Israel's President on Land-grab Law: We Will Look Like an Apartheid State

Reuven Rivlin strongly opposes the 'Regularization Law,' which enables Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land where settlements have been built.

From left to right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich.
Miriam Alster

President Reuven Rivlin strongly opposes a law, passed by the Knesset last week, allowing private Palestinian land to be expropriated in order to retroactively legalize settlements.

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The passage of the so-called “Regularization Law” could cause Israel to look like an apartheid state, Rivlin said in a meeting he held last week, only two days after the law was passed.

“Israel has adopted international law. It does not allow a country acting according to it to apply and enforce its laws on territories that are not under its sovereignty. If it does so, it is a legal cacophony. It will cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state, which it is not,” he said.

“There is no question here. The government of Israel is simply not allowed to apply the laws of the Knesset on territories that are not under the state’s sovereignty,” added Rivlin.

The law passed last week allows Israel to expropriate private Palestinian land in the West Bank where Israeli settlements or outposts have been built. While it does not grant the settlers ownership of the land, it allows them to remain there and denies the Palestinian owners the right to claim the land “until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.”

Rivlin also expressed his opposition to a law that would enable the Knesset to override the Supreme Court. The right may demand such legislation if the Supreme Court rules that the regularization law is unconstitutional. That would allow the Knesset to pass for a second time laws the Supreme Court overruled, while limiting the court’s power to reject them again. This could include passing a law requiring the Supreme Court to have a majority of at least 9 justices out of 11 in order to overrule a law; or by allowing the Knesset to reenact the law for a limited period of time despite the court’s decision.

Most Knesset members and ministers assume the court will overrule the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. In such a case, the party Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) would probably demand passage of a law enabling the Knesset to override the Supreme Court when it rules that a law is unconstitutional.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Haaretz last week that he and his Kulanu party are still firmly opposed to a law that would weaken the authority of the Supreme Court. “As long as we are in the [government] coalition, there will be [no such law]. We have no other Supreme Court and it must not be harmed.”

Immediately after the present government was installed in April 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he aspired to advance a law giving the Knesset the power to override the Supreme Court, despite Kulanu’s opposition; but since then nothing has been done.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Channel 2 on Saturday that the “Regularization Law” has no connection to the settlement enterprise. The law “harms settlements and strengthens the legal establishment,” he said.

“Those who have misled the settlers and promised them that the illegal outpost of Amona would not be removed, are now telling them that the regularization law will solve the problems of the settlements. This is an incorrect law, and it just complicates the situation,” said Lieberman.