Opinion |

In the West Bank, Only the Israeli Government Is Allowed to Steal Land

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem in October
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem in OctoberCredit: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

This week Defense Minister Benny Gantz was inspired by the shekhina (divine spirit), and he decided not to promote the initiative allowing private Jewish citizens to purchase land in the West Bank instead of through a company, which is subject to the Civil Administration’s approval. A defense source explained to Haaretz that “opening the option of purchasing land to every citizen would bring about irresponsible acquisitions by Jews, and would really drive the Palestinian Authority up the wall.

Our hearts skip a beat in light of this considerate gesture, this depth of vision and diplomatic wisdom. Gantz’s decision is the Defense Ministry’s response to a petition by the pro-settler Regavim NGO against the present law – “a racist law", which exists in only one place in the world, here in Israel,” according to director general Meir Deutsch. The “racist law” to which he is referring permits only Palestinians, Jordanians or foreigners of Arab origin to purchase West Bank land privately. What is that if not anti-Jewish apartheid?

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But a moment before our hearts fill with pride at the minister’s daring decision, we should recall that even the current law, which Gantz is defending fearlessly, is patently illegal. It contradicts international law, which prohibits exporting an occupying population to occupied territory and changing those territories’ demographic composition; the current practice does not curb the “settlement enterprise;” and under its protection many outposts and individual farms have blossomed. Gantz is opposed to private thuggery; only government-supervised thuggery is legal.

Gantz’s fear of upsetting the PA is superfluous. The same is true of the fear expressed by Maj. Zvi Mintz, who headed the real estate department in the IDF legal counsel division for Judea and Samaria, that “the amendment (namely the permit for private Jewish citizens to purchase land) is likely to be seen as a violation of the laws of wartime confiscation, and to lead to significant international criticism.”

Because what is true of purchases by private citizens is also true, according to international law, of purchases by companies. It was enough to hear the penetrating criticism leveled by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with the White House spokesman, about the intention of advancing the construction of over 3,000 housing units in the West Bank to realize that in their eyes, and in those of the international community, there is no difference between government-sponsored settlement lawlessness and the crime perpetrated by a private citizen. Both are crimes. To the PA, incidentally, it makes no difference at all – a private criminal, a registered company or a government.

Never mind the violation of international law, disdain for international criticism and surrendering to the lords and masters who are living on stolen land. They are already part of a long-standing political culture. But when the survival of this untouchable, carefully coddled government based on the carved-in-stone decision to not arouse diplomatic controversy for fear of tearing this fragile coalition, why build in the settlements?

All the so-called “left-wing” parties should have raised an outcry, stuck an accusing thumb in the eye of the defense minister and threatened to bring down the government. After all, it has already been agreed that there is no possibility of diplomatic negotiations, not to mention a solution to the conflict.

Apparently the leftists in the right-wing government are not only failing to notice the contradiction between expanding the settlements and the absence of diplomatic feasibility, they are also granting themselves and their colleagues “political feasibility” to perpetuate the continued gridlock.

Perhaps their eyes closed for a moment, but when Gantz retreated from amending the law, he wasn’t thinking about the PA's reaction, he was thinking about his colleagues in the government. With one wave of his hand he granted legitimacy to the existing law that the left has tried so hard throughout the years to overturn, and donned upon himself the robe of the righteous man who can now proclaim his innocence.

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