Settlements bill to be pushed off until Trump inauguration

Sources close to Netanyahu say that PM ‘won’t let the bill become law.’

The Amona outpost in the West Bank (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The Amona outpost in the West Bank
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The controversial legislation meant to retroactively legalize close to 4,000 settlement homes will not be passed into law in its final readings until after US President Barack Obama leaves office next month, sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said on Thursday.
Netanyahu and Bennett agreed to a request by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to wait with the settlements regulation bill until US President- elect Donald Trump takes over on January 20.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has ruled that the bill is unconstitutional, running counter to both Israeli and international law.
It is presumed, therefore, that the bill won’t withstand legal challenges before the High Court of Justice.
Both Netanyahu and Bennett have been pressured by their parties to move forward with the settlements bill, even though they would prefer a non-legislative option.
The issue has been fast-tracked in hopes of preventing a violent evacuation of the Amona outpost, which the High Court of Justice has insisted must be razed by December 25 because it was built without permits on private Palestinian property.
At the request of Kulanu, Amona has been removed from the bill. Due to the court ruling, its homes cannot be retroactively legalized. Legislators are hoping, however, that passage of the bill would sway the Amona families to leave voluntarily.
“The prime minister does not want the bill and he will not let it become a law,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “He has reached private understandings with Bennett.”
Netanyahu is particularly concerned that if the bill is passed into law in December, it would sway Obama to support a resolution against Israel at the United Nations Security Council before he leaves office on January 20.
The prime minister also fears the legislation could be used against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
But it’s believed that Trump would not perpetuate the Obama administration’s no-tolerance policy for settlement activity. Passage of the bill after Trump enters office is expected therefore to have less impact internationally.
A source close to Bennett confirmed the proposal to delay the bill’s passage, but stressed that he insisted that it would indeed become law. Bennett said he was looking for other solutions to have ready in case the bill would be disqualified in court.
Bennett’s office confirmed reports that if the bill did get disqualified, the state would hire a private attorney to represent it in court in place of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who has stated that the bill is unconstitutional. The decision was reportedly made in conjunction with Mandelblit.
The bill, which passed in its first reading in the Knesset plenum 58-51 Wednesday night, will face deliberations in a special Knesset committee on Monday. The head of the committee, Bayit Yehudi MK Nisan Slomiansky, said the bill could be ready for a vote in the plenum in its final readings Wednesday if Netanyahu and Bennett desire.
Coalition chairman David Bitan said other controversial legislation will not be advanced next week, citing a bill that would limit the volume of Muslim calls to prayer and legislation that would end the practice of automatically giving custody for all children to the mother in divorce cases in which one of the children is under six.
On Thursday, the European Union followed Germany, the United States and the United Nations in condemning the settlements bill.
“This would be the first law adopted by the Knesset on the status of land in the West Bank, an occupied territory not under its jurisdiction. Senior members of the Israeli government have called this a step towards annexation of the West Bank,” an EU representative said.
“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the two-state solution impossible, the European Union reiterates its strong opposition, in line with the position of the Middle East Quartet, to Israel’s settlement policy and all actions taken in this context,” the representative said.
Meanwhile, the police are actively preparing for the evacuation of Amona, which will be called Operation Locked Garden. A Channel 10 report showed officers at an IDF base with structures bearing the names of each of Amona’s 40 families.
The moment that Amona was removed from the bill, its residents believed that it was possible that security forces could move against the outpost at any moment.
On Thursday night, a message posted on the site with the web address called on activists to come immediately to the outpost.
“By all estimates, the evacuation of Amona will happen after this Shabbat,” the message said. It suggested that people bring warm clothing, a sleeping bag, lots of food, toilet paper and a camera.
Amona families, however, have continued to lobby for their outpost to be included in the bill before it comes back to the Knesset for a second and third reading.
A rally on their behalf is scheduled to be held in Jerusalem on Tuesday.