AG halts East Jerusalem property expropriation (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Yuval Yoaz 02/02/05)
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Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has canceled a June 2004 governmental
decision made by two ministers to apply the absentee property law to
tens of thousands of dunams of Palestinian property in East
In a letter to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mazuz wrote that
Netanyahu must order an immediate halt to the application of the
absentee property law to properties owned by West Bank residents in
Mazuz moved very quickly to halt the application of the law after
Haaretz revealed that on June 22, 2004, ministers Natan Sharansky and
Zevulun Orlev - in their role as members of the Ministerial Committee
on Jerusalem - decided to apply the absentee property law, despite
the recommendations of the two Justice Ministry officials who
attended the meeting, Yaakov Shapira and Ariela Kalai.
Moreover, the two ministers decided that there was no need to consult
with the attorney general "regarding any action concerning
expropriated property" in East Jerusalem, which the two Justice
Ministry lawyers told the ministers was inappropriate.
The two ministers, whose decision was given the power of a government
decision when no ministers in the government spoke out against it,
decided that the Custodian of Absentee Property had the authority to
apply the absentee property law in East Jerusalem, essentially
enabling the state to confiscate property in East Jerusalem with no
compensation for the owners, on the grounds the owner was not a
resident of Jerusalem.
"This decision cannot stand," ruled Mazuz. "It is not within the
authority of the Ministerial Committee on Jerusalem to interpret the
law regarding the custodian´s powers, and it is not the business of
the committee to deal with setting policy regarding the authority of
Both those functions, Mazuz said, are entirely and exclusively in the
purview of the attorney general.
Mazuz explained his decision by saying that the "absence of West Bank
residents from East Jerusalem is a technical matter, since they
became absentees due to a unilateral action taken by Israel. ... In
effect they are ´absent-present,´ and their rights to the property
were denied them due to the technically broad law."
According to the attorney general, applying the law to the property
in East Jerusalem owned by residents of the territories will
create "a very difficult result": residents of the city receive
compensation for property expropriated for public purposes, but
residents of the West Bank would not get compensation.
Mazuz´s decision adopts the position taken by former attorney general
Meir Shamgar, who in 1968 ruled that "since the property was not
absentee property when the army entered East Jerusalem, and would not
have turned into absentee property if East Jerusalem had continued to
be part of Judea and Samaria, we did not see any justification for
the annexation of Jerusalem resulting in taking away property from
someone who was not actually absent." That position, said Mazuz´s
ruling yesterday, "appears to me to be the correct one, now, as well."
He also mentions in his decision "the grave international
ramifications regarding the separation fence" that could arise from
the application of the government´s decision, "in the various aspects
for which Israel has been severely criticized by The International
Court in The Hague."
According to Mazuz, "This is a clear-cut case of Israel´s interests
being to avoid opening new fronts in the international arena in
general, and in particular in the arena of international law."
Mazuz said that the ministerial committee decision did not reach
him "due to a fault," saying he only heard about it recently from
appeals brought to him. The Justice Ministry did not say yesterday if
steps would be taken to rectify that "fault," considering that
attorney Shapira and Deputy Attorney General Malchiel Balass have
been dealing with the results of the government decision since last
year, without reporting to Mazuz on it.
MK Zevulun Orlev defended the original decision yesterday, and
declared that Mazuz´s move is "the suicide of the Jewish state. The
absentee property law has existed on the books for many years, and
the attorney general is also subject to it," said Orlev. "The time
has come to put an end to the inferiority complex and the apologies."
Aluf Benn adds: Attorney Dov Weisglass, representing Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, told U.S. National Security Advisor Steven Hadley
yesterday that the government decision from last June did not
substantially change the legal status quo in East Jerusalem, and that
the attorney general´s decision halts the application of the
ministerial decision. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/02/05)
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