JNF: ´Smart solutions´ can be found despite petitions on land allocation (JERUSALEM POST) By DAN IZENBERG 01/28/05)
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The state cannot defend a policy in which the Israel Lands Authority
prevents Israeli Arabs from applying for building plots on land
belonging to the Jewish National Fund, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz
said on Thursday.
But he said he believed it would be possible "to find ways in which
to uphold the principle of equality without harming the aims of the
JNF as set down in its mandate to settle Jews on the land it owns."
Mazuz´s statement followed a meeting on Wednesday of senior Justice
Ministry officials, the JNF, the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) and
representatives of other government ministries to consider how to
respond to petitions submitted by four human rights groups against
the exclusion of Arabs from JNF tenders.
JNF head Yehiel Leket told The Jerusalem Post he was satisfied with
Mazuz´s decision because it was meant to guarantee that his
organization would be able to continue its mission.
"The JNF will continue to safeguard the land," he said. "Mazuz put
the emphasis on practical solutions. Throughout all the years, we
found smart solutions and were able to uphold the principle of Jewish
settlement without having to face the High Court of Justice."
Leket did not elaborate on what these "smart solutions" were, but
acknowledged that in the past, when the ILA marketed JNF land, it
would compensate the JNF with an equal amount of land from its own
resources for any plot of JNF land that went to a non-Jew.
The JNF owns 2.6 million dunams, or 13 percent of the land. The ILA
owns almost all of the rest. According to this solution, the
reservoir of JNF land was never depleted by allocations to non-Jews.
Leket told the Post that the ILA recently decided to unilaterally
halt the arrangement. When the JNF protested, the ILA published the
notice that according to the agreement between the state and the JNF,
it could not market 26 plots of land in Karmiel to non-Jews.
Leket said that unlike Mazuz, he was not convinced that the state
would have lost the case in the High Court of Justice. But he
indicated that he preferred a non-confrontational solution. In fact,
he told the Post that the JNF had gained from the attorney-general´s
decision. Mazuz established a committee to devise the arrangements
which would satisfy the High Court without injuring the JNF. Until
now, the agreement between the ILA and the JNF had been an informal
one. Now it would have the formal backing of the attorney-general, he
Mazuz wrote that in the wake of the High Court´s landmark decision in
2000 declaring that the ILA may not discriminate against Israeli
Arabs when it allocates land for housing, the state would not be able
to win the petitions regarding the JNF-owned lands.
The first petition was submitted by the Association for Civil Rights
in Israel (ACRI) and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning
following publication of a tender by the ILA in July 2004 for 26
plots of JNF-owned land in Karmiel´s Givat Makush neighborhood.
According to an agreement between the government and the JNF, the
ILA, which is a government institution, is the only body authorized
to market JNF land.
Three months earlier, the ILA had offered 43 JNF-owned plots in the
Makush neighborhood, and awarded several of them to Arabs. The entry
of Arabs into the neighborhood triggered an uproar and the ILA
quickly froze the tender, explaining that it could not allocate JNF
land to Arabs.
When it published the tender for the 26 plots of land in September,
it added a statement to the effect that the land was subject to a
covenant between the state and the JNF. It did not say so explicitly,
but according to the covenant, Arabs could not apply.
ACRI and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning petitioned the
Haifa District Court against the tender. Judge Shmuel Berliner issued
an interim injunction ordering the ILA to either accept applications
from Arabs or wait for a final court decision. The ILA decided to
withdraw the tender.
But the petitioners then went to the High Court of Justice to
challenge the principle of the policy regarding JNF-owned land. They
were joined in separate petitions by Adalah, the Legal Center for
Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Mossawa Center.
On December 9, the JNF replied to the petitioners, declaring that its
loyalties "were not given, and could not be given, to the Israeli
public. It is not obliged to act for the good of all the citizens of
the state. The JNF was established and acts for the good of the
Jewish people only."
A few days later, a public relations company issued an alarming
communique warning that the High Court decision on the
petitions "would determine the fate of the Zionist enterprise in the
land of Israel and the future of the state of Israel as the home of
the Jewish people."
"The JNF is convinced that Israel is the state of the Jewish people,"
said Leket. "It is still a state in the making, both in terms of
security and the need to safeguard its Jewish character. The Law of
Return guarantees the Jewish majority and it is the JNF´s role to
provide land for the Jewish people."
ACRI welcomed Mazuz´s decision but added that "it does not provide a
full answer to concerns about anti-Arab discrimination." Attorney
Auni Bana, who submitted the petition on behalf of ACRI, said that
the compensation arrangement between the JNF and the ILA
is "problematic" because it continues to distinguish between Jews and
Arabs. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/28/05)
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