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By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Shooting ouselves in the foot?

 


The most prominent problem currently facing Israel in international politics is one of our own making. Not the work of us all, but the work of some.

It’s the so-called settlement law, which aspires to solve the problem of some 4,000 homes built on land that individual Palestinians are likely to convince Israeli courts that they are the owners of the land, and did not agree to the construction.

The enactment makes an effort to be fair. It offers compensation to the Palestinians having a valid claim. Its supporters assert that no property claims are absolute. Governments the world over take land for what they see as appropriate purposes, and define the compensation due the owners.

However, this law has two principal problems. It would take land for private rather than public use, and it deals with areas of the West Bank said to be outside the purview of Israeli legislation.

None of the claims or charges are all that sharp and clear. It’s a fuzzy area where courts may decide, but losers won’t be happy or quiet.

In re: the private use of the land, i.e., for family homes, law advocates claim that the issue is essentially public, insofar as the Israeli government accepted the construction, shown by the supply of electricity, water, and security to the homeowners.

In re: the area for which the Knesset has legislated, this would not be the first application of Israeli law to disputed areas. Early ones were the annexation of extensive areas to Jerusalem in 1967 and the imposition of Israeli law on occupied areas of the Golan in 1981.

Neither of those earlier enactments is widely accepted outside of Israel.

Many of those condemning the present law may not be familiar with its content. The details are less important than its symbolic value, in being the latest action that can be said to be Jews taking over Arab land.

In the background of the most recent enactment are views expressed by Israelis and their supporters, but opposed by other Israelis and many others. It is that the West Bank is not “occupied” but “disputed” land, given the convoluted details of earlier British, Jordanian, and Israeli actions.

Also confusing the issue is a lot of monkey business with respect to land sales in the West Bank. Involved here are several regime changes in the most recent century, from the Ottoman Empire to the British Mandate to Jordanian occupation and then Israel, with each regime having its own land laws. There are complex family histories and multiple claimants to inheritance, some of whom are inclined to sell at high prices and leave Palestine for more desirable homes elsewhere. Jews have been willing to take advantage of the situation, for example by working with Palestinians having doubtful authority to sell land that they claim is their own. Jews as well as Palestinians are accused of forging documents pertaining to ownership and sale.

Israelis are obligated to accept court decisions, even though they may quarrel about the justice of competing claims.

Disagreements about what is feasible appear at the highest levels of Israeli government. The Legal Adviser to the Government has said that the Knesset’s settlement enactment cannot pass muster with the Israeli Supreme Court, and that he will not defend it against suits already in the works. His deputy disagrees with him, but has been kept by the Legal Adviser from expressing his opinion in a public forum.

The legislation has become a political football within Israel and elsewhere. The Knesset vote was 60 against 52, with most MKs voting according to their established party postures. The prime minister wavered with respect to the bill. He worked at various points to postpone the vote, most recently saying that he wanted to discuss it with President Trump prior to the enactment. Jewish Home and right wing Likudniks were the prominent pushers for a vote, and it came when Netanyahu was on a flight from Britain to Israel. That might allow him some wiggle room with respect to what comes next.

In a way to be self-deprecating with respect to Palestinian actions, an Arab friend translated into Hebrew an Arabic epigram. Further translated into English, it is “If you have no food, then the smell of food is better than nothing.”

Israeli commentators are heavily tilted toward a prediction that the Israeli Supreme Court will invalidate the law due to its violation of individual Palestinians’ rights to control the use of land that they own.

One is left with the conclusion that the enactment of the settlement law accomplished nothing more than serving the right wing of Israeli politics, especially that represented in Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, that they have done something to protect Jews’ rights to the Promised Land.

The rest of us are left to wonder if it’ll accomplish anything other than a wave of condemnation, already begun, from even the governments of Western Europe currently expressing support for Israel’s needs.

Shooting ourselves in the foot, with respect to worsening public relations, seems as more apt a description than anything that can claim to be a solution for the problems of Israel or Palestine, however anyone wishes to define those problems.

Comments welcome. Irashark@gmail.com.

 

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