With the government averting a near crisis over the upcoming demolition of homes in Amona, the principle of honoring land claims of challengers that would require the demolition of existing houses will be expanded. At a meeting of the Likud faction, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that the principle would apply to everyone equally – including Arabs.
“In the coming days we will demolish houses in areas where the law has not yet been enforced,” Netanyahu said. “We have set aside resources for this, and I am pressuring the powers to resolve this problem, which is widespread. We have a problem enforcing the law in the Arab sector, where there is unbridled violation of the law – hurting mostly the Arabs themselves. We must change our policies of enforcement in their towns, in order to ensure law and order for all Israelis.”
Primary among that enforcement is enforcing demolition orders against structures that have been built on land belonging to absentee owners. As in the case of Amona, where Arabs currently living in Jordan claiming ownership of the land led the High Court to order the demolition of some 40 homes on the hilltop in order to enforce the property rights of the claimants, there are thousands of such structures in Israel proper that the government will now seek to demolish.
The solution to this problem is the Settlements Arrangement Law, which would replace the process to claims by Arabs that they own land that Israeli homes are built on. Currently, such claims are adjudicated by the High Court but the bill would instead institute 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. That bill has passed on its first reading, but like in Amona, it does not factor in any of the current claims.
That process is already well underway. Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat had already last month instructed the legal adviser to the municipality to begin proceedings for the demolition of thousands of illegally built structures occupied by Arabs in the city. Many of the buildings are located on land belonging to the Official Receiver of the State, an office that administers property on behalf of absentee owners. In a letter to State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit this week, Barkat said that the demolitions of homes in Amona gives the city a green light to demolish homes in his city illegally built by Arabs on state land and privately owned Jewish land. “It has come to my attention that the legal department has determined that there are similar instances in Yerushalayim, especially in Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, where homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land. According to the law that would apply to Amona, the city would be obligated to evict thousands of Arab families and demolish their homes,” Barkat wrote.
In a statement, the Yerushalayim municipality said that “Mayor Barkat has asked State Attorney Mandelblit to assess the implications of the Amona decision on the city. There are many cases in Yerushalayim that are identical to the situation in Amona, where Arabs have built homes on privately owned or municipal land and have lived there for decades. Obviously we cannot have a situation where there is one law for Arabs and another for Jews.”