Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn held talks Friday on possible ways to legalize wildcat settler homes built on private Palestinian land, after Israel’s top appeals court struck down a law aimed at legalizing these homes.
The 2017 Regulation Law, which the High Court of Justice ruled Tuesday was unconstitutional, would have allowed the state to expropriate private land in the West Bank on which Israeli homes were illegally built.
“In the meeting … ways were discussed to regulate housing units in accordance with the law, with an emphasis on units that were given permits by the state and which were later found to be on private land,” a joint statement from the defense and justice ministries said.
Minister Michael Biton (a minister in the defense ministry), Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Brig. Gen. Ghassan Alian, whose Defense Ministry unit governs construction in the West Bank, also took part in the meeting.
According to the statement, one of the legal opinions discussed by Gantz and Nissenkorn was using a legal principle allowing someone who purchased stolen goods under conditions in which there was no reason to assume they were stolen to keep the goods, even after discovering that they were not owned by the seller.
Mandelblit has previously argued this principle, known as “market regulation,” could be used to authorize illegal settlement homes, removing the need for the Regulation Law.
Gantz ordered the formation an inter-ministerial committee “that will formulate solutions for these cases” and for it to begin work as soon as possible, the statement said.
In an 8-1 ruling striking down the Regulation Law, the High Court said the legislation “violates the property rights and equality of Palestinians, and gives clear priority to the interests of Israeli settlers over Palestinian residents [of the West Bank].”
The legislation has been frozen since it was passed and Mandelblit had refused to defend it before the High Court. It would have allowed the state to expropriate private Palestinian land where experts say some 4,000 illegal settler homes have been built, provided that they were established “in good faith” or had government support, and that the Palestinian owners receive 125 percent financial compensation for the land.
Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party denounced the ruling, but Gantz’s Blue and White party welcomed the court decision, saying the formulation of the law “contravened Israel’s constitutional situation and the legal difficulties it posed were known back when it was passed in the Knesset.”
While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.