JERUSALEM (May. 24)
The West Bank military government announced today that it will continue to recognize powers of attorney assigned to representatives of Arab land-owners who have taken up residence abroad.
The announcement, published in local Arabic newspapers, repudiated recent reports that the government was planning to seize the property of absentee Arab landlords in order to increase the acreage of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. It is expected to put an end to mounting protests by West Bank Arab leaders over what they alleged was a new policy by the military government.
The Statement published today informed them that each transaction will be approved unless the Custodian of Abandoned Property finds they are based on improper powers of attorney. The Custodian was ordered by the Israel Lands Administration last February to withhold approval of such transfers because a number of the documents were found to have been forged.
Those orders apparently gave rise to the reports that a new land policy had been adopted. The military government statement today stressed that “any other reports save this announcement are invalid.”
BASIS FOR THE RUMORS
The powers of attorney have been assigned by West Bank land-owners who live mainly in Europe, North America and other Western countries. The property of Arabs who fled to Arab countries is regarded as abandoned and seized by the State. The rumors that the government intended to seize all property was attributed to a lack of coordination between the military government, the Custodian of Abandoned Property and the Lands Administration to which the Custodian is subordinate.
The Lands Administration itself is subject to the authority of Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, a Herut hardliner who has been at odds with the Defense Ministry over his demands for accelerated Jewish colonization in the occupied Arab territories.
The clarifying statement issued today came after the military government, an agency of the Defense Ministry, appointed a special team to investigate Arab charges. Yesterday, Mayor Elias Friej, of Bethlehem, a moderate who is friendly to Israel, appealed to Defense Minister Ezer Weizman for an Investigation of “our legitimate claims.” He insisted that there had been a change of policy with “sinister political motivations.”
According to Friej, the alleged new policy aimed to take over Arab land to preclude the establishment of “a Palestinian homeland or independent state” and to encourage West Bank Arabs to emigrate.