Israeli government transfers authority over state land to private body that advances rights of Jewish citizens only

Adalah and ACRI petition Supreme Court against new law that allows government to grant World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division authority to manage public lands.

Challenging an amendment to a law that allows the Israeli government to transfer part of its land-use authorities to a private body that acts exclusively to advance the interests of Israeli Jewish citizens, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted a petition on 23 January 2017 to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding its cancellation.


The amendment to the World Zionist Organization - Jewish Agency (Status) Law (originally approved by the Knesset in 1952), passed a Knesset vote on 24 December 2015. It grants the World Zionist Organization's (WZO) Settlement Division authority over settlement, land acquisition, and the establishment and expansion of development projects.


Adalah Attorneys Suhad Bishara and Myssana Morany and ACRI Attorney Roni Pelli argued in the petition that the amendment harms the constitutional right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to dignity and equality.


"The Settlement Division, like the WZO as a whole, sees itself as obligated to serve the interests of the Jewish people exclusively. It is clear to all that its actions do not take the interests of Arab citizens into consideration. Furthermore, these interests are more often than not advanced at the expense of the Arab citizens' rights, particularly when it comes to the allocation of limited resources such as land and settlement rights," the Adalah and ACRI attorneys wrote in the petition.


The new law is an additional effort by the government to bypass the landmark Supreme Court Qa'adan decision in 2000 (HCJ 6698/95, Adel Qa'dan v, Israel Land Administration). In that case, the Supreme Court held that discrimination between Jewish and Arab citizens of the state in the use and allocation of state-controlled land is impermissible: the state may not transfer authority to a third party "that discriminates in land allocations on the basis of religion or national origin."


In the petition, Adalah and ACRI stressed that this delegation of authority is forbidden as it violates Israel's Basic Law – The Government, which authorizes the delegation of government authority only to government ministers:


"This amendment allows the government to entirely disengage itself from key authorities that were – until now – reserved strictly for the government, and to transfer them to a private body that maintains a discriminatory agenda. The amendment, therefore, constitutes a significant shift in the administration's approach to rule in Israel, according to which such authorities may be executed strictly and solely by the government, government ministers, and civil servants."


Attorneys Bishara, Morany, and Pelli emphasized that the amendment has no "proper purpose" and it must therefore be cancelled.


"The transfer of these authorities to a body with guiding principles that stand in violation to the principles of equality opens a window for irrelevant interests in the Settlement Division's decision-making process. These interests clash with the need to maintain proper administration and the principles of equality and distributive justice in the context of land resources."


Case Citation: HCJ 778/17, Adalah and ACRI v. Knesset, Government, Agriculture Minister, & World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division (case pending)


READ: Adalah/ACRI petition [Hebrew]