JNF to Vote on West Bank Land Purchases – Even at Isolated Settlements

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The settlement of Elon Moreh in the northern West Bank.
The settlement of Elon Moreh in the northern West Bank. Credit: Emil Salman

The management of the Jewish National Fund will vote Sunday on the controversial proposal that would allow it to buy land in the West Bank, even in areas of remote Jewish settlements.

In February the JNF approved a policy change allowing such purchases, which could potentially expand settlements, but said further debate was necessary on the areas where acquisitions might be made. Preferred areas have been chosen, though land will not be bought in the northern West Bank near the cities Nablus and Jenin, where settlements are few.

The proposal to be voted on Sunday adopts the opinion of retired Judge Yosef Alon, who says the JNF can operate in the West Bank, including activities such as forestation and educational initiatives. The heart of the dispute is the clause “in all areas under the jurisdiction of the government of Israel.”

The JNF, which was founded in 1901 to acquire and develop land in pre-state Israel for Jewish use, has operated unofficially in the West Bank for years, but has done so using a subsidiary.

The organization’s center-left factions have submitted an opposing opinion claiming that Alon’s interpretation of the JNF’s mandate is incorrect. If the decision is approved Sunday, as management expects, it will go to the JNF’s board of directors for final approval on April 22.

The settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The left-wing factions are pinning their hopes on the board, where in addition to political parties, organizations such as women’s groups Na’amat and Hadassah are represented. A Meretz representative, Dror Morag, has asked Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli to convince Na’amat, which is linked to the Labor movement, to vote with the left-wing factions.

According to the proposal, the JNF will only buy private land, and preference will go to land that enables the expansion of existing settlements, or to land near existing settlements. If the state asks the JNF to purchase land that does not meet these criteria, the matter will go to the management committee.

The management committee will also be authorized to discuss and approve the purchase of any land it considers is located “in the jurisdiction of the government of Israel.”

“The role of the national institutions, including the JNF, is to serve the Jewish people throughout the world, regardless of position or affiliation,” said Emily Levy-Shochat, the vice chairwoman of the JNF and the chairwoman of Israel’s Conservative (Masorti) movement.

“Therefore, the institutions should not interfere in matters of Israeli politics; this is the Knesset’s role. I cannot help but feel that bringing this issue to the table a few days after Holocaust Remembrance Day and a few days before Independence Day is a cynical exploitation of the calendar, and I very much regret this.”

In addition, according to the proposal to be voted on Sunday, the JNF’s activities in the West Bank will be funded from its budget, and the JNF will ensure that donor funds are used according to the law in the donor’s country.

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