Amid growing outcry, KKL-JNF delays controversial vote on buying West Bank land

Chairman tells board members he recognizes opposition from within agency and among Jewish groups abroad, and has no interest in jamming controversial policy through

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative: A picture taken from the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus shows a view of the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad on February 2, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)
Illustrative: A picture taken from the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus shows a view of the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad on February 2, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

The chairman of the Jewish National Fund decided to delay a controversial Thursday vote that would allow the agency to purchase land in the West Bank, amid growing pushback from members and supporters abroad.

The decision, which was first reported by the Walla news site, followed a letter sent earlier this month to KKL-JNF chairman Avi Duvdevani by seven board members representing centrist and left-wing organizations demanding that the push to change the agency’s policy be suspended.

“We have no intention of acting forcefully. This is not our way. We want to make an orderly and relaxed decision on this issue. I hope this step [of delaying the vote] will contribute to promoting a good and matter-of-fact discussion,” Duvdevani wrote in a message to the board members notifying them of the decision.

The KKL-JNF chairman did not provide a new date when the vote would be held.

In February, KKL-JNF voted to allocate NIS 38 million ($11.58 million) for the purchase of land in the West Bank. The controversial vote indicated a policy change — KKL-JNF would take operations beyond the Green Line to another level, purchasing land for the purpose of expanding settlements. (KKL-JNF is a separate entity from JNF-USA.)

The initial February decision, which passed by a single vote, specified that there would be no purchases in the districts of the Palestinian cities Nablus and Jenin — areas with very few Jewish settlements. In the current proposal, the note has been omitted, the Haaretz daily reported. The policy still needed several more votes to be officially put in place, the last of which had been scheduled for Thursday before the full board of directors.

KKL-JNF chairman Avi Duvdevani (Amos Lozon/KKL-JNF)

According to the proposal that’s been advanced, KKL-JNF will purchase only private land, with a preference for land where settlements already exist or that allows for the expansion of existing settlements.

If Israel requests that KKL-JNF purchase land that does not meet those criteria, the decision will be left to KKL-JNF’s leadership committee. The committee will be able to authorize the purchase of any land that does not meet these criteria as long as it is under the jurisdiction of Israel, said Haaretz.

KKL-JNF, established in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement and best known for the hundreds of millions of trees it has planted throughout Israel, serves as the Jewish people’s custodian for some 15 percent of the land in the country, the management of which is carried out by the Israel Lands Authority.

An organization officially registered as a company for the benefit of the public, KKL-JNF works in the fields of forestry, water, education, community development, tourism, and research and development. The World Zionist Organization is its parent body.

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