Gedalyah Reback

Property Rights in the West Bank

Activists should be mighty relieved the Regularization Bill was absolutely destroyed in the Knesset. Its passage would have been humiliating, actually legitimating buildings that were knowingly built on private property. I do not want to imagine being in the position of a public relations maven or student activist trying to deal with the fallout from that sort of an innovation in law. Stop-work orders were issued several times in 1999 and the early 2000s, giving Ulpana plenty of chances to avoid this crisis. Especially if you see settling the land as a religious imperative, how embarrassing is it to be part of a movement that wants to legalize stealing property?

Honestly, what the hell were they thinking? Were they counting on that unreliable Israeli style of management, where lazy civil servants forget to do things or miscommunicate between ministries? Were these legal decisions that would be buried in the past once a decade had passed – something that no one would care about in the grand scheme of things? This was a tremendous risk they took. But the precedent for tearing down illegal buildings is strong here, whatever one thinks of it. Why weren’t they prepared? In addition to embarrassing the religious communities of the West Bank, they toyed with the lives of the people who’d live in these buildings.

The settler movement has other options for expressing itself or getting things done. Defending people setting up outposts without permits, much less anyone who ignores a court ruling not to build, is a massive liability for the credibility of any movement.

To segue, the key to stability in Judea and Samaria probably rests on property rights – Israeli and Palestinian. Jews have been kicked out of buildings around Hebron they’ve legitimately purchased. Palestinians in East Jerusalem struggle to get building permits even for property they indisputably own. There is a thriving black market for private property in Jerusalem and the West Bank but international political pressure, and even more oppressive the Palestinian Authority’s laws that mandate executing anyone who sells land to Israelis, undermine the possibility of an open property market that will do away with a lot of the shiftiness and questionability of contracts, acquisitions and claims that end up stealing time away from the docket.

Orthodox Jews want to fulfill a religious imperative to own land in Israel and do so by buying property in the West Bank – in Judea and Samaria. Throwing up obstacles, be they from Israeli courts or the Palestinian Authority, only fuels legal disputes, ethnic tension and eventual violence that diplomats worldwide are trying to prevent. Open things up or these sort of disputes will just keep multiplying.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.