THE OFRA SETTLEMENT is seen from the Amona outpost in the West Bank..
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A bill that would likely legalize some 70 West Bank outposts was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday in the aftermath of a tumultuous week in which three terrorist attacks sparked a wave of right-wing political anger against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The terrorists will know that we are here to stay. Attacks will not deter us,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) said in support of the bill, which needs Knesset approval to be passed into law.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) said the bill is “the best response to terrorism… Strong settlements are the best response to terrorism and Palestinian murder.”
The ministers’ remarks came after they participated in a settler-led demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Office calling for a stronger response to last week’s spike in terrorism in the West Bank.
The private members bill, put forward by the influential Knesset Land of Israel Caucus leaders Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) and Yoav Kisch (Likud), set a two-year deadline for authorizing 70 fledgling communities in the West Bank.
Smotrich put the bill on the ministerial agenda in the aftermath of the shooting attack at a bus stop outside Ofra in which seven people were wounded. He had first proposed it in July at the end of the summer session, but no action has been taken.
The legislation is designed to ensure that the government follows through on a cabinet decision from May 2017 to approve West Bank outposts, either as new settlements or as neighborhoods of existing settlements.
The cabinet appointed veteran settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein to head a committee to create a list of the outposts to be legalized and to complete the bureaucratic work necessary for their legalization.
But right-wing politicians have been frustrated at the committee’s slow pace of work.
Smotrich and Kisch put forward their bill to ensure that all outposts on state land would be authorized, irrespective of the government’s stance on the matter.
The bill would also require the government to treat these outposts as though they were already legalized when it comes to connecting their residents to the electricity grid and other utilities, as well as receiving municipal services.
It would also halt all enforcement actions against the outposts.
The left-wing NGO Peace Now attacked the bill, stating that it was “another populist and unconstitutional initiative if approved by the cowardly government. Only in this settler state is an ‘illegal outpost’ considered to be a ‘fledgling settlement.’
“The riots that we saw over the weekend of settlers attacking Palestinian passersby and violence are the direct result of this government’s policy. Such bills that actually tell the settlers: You are above the law, and if you break the law not only will you not be punished, but we will legalize your actions,” Peace Now stated.
Shaked praised the bill, saying it is a “clear statement that will legalize young settlements [outposts] in Judea and Samaria. In the last three years, we changed the conversation from one of evacuation to one of legalization. There is no reason for the residents of Judea and Samaria to always have to live under the sword of evacuation.”
Levin said that residents of the outposts are treated like second-class citizens.
“They deserve all the municipal services that any other citizen of Israel receives, including connections to water and electric infrastructure, budgets and everything else needed to have a normal life routine,” he said.
The bill does not provide a list of outposts for legalization, but unofficial counts by politicians have placed the number at 70.
Its passage is far from assured, as authorization of the outposts has been a sensitive diplomatic issue in the past. A previous legislative push to legalize the fledgling communities was eventually defeated.
In the absence of any moves to legalize the communities, built after 1995, they are in danger from High Court of Justice rulings that could force their demolition. In the past, such demolitions have pitted the government against its right-wing base. Authorization of the outposts, however, would end one of the perpetual sources of tension between Netanyahu and that base.
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