Israeli Govt Ordered to Stop Jerusalem Land Seizure (REUTERS) By Megan Goldin JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05 09:11 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel´s attorney general ordered the
government on Tuesday to rescind a decision to enforce a decades-old
law under which large tracts of Palestinian land in Arab East
Jerusalem could be confiscated, officials said.
The government invoked the 1950 Absentee Property Law last July and
word leaked out this month, alarming Palestinians who feared an
attempt to usurp their claims to East Jerusalem, which they want as
the capital of a future state.
Israeli media said the move had angered the U.S. administration,
which regarded it as an obstacle to new peace prospects raised by
the election of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Jan.
9 to replace Yasser Arafat.
In a lengthy legal opinion, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told the
government to cancel implementation of the law in East Jerusalem,
saying it violated obligations under international law and was sure
to be overturned by the Supreme Court. "This decision cannot stand,"
Mazuz said in a four-page ruling on the law, which allows a state
custodian to seize East Jerusalem property belonging to Palestinians
in the West Bank.
A Justice Ministry source said Mazuz had determined the law would
not withstand Supreme Court appeals. "If the Attorney General says
it (the law) won´t stand up (to appeal) then it means that yes, this
law is illegal," the Justice Ministry source said. The government
was obliged to adhere to Mazuz´s decision, the source added.
Officials at the Finance Ministry, which is responsible for
implementing the law, and at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s office
declined immediate comment.
LAW FELL THROUGH THE CRACKS
Haaretz said the decision was approved at a June 22 meeting of the
Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem Affairs attended by only two
members, both rightists.
Since there were no opposing votes in the meeting, the decision was
automatically approved by the government two weeks later without a
cabinet vote or a notation in cabinet minutes.
Mazuz said that due to a bureaucratic mishap, he was not informed of
the decision and only found out by chance when legal complaints were
made to his office.
He wrote that the Ministerial Committee had acted outside its powers
and improperly applied the law, causing "numerous legal
"These have to do with imposing the law and the reasonability of
imposing it under these circumstances and with regard to Israel´s
obligation under international law."
Under the Absentee Property Law enacted two years after the
country´s founding, land belonging to people living in "enemy
countries" was confiscated by the state.
The measure allowed confiscation of the property of hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians who were displaced in Israel´s 1948
independence war and scattered mainly to Arab states.
While technically applied to East Jerusalem after Israel captured it
in the 1967 Middle East war, the law was never implemented.
The decision raised hackles among Palestinians already worried by
Israeli plans to demolish dozens of houses near its West Bank
barrier as well as plans to require East Jerusalem residents to
obtain permits to visit the West Bank.
Some Palestinian landowners, according to their lawyer, have already
received notices that their plots in the city have been seized under
the law even though they live nearby -- just outside the city limits
in the West Bank. (© Reuters 2005 02/01/05)
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