Law to Move Land-Dispute Cases from High Court Passes First Reading

High Court, Smotrich, Livni, land dispute
Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Knesset on Wednesday approved on its first reading a law that sets local and district courts as the arbitrators of disputes over land disputes and ownership in Yehudah and Shomron. Currently, such disputes are adjudicated by the High Court. Under the new law, Palestinians or leftist groups that seek to prevent construction or dispute the ownership of land in the region will have to file their case in a lower-level court.

The law’s author, MK Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), said that the law would have numerous benefits, not the least of which was reducing the work of the High Court, which is overloaded with petitions. “Until now the rule of law on decisions relating to Yehudah and Shomron has been absent,” Smotrich wrote in a codicil to the law. “As a result there has been a backlog of petitions to the High Court, which has worked to the disadvantage of residents, as their rights of appeal are automatically abrogated when the Court makes a decision. There is no reason for the High Court to get involved in building and land disputes,” Smotrich added.

Under the new law, Palestinians or their Israeli representatives – generally leftist groups like Yesh Din and Peace Now – will have to submit evidence of claims to land to district courts, which will be empowered to make decisions based on that evidence. Either side will then have the right to appeal the decision, in which case the decision may eventually be made by the High Court – but only after the exhaustive legal process of the lower-level courts. Currently, the High Court routinely orders injunctions against construction, or orders demolitions, based on claims by Palestinians that land belongs to them, even if they cannot produce title deeds and the like. It is not clear if lower-level courts will adopt that practice.

Leftist MKs pounced on the law as a “back door” to imposing Israeli sovereignty on Yehudah and Shomron. “Jewish Home has only one purpose here, and that is annexation of Judea and Samaria via the legal system,” she said. “But with this law, Smotrich is giving Palestinians a status of residency in Israel. Laws like these look normal, but they are designed to prevent us from separating from the Palestinians and living with them as equal people. You cannot have equality with two different kinds of ‘citizenship,’ as Smotrich seeks.”

The law passed with 48 MKs in favor and 39 opposed. It will now be sent to committee for revision and preparation for its second and third readings, set within the coming weeks.

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