Israeli Bill Gains Pace to Expand Administrative Courts' Reach to Settlements

'What’s right for a resident of Tel Aviv is also right for a resident of Beit El,' bill's sponsor says, while critics call legislation, which passed in a preliminary vote, another step toward apartheid

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi)
Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset has given preliminary approval to legislation that would let  Israel’s administrative courts hear disputes between the government and West Bank settlers — a move critics call a step in the creeping annexation of the settlements.

The bill, which was sponsored by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), passed in a 48-39 vote Wednesday. It must pass in three more votes to become law.

In the Knesset debate, Smotrich said the legislation would also give the administrative courts jurisdiction to hear petitions challenging illegal construction in the settlements — instead of the High Court of Justice.

A number of times the High Court has ordered the demolition of settlement buildings found to have been built on privately owned Palestinian land. Smotrich’s bill extending the administrative courts’ jurisdiction to the settlements is officially designed to ease the pressure on the top court.

“What’s right for a resident of Tel Aviv is also right for a resident of Beit El and Kedumim,” Smotrich said, referring to two settlements. “There is no reason that petitions on construction should be considered by the High Court of Justice.”

Speaking against the legislation, MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said the bill was another step in intensifying discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. The bill may appear to make sense, she said, but “it’s another law in a series of laws designed to create an apartheid state here in the end with two kinds of citizens.”

Livni also alluded to a Haaretz article about an anonymous Facebook page created by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party during the 2015 election campaign. On the page, Livni was depicted in a bikini hitchhiking in search of her next political party.

“Even if you put me in a bikini or in pictures of a Palestinian Wonder Woman, I will continue to fight this everywhere,” she said, referring to the administrative-courts bill.

MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) told Haaretz: “This law is another step by the coalition designed to create a creeping annexation of the settlements and the application of Israeli law to them.”

The Joint List of Arab parties, he said, plans to convene a conference in about two weeks to discuss what the Joint List considers bills aimed at annexation.

In 2000, the Knesset established the administrative court system, which gave the district courts the power to sit as administrative courts in an effort to cut the High Court's case load.

Until then, the High Court heard cases involving disputes between government authorities and citizens.

The new arrangement was also designed to make administrative legal proceedings more accessible to the average citizen and to provide for another level of appeal. But the administrative courts have not been empowered to deal with such disputes in West Bank settlements.