Israel's Top Court Hears Petitions Against West Bank Land-grab Law

The law, deemed unconstitutional by left-wing groups, Palestinian municipalities and the Attorney General, allows the state to expropriate Palestinian land on which Israeli settlements were built

Amona settlement, 2016
Gil Cohen Magen

A High Court panel is hearing petitions Sunday filed by a number of left-wing organizations and Palestinian municipalities in the West Bank against a new law that would legalize the status of settlements partially built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The “Law for the Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria” allows the state to expropriate Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” and deny the landowners the right to use that land until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories. The law provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose land is seized.

>> Explained: Israel's Palestinian land-grab law and why it matters

The law gives Palestinian landowners the right to choose compensation consisting of annual usage payments for the equivalent of 125 percent of the land’s value for renewable periods of 20 years, or an alternate plot of land if it is possible – if they can prove ownership of the land.

The law was passed by the Knesset in February 2017, but its implementation was frozen as part of an agreement between the government and the petitioners until the High Court rules on the constitutionality of the law.

The petition was filed by over 20 Palestinian regional councils in the West Bank as well as a number of left wing organizations, including the Silwan municipality, Yesh Din, Peace Now, and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In what is considered an exceptional step, a nine-justice panel of the High Court will hear the petition.

Legal experts, as well as many politicians, expect the court to overturn the law – especially as Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has asked the High Court of Justice to strike down the law. Mendelblit, who refused to defend the law in court on the state’s behalf, called the legislation unconstitutional in a brief to the court he filed in November and said the law served an improper purpose. The Knesset passed the legislation over the strong objection of Mendelblit, who warned at the time that it was unconstitutional.

Due to Mendelblit’s refusal to represent the state in defending the law, a private lawyer, Harel Arnon, was retained to do so. Arnon has asked the court to deny the petition, insisting that the law is constitutional.

Arnon, in the name of the government, told the court that the law provides “a humanitarian response to the distress of thousands of families” in the settlements. “The practical alternative to the Regularization Law is to preserve the existing situation, in which the legal situation and the factual situation are hovering over it, one alongside the other without overlapping. A situation which disrupts the lives of hundreds of families who built their homes based on the representations of the authorities, a situation in which landowners do not enjoy their rights and chiefly a polarizing reality that is tearing Israeli society apart,” said Arnon.