Reactions poured in on Tuesday and Wednesday to the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to green-light the legalization of the central West Bank outpost of Mitzpe Kramim, with right-wing lawmakers hailing it as an important milestone and leftist and Palestinian politicians slamming it as a dangerous precedent.
Using a policy known as “market regulation,” a new tactic that could pave the way for legalizing dozens of other hilltop communities beyond the Green Line, Judge Arnon Darel ruled that the outpost need not be razed, despite having been built without the necessary permits, because the settlers erected the community “in good faith” and have rights to the property.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said the decision was a “victory for decency and common sense” and “another step toward legalizing the settlements in Judea and Samaria and turning them into an integral part of the State of Israel.” He was using the West Bank’s biblical and historical name.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Bennett’s party member, celebrated what she called an “important, precedent-setting achievement” for the settler movement.
Shaked said the ruling proved that past outpost evacuations were unnecessary and expressed hope that there would be none in the future.
Culture Minister Miri Regev of the ruling Likud party said she was “happy that common sense and justice prevailed over cold formalism,” and that the ruling was “a clear-cut message to the Palestinians and their collaborators from far-left organizations, that you don’t destroy and evacuate communities in the Land of Israel.”
Left-wing politicians were quick to condemn the decision.
MK Mossi Raz of the Meretz opposition party said that “unfortunately, on this issue, the High Court is turning into a branch of the Yesha Council [settler umbrella group]. Every legalization of illegal settlement is a dangerous precedent that emboldens the settlers to continue in their criminal ways and distances us from the two-state solution.”
MK Michal Rozin, also from Meretz, said the decision meant that “the Palestinians’ property rights are lesser than those of Jews, and that the government can legalize any outposts it wants, even when the land has private owners.”
Rozin added a personal attack on Shaked, who has long criticized the court as too liberal in its interventions in government policy.
“The spirit of Shaked, who views basic democratic principles as an enemy, is trickling down to the legal system, and I call on the Supreme Court to cancel this dangerous precedent,” she said.
Senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi slammed the ruling as a “dangerous precedent of retroactively whitewashing illegal outposts and encouraging further lawlessness and acts of violence by the extremist settler population.”
She added that it “provides the settlers with further motivation to steal the private property of Palestinian landowners,” and that it “exposes how Israel is distorting its own legal and judicial systems in the service of its settler colonialist expansionism while targeting the land, lives and rights of the vulnerable Palestinian people.”
Ashrawi called on the international community, the UN and the International Criminal Court to intervene.
Mitzpe Kramim was established in 1999 adjacent to the Kochav Hashahar settlement on land granted to the settlers by the semi-state Settlement Division of the World Zionist organization. Shortly after, the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that regulates West Bank construction — determined that the state did not have rights to the land.
In 2011, a group of Palestinians from the village of Deir Jarir who claim ownership over the land on which the outpost sits submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice to have the community of some 40 families removed.
In order to delay the process, the residents — represented by Harel Arnon, the attorney defending legislation seeking to legalize West Bank outposts in the High Court on behalf of the government — issued their own petition to the Jerusalem District Court, claiming the Defense Ministry had been responsible for settling them on that particular central West Bank hilltop after their original site had been deemed similarly illegal.
Darel accepted the residents’ claims Tuesday, arguing that the state’s tacit support in establishing the outpost — despite being on land not belonging to the state — represented good faith on the settlers’ part.
Though the outcome is the same, the so-called market regulation defense differs from the recently passed outpost legalization law, because it allows the court to green-light an outpost retroactively even if there is no identified owner.
Under the so-called Regulation Law, which has been stuck in High Court proceedings since being passed in February 2017, the state may expropriate land with an identified owner retroactively where settlers built in good faith or with government support. The Palestinian owner is then compensated for the land.
While similar to “market regulation,” the implications of the Regulation Law are far more sweeping and would allow for the legalization of what some experts predict would be 4,000 homes. The legislation also details that any state support creates “good faith,” while in market regulation, good faith can only be established in the real estate transaction itself. In the Mitzpe Kramim ruling, the court deemed the Settlement Division’s granting of the land to the residents as an equivalent of a real estate transaction.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.