In its official response Thursday to a High Court of Justice petition against a new law to legalize wildcat West Bank outposts, the state argued that the legislation, if implemented, would benefit Palestinians.
Private attorney Harel Arnon crafted the response on behalf of the state after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit refused to defend the legislation. In his 156-page response, Arnon wrote that the law will ensure just compensation for Palestinian landowners who would otherwise receive the death penalty from the Palestinian Authority for selling their land to Jews.
“The law even improves the situation of landowners, who will receive significant compensation for the use of their land — an option denied to them without the law,” Arnon wrote on behalf of the state.
The response also rejected claims that the legislation violates Israeli and international law. Arnon argued that it was in Israel’s “national interest” to prevent the evacuation of the some 4,000 homes that the law would legalize retroactively.
“The Regulation Law balances the obligation of the government towards thousands of citizens who have relied in good faith on government action and a minor infringement of property rights, with increased compensation to the landowners,” the state concluded.
Passed over six months ago, the Regulation Law allows the Israeli government to expropriate private Palestinian land where illegal outpost homes have been built ex post facto, provided that the outposts were “built in good faith” or had government support.
In return, the legislation states, the Palestinian landowners will be compensated financially or with other land.
The passage of the bill, originally meant to save the since-razed outpost of Amona, was roundly condemned by a slew of activists and political figures in Israel and abroad.
Its legality was immediately challenged in a High Court petition from left-wing NGOs Peace Now, Yesh Din and ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel) on behalf of 27 Palestinian local councils and 13 Israeli civil society organizations.
Regardless of the petition, the law was supposed to have gone into effect last week. However, at the behest of Mandelblit, the High Court ruled Thursday to freeze its implementation for two months.
Consequently, no additional land will be expropriated even if it fits the above conditions. At the same time, outposts found to have been built in good faith or with government backing will not be demolished until a final decision is made.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked echoed state’s response to the High Court petition in a Monday statement praising the legislation. “The law offers a counter to the racism of the Palestinian Authority, which places the death penalty on those who sell land to Jews,” she said
But the left-wing NGOs behind the High Court challenge said the government’s response was an attempt to cover for a “criminal enterprise.”
“The Israeli government’s response seeks to present the expropriation law as a solution for a national problem, while the real problem is the state’s involvement in illegal settlement activity for the past five decades,” they said in a joint statement.
The court is now set to hear a response from the Knesset’s legal adviser in mid-September, followed by what is expected to be an unprecedented challenge to the law from Mandelblit himself in October.
In the months leading up to the February 6 Knesset vote on the Regulation Law, Mandelblit warned that the legislation bypassed standard land regulation procedures in the West Bank and that it legalized Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian land in breach of local and international law.
Mandelblit also cautioned that the legislation openly curtailed property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that contravenes the protections granted to occupied populations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
When the Knesset passed the law anyway, Mandelblit officially notified the High Court that he would not defend the legislation if it was challenged. Arnon was subsequently chosen to represent the state in Mandeblit’s stead.
In May, Haaretz revealed that Arnon’s own home in the Elazar settlement is being built illegally on land that had been designated strictly for military purposes.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.