Translated and reprinted from "Ma'ariv" of December 3, 1998
Not only has a Palestinian land law come into being, but a Palestinian
law on weapons is also now in effect, according to which it is
permissible for the Palestinian Authority to manufacture weapons
and accord its citizens the right to bear arms. Both of these
laws are part of a new stage in the Palestinian struggle against
Israel. BrigadierGeneral Uri Shoham, the Chief Military Prosecutor:
"This is a serious violation of the agreements with the Palestinians."
Attorney Tewfiq AbuGhazzaleh, Chairman of the Palestinian Legal
Subcommittee: "There is no declaration of war here, although
I would understand someone thinking that there was. If it were
up to me, perhaps I would not submit this law." Palestinian
Justice Minister Freih AbuMedein declined to comment.
A few days after the signing ceremony at Wye River, Justice Minister
Tzahi Hanegbi wrote to the Prime Minister, and called his attention
to a new Palestinian law, which was, at that time, in the final
stages of enactment. It is called the "Law on Foreign
Ownership of Real Estate in Palestine," which was recently
brought into law in secret in Gaza, and a copy of which was received
by chance by the Justice Ministry. This law amounts according
to jurists to a declaration of war on the State of Israel.
Justice Minister Hanegbi made it clear to the Prime Minister that
the new law severely infringes on Israeli citizens' and authorities'
land acquisition rights of Israeli citizens and organizations,
from both sides of the Green Line, and complete contravenes the
instructions of the agreements with the Palestinians, including
the Wye Agreement.
According to the new law, revealed here for the first time, any
Israeli citizen or institution, certainly any settler or the IDF,
holding land in "Palestine", is harming Palestinian
"national security". Together with this, any Palestinian
who aids, in any way, the acquisition or possession of land by
an Israeli is guilty of treason. The land will pass automatically
to the treasury of the Palestinian state, and the judgment on
the Israeli holding the land or the Palestinian selling it
A few months before the enactment of the land law, senior Justice
Ministry and IDF officials brought an additional Palestinian law
to the Prime Minister's attention. This was the "Firearms
and Ammunition Law", which was also passed in secret
and signed by "Rais" Arafat last May. According to Chief
Military Prosecutor BrigadierGeneral Uri Shoham, and Central
Command Legal Adviser Colonel Shlomo Politis, this law too constitutes
a serious infringement of the agreements with the Palestinians.
It gives legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority itself, to manufacture
weapons and permit citizens to bear arms. All this is seen by
the State of Israel as constituting a serious security threat,
violates the agreement between the sides, and demonstrates aggressive
The two laws, on land and on weapons, constitute a single unit of land and fire, and constitute a new and additional stage in the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Despite numerous attempts by political and
professional elements to bring this to the attention of the Prime
Minister, both before and after the Wye Agreement, Netanyahu has
done nothing. It seems, however, from the Justice Minister's sharp
words, that he will soon lead the issue of hostile Palestinian
legislation to a serious crisis with the Palestinians.
IDF, the Anger and the Frustration
But these two new laws do not represent the whole picture. For
a long time, senior figures in the Justice Ministry and the IDF
have been climbing the walls with anger and frustration at Palestinian
behavior in the legal sphere. According to unambiguous articles
in the Oslo Accords, which were ratified in the Wye Agreement,
the Palestinians are required to submit all legislative initiatives
to Israel via a special legal committee, in order to enable Israel
to examine whether the proposed legislation is in keeping with
the agreements. The laws are supposed to be submitted to the legal
committee prior to their enactment, so that it would be possible
to change or cancel them, before they become law.
Precisely because of this, the Palestinians have not, until today,
submitted even one law to Israel. In fact, they are carrying out,
by means of legislation, a war against Israel. Countless requests
by senior Justice Ministry officials to their Palestinian counterparts,
asking them to comply with the agreements and submit the laws
which have been enacted or are in the process of being enacted,
have simply been ignored. Copies of laws which have reached the
Israeli side were obtained by intelligence, or as a result of
the monitoring of internet sites and newspapers.
This "legal war", which has been completely ignored
by the media, is causing much anger and frustration on the part
of the legal officials, who are required to coordinate with the
Palestinian Authority. They constantly send letters and memoranda
to politicians, but with no real result.
From the Land Registry to the Gallows
The "Foreign Ownership of Real Estate in Palestine"
law, revealed here for the first time, marks a new high in
this legal war. In its English version, the law is only two pages
long, but this was enough to set off all the warning lights among
top Justice Ministry officials.
The law, which, as far is known, has already passed through all the legislative processes, defines as "occupiers" the "Israeli occupying authority and its civil and military institutions, settlements and whomever is under their authority." It states that "any actions conducted by or being conducted by the occupying authority (Israel) on Palestinian real estate are considered absolutely null and void." The law contains no definition of what Palestinian land is, so that according to the accepted Palestinian view, the law also applies to land in Tel Aviv, Acre and Haifa, and certainly that in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria."
