Home News Israel Legal scholars debate Israel’s new land law

Legal scholars debate Israel’s new land law

Settlers in a West Bank outpost. FILE PHOTO

Israel’s Regulation Law, passed by the Knesset on Feb. 6, has divided the Israeli public, prompted heated rhetoric on all sides and is now facing a challenge in the Supreme Court.

On Feb. 14, two legal experts debated the merits of the law in a conference call organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

Former Labor MK Einat Wilf and Prof. Avi Bell took opposing positions on the law, which legalizes existing settlements built on privately held Palestinian land.

Bell, a member of the law faculty at Bar-Ilan University, argued there’s precedent in countries that have adopted British law concerning “adverse possession,” in which residents are given legal title to land on which they had trespassed.

The issue has been litigated in the United Kingdom and the case was appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. Both the top British and European courts upheld the rights of the trespassers, Bell said.


The Israeli law, unlike laws elsewhere, provides for compensation for the original owners, he added.

Wilf argued the Knesset could not apply Israeli domestic law to the disputed territories. (A similar argument has been advanced by the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin.)

“This is the first time that the parliament of Israel is legislating for people who are not voting for the parliament,” she said. “This is the undoing of Israeli democracy.”

What’s more, Wilf continued, MKs who voted for the measure are “cowards,” since they didn’t really support it and were hoping to score political points by doing so. They expect the Israeli Supreme Court will overturn the law, saving them the effort to oppose it in the Knesset, she suggested.

Wilf said even if the Supreme Court strikes down the law, it will give Israel a black eye. She traced the history of land use in the territories, noting that Israel’s claim settlements are legal can be backed up by citing a League of Nations decision giving the land to the Jews. But she distinguished from building on public, government-owned land and privately held property.

She also argued that in the past, when privately held land was expropriated, it was done to further security measures or for a public purpose, not to benefit individual Israelis.

Wilf argued the West Bank territories were never annexed by Israel and are under the jurisdiction of the military commander. As a result, the Knesset is not sovereign there.

Bell rejected Wilf’s argument that Israel cannot legislate for Palestinians in the West Bank, saying it has done so for more than 50 years and discounted Wilf’s distinction between military government and parliamentary government there.

“It’s bizarre to say that the only way to defend democracy is that all sovereign power is held by the army,” he said.

As the one-hour debate and question period came to a close, both speakers focused on policy considerations.

The “rest of the world won’t cut Israel any slack” over the distinction between army control and that of the Knesset, Bell said. No matter what Israel does in the territories, it will always be seen as wrong.

Bell said opponents of the law are trying to “frighten” the Israeli public by claiming the military commander must retain jurisdiction in the territories, otherwise Israel must accept West Bank Palestinians as citizens for Israeli law to apply there.

Wilf said the idea that the 1967 Green Line marks the limit of Israeli sovereignty is not about scaring anyone. She said by applying the law and seizing Palestinian-owned property, Israel will present an image of pursuing a “greedy settlement policy.”


Settler advocates who support the law see it as preventing eventual partition of the land, but the Jews are a small people who have never adopted an all-or-nothing approach, she said, adding that Zionism’s success stems from compromise, while the Palestinians held out for everything and got nothing.

The Regulation Law was passed by the Knesset by a 60-52 vote. It affects the status of 2,000 to 4,000 residences in 16 settlements that were built years ago with government approval on Palestinian-owned lands, but which were not subject at the time to claims from absentee owners.

Several Palestinian municipalities and human rights groups are challenging the legislation before the Israeli Supreme Court. The law is so controversial that  Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit stated he will not defend it on behalf of the government because he deems it unconstitutional and a breach of international law that may lead to a suit against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

  • TerrorIsEvil

    The rights of Jews to Israel, their one and only homeland,
    has kept many mountebanks busy for the past 70 years.

    Let’s, for a change, have a hard look at land ownership in
    other countries – Canada, for instance.

    Crown land (89% of Canada is Crown Land) is divided among
    Federal, Provincial and other.

    Who gave Canada the rights to Crown Land? Answer: They
    (colonial powers of the day) gave themselves property rights (Brits acquired
    rights from France in Treaty of Paris (1763). Native rights were recognized but
    never realized (Natives do not own land but they do vote). Canada (federally)
    also owns all First Nation Reserves.

    Canada, unlike Israel, is the 2nd largest country in the
    world (9,984,670 SQ KM), Russia is the largest (17,098,242 SQ KM) and the USA
    comes in 3rd (9,826,675 SQ KM). Israel comes in 154th with 20, 273 SQ KM. None of the countries in the western sphere have problems with the world demanding they give land to anyone else,
    especially to terrorists who have never stopped their war which goes on
    politically in institutions who give terrorists a platform such as the UN.

    I would argue that Israel is the most vetted and legal
    country in the world because of all the agreements and long paper trail since Israel
    was RE-established in 1948. What makes Israel even more legitimate is that the
    Jews have had to beat back many Arab nations pre and post 1948 to save their
    people from annihilation by beasts who have enough (9,000,000 SQ KM) land,
    roughly the size of Canada or the USA, but need to gain Israel for total

    In conclusion, there is a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to
    land rights and UN countries, were they all subject to the impossible standards
    they put Israel through, would fail to keep their own land – but maybe they
    beat up on Israel for just that reason – they do not want anyone sniffing at
    their vital interests and examine their stealing of land from the predecessors
    or native populations which change over the millennia in war and through
    domination. Israel never stole land –
    they repatriated their own land and pushed back those who wanted them drowned
    in the sea.

    Whatever Israel does to set its own borders from the river
    to the sea is legal, moral, and Israel has every right to ownership. The Palestinians
    who are at war with Israel can either get along or continue with their war. If
    they do the latter with terrorism and war, then they must expect some push

    • Jeff

      not even sure why they let you post this stuff…the AG of Israel says he can not defend the law so that says a lot….you keep crawling further into your right wing corner, must be crowded there