De­bat­ing Is­rael’s new land law

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Front Page - PAUL LUNGEN plun­, TORONTO

Law prof says it’s not il­le­gal, while ex-mk claims bill gives Jewish state a black eye.

Is­rael’s Reg­u­la­tion Law, passed by the Knes­set on Feb. 6, has di­vided the Is­raeli pub­lic, prompted heated rhetoric on all sides and is now fac­ing a chal­lenge in the Supreme Court.

On Feb. 14, two le­gal ex­perts de­bated the mer­its of the law in a con­fer­ence call or­ga­nized by the Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs (CIJA).

For­mer La­bor MK Ei­nat Wilf and Prof. Avi Bell took op­pos­ing po­si­tions on the law, which le­gal­izes ex­ist­ing set­tle­ments built on pri­vately held Pales­tinian land.

Bell, a mem­ber of the law fac­ulty at Bar­i­lan Univer­sity, ar­gued there’s prece­dent in coun­tries that have adopted Bri­tish law con­cern­ing “ad­verse pos­ses­sion,” in which res­i­dents are given le­gal ti­tle to land on which they had tres­passed.

The is­sue has been lit­i­gated in the United King­dom and the case was ap­pealed to the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights. Both the top Bri­tish and Euro­pean courts up­held the rights of the tres­passers, Bell said.

The Is­raeli law, un­like laws else­where, pro­vides for com­pen­sa­tion for the orig­i­nal own­ers, he added.

Wilf ar­gued the Knes­set could not ap­ply Is­raeli do­mes­tic law to the dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries. (A sim­i­lar ar­gu­ment has been ad­vanced by the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Reu­ven Rivlin.)

“This is the first time that the par­lia­ment of Is­rael is leg­is­lat­ing for peo­ple who are not vot­ing for the par­lia­ment,” she said. “This is the un­do­ing of Is­raeli democ­racy.”

What’s more, Wilf con­tin­ued, MKS who voted for the mea­sure are “cow­ards,” since they didn’t re­ally sup­port it and were hop­ing to score po­lit­i­cal points by do­ing so. They ex­pect the Is­raeli Supreme Court will over­turn the law, sav­ing them the ef­fort to op­pose it in the Knes­set, she sug­gested.

Wilf said even if the Supreme Court strikes down the law, it will give Is­rael a black eye. She traced the his­tory of land use in the ter­ri­to­ries, not­ing that Is­rael’s claim set­tle­ments are le­gal can be backed up by cit­ing a League of Na­tions de­ci­sion giv­ing the land to the Jews. But she dis­tin­guished from build­ing on pub­lic, gov­ern­ment-owned land and pri­vately held prop­erty.

She also ar­gued that in the past, when pri­vately held land was ex­pro­pri­ated, it was done to fur­ther se­cu­rity mea­sures or for a pub­lic pur­pose, not to ben­e­fit in­di­vid­ual Is­raelis.

Wilf ar­gued the West Bank ter­ri­to­ries were never an­nexed by Is­rael and are un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the mil­i­tary com­man­der. As a re­sult, the Knes­set is not sov­er­eign there.

Bell re­jected Wilf’s ar­gu­ment that Is­rael can­not leg­is­late for Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank, say­ing it has done so for more than 50 years and dis­counted Wilf’s dis­tinc­tion be­tween mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment and par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment there.

“It’s bizarre to say that the only way to de­fend democ­racy is that all sov­er­eign power is held by the army,” he said.

As the one-hour de­bate and ques­tion pe­riod came to a close, both speak­ers fo­cused on pol­icy con­sid­er­a­tions.

The “rest of the world won’t cut Is­rael any slack” over the dis­tinc­tion be­tween army con­trol and that of the Knes­set, Bell said. No mat­ter what Is­rael does in the ter­ri­to­ries, it will al­ways be seen as wrong.

Bell said op­po­nents of the law are try­ing to “frighten” the Is­raeli pub­lic by claim­ing the mil­i­tary com­man­der must re­tain ju­ris­dic­tion in the ter­ri­to­ries, oth­er­wise Is­rael must ac­cept West Bank Pales­tini­ans as cit­i­zens for Is­raeli law to ap­ply there.

Wilf said the idea that the 1967 Green Line marks the limit of Is­raeli sovereignty is not about scar­ing any­one. She said by ap­ply­ing the law and seiz­ing Pales­tinian-owned prop­erty, Is­rael will present an im­age of pur­su­ing a “greedy set­tle­ment pol­icy.”

Set­tler ad­vo­cates who sup­port the law see it as pre­vent­ing even­tual par­ti­tion of the land, but the Jews are a small peo­ple who have never adopted an all-or-noth­ing ap­proach, she said, adding that Zion­ism’s suc­cess stems from com­pro­mise, while the Pales­tini­ans held out for ev­ery­thing and got noth­ing.

The Reg­u­la­tion Law was passed by the Knes­set by a 60-52 vote. It af­fects the sta­tus of 2,000 to 4,000 res­i­dences in 16 set­tle­ments that were built years ago with gov­ern­ment ap­proval on Pales­tinian-owned lands, but which were not sub­ject at the time to claims from ab­sen­tee own­ers.


Ei­nat Wilf

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