The new Judea and Samaria Settlement Regulation Law is necessary because large areas of the territories were never properly registered in land registries. Moreover, the properties listed in the Jordanian land registry were not properly surveyed, resulting in thousands of buildings being built on privately owned land.
Under Israeli law, if a person builds on someone else’s land unintentionally and in good faith, he or she may stay on the property as long as the landowner is properly compensated.
The new law has a similar provision because, under Palestinian law, selling land to Israelis is punishable by death, making it all but impossible to buy the rights to contested plots. The law is constitutional and is in line with Israeli values. It is as valid as the other property laws passed by the Knesset because Israel does not consider itself to be an occupying power in Judea and Samaria and it believes that giving Israelis the same rights as Palestinians advances the state’s vision.
The law serves a worthy purpose and protects the rights of those who built a home in good faith or with the state’s encouragement. It also serves a worthy purpose because it allows the residents to stay on the land if it lies near or in an already built community, rather than just theoretically allowing Palestinians to reclaim it.
The law strikes the right balance because it only allows the state to temporarily expropriate land and does not change the status of the landowners. In fact, thanks to the law, landowners who were previously unable to exercise rights on the land will now be eligible for compensation that exceeds the value of their property.
Is the law compatible with international law? I believe it is. Israel has never applied the Geneva Conventions to Judea and Samaria, and rightly so, because Israel cannot be an occupying power in land that the League of Nations designated for a Jewish national home. Moreover, Israel liberated the land from illegal Jordanian occupation.
Israel has upheld international humanitarian law in Judea and Samaria according to the Geneva Conventions and has even gone beyond what it is required to do. Thus, the Israelis who live there and are considered part of the local population should not be treated any differently from the Palestinian population.
It is time to end the discrimination against Israelis there when it comes to property law. International law allows residents to stay on land where they settled so long as this was done in good faith and that proper compensation is paid. That is why the provisions in the new law are not a form of confiscation that violate Article 46 of the Hague Convention.
The claim that the law allows the state to seize land even when this is not done for security reasons and in violation of the international norms Israel has accepted is not true. The legal definition of confiscation implies permanent confiscation, but the law speaks of temporary measures only. The issue of confiscation is only relevant when someone who has been using the land is suddenly denied access to it. Temporarily taking property from a Palestinian who has never had any hold on the land and has no way of exercising his rights on it cannot be considered confiscation.
On a side note, this is not the first time that the Knesset has passed legislation that applies to Judea and Samaria. Exercising Israeli law passes constitutional muster and is permitted under international law.
Yossi Fuchs is an attorney and the chairman of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.