The state might change its interpretation of land seizure laws so that private Palestinian property in Area C of the West Bank could be expropriated for public use by Israelis, Attorney-General Mordechai Mandelblit indicated in a legal opinion released by his office on Wednesday.
The High Court of Justice and the state, including Mandelblit, have until recently held that private Palestinian property cannot be seized for the public good of settlers.
That interpretation has stood behind every High Court of Justice decision regarding the demolition of illegal settler homes on private Palestinian property or the construction of roads.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had held that private Palestinian property could not be used for settler construction.
The Knesset challenged that assumption in February when it passed the Settlements Regulation Law, which retroactively legalizes illegal settler homes on private Palestinian property in exchange for monetary compensation.
A consortium of 13 NGOs have petitioned the High Court of Justice against the law.
In an unusual move, the government hired private attorney Harel Arnon to present its position to the court. He argued that the process of eminent domain could be used to seize private Palestinian property for the public good of the settlers, because they were considered to be the “local population.”
It was a stance that Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran took when writing a legal opinion with regard to a court case last month.
In light of his statements, Mandelblit said there is room to make use of that understanding with regard to the construction of an access road on private Palestinian property for the West Bank outpost of Harsha, which the government plans to authorize. The outpost, built in 1995 with NIS 1.6 million from the Ministry of Housing and Construction, is considered to be on state land, but the only possible route for an access road involves a section of private Palestinian property.
Mandelblit said he was still studying the matter, but that Joubran’s interpretation appeared in a limited way to be applicable, but at this point, only for this road.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said she welcomed Mandelblit’s position, which would help advance the rights of hundreds of thousands of settlers in Judea and Samaria.
“This is a perfect example of a bureaucracy of robbery,” said attorney Michael Sfard who represented Left-wing group Peace Now in an High Court of Justice petition against the Harsha outpost.
“The AG’s report [opinion] paves the ways to the commission of grave breaches of international law on a massive scale. It is disappointing to see how anorectic is the opinion in its reasoning. No reference to the guiding principles the international community has adopted with regards to the nature of a regime of occupation; no consideration of the human rights of the occupied, unrepresented civilians who are the victims of the opinion. No ideals, no compassion,” Sfard said.