Not only has a Palestinian land law come into being, but a Palestinian law on weapons is also now in effect, according to which it is permissible for the Palestinian Authority to manufacture weapons and accord its citizens the right to bear arms. Both of these laws are part of a new stage in the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Brigadier-General Uri Shoham, the Chief Military Prosecutor: “This is a serious violation of the agreements with the Palestinians.” Attorney Tewfiq Abu-Ghazzaleh, Chairman of the Palestinian Legal Sub-committee: “There is no declaration of war here, although I would understand someone thinking that there was. If it were up to me, perhaps I would not submit this law.” Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu-Medein declined to comment.
A few days after the signing ceremony at Wye River, Justice Minister Tzahi Hanegbi wrote to the Prime Minister, and called his attention to a new Palestinian law, which was, at that time, in the final stages of enactment. It is called the “Law on Foreign Ownership of Real Estate in Palestine,” which was recently brought into law in secret in Gaza, and a copy of which was received by chance by the Justice Ministry. This law amounts — according to jurists — to a declaration of war on the State of Israel.
Justice Minister Hanegbi made it clear to the Prime Minister that the new law severely infringes on Israeli citizens’ and authorities’ land acquisition rights of Israeli citizens and organisations, from both sides of the Green Line, and complete contravenes the instructions of the agreements with the Palestinians, including the Wye Agreement.
According to the new law, revealed here for the first time, any Israeli citizen or institution, certainly any settler or the IDF, holding land in “Palestine”, is harming Palestinian “national security”. Together with this, any Palestinian who aids, in any way, the acquisition or possession of land by an Israeli — is guilty of treason. The land will pass automatically to the treasury of the Palestinian state, and the judgment on the Israeli holding the land or the Palestinian selling it — death.
A few months before the enactment of the land law, senior Justice Ministry and IDF officials brought an additional Palestinian law to the Prime Minister’s attention. This was the “Firearms and Ammunition Law”, which was also passed in secret and signed by “Rais” Arafat last May. According to Chief Military Prosecutor Brigadier-General Uri Shoham, and Central Command Legal Adviser Colonel Shlomo Politis, this law too constitutes a serious infringement of the agreements with the Palestinians. It gives legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority itself, to manufacture weapons and permit citizens to bear arms. All this is seen by the State of Israel as constituting a serious security threat, violates the agreement between the sides, and demonstrates aggressive intentions.
The two laws, on land and on weapons, constitute a single unit of land and fire, and constitute a new and additional stage in the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Despite numerous attempts by political and professional elements to bring this to the attention of the Prime Minister, both before and after the Wye Agreement, Netanyahu has done nothing. It seems, however, from the Justice Minister’s sharp words, that he will soon lead the issue of hostile Palestinian legislation to a serious crisis with the Palestinians.
IDF, the Anger and the Frustration
But these two new laws do not represent the whole picture. For a long time, senior figures in the Justice Ministry and the IDF have been climbing the walls with anger and frustration at Palestinian behavior in the legal sphere. According to unambiguous articles in the Oslo Accords, which were ratified in the Wye Agreement, the Palestinians are required to submit all legislative initiatives to Israel via a special legal committee, in order to enable Israel to examine whether the proposed legislation is in keeping with the agreements. The laws are supposed to be submitted to the legal committee prior to their enactment, so that it would be possible to change or cancel them, before they become law.
Precisely because of this, the Palestinians have not, until today, submitted even one law to Israel. In fact, they are carrying out, by means of legislation, a war against Israel. Countless requests by senior Justice Ministry officials to their Palestinian counterparts, asking them to comply with the agreements and submit the laws which have been enacted or are in the process of being enacted, have simply been ignored. Copies of laws which have reached the Israeli side were obtained by intelligence, or as a result of the monitoring of internet sites and newspapers.
This “legal war”, which has been completely ignored by the media, is causing much anger and frustration on the part of the legal officials, who are required to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority. They constantly send letters and memoranda to politicians, but with no real result.
From the Land Registry to the Gallows
The “Foreign Ownership of Real Estate in Palestine” law, revealed here for the first time, marks a new high in this legal war. In its English version, the law is only two pages long, but this was enough to set off all the warning lights among top Justice Ministry officials.
The law, which, as far is known, has already passed through all the legislative processes, defines as “occupiers” the “Israeli occupying authority and its civil and military institutions, settlements and whomever is under their authority.”
It states that “any actions conducted by or being conducted by the occupying authority (Israel) on Palestinian real estate are considered absolutely null and void.” The law contains no definition of what Palestinian land is, so that according to the accepted Palestinian view, the law also applies to land in Tel Aviv, Acre and Haifa, and certainly that in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.”
