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Israeli Sovereignty Would Free Residents of the West Bank from Ottoman Law

August 7, 2020 | Naomi Khan
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To its opponents, the change in the legal status of certain areas of Judea and Samaria is “annexation;” to its proponents, it is the “extension of sovereignty” or the “application of Israeli law.” Naomi Khan argues that the last term best captures the practical implications of the measures in question. Since the Six-Day War, the Jewish state has continued to uphold the Ottoman legal system in areas of the West Bank under its jurisdiction—despite the fact that the Ottoman empire ceased to exist in 1922; “annexation” would end this situation. Setting aside the usual questions of foreign policy, security, and the possibility of Palestinian statehood, Khan argues that this change would be the one most felt by those who live there:

Ottoman land law makes no sense in today’s world, and the situation as it stands is untenable. . . . Some of the most egregious aspects of this bizarre system are rarely discussed. For example, under Ottoman law, you can steal someone else’s property simply by using it for a while; women are not allowed to own, inherit, buy, or sell property; and private individuals may lay claim to public property simply by planting trees on it.

A second massive failing in the system is the basic fact that the land registry for Judea and Samaria is not available to Israeli citizens. . . . Additionally, the administration of the land registry is completely outmoded. The painstaking, glacial pace of handwritten recordkeeping is fertile ground for forgery, and leads to further violation of property rights, making it nearly impossible to conduct property transactions in a normal fashion.

Israel’s failure to carry out the necessary registration and regulation of land in these areas has enabled the Palestinian Authority to carry out a well-planned, carefully timed, and well-funded land-seizure program: tens of thousands of acres of land in Judea and Samaria have been commandeered through illegal construction and agricultural projects. [Indeed], the Palestinian Authority has done precisely what the state of Israel has failed to do for more than 50 years, creating its own land registry in areas under full Israeli jurisdiction and redefining reality with facts on the ground.

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