Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday officially notified the High Court of Justice that he will not defend challenges to a newly passed law that legalizes Israeli West Bank settlements built on private Palestinian land.
The legality of the highly contentious Regulation Law is being challenged in the High Court by the Silwad Municipality, along with several other local Palestinian authorities.
In a letter to the court, Mandelblit cited the legal opinion presented by a committee chaired by retired High Court president Meir Shamgar, which ruled that Israel’s attorney general was not legally bound to defend the executive branch.
Due to “the exceptional circumstances of the case,” Mandelblit said he would allow the state to be represented by a private defense attorney.
The Regulation Law, which Mandelblit has repeatedly warned would be indefensible in court, was approved by the Knesset last month.
The law allows the Israeli government to expropriate private Palestinian land where illegal outpost homes have been built ex-post facto, provided that the outposts were built in good faith or have government support.
Analysts say the law could pave the way for the government to recognize some 4,000 illegally built Israeli homes.
Under the law, the Palestinian landowners will be compensated financially or with other land.
The private sector attorney who will defend the government was not named in Mandelblit’s letter, however Hebrew-language media in recent weeks have reported prominent lawyer Harel Arnon — who could be facing unrelated fraud and money laundering charges — has been enlisted to defend the state in the High Court.
The bill is widely expected to be torpedoed by the court and has been fiercely criticized by the international community.
In the months leading up to the February 6 Knesset vote, Mandelblit warned that the Regulation Law bypassed standard land regulation procedures in the West Bank and that it legalized Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian land in breach of local and international law.
Mandelblit cautioned lawmakers that the legislation openly curtailed property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that contravenes the protections granted to occupied populations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
He had also vociferously opposed a previous draft of the law that sought to circumvent a High Court-ordered evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona. That outpost has since been torn down.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.