The law also prohibits "all persons who are not Arab Palestinians,
whether they are persons real or artificial, to possess any real
estate in Palestine or to obtain any material right, by any reason
of ownership ..." However, while regarding citizens of countries
"with which there is reciprocity" the Palestinian "Council
of Ministers" may permit the holding of real estate, a special
article in the law states that regarding "occupiers,"
that is the government and citizens of Israel, the Council of
Ministers has no authority to permit the holding of real estate.
Such land would be confiscated immediately by the Palestinian
Of course, the law prohibits brokerage efforts, sales or approval
of transactions to foreigners and "occupiers" from being
carried out, and states that "Any Palestinian who violates
the terms of this law has omitted the crime of high treason,"
and will be punished accordingly. A foreigner who violates the
law "has committed harm to national security" and will
be punished accordingly. The punishment for treason and harming
national security is death. Thus, Israelis and Palestinians
are to march together from the land registry to the gallows.
"A Severely Racist Law"
So far as is known, the bill has secretly passed through all of
the required legislative procedures and was even approved by Yasser
Arafat. As stated above, not a word of this was reported to Israel.
By chance, the draft legislation reached senior officials at the
Justice Ministry last September, including attorney JeanClaude
Nidam, who is responsible for contact with the Palestinian Authority
at the ministry. They were shocked and appealed to the highest
echelon of the judicial system, with a demand for action.
They clarified that "the orders of the aforementioned law
severely damage the real estate rights of the country's citizens
and institutions." They also asserted that "the Interim
Agreement clearly states that there will be no harm to these rights,
and a number of articles explicitly determine that the (Palestinian)
Council is obligated to honor the existing rights." Therefore,
they stated that, "there is a clear contradiction between
the law and the agreement."
They demanded that the Palestinians be informed that the law lacks
any validity and is void, and that the lessons from the very fact
of its legislation be learned. Senior jurists both in and outside
the civil service point to the even more severe implications than
those about which the official documents speak. "This is
a racist law, which, if it were legislated by a friendly country
such as Britain, we would interpret as a declaration of war against
us, and which would cause an immediate severing of relations with
it," says a senior jurist in the civil service. "We
must understand the meaning of the legislation. This law states
that any Israeli who owns land in a place that the Palestinians
determine is Palestine, certainly in the settlements and in Jerusalem,
will be sentenced to death. The same holds true for the Israeli
government. This is an intolerable law that harms the very ability
to continue coming into contact with whoever legislated the law."
Attorney Dudu Rotem, legal adviser to the Yesha Council, towards
whose members the law is especially directed, asserts that the
implications are even more serious: "According to this law,
if I travel tomorrow to Jericho they can arrest me, since every
settler, due to his very ownership of his home, harms Palestinian
national security. In fact, this is no law, but a joke. It is
a dictator's order that grants legitimacy to murder and racism,
and harms every principle of law and justice. However, the interesting
thing is not what Arafat does, but what the Israeli government
will do regarding this law."
A Clear Threat to Israel
On 6 July, the legal adviser to the IDF Central Command and the
Civil Administration, Col. Shlomo Politis, wrote a letter to OC
Central Command. He warned against another new Palestinian law
which had just been legislated. This is the "Palestinian
Firearms and Ammunition Law," which was approved in an
order by Yasser Arafat this past May, and which received nearly
The law permits the Palestinian Authority to manufacture weapons
and to issue licenses to carry all sorts of weapons. The position
of the Israeli jurists regarding it is unanimous. Col. Politis'
opinion later received further backing from Chief Military Prosecutor
Brig. Gen. Uri Shoham. Both view the law as a direct violation
of the Oslo Accords.
According to Col. Politis, "The first part of the law, which
deals mainly with licensing and carrying weapons by Palestinians,
contravenes the orders of the Interim Agreement, since the law
authorizes the 'minister of interior' to give a weapons permit
for pistols and rifles." This "contravenes what is stated
in the agreement's security appendix, according to which the Palestinian
Police would be permitted to issue licenses only for pistols."
However, it seems that an even more severe aspect of the law is
expressed in its second section, which deals with the manufacture
and import of weapons. This section, states legal adviser Politis,
constitutes "a violation of the Interim Agreement orders
which prohibit the possibility of the manufacture and import of
weapons and ammunition."
"In the agreement's security appendix," he states, "it
even says that the Palestinian Police have an obligation to prevent
the manufacture of weapons in the PA areas."
The illegal legislation of this law was brought to the Prime Minister's
attention early last August. The issue was even raised a number
of times with Netanyahu and in the cabinet by the Justice Minister,
but without any result. As was said, there is no disagreement
between the jurists regarding the meaning of the law, but the
truth is that one does not need to be a legal expert to understand
the full severity of the matter: the PA is giving itself the imprimatur
to manufacture, import and issue licenses for weapons and ammunition,
despite the fact that this imprimatur contravenes both the spirit
and the letter of its agreements with the State of Israel, and
despite the fact that it is clear to it that manufacturing and
licensing weapons constitute a clear and flagrant threat to Israel.