The law also prohibits “all persons who are not Arab Palestinians, whether they are persons real or artificial, to possess any real estate in Palestine or to obtain any material right, by any reason of ownership…” However, while regarding citizens of countries “with which there is reciprocity” the Palestinian “Council of Ministers” may permit the holding of real estate, a special article in the law states that regarding “occupiers,” that is the government and citizens of Israel, the Council of Ministers has no authority to permit the holding of real estate. Such land would be confiscated immediately by the Palestinian authorities.
Of course, the law prohibits brokerage efforts, sales or approval of transactions to foreigners and “occupiers” from being carried out, and states that “Any Palestinian who violates the terms of this law has committed the crime of high treason,” and will be punished accordingly. A foreigner who violates the law “has committed harm to national security” and will be punished accordingly. The punishment for treason and harming national security is death. Thus, Israelis and Palestinians are to march together from the land registry to the gallows.
“A Severely Racist Law”
So far as is known, the bill has secretly passed through all of the required legislative procedures and was even approved by Yasser Arafat. As stated above, not a word of this was reported to Israel. By chance, the draft legislation reached senior officials at the Justice Ministry last September, including attorney Jean-Claude Nidam, who is responsible for contact with the Palestinian Authority at the ministry. They were shocked and appealed to the highest echelon of the judicial system, with a demand for action.
They clarified that “the orders of the aforementioned law severely damage the real estate rights of the country’s citizens and institutions.” They also asserted that “the Interim Agreement clearly states that there will be no harm to these rights, and a number of articles explicitly determine that the (Palestinian) Council is obligated to honor the existing rights.” Therefore, they stated that, “there is a clear contradiction between the law and the agreement.”
They demanded that the Palestinians be informed that the law lacks any validity and is void, and that the lessons from the very fact of its legislation be learned.
Senior jurists both in and outside the civil service point to the even more severe implications than those about which the official documents speak. “This is a racist law, which, if it were legislated by a friendly country such as Britain, we would interpret as a declaration of war against us, and which would cause an immediate severing of relations with it,” says a senior jurist in the civil service. “We must understand the meaning of the legislation. This law states that any Israeli who owns land in a place that the Palestinians determine is Palestine, certainly in the settlements and in Jerusalem, will be sentenced to death. The same holds true for the Israeli government. This is an intolerable law that harms the very ability to continue coming into contact with whoever legislated the law.”
Attorney Dudu Rotem, legal adviser to the Yesha Council, towards whose members the law is especially directed, asserts that the implications are even more serious: “According to this law, if I travel tomorrow to Jericho they can arrest me, since every settler, due to his very ownership of his home, harms Palestinian national security. In fact, this is no law, but a joke. It is a dictator’s order that grants legitimacy to murder and racism, and harms every principle of law and justice. However, the interesting thing is not what Arafat does, but what the Israeli government will do regarding this law.”
A Clear Threat to Israel
On 6 July, the legal adviser to the IDF Central Command and the Civil Administration, Col. Shlomo Politis, wrote a letter to OC Central Command. He warned against another new Palestinian law which had just been legislated. This is the “Palestinian Firearms and Ammunition Law,” which was approved in an order by Yasser Arafat this past May, and which received nearly no exposure.
The law permits the Palestinian Authority to manufacture weapons and to issue licenses to carry all sorts of weapons. The position of the Israeli jurists regarding it is unanimous. Col. Politis’ opinion later received further backing from Chief Military Prosecutor Brig. Gen. Uri Shoham. Both view the law as a direct violation of the Oslo Accords.
According to Col. Politis, “The first part of the law, which deals mainly with licensing and carrying weapons by Palestinians, contravenes the orders of the Interim Agreement, since the law authorizes the ‘minister of interior’ to give a weapons permit for pistols and rifles.” This “contravenes what is stated in the agreement’s security appendix, according to which the Palestinian Police would be permitted to issue licenses only for pistols.”
However, it seems that an even more severe aspect of the law is expressed in its second section, which deals with the manufacture and import of weapons. This section, states legal adviser Politis, constitutes “a violation of the Interim Agreement orders which prohibit the possibility of the manufacture and import of weapons and ammunition.”
“In the agreement’s security appendix,” he states, “it even says that the Palestinian Police have an obligation to prevent the manufacture of weapons in the PA areas.”
The illegal legislation of this law was brought to the Prime Minister’s attention early last August. The issue was even raised a number of times with Netanyahu and in the cabinet by the Justice Minister, but without any result.
As was said, there is no disagreement between the jurists regarding the meaning of the law, but the truth is that one does not need to be a legal expert to understand the full severity of the matter: the PA is giving itself the imprimatur to manufacture, import and issue licenses for weapons and ammunition, despite the fact that this imprimatur contravenes both the spirit and the letter of its agreements with the State of Israel, and despite the fact that it is clear to it that manufacturing and licensing weapons constitute a clear and flagrant threat to Israel.
