Israel’s Attorney General Demands Government Rein in Illegal Construction in Settlements

Lack of special enforcement unit puts Israel on shaky legal ground, AG warns Netanyahu and top ministers

Settler youths building a structure in the settlement outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and dismantled in February, years after the High Court ruled that it had been built illegally.
Menahem Kahana/ AFP

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recently turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and demanded that they establish a special enforcement unit for illegal construction in the settlements. Mendelblit did so after demanding last month – in a very rare step – that the High Court of Justice issue an injunction against the Defense Ministry requiring it to establish the above-mentioned unit.

During discussions in recent weeks, in the Prime Minister’s Office among other places, Mendelblit criticized the government’s conduct regarding enforcement of the planning and construction laws in the territories. He said, in the presence of officials in the PMO, the treasury and the Defense Ministry, that the present situation, in which there is no group enforcing the planning laws in the settlements except for the committees acting on behalf the settlements’ regional councils themselves, is “clearly illogical,” and creates a situation in which there are illegal structures over which nobody has authority. He requested the establishment of a special unit to enforce the planning laws in the territories, parallel to that which exists at present in the treasury, which is responsible for enforcing the planning laws in Israel.

After the defense minister refused to establish the unit unless it received very considerable resources, Mendelblit turned to the High Court in the context of a petition submitted by settlers against a structure in the West Bank settlement of Beit Arye that was claimed to be illegal – and asked that the government be required to establish the unit. But later the settlers withdrew the petition, at the request of members of Habayit Hayehudi – due to fear that the petition could lead to the establishment of such a unit.

After the withdrawal of the petition, Mendelblit turned to the prime minister and the defense minister and once again warned them that the absence of such a unit constitutes a legal problem. Lieberman received the request but has yet to reply. In the past he has opposed the establishment of such a unit under his ministry.

In response, Mendelblit turned to the High Court and said that he had made it clear to the prime minister and his ministers that there is a need for the unit. The issue came up again during the discussion of a petition submitted by Palestinians against construction in Gush Etzion. In response to the justices’ question about the fate of the unit i, the State Prosecutor’s Office said the following:

“The attorney general turned to the prime minister, the defense minister and the finance minister and made it clear that the government is still obligated to establish the unit, despite the erasure of the petition In his request the attorney general asked that the prime minister and the relevant ministers act as soon as possible to implement The anti-occupation NGO Yesh Din, which is representing the Palestinian petitioners, responded: “The time has come for the law enforcement authorities to do their job, instead of looking for excuses for refraining from investigating and prosecuting those involved in the illegal construction.”