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February 9, 2017 6:13 pm

International Legal Expert: Widespread Global Criticism of Settlement ‘Regulation Law’ Passed by Knesset Is Unwarranted

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Interview
An Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The widespread global criticism of the settlement “Regulation Law” passed by the Israeli parliament earlier this week is unwarranted, an international legal expert told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

Referring to the law, which was approved by the Knesset on Monday by a 60-52 margin, Dr. Eugene Kontorovich — a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law and head of the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum — asserted, “Every single thing being said about it is a misnomer.”

“For example,” he stated, “it does not violate international law. There has never been a principle of international law that one cannot take property with compensation. And all of the discussions that are cited to prove that it’s illegal are cases in which there was no compensation offered, which is an entirely different thing.”

“It’s very unusual that an occupying power offer compensation,” Kontorovich went on to say. “But in the cases where they have and one can point to Turkey and Northern Cyprus, and Russia and Crimea the international community never criticized this even a little bit. Basically, this is a rule that has never been mentioned before, that has never been thought of before, and that is, like many things, being made up just because of the parties involved. It was invented for this case and will never be used again.”

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On Tuesday, it was reported that Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit – who has expressed his opposition to the law — might argue against it in court, a possibility that Kontorovich called “unusual, but far from unprecedented.”

Kontorovich predicted there was a “100% chance” the law would be struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court.

“That’s not because of its legality, that’s because the court is taking its instructions from the attorney general and the European Union, and they [Israeli Supreme Court judges] are very scared of being perceived as doing something that people whose opinions they value don’t like,” he claimed.

In a Just Security article published in December, Kontorovich went into further detail explaining the rationale behind the controversial legislation, saying it sought “to solve a situation in which, over several decades, over one thousand Israeli homes in West Bank settlements have been built in open areas to which Palestinians subsequently asserted property claims, typically based on broad give-aways of state land by the King of Jordan during the Hashemite occupation (1949-67).”

He continued: “The plots are generally open, uncultivated fields. The frequently used characterization of ‘private Palestinian lands’ is misleading. In the overwhelming majority of cases, no individual Palestinians have come forward to claim the lands. Indeed, in most cases, no property claimants asserted their interests for decades after houses were built, a situation that in common law would certainly warrant the application of adverse possession doctrines, under which long-term possession of property unprotested by owners can change legal title, exactly to prevent these kinds of conflict between long-term users and owners who slept on their rights.”

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the law, with his office releasing a statement — quoted by Ynet News — saying, “This is a very balanced solution for land owners as well as for families facing the risk of evacuation and losing the home they have been living in for decades,” the PMO explained. “The aim of this law is to minimize the need to destroy houses built many years ago. It is important to stress that the law will only apply to a limited number of existing cases and is in no way a license to expropriate land.”

“Israel is a law abiding country,” the statement went on to say. “The State of Israel ascribes a great deal of importance to respecting the court’s decisions, and it will enforce the law among all sectors of the population, as has been proven by the painful evacuation of Amona.”

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