Settlers Drop High Court Petition for Fear of Enforcement of Planning Laws

In response to the petition, the attorney general had demanded the establishment of units to enforce building laws throughout the West Bank, causing the petitioners to think twice

A Palestinian laborer works at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beit Arye in the West Bank, 2009.
Jonathan Nackstrandת AFP

Residents of Beit Arye in the West Bank petitioned the High Court of Justice against the head of their local council, accusing him of violating planning laws. Within a short time they withdrew their court petition, fearing the case could lead to wholesale enforcement of planning and construction laws in settlements throughout the occupied territory.

After withdrawing their petition, the settlers said that when they realized Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had exploited the petition and ordered the establishment of a special enforcement unit, at a cost of millions of shekels, they withdrew the petition because of their “national responsibility for the fate of the settlement enterprise.”

The residents filed the petition against the law enforcement authorities in the West Bank five years ago, maintaining that Avi Naim, head of the Beit Arye local council, had violated planning laws in work he did on his own home.

The petition was withdrawn under pressure from right-wing groups connected to Habayit Hayehudi, which feared the establishment of an enforcement unit could lead to the demolition of structures in the settlements, said two sources. A few officials have confirmed to Haaretz that it has been agreed to establish such a unit during discussions in the Prime Minister’s Office, though no date has been set.

Last month, Haaretz reported Mendelblit’s decision to ask the High Court to issue an order requiring the Defense Ministry to establish such an enforcement unit. This was a rare step in which an official body, the State Prosecutor’s Office, at Mendelblit’s instruction asks the High Court to order another official body, the Defense Ministry, to act. The present situation, in which no body has the responsibility for enforcing planning and building laws in the settlements, except for those committees acting on behalf of the local governments themselves, is unreasonable, wrote the attorneys on behalf of the attorney general.

In a June meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office attended by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, other ministers and senior ministry officials, Lieberman said he was not interested in having such a unit under his authority in his ministry – and demanded significant new budgets to agree to establish such a unit. This request was actually an attempt to block the establishment of the unit, said senior officials in the justice and defense ministries.

It was agreed at the meeting that Lieberman would take responsibility for the unit, but no sources for the funding were agreed on. Mendelblit feared Lieberman was trying to avoid establishing the unit, and as a result the attorney general asked the High Court to order the defense minister to do so.

This led the petitioners to withdraw, five years after the original petition was filed. The High Court agreed to allow them to withdraw the petition a few days ago, so no possibility now exists for the court to issue an order against the Defense Ministry to establish the unit.