How to Bury a Committee
“There is nothing in our legislation which violates the agreements,” claims Attorney Tewfiq Abu-Ghazzaleh, the Palestinian Chairman of the Legal Sub-Committee, the committee was supposed to deal with legal issues arising between the two sides. “I am not claiming that the Israelis are lying in the serious accusations which they are making against us, but there is a misunderstanding here. Regarding the law on weapons, we are trying to create order from the scorched earth situation which existed here when we arrived. Regarding the land law, I would need to check if it has indeed already been published in the official gazette and come into force. If it were up to me, perhaps I would not submit this law, but it has been done to show that we are in control on the ground. There is no declaration of war here, although I would understand someone thinking that there was. I hope that things will be different in the future.”
“In general,” says Attorney Abu-Ghazzaleh, “I can understand the frustration of the Israeli side. I agree with them, there is a problem, but I hope that it will soon be solved. If it depended on me, it would have been solved already, but we need to create a structure and get organized, especially in the West Bank. We need means and people, I hope that it will happen, I am still waiting to hear from our Justice Minister.”
The Justice Ministry and the security establishment have become used to answers of this kind over the last few years. There they claim that Abu-Ghazzaleh’s bosses are deliberately sending him to dole out promises, but in practice are making sure that these promises have no cover, or indeed that in the field, the precise opposite will happen.
By the way, Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu- Medein declined to be interviewed for this article, despite repeated calls to his office and his home, and promises that he would, “call back.”
Abu-Ghazzaleh’s basic embarrassment derives from the committee that he heads. The Oslo Accords established a joint legal committee, headed by the two sides’ justice ministers — Tzahi Hanegbi and Freih Abu-Medein. It set up a sub-committee headed by Justice Ministry Director- General Nili Arad, and Attorney Tewfiq Abu-Ghazzaleh.
Palestinian legislation, like all other legal issues, was supposed to be submitted to this committee. But for years now, the Palestinians have prevented the convening of the committee. This is hardly a great surprise, and in the Justice Ministry, they say that “This is the only committee in which they are supposed to give and not receive, and therefore, they are making sure that it does not convene or function.”
Long months pass until dates are set for the meetings of the committee, and when these dates arrive, the Palestinians cancel the meetings at the last moment. In the few meetings which have taken place, in small forums, the Palestinians have been asked to submit all proposed items of legislation to the committee for its consideration. This has not been done.
Gaza Station Is Not Responding
One of the severest aspects of the legal war which the Palestinians have declared is the non-functioning of the legal assistance mechanism which was established by the Oslo Accords. According to the Accords, a body was set up which was supposed to carry out a series of legal coordination activities, in the criminal and civil spheres, as is customary between two countries which are not at war.
The mechanism is supposed to see to it that court decisions of the other side are enforced, that bailiff’s office decisions regarding the collection of debts are implemented, etc., etc. A senior Justice Ministry official, attorney Jean-Claude Nidam, heads the mechanism. His counterpart is an Arab-Israeli attorney, Jamal Abu- Toemeh. Dozens and even hundreds of appeals from the Israeli side reach the mechanism daily. These range from decisions against convicted rapists, to detention orders against criminals who fled, requests to summon witnesses, and requests to carry out decisions against Palestinians who owe vast sums to Israelis. All requests are checked and passed on to the Palestinian side, but merit no response. Even attorney Abu-Toemeh, the man in charge on the Palestinian side, does not succeed in obtaining any cooperation on his side. Gaza station is not responding.
The result is severe. Debts of tens of millions of shekels are not collected, and thousands of files involving residents of the territories are closed. The paradox is that the Israeli taxpayer is massively financing the defense of Palestinian Authority residents who are up for trial inside the Green Line, via the public defender’s office. Indeed, a considerable portion of our crime is perpetrated by Palestinian Authority residents. But the Authority is avoiding any assistance and cooperation, and at the same time, with characteristic audacity, is insisting that VAT funds — which Israel collects from Palestinian residents — be fully refunded.
In the justice establishment, it is claimed that it is precisely the judicial sphere that could serve as the first, and precedent-setting, area for cooperation between the two entities, Israeli and Palestinian. This is not cooperation between peoples carrying difficult psychological baggage, but two bureaucracies, that take orders from the politicians, and are supposed to obey. But in practice, the Palestinian bureaucrats receive contradictory orders from their politicians, orders to make things difficult and obstruct. And thus, the judicial field has become a battlefield which broadcasts hostility and alienation, just like between two hostile entities.