UN envoy: Israeli politicians should oppose the settlement bill

“If adopted, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel, across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace,” says Nickolay Mladenov.

December 6, 2016 13:56

NICKOLAY MLADENOV. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Israeli politicians should oppose the so-called settlement bill when it comes to the Knesset for a first reading on Wednesday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said Tuesday.

“I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider this move,” Mladenov said of the bill, which would retroactively legalize 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian property while offering the Palestinian landowners compensation.

This legislation, Mladenov said, “has the objective of protecting illegal settlements and outposts built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. Some have pronounced it to be a step towards the annexation of the West Bank.

“If adopted, it will have far-reaching legal consequences for Israel across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace,” Mladenov continued.

“I reiterate that all settlement activities are illegal under international law and run counter to the Middle East Quartet position that settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace,” he added.

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat warned Israel that there would be consequences to the bill. He called on the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council to support a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. He added that the Palestinians planned to send information about the bill to the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court, which is already in the middle of weighing possible action against Israel on the issue of settlements. Watch the UN debate: Are West Bank settlements a stumbling block to peace?

Residents of the Amona outpost attacked the latest version of the bill, as it specifically excludes their small community of 40 homes, which the High Court of Justice has ordered be demolished by December 25.

In spite of numerous public promises by ministers, the Amona outpost was taken out of the bill at the last minute to appease the Kulanu party, whose support is necessary for the bill’s passage.

Kulanu said it did not want to support a law that overturned a court ruling, a move which it believed would weaken the judicial system.

The state has offered the 40 families of the Amona outpost a temporary housing alternative at a site very close to the community’s current location.

On Tuesday night, Channel 2 reported that it turned out those specific lots could not be used for the Amona families.

Yesh Din, the Israeli organization which had initially petitioned the High Court of Justice against Amona, said Palestinians had claimed ownership of the lots on which the state had hoped to relocate Amona.

The Amona families, however, have repeatedly rejected that option. They have insisted that they will refuse to abide by the court order and asked politicians to ensure that language protecting their outpost was placed back in the bill.

According to the residents of Amona, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) have the power to insist that Kulanu vote for a settlement bill that protects the Amona homes, as well as a number of other sites in Judea and Samaria under similar court orders. This includes nine homes in the Ofra settlement and 15 in the Derech Avot outpost.

The bill was created in order “to solve the problem of the residents in Amona, Ofra and Derech Avot and to prevent an injustice to scores of families that built their homes as emissaries of the state,” the Amona families said.

Amona (Credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

“Unfortunately, Bennett and Netanyahu, who are prepared to pass the law and to deal with international threats [such as the ICC or the United Nations Security Council], caved against the smallest of political threats from the Kulanu party, threats that have nothing behind them,” they continued.

“We expect the education minister and the prime minister not to give up, but rather to find a way to include Amona and other similar places within the legislation before the second and third readings.

“We call on those faithful to the land of Israel, who have stood by us until today, to join us at the outpost until such time as the law is amended, or until the day of demolition. There needs to be a far reaching ‘national outcry’ over the intention to demolish an entire Jewish community and to transfer its families,” the residents said.

“We’re certain that the moment the leaders see the public support for us, they will include Amona in the legislation,” they added.

Yesh Din, the organization that initially petitioned the High Court of Justice against Amona, said the bill was a large scale form of “land theft” that doesn’t even offer the Palestinians the option of protesting the “theft of their land.”

By passing the law, the Knesset would be acting as a sovereign entity over Area C of the West Bank and would be taking a step towards de facto annexation, according to Yesh Din.

Bennett, who has repeatedly called for the annexation of Area C of the West Bank, called the legislation one of the most historic steps in the history of the settlement movement.

In an interview with Army Radio, Bennett explained that the proposed law would not only authorize the settler homes, but improve the standing of residents of Judea and Samaria under Israeli law in a way that would make it easier for them to construct new homes or renovate existing ones.

These citizens will be called “local residents” and that will impact everything, he said.

The legislation would also make the dozens of court cases left-wing organizations have standing before the High Court of Justice against settler homes irrelevant, Bennett said.

Should the High Court of Justice strike down the legislation, he continued, the Defense Ministry has prepared an alternative option that would essentially still allow for the legalization of the homes, even without going through the Knesset.

Bennett thanked the residents of the Amona outpost and called them a “catalyst” for the historic legislation that he believed would prove to be a watershed moment.

He credited the Amona families for refusing to leave their homes willingly and for insisting that right-wing politicians must pass legislation that would authorize their homes.

However, now that the legislation is about to become a reality, Bennett continued, it is clear that Amona will have to be relocated.

He added that he hoped there would not be violence when the outpost is taken down, and that the goal was not to save this outpost, but to end the possibility of further demolitions.

“I understand the pain the Amona families must feel. The idea that someone can come and demolish your home is very difficult. They have to know that they were the catalysts here for a historic event,” Bennett said.

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