On November 1st, Israel’s State Comptroller published a report criticizing the conduct of three Israeli governmental authorities in the management of their relations with the settler organization known as Elad, which manages the City of David National Park (in Silwan). These authorities are (1) the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, (2) the Israel Antiquities Authority and (3) the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The report points at several legal problems in the relations between these government authorities and Elad, the most serious being the awarding of projects to Elad – including giving Elad control over important archeological projects without a public tender or even a formal contract (like in the case of the very controversial Temple Mount Sifting Project). The report also condemns the groups for failing to exercise proper supervision of the Elad’s management of these projects, for failure to impose adequate oversight of the financial management over Elad’s work, and for failure to enforce numerous regulations with respect to the effective handing over of government authorities to Elad. In its conclusion, the report accuses these authorities of having “forfeited the State Authority.”
A large part of the matters addressed in this report are not, in fact, new. What IS new is the fact that the investigation was concluded and its finding made public. Here is a brief history of the matter:
· In September 1992, the Israeli Cabinet adopted Resolution No. 193, which included a series of decisions geared to prevent the recurrence of the policies and activities detailed in the Klugman Report. Article D of Resolution No. 193 instructed the State Comptroller to prepare a special report relating to the matters detailed in the Klugman Report.
· In 1995, a petition was filed before the High Court (by MK Oron) challenging the fact that, in defiance of the Klugman Report and Cabinet Resolution No. 193, none of the properties that had been transferred illegally to the settlers had reverted to public hands; none of the funds that had been illegally allocated to the settler associations had been restored to the public coffers; and no criminal prosecution or disciplinary action had been taken against any of those involved.
· In February 1997, this petition was rejected by the court, based on the argument that the Ministry of Finance – 5 years after the relevant Cabinet decision – was still working to figure out what needed to be done and only after its work was complete could action be taken; and based on the argument that any criminal liability was a matter for the police.
· In 1998, based on an anonymous tip from within the State Comptroller’s office, the same Knesset Member who filed the 1995 case learned that the findings of the State Comptroller’s investigations pursuant to the 1992 Cabinet decision into the actions of the settler organizations were so serious that the State Comptroller, retired High Court Justice Miriam Ben Porat, agreed with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the investigation should be suspended and its findings left unpublished, lest it cause grave harm to Israel’s international reputation.
· That same year, the NGO Ir Shalem (led by Danny Seidemann) and MK Oron filed a petition once again to the High Court, asserting that neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor the State Comptroller had authority to override Cabinet Resolution 193, and even if they did, cancelling an investigation based on the severity rather than the absence of findings is tainted with illegality. Oron moved that the Comptroller be compelled to complete the investigation.
· The day before the High Court hearing, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened the Ministerial Committee for State Security, which revoked Article D of Resolution 193,which led to the dismissal of the petition.
· Additional legal action before the courts which challenged the same irregularities detailed in the new State Comptrollers report failed to put a stop to these apparent illegalities.
The fact that this new report has been made public is departure from decades of deliberate, official efforts to hide the facts from the public about Israeli government authorities’ collusion with settlers in East Jerusalem – collusion that in many cases represents a clear violation of Israeli law.
There is no doubt that if the recommendations included in the Comptroller report were to be published, the functioning and, indeed, existence of Elad and some other settler organizations would be in jeopardy. The information contained in the report further highlights the degree to which the boundaries between governmental and the settlers are today, more than ever, blurred, with government authority being placed in the hands of the settlers, and the government’s agenda ever-more aligned with the goals of the settlers, including in Jerusalem. Indeed, Netanyahu hinted at this very fact when he noted in his speech at the opening of the Knesset winter session: “They [the settlers] know that there was and will not be a more sympathetic government toward settlement than this one”.