Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly considering the unprecedented move of testifying against the Knesset in the High Court of Justice over the controversial legislation passed Monday to legalize West Bank settlement outposts.
Mandelblit has repeatedly said that he won’t be able to defend the law before the court, warning that it marks the first time Israeli legislation explicitly affirms government support for wildcat settlements, and would openly curtail property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that contravenes the protections granted to occupied populations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In a sign of the depth of his opposition, the attorney general is now weighing taking it a step further by appearing in court to argue against the law, Channel 2 news reported Tuesday.
If Mandelblit were to take such a drastic step, it would be unprecedented. The TV report said past attorney generals have threatened to appear in the court against the state, but none has made good on such a pledge.
The law, which passed with a majority of 60 to 52, allows Israel to compensate Palestinians whose land has been taken over by settlers, instead of removing the outposts.
Several anti-settlement groups have announced their intention to petition the High Court against the new law.
Earlier on Tuesday, a government minister attacked the legitimacy of Israel’s High Court to decide on the constitutionality of laws, ahead of an expected challenge.
Tourism Minister Yariv Lavin from the ruling Likud party said judges should not have the authority to overturn laws made by democratically elected parliamentarians.
“The situation in which everyone waits until a handful of judges who are self-selected behind closed doors decide whether they like the law or not is not democratic and not correct,” he told Israel Radio, calling for “soul-searching” by the bench.
The law applies to 53 outposts and homes within existing settlements recognized by Israel as having been built on Palestinian land without a permit, according to the left-wing organization Peace Now, which has said it will petition the High Court to strike down the law.
Speaking to Army Radio, Levin said the judicial system should be subservient to the Knesset.
“The judicial system must be one based on rules and laws approved by the Knesset,” he said. “The High Court, in the way it is going, ultimately severely damages democracy.”
Opposition MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) attacked Levin, claiming that the minister was just looking for an excuse to excoriate the court, since he is seen as trying to gain political points among the settler community by supporting the law, while secretly hoping it will be shot down.
“The best outcome for [Levin] would be that the High Court overturn this law,” Shelah told Army Radio. “Then he can blame the High Court for everything. He can tell the residents of Ofra and [the illegal outposts of] Amona and Netiv Ha’avot that ‘the wicked, leftist High Court doesn’t allow you to remain in your homes.'”
The passage of the law Monday night was accompanied by a flurry of condemnations from the opposition, Palestinians and human rights groups, and the international community.
After opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) warned from the plenum dais that the bill would lead to indictments against IDF soldiers in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) on Tuesday called his comments “bizarre.”
“It is bizarre to me that opposition Leader Isaac Herzog called on the [International Court] in the Hague to prosecute the Israeli government when his father, serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, knew how to fight strongly against unjust decisions and even tore them up from the UN podium to show his opposition,” Elkin said, recalling a famous 1975 speech by then-UN ambassador Chaim Herzog, who went on to become Israel’s president.
US President Donald Trump has signaled a far more accepting approach to settlements, and his administration has been largely silent on the announcements. But last week, the White House issued a statement saying settlement expansion “may not be helpful” for peace prospects, signaling that the US under the Trump administration may also have its limits.
The White House on Monday refused to comment directly on the Regulation Law, and on Tuesday would only say that it would be “a topic of discussion” when Netanyahu meets Trump in Washington later this month.