How to Bury a Committee
"There is nothing in our legislation which violates the agreements,"
claims Attorney Tewfiq AbuGhazzaleh, the Palestinian Chairman
of the Legal SubCommittee, the committee was supposed to deal
with legal issues arising between the two sides. "I am not
claiming that the Israelis are lying in the serious accusations
which they are making against us, but there is a misunderstanding
here. Regarding the law on weapons, we are trying to create order
from the scorched earth situation which existed here when we arrived.
Regarding the land law, I would need to check if it has indeed
already been published in the official gazette and come into force.
If it were up to me, perhaps I would not submit this law, but
it has been done to show that we are in control on the ground.
There is no declaration of war here, although I would understand
someone thinking that there was. I hope that things will be different
in the future."
"In general," says Attorney AbuGhazzaleh, "I can
understand the frustration of the Israeli side. I agree with them,
there is a problem, but I hope that it will soon be solved. If
it depended on me, it would have been solved already, but we need
to create a structure and get organized, especially in the West
Bank. We need means and people, I hope that it will happen, I
am still waiting to hear from our Justice Minister."
The Justice Ministry and the security establishment have become
used to answers of this kind over the last few years. There they
claim that AbuGhazzaleh's bosses are deliberately sending him
to dole out promises, but in practice are making sure that these
promises have no cover, or indeed that in the field, the precise
opposite will happen. By the way, Palestinian Justice Minister
Freih Abu Medein declined to be interviewed for this article,
despite repeated calls to his office and his home, and promises
that he would, "call back."
AbuGhazzaleh's basic embarrassment derives from the committee that he heads. The Oslo Accords established a joint legal committee, headed by the two sides' justice ministers Tzahi Hanegbi and Freih AbuMedein. It set up a subcommittee headed by Justice Ministry Director General Nili Arad, and Attorney Tewfiq AbuGhazzaleh. Palestinian legislation, like all other legal issues, was supposed to be submitted to this committee. But for years now, the Palestinians have prevented the convening of the committee. This is hardly a great surprise, and in the Justice Ministry, they say that "This is the only committee in which they are supposed to give and not receive, and therefore, they are making sure that it does not convene or function."
Long months pass until dates are set for the meetings of the committee,
and when these dates arrive, the Palestinians cancel the meetings
at the last moment. In the few meetings which have taken place,
in small forums, the Palestinians have been asked to submit all
proposed items of legislation to the committee for its consideration.
This has not been done.
Gaza Station Is Not Responding.
One of the severest aspects of the legal war which the Palestinians
have declared is the nonfunctioning of the legal assistance mechanism
which was established by the Oslo Accords. According to the Accords,
a body was set up which was supposed to carry out a series of
legal coordination activities, in the criminal and civil spheres,
as is customary between two countries which are not at war.
The mechanism is supposed to see to it that court decisions of
the other side are enforced, that bailiff's office decisions regarding
the collection of debts are implemented, etc., etc. A senior Justice
Ministry official, attorney JeanClaude Nidam, heads the mechanism.
His counterpart is an ArabIsraeli attorney, Jamal Abu Toemeh.
Dozens and even hundreds of appeals from the Israeli side reach
the mechanism daily. These range from decisions against
convicted rapists, to detention orders against criminals who fled,
requests to summon witnesses, and requests to carry out decisions
against Palestinians who owe vast sums to Israelis. All requests
are checked and passed on to the Palestinian side, but merit no
response. Even attorney AbuToemeh, the man in charge
on the Palestinian side, does not succeed in obtaining any cooperation
on his side. Gaza station is not responding.
The result is severe. Debts of tens of millions of shekels are
not collected, and thousands of files involving residents of the
territories are closed. The paradox is that the Israeli taxpayer
is massively financing the defense of Palestinian Authority residents
who are up for trial inside the Green Line, via the public defender's
office. Indeed, a considerable portion of our crime is perpetrated
by Palestinian Authority residents. But the Authority is avoiding
any assistance and cooperation, and at the same time, with characteristic
audacity, is insisting that VAT funds which Israel collects
from Palestinian residents be fully refunded.
In the justice establishment, it is claimed that it is precisely
the judicial sphere that could serve as the first, and precedentsetting,
area for cooperation between the two entities, Israeli and Palestinian.
This is not cooperation between peoples carrying difficult psychological
baggage, but two bureaucracies, that take orders from the politicians,
and are supposed to obey. But in practice, the Palestinian bureaucrats
receive contradictory orders from their politicians, orders to
make things difficult and obstruct. And thus, the judicial field
has become a battlefield which broadcasts hostility and alienation,
just like between two hostile entities.