The home of MK Bezalel Smotrich may be built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, according to reports Wednesday.
The right-wing lawmaker from the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party lives in the settlement of Kedumim, but his home appears to be in a neighborhood that is not zoned as state land, and photographs imply that the area possibly had Palestinian owners.
Smotrich was one of the forces behind legislation which 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 condemnation and is likely to spark legal battles.
Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday officially notified the High Court of Justice that he will not defend the law.
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.
Land ownership in the West Bank is defined using 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 they would have sued. He said he contacted the 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.”
Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, echoed Etkes statement.
Settler lawmakers like Smotrich “prefer to take care of their own house built on stolen land outside the borders of the state than a sustainable future for Israel as a whole,” she tweeted.
In response to the criticism following 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 regulation law which would freeze demolition proceedings against homes built illegally in the West Bank was passed 60 votes in favor to just 52 against.
For any 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 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.