Right-wing lawmakers and pro-settlement groups were seething Tuesday after the High Court of Justice struck down legislation aimed at legalizing thousands of wildcat Israeli homes built on private Palestinian land.
However, many of the frustrated politicians and pundits expressed hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will blunt the court’s decision by moving forward with his promise to annex large parts of the West Bank, including the territory where all of those illegal homes were established.
In its official statement, Likud characterized as “unfortunate” the High Court’s intervention in a law “that’s important to the settlement enterprise and its future” and vowed to immediately act to advance a new law with the same goal.
The national-religious Yamina party said it would submit legislation to override the court’s ruling, saying anyone who would oppose its bill “is a leftist.” Yamina’s leaders proposed the Regulation Law when they were part of the previous government, but the party now sits in the opposition.
In a separate statement, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett urged the government to respond to the ruling by pushing ahead with annexation.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud warned that “the Knesset will no longer be silent in light of the ongoing violation of its powers and status.”
“Today, the High Court once again trampled on Israeli democracy and the basic human rights of many of Israel’s citizens, as has become its wrongful practice,” Levin added in a statement.
“The ruling given seemingly without authority is making another rip in Israeli society and will further damage public confidence in the Supreme Court and its judges,” he said.
Settlement Minister Tzipi Hotovely, also of Likud, called the court decision “a declaration of war on the rights of Jews to settle the Land of Israel.”
“The court has recognized the rights of Palestinians who never proved their ownership of the land, over Israeli citizens who serve in the army and pay taxes, and who settled the land innocently and as emissaries of Israeli governments over the years and are now considered criminals,” she said.
A source close to Netanyahu was quoted as having told the Ynet news site that annexation will “solve most of the issues” the struck-down Regulation Law had been meant to address.
The pro-settlement Regavim movement, which had pushed the law, said the ruling exposed the court as biased against settlements. “Today, at last, the High Court has admitted that for all practical purposes it is a High Court of Subjective Justice,” it said.
Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, who comprise the right-wing Derech Eretz faction in Blue and White, expressed displeasure with the decision, but called on the public to respect the ruling.
At the same time, the lawmakers said that “the future of the settlement enterprise won’t be decided in a courtroom, but by the Israel government, which has before it a historic chance to extend sovereignty.”
Blue and White chairman and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the ruling was to be expected. “Already in the legislative process, it was clear that the law posed serious issued, and it should have been stopped from being passed in the first place.”
He said his party would work to ensure that the ruling would be respected and that “there will be no harm done to the rule of law.”
On the left, Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz praised the ruling, calling the Regulation Law “racist” and “contravening of the most basic moral standards.”
The B’Tselem rights group similarly praised the decision but said it does little to stop the larger settlement project.
“All lands in the West Bank are Palestinian, and even after today’s HCJ (High Court of Justice) ruling Israel will continue to take over more and more Palestinian land. This reality of ongoing land theft by the State of Israel does not fundamentally change today, nor does it diminish the Israeli HCJ’s role in legitimizing it over the years,” B’Tselem added.
The Peace Now settlement watchdog, which had been among the petitioners against the Regulation Law said, “We have curbed the unsuccessful attempt to expropriate private land of people living under occupation by a government they did not choose for the benefit of new settlements aimed at foiling a political agreement [to end the conflict].”
In its 8-1 decision, the High Court ruled that the Regulation Law “was unconstitutional and ordered it nullified,” saying it “violates the property rights and equality of Palestinians, and gives clear priority to the interests of Israeli settlers over Palestinian residents [of the West Bank],” the court said in a statement.
The judges ruled that the law also did not “provide sufficient weight” to the status of “Palestinians as protected residents in an area under belligerent occupation.”
The legislation has been frozen since it was passed and even Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit refused to defend it before the High Court. It would have allowed the state to expropriate private Palestinian land where experts say some 4,000 illegal settler homes have been built, provided that they were established “in good faith” or had government support, and that the Palestinian owners receive 125 percent financial compensation for the land.