Lawmaker seeks probe of right-wing MK’s settlement home
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Lawmaker seeks probe of right-wing MK’s settlement home

Stav Shaffir: ‘Shameful’ conflict of interest if Bezalel Smotrich stands to benefit from his own law legalizing outposts on private Palestinian land

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Zionist Union MK Stav Shafir at an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting in the Knesset, January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Stav Shafir at an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting in the Knesset, January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An opposition lawmaker asked the attorney general to investigate the legality of a right-wing colleague’s settlement home, following reports that it may have been built on private Palestinian land.

Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir put in an official request to Attorney General Avichai Mendleblit on Saturday night after photos were published showing that MK Bezalel Smotrich’s house is in a neighborhood that is not zoned as state land. According to a Channel 2 news report, the area of the Kedumim settlement where his home is located may have belonged to Palestinian owners who have not been compensated for the land.

Smotrich, along with his national-religious Jewish Home party, was one of the forces behind legislation that aims to prevent future demolitions of settler homes built on private Palestinian land. Last month the Knesset approved the legislation, known as the Regulation Law, that would see thousands of housing units in West Bank outposts legalized, in a move that has drawn intentional condemnation and is likely to spark legal battles.

If the reports are true, Smotrich would stand to benefit directly from his own legislation.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich attends a committee meeting regarding the so-called Regulation Bill, which is designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona by December 25, on November 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich attends a committee meeting regarding the so-called Regulation Bill, which is designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona by December 25, on November 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“In the Jewish Home, they think that Israel’s legislative process exists for their own personal benefit and that the taxes of Israel’s citizens are intended to serve the narrow interests of [party leader MK Naftali] Bennett and Smotrich,” said Shaffir in a statement.

“It’s unacceptable for a Knesset member to advance an illegal measure like this without even warning of a conflict of interest, and the fact that he has a clear interest in it,” she said, describing Smotrich’s conduct as “shameful.”

Smotrich lives in the Givat Rashi neighborhood of Kedumim, which is not on state land, according to the government’s land agency charged with determining such matters.

A Channel 2 graphic showing the part of the Givat Rashi neighborhood outside the blue area in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim where MK Bezalel Smotrich's house was built, possibly on private Palestinian land. The Hebrew reads 'Smotrich's house.' (Channel 2)
A Channel 2 graphic showing the part of the Givat Rashi neighborhood outside the blue area in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim where MK Bezalel Smotrich’s house was built, possibly on private Palestinian land. The Hebrew reads ‘Smotrich’s house.’ (Channel 2)

Land ownership in the West Bank is defined based on laws from the Ottoman period, according to which land not legally owned but used for agricultural purposes for several years may then be legally claimed. Aerial photos from the 1970s, 1990s and the early 2000s show the land where Smotrich’s house stands was planted with trees and cultivated.

Saker Subhi Obad, former head of the Palestinian village adjacent to Kedumim, told Haaretz that he did not know who the owners of that parcel of land were, and he suspected that they no longer lived in the area — otherwise, he said, they would have sued. Obad said he contacted the legal aid organization Yesh Din to help him locate the owners.

Dror Etkes, of the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot, criticized Smotrich for pushing a bill that would retroactively legalize his own home.

“His house is also built on Palestinian land,” Etkes said, “and he will be one of the people who would benefit from that law.”

In response to the criticism aired in the Channel 2 report, Smotrich claimed that the news item censored part of his response. He tweeted that “the only ones that have a conflict of interest are the reporters who are trying to represent the Palestinians in order to evict Jews. But in this case of self-hatred, no regulation law can help.”

The so-called regulation law, which would freeze demolition proceedings against homes built illegally in the West Bank, was passed on February 6 by 60 votes in favor to 52 against.

New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

For any settlement structures found to have been built in good faith — that is, if the homeowners did not know the house was being built on privately owned land — the state would seize the property from its Palestinian owners in exchange for compensation valued at slightly more than the land’s market value, as determined by an Israeli government committee established for that purpose.

The law has faced strident opposition, including from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has warned that it marks the first time Israeli legislation explicitly affirms government support for the settlements, and would openly curtail property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that contravenes the protections granted to occupied populations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

On Wednesday he officially notified the High Court of Justice that he will not defend the law.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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