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Peace Now: Israel weighs 'stealing' private Palestinian land for settlers

Aug. 9, 2016 7:22 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 9, 2016 7:51 P.M.)
Israeli forces talk with Jewish settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost as they stage a sit-in to prevent Palestinians from working in their fields, Jan. 2, 2013. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Sunday he would consider leasing privately owned Palestinian land to Israeli settlers residing in the nearby illegal Amona outpost which is slated for destruction by the state of Israel, despite "weighty legal issues,” Israeli human rights watchdog Peace Now reported Tuesday.

The announcement came in response to a legal opinion submitted to Mandelblit by an Israeli government committee last week, suggesting the takeover of Palestinian land whose owners were residing outside of the West Bank in order to transfer the settlers there.

“Approving the committee's legal opinion will consist of a sharp change of Israeli policy thus far, and contradict decisions of the Supreme Court, according to which private land cannot be used for the purpose of settlements,” Peace Now said in their statement.

“Such an approval will expose Israel to lawsuits and create a precedent that could lead to the doubling of the land taken up by settlements.”

The attorney general’s statement, translated into English by Peace Now, said: "This recommendation raises weighty legal issues, among others, in the field of property law and the status of absentees' property, and in the field of planning and construction law.”

Mandelblit stressed that “uncompromising compliance with the rule of law” must be maintained in the occupied West Bank, including enforcing the most recent Israeli Supreme Court decision regarding the outpost, which ruled it had to be evacuated no later than Dec. 25, 2015.

However, the attorney general’s statement concluded that there was "no legal impediment” to pursuing the option of leasing the privately owned Palestinian land which he claimed “according to an initial indication could be considered as absentees' property.”

He added a full examination of all “legal issues” would take place, including the management of the property by Israel, as well as the planning and construction of structures for Amona’s evacuees.

"The Attorney General is signaling that he is willing to approve the stealing of private lands of absentees for settlers who themselves stole private lands against the law,” Peace Now said in their reaction.

“The extrapolation of the (attorney general) approving this option is that from now on, absentees' property could be leased to the settlers, despite of the fact that these are private properties. The government's willingness to politically compensate the settlers of Amona, who settled on private Palestinian land, is leading to devastating consequences on the ground and to the distortion of Israel's moral and legal systems."

The proposal would also resemble Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law, which permits the Israeli government to transfer so-called “absentee" property belonging to Palestinians to Jewish residents.

The law was established following the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel, that resulted in the mass displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians. Israel’s definition of an “absentee” allowed for the Israeli state to take over Palestinian property even when the displaced residents ended up within the borders of the newly established state.

Palestinians have continued to be denied access to their properties for having been absent from their homes, even if just for a few days, as of 1947, when many Palestinians fled from their homes to escape Jewish Zionist forces during the Arab-Israeli war.

The Amona outpost, located near the settlement of Ofra, was also constructed on top of privately held Palestinian land, and hosts some 40 Israeli families.

The more than 200 Israeli settler outposts in the West Bank are considered illegal by the Israeli government. However, Israeli authorities often legalize the outposts retroactively by declaring them official settlements after they have been connected to Israel’s water and electricity infrastructure.

Each of the some 196 Israeli government-approved settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory were constructed in contravention to international law.

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