State Prosecutors are to blame
ANALYSIS: Netanyahu plans to oversee all of the prosecution’s responses to the court himself • When responding to High Court petitions seeking to evacuate settlements, the State Prosecution consistently referred to a report on settlements and outposts compiled by attorney Talia Sasson, who is currently number 7 on the Meretz Knesset list.
Mati Tuchfeld, ISRAEL HAYOM
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates said this week that despite the big political victory over his right flank in the Ulpana affair, the general mood in the Prime Minister’s Office was still rather sour, especially because of the main blunder in this whole affair, which was, and still remains, the state’s response to the High Court of Justice on the Peace Now petition claiming private Palestinian ownership of the Ulpana land. (Initially, the State Prosecution, speaking on behalf of the government, vowed to evacuate the buildings, even before the court had deliberated on the petition. As a result, when the government voiced reluctance to evacuate, the court insisted that it live up to its commitment and ruled that the buildings be demolished.) The prime minister even told the Likud faction during a recent meeting that the Justice Ministry had launched an internal investigation into the conduct of the state in the matter. And if that weren’t enough, the State Control Committee, headed by MK Uri Ariel (National Union), has instructed the State Comptroller to compile a special report on the events.
The findings of the various investigations are expected to be more or less as follows: Before Netanyahu’s government assumed power, when responding to High Court petitions seeking to evacuate settlements, the State Prosecution consistently referred to a report on settlements and outposts compiled by attorney Talia Sasson in 2005. Sasson was a senior prosecutor in the State Prosecution’s Office during Ariel Sharon’s government, and is currently number 7 on the Meretz Knesset list.
Sasson’s report, generally, does not distinguish between types of illegal settlements. A makeshift shack built by renegade hilltop youth and a community housing hundreds of families whose authorization documents are missing this or that signature are treated equally – both must be demolished. Sasson insists to this day that the report she compiled was purely professional and not influenced one iota by her personal political views. No one believes that nonsense.
When Netanyahu was elected, the government decided to change course. A Justice Ministry team, led by Begin and Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, decided that if up until then the state’s automatic answer to the High Court was that it would evacuate the outpost in question, from that point forward the answer would be that if the specific community had been built on state lands, efforts would be made to retroactively legalize the disputed areas. But even then, some people in the Justice Ministry felt that the state prosecutors’ hands trembled every time they issued a response to the court that involved legalization of disputed outposts.
However, it turns out that this was not enough. Some 9,000 housing units across Judea and Samaria have been built on land that qualifies as privately owned Palestinian land according to the current guidelines. Ostensibly, even the state’s new approach can’t legalize them.
For many on the right, this is where the big failure lies. For an entire year, the state avoided giving the court an answer, using the State Prosecution as a stalling tactic. During the High Court retrial of the Ulpana case, the state offered a vague and unclear argument, prompting the justices to believe that it was yet another attempt to buy time.
All the hard work done by the task force looking to devise an acceptable compromise solution and allow for legalization of outposts, in which Ya’alon took part this time, has now gone down the drain. In terms of the prosecution, this is malpractice, at best. At worst, this is the work of a political agenda.
One of the senior government officials who was involved in the process said that “after a plan of action had already been formulated, the State Prosecution was instructed to go to the High Court and inform the justices of the change in the state’s policy. They were to tell the court that the state was considering the option of retroactively legalizing housing built on private land and ask, accordingly, to postpone the evacuation.”
“The State Prosecution prepared their arguments. But no one, including ministers Ya’alon and Begin, and certainly not the prime minister, reviewed the [prosecution's] arguments. And so, without any political supervision, the arguments were submitted to the High Court of Justice. Only afterward, when we saw the documents, did we understand why the court rejected our position outright.”
“But how does something like this happen? Who is responsible for the arguments the prosecution submits to the court? The justice minister? The attorney-general? That is precisely the problem. There is no oversight. There is only bureaucracy. The State Prosecution is an arm of the state, but the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, or perhaps it doesn’t want to know,” the senior official said.
According to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office, things are about to change. Netanyahu plans to oversee all of the prosecution’s responses to the court. He has appointed a team, headed by himself, that in addition to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman also includes representatives of the Likud’s rightist camp such as ministers Yuli Edelstein, Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa’ar, Moshe Kahlon and Yisrael Katz. He is even considering asking Gila Gamliel to join.