Palestinians petition Supreme Court in first challenge to Israeli legalization of West Bank outposts

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Palestinian entities have petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn a controversial new law that retroactively legalizes settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

In the petition filed Wednesday, 17 West Bank municipalities and three Palestinian human rights groups from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel claimed the legislation violates international humanitarian law and asked the court to issue a temporary injunction against its implementation.

The regulation law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session Monday, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

The Palestinian groups argue the law violates the protections that international law gives property owners. Further, they say, it harms the dignity of the Palestinians living in the West Bank by putting the interests of the settlers above theirs. Attached to the petition were aerial photographs of settlements built on land within the Palestinian municipalities.

The pro-settlement Jewish Home party first put forward the regulation law in an effort to save the West Bank outpost of Amona, built without government authorization on private Palestinian land, from a High Court-ordered demolition. But the clause that would have circumvented the court ruling was nixed following coalition infighting, and Amona was evacuated last week and demolished Tuesday.

Even without the Amona clause, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he would not defend the law before the Supreme Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, legal experts told JTA.

Speaking after the vote Monday, Bezalel Smotrich, a Jewish Home lawmaker known for his fervent support of the settlements and inflammatory statements, thanked Americans for electing Trump president, “without whom the law would have probably not passed.”

Smotrich added that it was a “historic day for the settlement [movement] and for the State of Israel.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Lavin of the ruling Likud party said Tuesday on Israeli radio that judges should not have the authority to overturn laws.

“The situation in which everyone waits until a handful of judges who are self-selected behind closed doors decide whether they like the law or not is not democratic and not correct,” he said, calling for “soul searching” by the bench.

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