PM Appoints Panel to Examine 'Outpost' Status

A panel has been created to examine land ownership in Judea and Samaria and 're-evaluate' the much criticized Sasson Report.

Gabe Kahn. ,

PM Binyamin Netanyahu
PM Binyamin Netanyahu
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday appointed a three-person judicial panel to examine and report on land ownership of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

The panel – nicknamed the “outpost committee” – consists of former Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker, and former Tel Aviv District Court deputy president T'chiya Shapira, daughter of the late Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren. Edmund Levy was the sole justice who voted against the disengagement from Gush Katif.

The committee, which Netanyahu promised to create months ago, will deliver its findings to the Prime Minister’s Office within three months.

A key task put before the committee is a reevaluation of the controversial Sasson report and its classification of private Arab property in Judea and Samaria.

The Sasson report – commissioned by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and released by former State Attorney's Criminal Division head Talia Sasson on 8 March 2005 – was considered unobjective and left-oriented as soon as it was publicized. Those suspicions were validated when Sasson ran on the ultra-left Meretz party Knesset list several years after writing the report..

In addition to land classification problems, the Sasson report is strongly criticized for its conclusion that Jewish neighborhoods founded before the 6 December 2004 regulation government authorization to build in Judea and Samaria was required were "unauthorized."

Prior to the 2004 directive, all construction in Judea and Samaria fell under Government Resolution 150 from 2 August 1996, which stipulated that the Defense Minister had the authority to authorize new communities.

The vast majority of communities the Sasson Report defined as "unauthorized" had been given the green light by the Defense Ministry prior to 6 December 2004.

Officials close to Netanyahu say the history of controversy surrounding the report, as well as the fact that it was a lone opinion rather than a consensus of experts, required it be reconsidered.

Nationalist firebrand MK Danny Danon (Likud) hailed the new committee's mandate, “I believe that this committee will bury the Talia Sasson report, which was a political, one-sided document against the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”

Sasson dismissed charges that her report was biased saying her work had been professional and apolitical. She also charged the Netanyahu government with "running away" from "difficult legal questions" arising from "illegal Jewish construction" in Judea and Samaria.

The formation of the panel comes as the ruling Likud party finds itself in an ideological crisis after a Supreme Court ruling by outgoing Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch declared all disputed non-state-owned land in Judea and Samaria was presumptively 'Arab land.' As a result of the unprecedented ruling which in essence negates historical Jewish ties to the land, the Supreme Court could decide communities built on land whose ownership is not settled to be illegal, even if they were built with government cooperation.

The land issue came to a head when the court ordered the state to demolish the Migron community, located in the Binyamin region of Samaria and is home to 50 families - by the end of March. Land was purchased there, but it seems to have been sold by a fraudulent Arab owner. The state was also directed to demolish two other sites by year’s end – the Ulpana in Beit El and nearby Givat Assaf.

Minister-without-portfolio Benny Begin (Likud) has proposed the community of Migron be moved to nearby state-owned land and given government recognition as was done for also disputed Ramat Gilad in Samaria. The residents could remain in their homes while the new neighborhood is built, during which time the ownership of the present community would be clarified, possibly making the move superfluous. The proposal is backed by Netanyahu, but the residents have flatly refused it. The new report is not expected to be completed before the demolition date for Migron and the worst case scenario is a repeat of the violent evacuation of Amona in 2006.

In all three cases, the Supreme Court refused to examine evidence that ran contrary to its ruling because it does not deal in evidentiary questions. Critics say the court should have referred the case to a lower court competent to evaluate evidence and claims of ownership and that refusing to do so amounted to advancing an ideological agenda under the color of law.

Observers say an inability to find an equitable solution that satisfies nationalists in the Likud and coalition could lead to the collapse of the Netanyahu government. Lawmakers in his coalition have demanded a solution other than demolitions be found for Jewish communities built on disputed land.

A bill authored by MK Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home) seeks to save Migron and other threatened communities by forbidding eviction and demolition orders for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria that have stood for four years and have at least twenty families, even if they were built without zoning and parcellation.

It also stipulates that all petitions disputing land claims must be proven through accepted evidentiary means in a court competent to hear the case. Should such a claim be found valid, the court would be directed to order monetary compensation or an alternative grant of land for the plaintiff.

Netanyahu, who is against the law, has refused to bring the law to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation for several weeks in fear it will pass over his objections, wishes to ensure the law fails in the Knesset plenum. He has also reportedly threatened to dismiss any Likud minister who votes in favor of the bill. Legal experts are critical of the law, saying it has no legal standing, as the Israeli body of laws do not apply in Judea and Samaria, which are run by a civil administration, making the upholding of the law in international circles an impossibility.

Orlev, aware of his proposal's broad support, is expected to put the Outpost Law on the Knesset agenda even without the Ministerial Committee's endorsement, on Monday. Observers say the Outpost Law could then be brought to a vote in the plenum as early as Wednesday.

Netanyahu's decision to announce the formation of the committee on the same day that his faction holds primaries and a day ahead of a potential vote on the so-called Outpost Law may be an attempt to stop Orlev's bid in its tracks while his government, at long last, seeks non-legislative long term solutions to the demolition problem.