High Court freezes controversial outpost legalization law

Following petitions, legislation allowing retroactive land legalization in West Bank delayed for two months until government responds

Defense Ministry dismantling Amona outpost in the central West Bank on February 6, 2017. (Courtesy Amona Council)
Defense Ministry dismantling Amona outpost in the central West Bank on February 6, 2017. (Courtesy Amona Council)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday postponed for two months the implementation of a controversial law that legalizes wildcat West Bank outposts constructed on private Palestinian land in certain restricted cases.

The legality of the highly contentious Regulation Law was challenged in the High Court by left-wing NGO’s Peace Now, Yesh Din and Association for Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of 27 Palestinian local councils and 13 Israeli civil society organizations.

The court’s interim order gives the government two months to respond to the challenge, freezing the bill in the meantime.

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 had government support.

In return, the legislation states, the Palestinian landowners will be compensated financially or with other land.

Analysts say the law will pave the way for the government to recognize some 4,000 illegally built Israeli homes.

The passage of the bill, originally meant to save the since-razed outpost of Amona, was roundly condemned by activists and political figures in Israel and abroad.

With Thursday’s High Court interim decision to freeze the legislation, no additional land will be expropriated even if it fits the above conditions. At the same time, outposts found to have been built in good faith or with government backing will not be demolished until a final decision is made.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli, who co-sponsored the legislation said in a Thursday statement that the court had over-stepped its authority.

“Once again, we see how the High Court of Justice tramples on the separation of powers,” she said.

“The fight against Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, and against Israel’s existence, is being fought through terror and incitement, but through the abuse of Israel’s justice system as well,” she said, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical names.

In its own statement, the pro-settlement NGO Regavim said the court decision “set a severe and dangerous precedent.” The group called on the Knesset to enact legislation that would “balance” lawmakers authority with that of the judicial branch.

The Yesh Din legal rights group, on the other hand, praised the High Court decision. “The next step is enforcement against illegal construction on Palestinian land,” the group said in a Thursday statement. However, it emphasized that only the complete “repeal of the law will lead to genuine justice.”

In the months leading up to the February 6 Knesset vote on the Regulation Law, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned the legislation 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 also cautioned 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.

When the Knesset passed the law anyway, Mandelblit officially notified the High Court that he would not defend the legislation if it was challenged.

Harel Arnon, an attorney in private practice, replaced Mandelblit to represent the state in petitions against the law. In May, Haaretz revealed that Arnon’s own home in the Elazar settlement is being built illegally on land that had been designated strictly for military purposes.

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