A bill to provide a proper legal basis for the activities of the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division would also grant it authority over the Palestinian villages in Area C of the West Bank.
The legal advisers to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee informed the committee on Monday that the bill would grant authority to the WZO's Settlement Division over "rural settlements" and "land" in the West Bank, without providing an exception for Palestinian communities.
The proposed law, sponsored by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), would authorize the Custodian for Government and Abandoned Property in Judea and Samaria to allocate land intended for rural Jewish settlements to the WZO's Settlement Division in the West Bank, and enable the division to manage and register ownership of the land. The custodian is part of the Israeli army's office for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories.
The agency is funded by the state. The settlement division is considered a quasi-private entity. It operates as a branch of the WZO and is not under the direct authority of the Israeli government, but it is completely funded by the Israeli taxpayer. Its main role is to manage land in outlying areas of the country.
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The legal opinion provided to the committee made it clear that the present wording of the bill also grants the Settlement Division authority over rural Palestinian communities in Area C, the parts of the West Bank over which Israel has both full civil and security control. The team of legal advisers called on the committee to reexamine the present version of the bill and consider whether to keep the section granting the authority over Palestinian communities to the Settlement Division.
"The proposed definitions of 'rural settlement' and 'land' do not include references to the character and nature of the settlement, and it seems that land that is government or abandoned property intended for Palestinian rural settlement will also be included in the boundaries of the proposed arrangement, and will be transferred to the management of the Settlement Division," states the legal opinion prepared for the discussion of the bill by the committee. "Is the intention of the bill that the Settlement Division will also manage the Palestinian rural settlement in the area?"
For decades, the Settlement Division has served as the operational arm of the government for building and developing the settlements. The bill was proposed to solve a legal dispute that arose in recent years concerning the manner in which the Settlement Division manages land in the West Bank.
In a separate legal opinion, reported on by Haaretz in October, the committee’s legal advisers called on lawmakers to examine a long list of other sections of the proposed law. The law does not include an appropriate mechanism for oversight of the Settlement Division. The law can also be seen as an exceptional move in that the Knesset is advancing legislation that directly affects property in Judea and Samaria, stated the legal opinion.
The legal advisers wondered whether the custodian would be able to use his authority under security legislation within the municipal boundaries of the settlements, although according to the proposed law, the Settlement Division would be managing the land. In addition, the question was raised whether the orders of the military commander of the region, the head of the Central Command, on management of the land involved would obligate the Settlement Division, too.