The High Court of Justice issued a ruling on Monday that would require the top legal body’s approval each time Israeli municipalities in the West Bank seek to transfer funds to private organizations that build settlements and outposts.
The ruling came after a February petition from the settlement watchdog Peace Now against Amana, a group that promotes settlements, in which the former argued Amana has been illegally receiving millions of shekels from regional and local councils beyond the Green Line.
Interior Ministry guidelines only allow municipalities to transfer funds to public organizations and NGOs. Amana is a private cooperative and therefore ineligible to receive such money, Peace Now asserted in its petition.
The left-wing group also argued that Amana promotes the construction of West Bank outposts — wildcat communities established without official government consent and sometimes on private Palestinian land — and therefore should not be receiving public funds.
In August, the High Court ordered the state and Israeli municipalities in the West Bank to explain within 45 days why they were allowing the transfer of funds to Amana against Interior Ministry guidelines.
But following repeated requests by the state for extensions to the 45-day deadline, the High Court issued an interim order on Monday requiring the West Bank municipalities to notify the court before making transfers to Amana during the year of 2020. These allocations will then be weighed by the court as part of the Peace Now petition.
“Amana is the strongest body operating in the settlements. For decades, it has been behind the establishment of illegal outposts, with a massive budget made up of tens of millions of shekels from the Israeli taxpayer,” Peace Now said in a statement. “The court’s decision is a dramatic and significant step that limits, at least for the time being, this rampant delinquency.”
“It is our hope that the court will rule that public funds should no longer be transferred to Amana, in light of its long track record of shady and illegal activity,” it added.
Amana declined a request for comment.
An official from a regional council in the West Bank downplayed the High Court ruling.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said that measure was only an interim order and the court will likely approve future transfers to Amana.
The official pointed to a similar Peace Now petition from over two decades ago in which the group sought to prevent the transfer of local council funds to the Yesha settlement umbrella council. In that case, the court ultimately decided to green light such allocations.