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August 17, 2009: Issues of Land

September 9, 2009

Let me begin here by sharing my just completed report, “UNRWA: Its Role in Gaza,” which addresses UNRWA actions and accusations against Israel during “Cast Lead.”


This has been a prime focus of my work for some many weeks, and I sincerely trust that the result justifies the effort.

Now work on yet another project of major dimensions has begun, which will be duly shared in good time.


I have touched on this issue now and again. There are small settlements in Judea and Samaria that are referred to as “illegal” or, more properly, “unauthorized.” Both terms are misnomers — for they imply a black and white situation in which settlements are either legal or illegal, authorized or unauthorized.

The reality is actually far more complex. Almost always when housing goes up, there is SOME authorization. The appropriate department signs off on a road that is constructed, or the electric authority signs off on bringing in electric wires, or the water authority authorizes piping. Whatever. Often, not only were several departments of the government on board, but government officials smiled upon the venture. What’s missing, ultimately, to make it legal or authorized, is that last signature from the Minister of Defense (because it’s outside the Green Line in area that is not governed by Israeli civil law).


Now this perspective is being addressed by certain high level ministers — Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi), Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) — who toured outposts in Samaria yesterday as a show of support for residents.

Said Yishai:

“These settlements were established by Israeli governments and approved by them…the people of Israel should know this settlement is legal. If someone thinks otherwise and plans to evacuate them, it will have to be approved by the government. You cannot just evacuate people from their homes without due process.”

Yaalon, in a subsequent radio interview explained that “unapproved” outposts are not “illegal.” He said that Israel should explain this to the Americans and complete the missing paperwork.

Aaron Lerner points out on IMRA that:

“…a reading of the exchange of letters between Israel and the United States finds that Israel did not commit to physically remove the ‘unapproved’ outposts but instead end the existence of ‘unapproved’
outposts and this can be achieved by changing their status to ‘approved.’ This is not a new concept – negotiations between DM Barak and communities always were on the basis that the status of some outposts would be changed to ‘approved’ and thus removed from the list.”


Someone on my list — expressing great and appropriate concern — sent to me an article regarding the purchase of farm land in the Galil by buyers funded by Gulf state tycoons. We do not want Arabs buying up Israel.

But there is, I think, a bit of conflation here regarding two different issues, and I want to touch on this briefly. According to the article, the land was privately owned and thus there was nothing the Israel Land Authority could do to stop the sale.

In a related series of events, earlier this month, the Knesset passed a reform to the law regarding the Israel Land Authority. Put very simply, 93% of the land of the State of Israel is owned by Israel, via the ILA, and not privately. People who build or buy homes here don’t acquire the property the home sits on, but, rather, lease it for 99 years. Or so it has been until now.

The reform pushed through by PM Netanyahu permits individuals to now buy land. His reasons for supporting this are economic, e.g., bringing down property values. But the concern is very real regarding a loss of control of the land. The Galil purchase — while not made under the reform — serves as a potent example of what might happen.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon was so concerned about the implications of this reform to the land that he threatened to quit the government. He has been appointed as head of a committee to determine what restrictions will apply to this reform. And so, as it is all not very clear yet, I have nothing further to add at this time.


I had wanted to write about biased charges against Israel with regard to our actions in Gaza during “Cast Lead,” and, indeed, there is still a great deal to say about so-called “human rights” NGOs in this regard.

But as far as the approach by the equally biased UN is concerned — via its Goldstone Commission — I find I can pass on making comment and instead share an article by Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice of Canada:





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