Justice minister wants High Court to stop ruling on Palestinian land claims

Legislation being drafted by Ayelet Shaked would transfer jurisdiction on West Bank land disputes to Jerusalem District Court

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is drafting legislation that would force Palestinian plaintiffs from the West Bank to petition a district court regarding building and land disputes, instead of the High Court of Justice.

Shaked wants to transfer all land-related suits in the West Bank to the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s office, and have them first heard at the city court.

The purpose of the legislation is threefold: to solidify Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, provide Israeli settlers access to civil courts, and ease the case backlogs at the High Court, reports Thursday in the Yedioth Ahrononth daily and the weekly B’Sheva settler magazine said.

Shaked was quoted as saying that her measure is also an effort to avoid the “politicization” that Israel’s constitutional court brings to debates on land disputes, though critics told Yedioth that her “distinctly political” motivation was to normalize the status of the West Bank as part of Israel.

The bill, according to Shaked, will end the discrimination against Israeli settlers by the High Court, providing them access to standard civil and criminal legal proceedings. Currently settlers have to conduct their business relating to land issues in military court.

.Abed al-Kader Muhammad Moatan (center) and two other Palestinian petitioners to the High Court of Justice on Thursday (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/ Flash 90)
Illustrative: Palestinians petition the High Court of Justice (Photo credit: Uri Lenz/ Flash 90)

Shaked also said her bill will also serve to ease the backlog of the thousands of land-related cases heard by the court each year. The High Court handles over 2,000 such petitions a year, many of which are appeals filed by West Bank Palestinians seeking injunctions against IDF-issued demolition orders.

“The burden on the Supreme Court is unparalleled in the world,” Shaked said according to Yedioth. “The High Court should reject many of these petitions out of hand. Throughout this process we will also ease the burdens on the lower courts.”

The High Court is a separate institution to the Supreme Court, though they are made up of the same 15 justices. While the Supreme Court is an appeals court for cases moving up from the magistrate and district court levels, the High Court allows for direct petitions against any state action.

The bill would allow for petitioners to appeal a district court’s decision to the High Court.

Shaked is also seeking to transfer the jurisdiction of other matters to lower courts. With the approval of the Knesset’s Constitution Committee, the justice minister in the coming months will order that many immigration-related petitions be heard at the district-level courts instead of the High Court.

Palestinians often appeal against Israeli legislation or regulatory agencies operating in the West Bank.

This High Court mechanism has long been a target for right-wing complaints of overreach and legislative attempts to weaken the broad authority it has claimed over the years.

The issue came to a head with the February 2017 evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost in the West Bank, which was forced on the state by multiple High Court rulings that concluded that the land was privately owned by Palestinians and had been illegally seized by the Israeli residents.

Israeli settlers scuffle with security forces at the Amona outpost during an evacuation operation on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

High Court rulings have also unraveled other existing Knesset legislation, including its revised IDF ultra-Orthodox enlistment bill, its policies on detaining African migrants, the two-year budget, a plan by the finance minister for third-apartment taxation, and the revocation of permanent residency status of four Palestinian parliamentarians from East Jerusalem with ties to the Hamas terror group.

In December, Shaked’s right-wing Jewish Home party proposed a bill that would curb the ability of the Supreme Court to strike down Knesset legislation, a move staunchly opposed by Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit.

The legislation would drastically limit the power of Israel’s highest court by preventing judges from disqualifying any quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Mandelblit had several meetings with Shaked about the bill in recent weeks, raising his concerns that the legislation would upset the careful balance of power between Israel’s judicial and legislative branches, but the two have so far failed to reach any compromise, Hadashot news reported last month.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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