Israelis Buying Land in Arab Territories Despite Official Ban

The government is studying a proposal by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to permit land sales transactions between Jews and Arabs in the administered territories, it was learned today. Dayan made the suggestion last week in a speech in which he implied criticism of the government for not doing enough to further Jewish settlement in the territories. It appeared, however, that Gen. Dayan was not proposing anything new but rather was asking the government to give its official blessing to something that is already taking place on a fairly large scale.

Experts here estimate that Israelis have already purchased more than 150,000 dunams (37,500 acres) of land from Arabs in the administered territories. Despite the fact that they are officially not permitted to buy Arab land in the Judaea and Samaria regions, some 10,000 dunams, nearly 3000 acres, have been bought there. The State Comptroller’s report recently cited the Jewish National Fund as the purchaser of 85,000 dunams (22,000 acres) of land in the territories. The JNF denied this. Government officials explained that the JNF acted as an intermediary and that the land was turned over to the Israel Lands Authority.

Foreign Minister Abba Eban said today that the government must be the final arbiter in the purchase of land in the administered territories, not individuals. He said such activities could lead to Israel’s political and even military involvement because it is the duty of a State to protect its citizens’ property. Eban told newsmen that he did not anticipate a Cabinet decision permitting free land purchases by Israelis in the territories because a majority of the Cabinet shared his position.

The land purchases by Israelis in the territories has sparked a sharp increase in prices. Land in the Jerusalem area, where most of the purchases have taken place, is currently selling for between IL 10-55,000 per dunam (quarter acre). Should the government officially endorse the policy, the prices will go much higher, experts say.

According to visitors arriving here from Amman, Jordan, the sellers are not only local Arab landowners but absentee Arab landlords living in Jordan or in other Arab countries. Land purchases by Jews are legal in Jerusalem. Land near the new Atarot Airport was sold by its Arab owner last week for IL 65,000 per dunam.

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