Jews Should Have an Open Way to Buy Land in the West Bank

I just posted on my new column at The Times of Israel about this topic in relation to the legal crisis of Ulpana. Ulpana, a single neighborhood in the Israeli settlement of Beit El, is one of six spots in the West Bank scheduled to be demolished because they have no legal standing to exist. It’s not that they are settlements in general. It isn’t that they were built without permits. It’s that they were built on private Palestinian land, something that is actually relatively rare despite the propaganda that Israeli settlements are grabbing territory owned by Palestinians.

An essential to stability in any country is property rights. The American Declaration of Independence cites “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as reasons to pursue a free United States. But that line is a modification of an earlier John Locke quote: “life, liberty and property.” Israelis have been evicted from houses they’ve bought in cities like Hebron which they’ve actually bought. East Jerusalem Arabs often struggle to get building permits for land no one argues they don’t own. The Palestinian Authority maintains not only that it’s illegal to sell land to Israelis, but that it is punishable by execution. The result is a thriving underground market in Jerusalem, Hebron and elsewhere. The entire process is “extra-legal,” daring settlers and Palestinians to go more extreme in their strategy to acquire land outside of conventional legal means. Hence, the entire atmosphere invites more daring action by builders, contractors and people who want land. There is only a minority of cases reaching the courts in Israel, but the docket could be dealing with other issues if only there were an open approach to acquiring and securing property for both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

Religious Zionists, mostly Orthodox, have a religious obligatlion to live in the Land of Israel. By extension, there’s a strong imperative to own land in the country, enabling stability in the country, being able to build a family and openly pursue other religious precepts and principles like the harvest of first fruits, tithing and of course being able to earn off the value of property via farming or otherwise in order to give charity. Diplomats search in vain for a way to cool tension between lay Jews and Arabs, but they stoke the flames by pushing a dynamic property market underground outside the watchful eye of governments who want to minimize the movement of property that would complicate a sleek, convenient two state solution. That’s to say that powerful parties don’t want land freely changing hands because it could influence drawing an international border between Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Courts exist to channel disputes and rivalries through a civilized structure. Property disputes are a common case load for any legal system. Minimizing them goes far to ensure stability by making sure few cases ever have to be brought to court – much less a constitutional, non-claims court like the Israeli Supreme Court.

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