Israel's Civil Administration Pushing West Bank Land Registry That Would Benefit Settlers

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The settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank, August 28, 2020.
The settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank, August 28, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Israel's Civil Administration, which administers the West Bank, is recommending the resumption of a process that would make it more difficult for Palestinians to appeal appropriation of land in the territory for the state.

This recommendation is included in a response to a query by lawmaker Uzi Dayan (Likud), addressed to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). The response appeared in the daily Yisrael Hayom. An expert on land laws says that the process will benefit mainly the state and settlers living in the West Bank.

The regulation of land registry involves the registration of titles following mapping and the investigation of claims of ownership. Land registration is final, and any land that is unclaimed is transferred to the state. Currently, in the absence of any arrangement regarding land registry, state lands are recognized as such after a procedure of “declaration.”

According to COGAT, there are currently 26,000 acres in the West Bank which have undergone an “initial survey.” These lands are under consideration, with a likelihood of being declared state land. The “declarations” can be appealed and are often challenged in court. According to COGAT, plots of land are declared state land about once or twice a year.

During the period in which the West Bank was under British and then Jordanian rule, about one third of the West Bank was officially registered, after being mapped. In 1968, after Israel occupied the area, a military ordinance froze this process. During the process of registration, anyone claiming ownership must produce proof, which is put on record.

After an investigation of these claims, a record of rights is published. This can be appealed. Subsequently, the final registration takes place. From that point on, it is very difficult to appeal a decision. This is only possible in cases of fraud.

The finality of such registration, according to COGAT’s response, is the reason it supports implementing this process. The settlement of claims takes into serious consideration the current holder of any plot, giving an advantage to someone who can prove that he’s been in possession of a plot for a long time, with no claims made on it. If the process is resumed, the state will face the question of whether or not to begin where the Jordanian process was terminated, such as when private Palestinian land was recognized as such but not yet registered. This decision will greatly impact Palestinians in the West Bank.

“If a village has 30 plots, with ownership claims on only 20 of those, the other ten automatically transfer to the state” explains attorney Shlomo Zacharia, an expert on land laws who is assisting Yesh Din, a human right organization. “If you haven’t filed a claim of ownership, it goes to the state. Period,” he says.

As reported in Haaretz in 2018, Palestinians have received only 0.25 percent of state land that has been distributed in the West Bank since 1967. “The arrangement will primarily benefit the Civil Administration and the settlers” says Zacharia, “since most of the land allocated by the state goes to settlers, and because the arrangement process (in Israel and the West Bank) favors the person holding the land in practice.”

The head of the Etzion Bloc regional council, Shlomo Ne’eman, said that “this was a very important move by the Civil Administration. Obviously, we’ll carefully examine the manner and speed of implementation, but undoubtedly, this equalizes the status of the settlements to the custom in smaller (pre-1967) Israel. Each day, authorities increasingly understand that applying Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is inevitable.”

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