Israeli settlement bill headed to first reading

Bennie Begin received punishment for voting against the bill on Tuesday, leading several MKs to say that the Likud is not the party of his father, former prime minister Menachem Begin.

Bennie Begin  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bennie Begin
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The controversial proposal to retroactively legalize nearly 4,000 settlement homes built on private Palestinian land is scheduled for a first reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, following heated debate in committee.
The meeting of the special committee, led by MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), took place on Tuesday evening, a day after the settlement bill passed a preliminary reading for the second time.
The legislative procedure was restarted after provisions that made the bill applicable to Amona were removed.
Just as the MKs retraced their steps in the legislative process in order to bring the latest version of the bill to a first reading, they repeated their same arguments about it.
“This whole bill was born in sin,” MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said. “You’re betraying the values of justice, of human dignity – everything Israel was built on. The residents of Amona touched my heart. Why didn’t Netanyahu find a solution for them in the last two years?” MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) called the bill a “fraud” and accused the Right of tricking its voters.
“You know it, but you don’t care. You’re turning the rule of law, the High Court, the attorney-general into enemies and ruining our international image,” she said.
Arguing in favor of the bill, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), one of the bill’s sponsors, took issue with opposition lawmakers and called the legislation “a prize for criminals.”
“The bill is meant to prevent an injustice. People were sent by the state to live on land that is not state land, and the state is taking responsibility for mistakes it made towards its residents,” he explained.
“Yes, the purpose is to develop the settlements. That is a political goal of this rightwing government.”
MK Amir Ohana (Likud) said, “In every country in the world, the government appropriates land for national needs, like to build train tracks. Settlements are in Israel’s interest. We see them as necessary. Not only are they not an obstacle to peace, they are the only way that maybe we’ll see peace one day. Concessions only fuel the violence and terror and the hope we’ll leave one day, so let’s not give our enemies support.”
The settlement bill is meant to legalize homes that were built on private Palestinian land with some kind of government support, such as building roads or hooking them up to utilities. The legislation would allow the government to pay the landowners for use of the land, rather than forcing those currently living on it illegally to move.
Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni, a dominant figure opposing the bill in previous meetings, decided to quit the special committee, because she felt the arguments were not taken seriously and that relevant experts were not brought to present their opinions to the lawmakers.
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union), left in the middle of the meeting, calling it a “farce.”
The committee is slated to vote to authorize the bill for a first reading on Wednesday morning.
Earlier Tuesday, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) announced that he was punishing MK Bennie Begin (Likud) for voting against the bill on Tuesday, thus violating coalition discipline.
Begin is to be suspended from the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee for three weeks; he remains in the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality.
“Despite the respect we all feel for MK Begin, we treat everyone in the coalition the same. Whoever violates coalition discipline will face sanctions,” Bitan said.
Begin said he understands the punishment, even if it is difficult for him, because he likes his work in the Knesset.
“I chose, according to my understanding, to fulfill my responsibility as a public representative, in an attempt to stop this law from being passed in the Knesset,” Begin told Army Radio.
“We need to show restraint in passing laws connected to civilians over whom we rule and cannot vote in the Knesset. It is not healthy, not just and not fair to pass this law, and then expect the High Court to invalidate it so we can say ‘those leftists [overturned a law] again.’” Several MKs in the opposition said that Begin’s punishment showed that the Likud is no longer the party of his father, former prime minister Menachem Begin.