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AG halts East Jerusalem property expropriation (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Yuval Yoaz 02/02/05)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/534925.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 Jerusalem.

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 East Jerusalem.

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 the custodian."

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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