Bill to Oust High Court From Land Disputes Passes First Reading

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Knesset passed on Monday a first reading of a bill that seeks to scale back the High Court’s involvement in land disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.

While nominally an administrative measure that would ease the High Court’s workload, the main objective of the bill is to transfer much of the adjudication of the disputes to lower courts, which are considered to be more favorable to the Israeli as opposed to the Palestinian land claims.

The bill, sponsored by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), passed by a narrow margin of 47 to 45. It still requires further review in committee, and a second and third reading before it can be enacted into law.

“Today the Knesset made a big step for normalizing life in Yehudah and Shomron,” Shaked said after the vote. “The rights of the residents of Judea and Samaria are just as important as those of other citizens.”

The bill would require Palestinians who claim ownership of land that has been built on by Israelis to file complaints with the Yerushalayim District Court before approaching the High Court.

Shaked published a statement in February saying that the legislation seeks to normalize the legal system in Yehudah and Shomron, allowing residents there to settle legal matters in administrative courts like their counterparts in Israel proper. Until now, the High Court has been busy with local property disputes, entry permits, and Freedom of Information Law requests.

A Justice Ministry official told The Times of Israel in February that Shaked believes the High Court to be “overly concerned with international law and with protecting the rights of the ‘occupied’ population in Judea and Samaria.”

By comparison, the District Court is more oriented to the particulars of the specific case at hand, rather than broader geopolitical implications, the official explained.