildings were on private Palestinian land. Consequently, the Palestinian landowners and Peace Now petitioned the High Court of Justice in 2014 to demand that those buildings be razed.

As an alternative to demolishing the buildings, Mendelblit’s committee considered the idea of a land swap, under which the built-up area would become state land while the Palestinians would be compensated with land in other, unbuilt portions of the outpost.

The state prosecution had rejected this idea in the past, saying such land swaps could only be concluded voluntarily, not forcibly.

The Mendelblit Committee’s conclusions were passed onto Weinstein. But 10 days ago, the state told the High Court that Weinstein deemed the idea legally untenable. It then said he needed additional time to consider his position on the petition, in light of the fact that Mendelblit’s idea had been ruled out.

However, once Mendelblit becomes attorney general on February 1, he could reinstate the proposal. If so, the court would then have to decide whether or not to uphold it.

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