Israel Plans to Establish a Unit for Cracking Down on Settler Building Violations

Last week, Israel informed the High Court of Justice that it plans on establishing a criminal enforcement unit under the Civil Administration for building violations in the West Bank. There have been petitions demanding criminal investigations against the regional and local council heads of Jewish settlements. According to the state, employees will be allocated to the unit, and funds for them have already been added in the budget that was passed in the previous month. Israel had first discussed the intention of establishing such a unit back in 2012. But, now, this is the first time that it has mentioned funding of the unit and that work for establishing it has begun.

Five petitions had been filed by Peace Now, a human rights group, and one petition by Jordan Valley activists. All of them demanded that an investigation be conducted into the council heads working in Jewish settlements. They were accused of turning a blind eye and even of actually providing funds for funding illegal constructions in their boundaries, which prompted the announcement of the unit on Thursday. Yamina had requested that the additional manpower required by the Civil Administration be included in the coalition agreement signed last June with Yesh Atid. 

According to the agreement, this clause is aimed at ensuring the national interest in Area C, which means enforcement against any illegal construction. Hamad Amar, the Minister in the Finance Ministry, responded to the query put forward by MK Orit Struck that of the 50 new positions of the Civil Administration, 20 would be given to the construction violations enforcement and some of these would be assigned later to the criminal enforcement unit. Struck stated that the decision of the Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, of taking positions, was aimed at preventing the Palestinian Authority from taking over. 

Some of the petitions had been filed against Binyamin, the Regional Council, and the announcement of the unit prompted it to urge ministers to block this ‘grave’ measure that would lead to discrimination against the Jews. The council said that the enforcement of the West Bank’s building violations should be delegated to the land enforcement authority that operates within Israel. The response of the state was termed as ‘foot-dragging’ by Peace Now and they called for an investigation into the suspicions associated with the 433 (major crimes) unit. Yosef Shapira, the State Comptroller back in 2013, had discovered that the Civil Administration was shirking its duty of criminal enforcement of laws relating to construction and zoning.

He had written that this led to the lawless situation in Samaria and Judea and added that relevant ministers, such as that of Justice, Interior and Defense, take steps for regulating it. AG Avichai Mandelbit had requested the High Court of Justice back in 2017 to order the Defense Minister at that time, Avigdor Liberman, to establish a criminal enforcement unit. A meeting had been held of the subject and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also attended. They had agreed to establish such a unit, but it hadn’t been implemented because of no budget allocation. 

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