Netanyahu's legal reforms will forever hurt Palestinians, says Israeli lawyer

Despite significant Palestinian ambivalence, analysts fear settlement activity would speed up if Supreme Court was weakened

A Palestinian during a protest marking 'Land Day' along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. EPA
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A prominent Israeli lawyer has sounded the alarm about how the far-right Israeli government’s hugely divisive proposed legal reforms would weaken Palestinian rights.

Daniel Seidemann, who focuses on relations between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, told The National that while the country’s Supreme Court, which stands to be weakened by the reforms, cannot “rule on the basis of what is really happening to the Palestinians,” there was still the “possibility”of justice.

On a tour of contested sites in East Jerusalem, Mr Seidemann said: “In cases where it can be broken down to an issue between a Palestinian family and a settler family, there’s a possibility of getting justice. A possibility.”

His warning came despite widespread ambivalence among Palestinian citizens of Israel over the reforms, and the community’s notable absence in ongoing mass protests that have led to a general strike, with hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed the reforms last week following the biggest demonstrations in Israeli history, to allow time for negotiations with the opposition.

The issue will be reopened once the Israeli parliament returns for its summer session at the end of this month.

Instances in which the court has got in the way of settlement policy include a decision in 2020 to strike down a 2017 measure that retroactively legalised 4,000 homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

At the time, Chief Justice Esther Hayut wrote that the law “unequally infringes on the property rights of Palestinian residents, while giving preference to the proprietary interests of Israeli settlers”.

Mr Seidemann puts the rarity of such decisions down to the institution not wanting to “embroil itself” in cases that “involves the core of the conflict”.

He believes that the lack of interest among Palestinian citizens of Israel is down to the fact that they “have never had a democracy in Israel, and that they resent now being asked to save a democracy that has always been denied to them”.

“I’ve argued more than 25 cases before the Israeli Supreme Court without a huge amount of success … there are two national collectives in Jerusalem. One has political rights, the other does not. Without that they can’t rule truthfully. But they did do their best to help me without leaving fingerprints,” he added

Settlements expert Dror Etkes was more damning. “The Supreme Court never intervened in the basic politics of Israeli settlement and land grabs in the West Bank,” he told The National.

It very seldom got involved only when there were petitions regarding specific outposts built on private Palestinian land, and in very few cases forced the state to dismantle them. But we’re talking about the margins of the marginal here, if you look at the total West Bank settlement project."

Mr Etkes said in terms of the West Bank, the reforms were “a matter of political ego for the settlers lobby”.

“They want to create a situation in which nothing in the West Bank happens without their consent. It’s about political might,” he added.

Leading Palestinian activist Nour Odeh agreed, telling The National that “the proposed reforms will only further entrench the right-wing ideology in the Israeli Supreme Court as it relates to Palestinians”.

Not only will this court continue to rubber stamp home demolitions and settlement expansion and overlook international law, it will also legitimise other things that trample on Palestinian rights in the occupied territory and Israeli proper,” she added.

“It will become another ideological component of the colonial occupation regime, and will make it that much harder for the court to be a recourse for justice and any kind of balanced objective legal assessment of the Israeli government as they relate to Palestine.”

On the ambivalence of Palestinian citizens of Israel over the reforms, Ms Odeh said: “These protests for the most part are disconnected from the issue of occupation. The vast majority are defending their vision of what Israel is, a liberal democracy for Jewish citizens. But there isn’t yet a consensus or even a majority that sees a link between Israel being an occupier and this supposed democracy being structurally deficient.”

Updated: April 03, 2023, 2:16 PM