Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that any expropriation of Palestinian owned land to be developed by Jews in Judea and Samaria could lead to the transfer of the entire settlements matter to the International Court in The Hague.
According to Ha’aretz, Weinstein told Netanyahu the Court in the Hague was liable to indict senior Israeli government officials for war crimes.
Apparently, Weinstein’s warning was the reason behind Netanyahu’s approval for Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s request to evacuate the Machpelah Building in Hebron, about a hundred yards from the Cave of the Patriarchs, on the eve of Passover last month, despite heavy pressure exerted by many Likud ministers.
Security forces evacuated Machpelah House, which had been purchased and settled legally by several Jewish families a week earlier.
According to Ha’aretz, on the morning of the evacuation there was a three-way meeting between Weinstein, Barak and Netanyahu, during which the AG told the PM that failure to keep the law zealously would get Israel in trouble in the international arena and could lead to the indictment of senior Israeli officials on war crimes. This is why Netanyahu finally approved the evacuation.
Weinstein has repeated his warnings regarding the pending legislation which is intended to prevent the demolition of the Ulapana Hill neighborhood, according to Ha’aretz. The proposed new bill states that if the government had mistakenly built a Jewish settlement on privately owned Palestinian land, the owners would be compensated with money or with land of comparable value.
The new bill also introduces a statute of limitation that sets a time period after which the Jewish tenants would be protected from evacuation.
Israel’s Justice Ministry is concerned that seniorl officials could be prosecuted in the criminal courts in The Hague, which have been in operation since 2002. Israel initially supported the establishment of the court, but later withdrew its support. One of the major reasons for that change in policy has been the issue of the settlements, or, rather, the court’s questionable interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which defines as a war crime the transferring of an occupying population into an occupied territory.
In 2004 the International Court of Justice declared the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria were illegal because they constitute an occupying population moving into an occupied territory.
But several legal experts over the years have pointed to the lack of international recognition of Jordan’s 1949 occupation of those same areas, which, essentially, meant that when those territories fell into Israeli hands in 1967, they had not been taken from their legitimate owner and therefore should not be considered occupied.
Harel Cohen, a representative of the residents of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood, who is also a spokesman for National Union MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), told the Jewish Press he didn’t think Netanyahu and his ministers should fear the international court, saying that “the Jewish nation has been plagued by fears for 1900 years. In 1948 the nation has begun to be liberated from those fears.”
On the other hand, Cohen continued, “the demolition of 9000 populated housing units is, itself, a crime against Humanity—even if they’re ‘merely’ homes belonging to Jews—which is why the prime minister declared this is a decree that the public cannot sustain, and it will not come to be.”
Cohen, who has been assisting MK Katz during the time the latter was working for Ariel Sharon when Sharon was Housing and Development Minister—a period of enormous growth of the Jewish settlements—disagreed with Ha’aretz’ assertion that Netanyahu had capitulated to the AG’s argument regarding the threat of a war crimes indictment.
“If he (Netanyahu) had given in, he would have handed Machpelah House back to the Arabs,” Cohen said. “I’m not defending his move to evacuate the Jewish residents, but as the case stands, once their ownership of the house is clarified in a court of law, the Jews will be permitted to resettle there.”