Israel’s Supreme Court has approved a decision by the government to grant the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) authority to manage public lands.
In its ruling published yesterday, the court rejected a petition which sought the cancellation of 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”.
According to Adalah – The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the groups who brought the case, the Supreme Court ruling “grants the state a license to transfer authority to a body that implements policies of racial segregation against Arab citizens in violation of their rights to equality and human dignity”.
Reacting with “dismay” to the decision, the two NGOs highlighted how the WZO’s Settlement Division is “a body that defines itself and its policy as operating strictly on behalf of Jewish interests”, adding:
It also declares very specifically that the ideological motivations upon which its operations are based are inconsistent with the principle of equality for the Arab population.
The amendment to the World Zionist Organisation – Jewish Agency (Status) Law (originally approved by the Knesset in 1952), passed a Knesset vote on 24 December 2015, granting the WZO’s Settlement Division “authority over settlement, land acquisition, and the establishment and expansion of development projects”.
In their petition, Adalah Attorneys Suhad Bishara and Myssana Morany and ACRI Attorney Roni Pelli wrote how the Settlement Division, “like the WZO as a whole, sees itself as obligated to serve the interests of the Jewish people exclusively.”
The petition continued: “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 Supreme Court, however, rejected all the arguments brought by the petitioners, both with respect to the constitutionality of state powers being delegated to a private body, as well as regarding the discriminatory impact for Palestinian citizens.
According to Adalah attorney Myssana Morany, speaking to MEMO, while the court acknowledged that the fears of discrimination were not without substance, the justices declared it was too early to tell if such concerns would materialise. Morany noted that the court cited a similar rationale for rejecting a petition against the Admissions Committees Law.
Praising the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, WZO Settlement Division head Gael Greenwald said he was very happy. “We operate in Israel, which is a Jewish state. We have to recognise the rights of every citizen, but let’s not forget that we live in a Jewish land,” he told the Jerusalem Post.