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Mazuz pleads ignorance about East Jerusalem property decision (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Yuval Yoaz and Meron Rapoport 02/01/05)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/534415.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The cabinet´s decision to apply the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem was made without the knowledge or consent of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, Mazuz informed the Association for Civil Rights in Israel yesterday.

This contradicts an earlier statement issued by the Prime Minister´s Office, which claimed that the Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem made the decision "with the consent of the attorney general´s representative," who attended the meeting, and after Mazuz himself had seen a copy. Officials in the Prime Minister´s Office said in response that they were skeptical about Mazuz´s claim of ignorance.

In his letter to ACRI, Mazuz wrote that the cabinet decision "is now being urgently looked into and dealt with," and senior Justice Ministry officials predicted that he would order it rescinded. Applying the Absentee Property Law to East Jerusalem would entitle the state to confiscate all East Jerusalem property owned by West Bank residents without paying compensation.

The letter to ACRI, issued in response to the organization´s request that Mazuz overturn the decision, was the attorney general´s first public statement on the decision since it was revealed by Haaretz about 10 days ago. "The Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem´s decision on this matter was not made with my consent, or even with my knowledge, and I learned of it only recently," he wrote. "In the coming days, I will have my say on the matter."

How did Mazuz wind up in the dark on such a sensitive matter, which clearly required a legal seal of approval? Embarrassed Justice Ministry officials did not have a full answer yesterday, terming the events a serious organizational failure that was now being investigated. But Haaretz has learned that the ministry´s representative on the Jerusalem panel, attorney Ya´akov Shapira, failed to inform his superiors that the Absentee Property Law was coming up on the committee´s agenda, and also failed to inform them about the committee´s decision.

Nevertheless, Justice Ministry officials rejected the claim made by the Prime Minister´s Office: that Shapira approved the decision. In fact, they said, Shapira expressed reservations and recommended that the committee not apply the law, thereby maintaining the status quo that has existed in East Jerusalem since 1967. But the only two ministers present at the meeting, Committee Chairman Natan Sharansky and then-welfare minister Zevulun Orlev, rejected his position and approved the decision. And since none of the ministers appealed the decision to the full cabinet, it received cabinet approval automatically, without ever appearing on the cabinet´s agenda - which would have brought it to Mazuz´s attention.

Justice Ministry officials were particularly disturbed by Shapira´s failure to report the decision to Mazuz after it was approved. This was "problematic conduct," said one.

But two months ago, Deputy Attorney General Mike Blass also learned of the decision, after the ministry received several complaints about it. Yet he, too, apparently failed to inform Mazuz. At one point, Blass even hosted a professional discussion on the question of transferring "absentee property" in East Jerusalem to the Custodian of Absentee Property, but ministry officials said that this meeting dealt solely with problems arising from construction of the separation fence around Jerusalem, not with the cabinet´s decision to apply the Absentee Property Law there.

As for why the decision never appeared on the government´s Web site, officials in the Prime Minister´s Office said that, at that time, only decisions approved after a full cabinet discussion were posted automatically. Only in the last few weeks, they said, has the site also started posting unopposed committee decisions, which receive cabinet approval automatically, without debate. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/01/05)

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