Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Sunday circulated new guidelines to his deputies, stating that all government-sponsored bills must address the possibility of the legislation also being applied to the occupied territories.
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Mendelblit issued the instructions after coming to an agreement on the matter with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin had initially tabled the request, saying any legislation being advanced should not ignore the 400,000-plus Israeli settlers living beyond the Green Line (Israel's pre-1967 borders).
Legislation passed by the Knesset does not automatically apply to the West Bank. Under international law, Israel cannot effect changes in the local legal system, unless it is for security reasons or to meet the special needs of the population – in which case a military order can also be issued applying the arrangements to the settlements too.
Under the new guidelines, as part of the process of preparatory work on a government-sponsored bill, the bill must also be assessed for the feasibility of it being applied to settlers in the West Bank, making a comparison between Israeli law and the law that prevails in the territories.
Currently, Israeli law does not apply in the West Bank. Legal construction there is based on Ottoman law, Jordanian law and Israeli military orders. The Israeli army’s legal advisers are responsible for explaining the legal situation, while the Supreme Court helps shape the interpretation.
The relevant ministry to which the specific legislation relates will have to assess and explain how it would want to apply the law to the West Bank. If it believes the legislation is not relevant to the territories, it must also explain why.
Thus, a change is being made to the default position – from assuming that two different legal systems exist within and beyond the Green Line, to an effort to apply Israeli law to the territories and equalize the two systems.
As for private member’s bills, Justice Ministry lawyers – at Shaked’s request – are to formulate a legal opinion on whether privately sponsored legislation can be applied to the territories.
In a letter to cabinet ministers explaining the new guidelines, Shaked and Levin wrote: "According to the new procedure, before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation discusses the merits of a proposal, the panel will review the bill's impact on the 430,000 Israelis living in the areas of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank].
"It is no longer possible to accept a situation in which the government provides a normative solution to residents in certain areas of the country, while other residents are neglected and not treated the same – either by direct application or by appropriate security legislation in parallel timetables."