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Poland and Israel have summoned each other’s envoys over Poland’s newly proposed amendment to the Code of Administrative Procedure. The issue led both sides to exchange rhetorical punches, and neither of them has minced their words. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the amendment a "disgrace" while giving Poland a lecture on morality. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, on the other hand, declared that as long as he is in office, "Poland will not pay for German crimes". Lofty claims and mutual accusations- the kind of stuff politicians like the most. But because the bill needs to be passed at some point, the question remains as to how it will shape Polish-Israeli-American relations.
To the best of my information, the amendment will be passed by the Polish Senate during its session on July 21-23. The U.S. State Department’s appeal to the Polish authorities to kill the bill shows a profound lack of knowledge of the legislative process. Should the Senate choose not to deal with the legislation approved by the Sejm, it will effectively become law after 30 days unless vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, which is rather unlikely.
In the case of the amended property restitution law, as is often the case in politics, we are faced with two conflicting rationales. The Polish parliament was faced with the problem of implementing the 2015 Constitutional Tribunal verdict that attempted to put an end to the so-called "wild reprivatization." The tribunal’s decision took place under the chairmanship of Prof. Andrzej Rzeplinski, at a time when the ruling Law and Justice party ignored the issue. By putting a limit on the time period in which one can appeal administrative decisions, the verdict makes it possible to close a gate that stood wide open for years. This would apply both to restitution claims of Holocaust survivors and to Polish or any of other heirs - real or assumed.
Murky reprivatization strategies
Let’s do a thought experiment: imagine a situation in which a lawyer representing a law firm registered in St. Kitts and Nevis islands comes to an apartment occupied for many years by an elderly woman or man. The lawyer then claims that the tenement building in which the apartment is located belongs to a miraculously found 133-year-old heir, whom the law firm represents. In such a case, one would expect the government and any decent person to side with the tenant. Would the Israeli or U.S. government take the side of the attorney instead? It seems rather unlikely that reparations to Holocaust victims are the primary interest at stake in this case.
The reprivatization process has been dragging on since 1994. The possibility of acting as a "personal representative" on behalf of an alleged heir has been more or less effectively blocked in recent years, but hundreds of thousands of tenants - mainly in Warsaw and Kraków - are still afraid that they will suddenly end up with no place to live. The amendment to the Code of Administrative Procedure eliminates this uncertainty, assuming that after 30 years a decision issued even in violation of the law will not be subject to appeal in court. Ownership rights, however, will still be enforceable under civil law.
Anyone closely following the drafting process of the new amendment must have surely noticed that among the numerous opinions sent to the special commission during consultations, something essential is lacking. Astonishingly, there is no opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While it was easy to foresee that the amended property restitution law would result in a diplomatic row, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose not to engage in consultations on the new draft proposal. It may be just another symptom of Poland’s increasingly dysfunctional diplomacy, or, if we assume that this was a purposeful decision, it shows that the Law and Justice party is perfectly aware that nothing can further damage Poland’s already disastrous relations with Israel and the US. Instead, the diplomatic storm surrounding the bill will allow Mateusz Morawiecki's government to blow its patriotic horns and act as the guardian of Polish property, protecting it from the "greedy hands of Jewish globalists".
What should the Senate do?
Given that the oppositional block has a majority in the Senate, it will be up to the democratic opposition to either pass or block the bill. We can assume that the amendments to the legislation - introducing a vacatio legis of one year for filing potential claims, as well as allowing pending proceedings to be brought to an end - will be presented as a gesture of reason, a way for the Polish opposition to show its respect for the Holocaust survivors and their sensitivity.
After all, it will be up to the opposition to improve the relations with the United States and Israel in the future. The Senate should show that what the Law and Justice government has done so far has does not represent the will of all Polish citizens.
After the unfortunate and hastily altered amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, after the attempts to silence Holocaust scholars, after the efforts to compromise the Polin Museum by Minister Piotr Gliński, after the inclusion - despite the protests of scholars and NGOs - of the former prime minister Beata Szydło in the Auschwitz Council, the ruling camp realizes that it has destroyed the diplomatic achievements of many Polish politicians, starting with Aleksander Kwaśniewski, all the way to Lech Kaczyński.
It also realizes that it is not able to repair them. They will need to be fixed by someone else.
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