KKL-JNF board members: Move to buy West Bank land illegal, must be halted

Left-leaning members send letter to organization’s chairman calling for him to suspend meeting scheduled to approve controversial policy

JNF chairman Danny Atar at lookout point, during a visit in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion, in the West Bank on December 20, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
JNF chairman Danny Atar at lookout point, during a visit in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion, in the West Bank on December 20, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements on the Jewish National Fund’s board demanded the organization suspend its push to purchase land in the West Bank on Tuesday.

The management of the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) approved a policy change on Sunday that would permit it to buy the West Bank lands, including areas with isolated settlements. The decision is still subject to the approval of the full board.

Seven board members, including two from the organization’s management, sent a letter to KKL-JNF chairman Avi Duvdevani demanding he suspend a board meeting scheduled for April 22 to approve the new policy, Haaretz reported.

In February, KKL-JNF voted to allocate NIS 38 million ($11.58 million) for the purchase of land in the West Bank. The controversial vote indicated a policy change — KKL-JNF would take operations beyond the Green Line to another level, purchasing land for the purpose of expanding settlements. (KKL-JNF is a separate entity from JNF-USA.)

The February decision, which passed by a single vote, specified that there would be no purchases in the districts of the Palestinian cities Nablus and Jenin — areas with very few Jewish settlements. In the current proposal, the note has been omitted, Haaretz reported.

The resolution was based on the opinion of retired judge Yoseph Elon, which stated that KKL-JNF can operate in the territories to promote communal, environmental, and educational projects.

Centrist and leftist factions on the KKL-JNF’s board of directors have submitted a counter-opinion by Shachar Ben-Meir, which contests Elon’s judgment. Both opinions focus on a sentence in the organization’s Memorandum of Association, which allows KKL-JNF to acquire land “in any area under the jurisdiction of the government of Israel,” Haaretz said.

KKL-JNF chairman Avi Duvdevani (Amos Lozon/KKL-JNF)

According to the proposal, KKL-JNF will reportedly purchase only private land, with a preference for land where settlements already exist, or that allows for the expansion of existing settlements.

If Israel requests that KKL-JNF purchase land that does not meet those criteria, the decision will be left to KKL-JNF’s leadership committee. The committee will be able to authorize the purchase of any land that does not meet these criteria as long as it is under the jurisdiction of Israel, said Haaretz.

After the February vote, the left-wing Meretz faction said it would be filing for a repeat vote given the close results.

A group of board members representing left-leaning factions subsequently filed a petition demanding that the vote be annulled. They cited malpractice by Duvdevani, claiming he muted certain members on the Zoom meeting and prevented others from answering questions, and then rushed the vote. In addition, the petitioners claimed that legal opinions criticizing KKL-JNF’s covert conduct beyond the Green Line were hidden from board members.

KKL-JNF, established in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement and best known for the hundreds of millions of trees it has planted throughout Israel, serves as the Jewish people’s custodian for some 15 percent of the land in the country, the management of which is carried out by the Israel Lands Authority.

An organization officially registered as a company for the benefit of the public, KKL-JNF works in the fields of forestry, water, education, community development, tourism, and research and development. The World Zionist Organization is its parent body.

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