By an overwhelming margin of 8-1, Israel’s Supreme Court on June 9 wisely struck down a misbegotten law that would have enabled the Israeli government to expropriate privately-owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank at its convenience and pleasure.
The justices ruled that the Regulation Law, passed by the Knesset in 2017 by a margin of 60-52, violated the property rights of Palestinians at the behest of Israeli settlers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’a right-wing government sponsored the bill shortly after the United States abstained on a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The law was so fraught with problems and pitfalls that Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, labelled it unconstitutional and in contravention of international law.
Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, condemned it as well. “It’s unjust, it’s not smart, and it’s a law which damages the state of Israel, the security of Israel, governance in Israel and our ability to fight back against those who hate Israel.”
Israelis who opposed the law submitted petitions to the court in an effort to quash it. The then Israeli justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, hired a lawyer to speak to its legitimacy. Tellingly enough, Mandelblit declined to defend it before the high court justices.
The upshot was that the court issued an injunction nullifying the law, which provided compensation to Palestinian landowners who had lost their properties, but which made it impossible for them to reclaim their properties at a later date.
The court’s intervention in the case was of the utmost importance. It prevented the expropriation of about 2,000 acres of Palestinian land on which almost 4,000 housing units had been built in 16 authorized settlements and a number of unauthorized outposts.
If the court had not intervened, the Israeli government would have had carte blanche to grab whatever land it coveted from Palestinians in the future.
In its latest verdict, the court described the law as patently unfair, given the government’s brazen attempt to retroactively legalize “unlawful acts perpetrated by one specific population” — Jewish settlers — “while harming the rights of another,” Palestinians.
Elaborating on this theme, the court branded the law as an “arrangement which knowingly and unequally hurts only the ownership rights” of Palestinians “without giving sufficient weight to their special status” as a population under Israeli military occupation.
Predictably enough, Netanyahu’s Likud Party condemned the court’s ruling, saying the law would have been a pillar of the settlement project, whose overarching goal is to annex the West Bank and destroy the possibility of Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu’s coalition partner, the centrist Blue and White Party, adopted a far more measured position, stating it accepted the court’s decision and would work to ensure it is respected.
To no one’s surprise, several Likud parliamentarians have promised to introduce a new version of the law in the Knesset in the near future.
These diehards have no regard for what is fair, just and legitimate. They stain Israel’s honor and reputation, leaving it open to well deserved criticism and opprobrium.