Settlement bill could go to final vote next week amid US objections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to wait until the end of January, and has publicly called for caution, as the current diplomatic climate is “sensitive."

December 13, 2016 19:12
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

Bayit Yehudi MKs are pushing the controversial settlement regulation bill toward a final vote next week, a move that could put the government on a collision course with US President Barack Obama’s administration.

A special Knesset committee on the bill, which would retroactively legalize Israeli homes built on private property and allow the government to pay Palestinian landowners rather than evacuate residents, scheduled its vote to authorize the bill for a second and third (final) reading for Monday.

Despite previous indications that the final plenum vote would only take place after President- elect Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, a source close to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said the party is working on getting the law passed much sooner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would prefer to wait until the end of January and has publicly called for caution, as the current diplomatic climate is “sensitive.” Sources in his office said earlier this week that he had reached an understanding with Bennett about the need to wait.

However, the source close to Bennett said: “Bibi has his thoughts and we have ours. It hasn’t been decided yet. I don’t think we will wait until after the budget.”

The 2017-2018 state budget vote is scheduled to begin on Monday and end on Thursday, and Bayit Yehudi MKs and officials were instructed to have the bill ready for a final vote on Monday.

The budget is a useful bargaining chip for Bayit Yehudi to ensure that Kulanu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon do not withdraw their already-reluctant support for the bill.

Last week, US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner came out against the bill at his daily briefing. The US is “very concerned about the advancement of this legislation...

Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution,” Toner said.

He added that the administration has “been troubled by comments that we’ve heard by some political figures in Israel that this would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank.”

In Tuesday’s committee meeting preparing the bill, opposition MKs said the panel’s chairman, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), was hiding expert opinions that are against the bill.

The previous day’s meeting, which dealt with security and international law repercussions should the bill become law, took place behind closed doors, but lawmakers argued that most of its protocols can be released to the public.

According to MKs at the meeting, Defense Ministry legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari and Deputy Attorney-General Roy Schondorf warned Knesset members that passing the settlement regulation bill could result in IDF officers being put on trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Ben-Ari gave the impression to MKs that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman opposes the bill.

MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein calling to open the protocols. “The opinions presented and voiced by the assistant attorney-general and the Defense Ministry legal adviser are not secret at all, and have great public value which can significantly influence the continued discussion of the bill,” Bar-Lev wrote.

“Since the professional stance of the assistant attorney-general and the Defense Ministry legal adviser are an important element in the objections to the bill that I wish to submit, I ask you to instruct the committee chairman to allow the objections to be submitted for a reasonable amount of time after the protocols are released,” he continued.

A spokesman for the Amona campaign said no decision was made Tuesday on a deal worked out between Netanyahu and Bennett that would require residents to move to a different part of the hill on which the outpost was built that is not Palestinian-owned land. The campaign said key information that was due from the Defense Ministry on Tuesday morning was not given to them.

Their acceptance of the deal is seen as critical to the success of the state’s planned petition to the High Court of Justice asking it to delay until January 25 the demolition of the outpost, which the High Court ordered done by December 25.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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