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Israeli government to decide if Regularization law allows expropriation of agricultural lands

Feb. 26, 2017 6:12 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 27, 2017 10:24 A.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law earlier this month that granted official state recognition to more than a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Supreme Court is now reportedly awaiting a response from the government regarding whether or not the law also allows for the expropriation of agricultural lands where no settler homes have been built.

According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Israeli general prosecution told the court last week it was mulling the issue, in response to a petition filed by Palestinians claiming ownership of agricultural land near the illegal Israeli settlement of Shiloh northeast of Ramallah, which has been worked by settlers for several years since they forced the Palestinians of their land.

While the broadly worded law does authorize the expropriation of “agricultural areas used by” a settlement or outpost, its main purpose is to prevent the demolition of settler homes, according to Haaretz. The attorney representing the Palestinian petitioners told Haaretz that no homes had been built on the agricultural land in question, as far as they knew.

According to the report, Israel’s Civil Administration, which imposes Israeli policies in the occupied territory, ordered settlers to cease cultivating the land in 2009, but never enforced the orders, after which the Palestinians landowners asked the court to have the land restored to them.

Most recently, the Israeli state asked the court to give it until April 30 to submit its conclusions regarding the ownership claim, in light of the newly passed law.

However, as Haaretz noted in its report, the application of the so-called Regularization law in this case may be moot, since it has already been challenged by a petition filed to the Supreme Court.

Many have speculated that the court will strike the legislation down, particularly as Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has repeatedly criticized the law as unconstitutional and has refused to defend it in court.

The law states that any settlements built in the occupied West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending minimal proof of governmental support in its establishment and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

As it stands, the law would affect the status of 16 outposts, although reports have indicated that more could be included in the future.

While settler outposts constructed in occupied Palestinian territory are officially considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have also been established in direct violation of international law.

In what could be the first move to legalize Israeli settler structures on private Palestinian land since the passage of the law, the Israeli government reportedly informed the Supreme Court that it was considering using it to confiscate private Palestinian lands in the West Bank district of Ramallah.

Haaretz reported the plan was regarding the legalization of seven structures built for the Adi Ad outpost, including roads built to connect the settlers to the rest of Israel, all of which have been constructed on private Palestinian lands in the West Bank district of Ramallah, established in 1998 as part of Israel’s Shilo settlement bloc.
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