Settlements bill set to pass first Knesset reading Wednesday

On Monday night, 120 Religious Zionist rabbis from all parts of the country published a letter calling on their followers to head to Amona to help its residents resist the forced evacuation.

November 30, 2016 05:33
SEVERAL OF THE 40 homes at the Amona outpost, which the High Court has ruled must be removed by Dece

SEVERAL OF THE 40 homes at the Amona outpost, which the High Court has ruled must be removed by December 25.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A bill to retroactively legalize thousands of settler homes on private Palestinian property, including the Amona outpost, is expected to pass a first reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Time is tight, because supporters of the bill hope its final passage can halt the High Court of Justice order to demolish the Amona outpost by December 25.

In an unusual move, the draft of the bill to be brought to a vote will include two versions: one that creates a framework to block standing court orders to demolish homes in favor of efforts to legalize them, and one that does not.

There is a precedent for the rarely used legislative procedure, which would require the relevant committee to choose one of the options before the bill is brought back to the plenum for a second and third vote.

“The bill will be submitted with two options, with or without the articles talking about Amona and the court,” said MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), who heads the committee that prepared the bill. “The meaning is that we are asking the Knesset for an extension to continue and make decisions.”

The indecisiveness over the bill’s scope is a result of continuing disagreements within the coalition. Kulanu, whose votes are needed for a majority, has expressed concern that the Bayit Yehudi and Likud proposal will harm the judiciary, and demanded changes be made.

Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) threatened to pull his faction’s support for the vote unless his bill instituting affirmative action for ultra-Orthodox in the civil service and boards of directors of government-run companies is moved forward.

The settlements bill, more properly known as the Regulations Bill, is meant to allow the state to pay the Palestinian land owners on whose property settler homes were illegally constructed.

It will be applied to all instances where the construction occurred with some initial nod of approval from the state, either through a ministry grant, the paving of roads, or the hookup of utilities.

In a committee meeting on Tuesday, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon echoed statements by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, saying that the initiative is unconstitutional and would likely be overturned by the High Court of Justice.

“The bill is full of land mines in many of its aspects,” Yinon warned.

The opposition has argued that the bill sanctions land theft and will further isolate Israel internationally.

According to a new report put out by Peace Now on Tuesday, there are 3,921 homes on private Palestinian property in the West Bank.

Out of those, 797 are in 55 outposts and the remaining are located within settlements.

Peace Now added that it believes that the number is actually higher. Settlers have placed the number at over 2,000.

But precisely because the issue impacts so many homes, the Right has argued that there is no option but to move the bill forward. The battle has been spearhead by the 40 families that live in Amona, just outside the Ofra settlement, who have rejected all attempts by the state to relocate them in advance of December 25.

Should the legislation fail, the Amona families have vowed to resist. On Monday night, 120 Religious Zionist rabbis from all parts of the country published a letter calling on their followers to head to Amona to help its residents resist the forced evacuation.

MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) pleaded with Amona residents to make sure their evacuation is peaceful in case the bill does not save their community.

“My heart is with you... because it is difficult to live with uncertainty,” he said. “I beg you... set an example for young people, or things will lose control. No one will gain from a forced evacuation with police officers on horses.”

A security cabinet meeting on the Amona issue, scheduled for Tuesday evening, was pushed off until Wednesday morning because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not feeling well.

The meeting is expected to be held just prior to the Knesset vote. A six-hour meeting on the matter was held Monday evening, with Netanyahu reportedly saying that if the law passes, Israel might find itself being dragged before an international tribunal at The Hague.

There is also concern that such a move could compel US President Barack Obama to support an anti-settlement resolution at the UN Security Council in the final days of his term.

Mandelblit put forward a compromise in hopes of avoiding a showdown. He said it is possible in cases of “urgent public need” to make use of the abandoned property law to temporarily relocate Amona for eight months to three lots on a northern part of the same hilltop, where it is currently located.

Mandelblit cautioned that these plots could not serve as a permanent site for the community, but that in the interim, work would be done in that period to find an alternative for the families.

Amona spokesman Avihai Boaron said in response: “Mandelblit’s compromise is not a solution at all for the Amona residents. It’s ridiculous and humiliating. It’s put forward by someone who doesn’t see the dozens of families and hundreds of children who have built their life’s work here for the last 20 years. We’re not objects that can be carted from place to place every couple of months. We won’t agree to be uprooted from our homes only to be thrown out again in another eight months.”

Should such a legislative attempt fail, Boaron said, then there will no other options, but a forced evacuation with painful scenes of families being torn from their homes. In this way, he said, it will be clear to everyone that Netanyahu and the ministers in his government are responsible for uprooting Jews.

“The public will not tolerate the destruction of Amona,” Boaron said.

Yesh Din also slammed Mandelblit’s compromise, accusing him of caving into political pressure and making a decision that both harmed the rule of law and property rights.

“We petitioned the court so that residents of the villages near Amona could return to their homes,” Yesh Din said.

“We will continue to fight with them for their rights,” he added

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