Israel's high court balks at government West Bank acts

Israeli government policy on the occupied West Bank has come up against legal barriers in two cases argued before the Supreme Court here this week. This raises the possibility that government policy may face a setback of similar magnitude and embarrassment to the Elon Moreh case last October when the high court ruled private land could not be seized for Jewish settlements except for security reasons.

The latest cases involve -- indirectly -- autonomy for the Palestinians and West Bank leadership.

* An Israeli government decision to take over the concession of the Palestinian-owned East Jerusalem Electric Company against the wishes of its board of directors was temporarily thwarted. The high court gave the government 45 days to show cause why the decision should not be reversed.

The Jewish lawyer for the Palestinian firm argued that the government's decision was concerned less with electricity than with politics. ". . . Because of the autonomy plan," said Shlomo Tussia-Cohen, "the Israelis want to control the sources of energy on the West Bank so the autonomy will be as the Israelis see it and not as the Arabs see it."

* An appeal by relatives for the return of two leading West Bank mayors -- Fahd Kawasmeh of Hebron and Muhammad Milhem of Halhul -- and a religious figure who were deported in May, in the wake of the murders of six Jews in Hebron, was continued until July 11.

But in a court hearing July 7, two Supreme Court justices stressed repeatedly to state Attorney General Gavriel Bach that the basic question before the court was the legality of the expulsion orders, which were carried out without allowing the men their right to appeal. It was not, he said, whether the men had been guilty of incitement before or after deportation.

The tension before the July 11 hearing will be heightened by the expected emotional homecoming on July 9 of Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka who has been recuperating in Amman, Jordan, after his legs were blown off in an unsolved car explosion last month.

The two cases point up the stumbling blocks placed before aspects of the government's West Bank policy by its own legal system.

In the mayors' case, the government appears very worried about the impact on the West Bank should the court allow the return of the three men.

"For the Palestine Liberation Organization and the local population, these people symbolize the violent struggle against the military government," argued Mr. Bach. But Justice Haim Cohn rejoined that perhaps the deportation and the way it was carried out had made them into such symbols and martyrs.

Attorney General Bach has not denied that the summary deportations "were irregular." Nor has he argued that the men had any operational connection to the Hebron murders. He has claimed that the three made inflammatory statements that created the climate for the murders. He quoted extensively from interviews given abroad, which, he said, proved they would threaten the state if returned.

But the court seemed determined to focus on the legality of the deportation procedure. Justice Cohn asked why the three men could not be returned and detained while they made their appeal so as to avoid any security threat.

In the case of the electric company, the Israeli Ministry of Energy claims that it wants to take over solely because the company is "wasteful and inefficient."

However, Israeli sources note that the company provides electricity to nearly all the Jewish suburbs, settlements, and military installations that were built on former Jordanian territory within the concession that has been expropriated by Israel.

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