After its late-night approval for legislation by the Knesset Control Committee, the hotly-debated Settlements Arrangement Law will reach the Knesset Wednesday for a vote on its first reading. It is expected to pass easily, despite the cold shoulder given to it by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, and the opposition to it by State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit.
According to Israeli law, the mere claim of a dispute is sufficient to require demolition of homes built by Jews, even if no evidence is presented. Once the homes are demolished, the process of clarifying to whom the land actually belongs can begin. The new law would replace the process where such claims are adjudicated by the High Court with a special arbitration process that would, among other things, advocate land swaps that would replace the land claimed by Palestinians with state land of an equal or greater value that is not in dispute. The law is designed to prevent the demolition of homes at outposts and settlements that were built in good faith, but later were discovered to be built on private land.
While that aspect of the law has wide support in the coalition, one section of it – the section that relates to Amona – is in dispute, with Kachlon and other Kulanu MKs opposing it. That section seeks to grandfather the law, effectively outmaneuvering the High Court’s order to demolish the homes in dispute at Amona – and Kachlon has said that he will not support a law that seeks to uproot a High Court decision. For that reason, the coalition is set in a rare move to present two versions of the bill, one with the grandfather clause, and another without – thus ensuring passage of at least one version.
Mandelblit is also opposed to that section of the law, and has said that a compromise offered by his office would not be valid if the “full” version of the law was passed. The Amona homes are set to be demolished by the end of the month, and to avoid a showdown between the residents, government and the court, Mandelblit has proposed implementing the rarely used Absentee Property Law, in which the government takes over administration of parcels of land whose owners are not interested in or capable of taking legal action to prevent use of their assets.
On the Amona hilltop there are several parcels of land whose supposed owners live in Jordan, and who have never expressed interest in asserting their rights. Mandelblit proposed that caravans be set up on these parcels for the evacuated Amona residents, and they will able to stay there until alternative permanent housing is built for them in the Shiloh area, or until other parcels in the area are determined to be state land, where permanent housing can be built. Amona residents have rejected the offer, saying that they would “not agree to ‘solutions’ that require us to pick up and move every few months, moving to new sites only to be thrown out again. There are only two solutions – passage of a law to legalize our situation, or forcibly throwing us out of our homes.”