Today, November 22 2017, Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit,responded to the petition challenging the “Regularization Law,” submitted by Yesh Din, Peace Now and ACRI to Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) on March 3 2017 on behalf of 27 Palestinian local councils, 4 Palestinian landowners and 13 Israeli civil society organizations.
The Attorney General refused to represent the government in court on this case, given his strong and clear objection to the law, as detailed in the response submitted today.
Mandelblit’s response corresponds with the arguments the petitioners presented against the Regularization Law (otherwise called the “Expropriation Law”): The law is invalid and meant to retroactively legalize illegal construction on private Palestinian land and is not applied in “good faith.” In his response, the Attorney General underlines the petitioners’ position that the law violates Palestinians’ right to property and prioritizes settler interests while ignoring Israel’s duty to protect the local Palestinian population under its occupation. The Attorney General noted that the law outlines an arrangement of land expropriation “that is inherently flawed.”
However, despite opposing the “Regularization Law”, Mandelblit has recently approved other legal steps to allow for the takeover of privately owned Palestinian land. During the past two weeks, the AG issued two legal opinions, one concerning land near the Haresha outpost and another in Ofra, in which he approved expropriation of private Palestinian land for the sole benefit of settlements.
In his legal opinions Mandelblit fails to recognize that any takeover of private Palestinian land for the purpose of settlements stands in violation of IHL, specifically the laws of occupation that apply to the West Bank.
The undersigned organizations will continue to work against any government initiative, whether through legislation or by form of legal opinions, which violates human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank.
The expropriation law is meant to sweepingly legalize all settlement structures built illegally on private Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Peace Now estimates that there are more than 8000 dunams of private Palestinian lands in the West Bank in and around settlements on which illegal houses were established.In the High Court petition of March 2017, the petitioners argued that the law is unconstitutional as it clearly violates Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, by forcing authorities to expropriate rights of land ownership and usage from Palestinians for an unlimited time period. The Palestinian landowners – who did not elect the parliament and government which is now expropriating their lands – are given no possibility to object the land expropriation proceedings that directly harm them.
Additionally, the law violates international humanitarian law (IHL), the laws of occupation and other international conventions signed by Israel, which oblige the State of Israel to protect the rights of residents of the occupied territory and prohibit the expropriation of their property for any use, except for immediate security needs. The petition also emphasizes the fact that the law is putting each military officer and civil servant involved in its implementation at risk of accusations of committing war crimes. The same is true for members of Knesset who voted for the bill’s passage.
The petition stresses the fact that by passing the “Regularization Law,” the Knesset has exceeded its authority. Until now, Israeli laws applied in the West Bank only in regards to Israeli citizens, i.e. on a personal basis and not on the entire territory. Passing the law is a clear act of applying sovereignty, and thereby an act of illegal annexation.
On August 17, the Court issued a temporary injunction freezing the application of the Law, but along with it, preventing, for the time being, the enforcement of demolition orders on illegal settlement construction on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.
The government, in its response of August 21, 2017, claimed that the “Regularization Law” serves a necessary purpose: “A humane, proportional and reasonable response to the genuine crisis of Israeli residents.” The State response expresses Israeli policies to retroactively legalize illegal Israeli construction in the West Bank in contravention to Israeli law as well as International Humanitarian Law, while rewarding the perpetrators who had illegally taken over land not belonging to them.