Coalition pushes for settlement bill vote this week

Liberman calls for postponement until after Trump inauguration.

The knesset during the boycott on Oct. 31, 2016 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The knesset during the boycott on Oct. 31, 2016
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Efforts to whip up votes in the coalition for a bill that would retroactively legalize thousands of homes built on private Palestinian property, including the Amona outpost, continue ahead of a planned first reading on Monday.
As of Saturday night, the coalition remained at the same impasse as on Wednesday, when the vote was originally supposed to take place, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) kept negotiating with the parties.
Kulanu refuses to vote for the bill as long as it contains what has become known as the “Amona article,”’ which says that the legislation would be used to undermine longstanding High Court of Justice rulings. Thus, if it passes into law, it could prevent the outpost from being demolished by December 25.
Bayit Yehudi insists that the article remain in the bill. The current draft leaves an opening for the special committee on the bill to continue discussing whether the article stays or not and to make a decision before its second and third (final) readings.
MK Hotovely on legality of settlement resolution and regarding Amona
“There is no agreement about legalizing settlements in Judea and Samaria and Amona,” Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Twitter Saturday night. “We expect the settlement bill to pass in its totality on Monday, as is promised in the coalition agreement.”
The coalition would have enough votes for the bill to pass a first reading without Kulanu if MK Bennie Begin (Likud), who has said the bill “legalizes theft,” would absent himself from the vote. As of Saturday night, Likud sources said Begin – who was a personal appointment of Netanyahu – has yet to agree to do so.
Meanwhile, all coalition members, including ministers, have been told they cannot leave the country until after the vote. The one exception is a delegation to India led by Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, which includes two coalition members and two opposition members, thus canceling out each other’s absence in the vote count.
The settlement bill would allow the state to compensate the Palestinian landowners on whose property settler homes were built. It would be applied to all cases in which construction occurred with some form of approval from the state, whether it was a ministry grant, the paving of roads, or the hookup of utilities.
According to Peace Now, the bill would legalize 3,921 homes on private Palestinian property located in West Bank settlements and 797 in outposts.
Speaking at the Saban Forum in Washington on Friday night, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman suggested that the Knesset delay the vote until after President- elect Donald Trump is sworn into office on January 20.
If such a delay were to occur, the bill could not be used to delay the Amona demolition, scheduled for December 25.
Several Israeli officials who had been scheduled to attend the Brookings Institution event on Monday canceled in order to be home for the vote.
The Defense Ministry has a plan it hopes would prevent a violent or forced evacuation of the 40 Amona homes. On Friday, it submitted a plan to temporarily relocate the structures for eight months to three lots of abandoned Palestinian property just a short distance from the outpost.
According to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who approved the plan, this site cannot be transformed into a permanent location.
Peace Now said the Palestinians were given only 48 hours to object to the plan rather then the standard 60 days.
“The Israeli government is replacing one land theft with another. It is willing to crush basic rights of Palestinians, bend Israeli law and violate international law – all in order to satisfy [the Amona] families who knowingly settled on private Palestinian land. If approved, this temporary solution will quickly turn into another permanent new settlement on private Palestinian land,” Peace Now said.
The Amona families have objected to the plan, which they said is a fig leaf to make it appear as if the government is presenting them with an alternative housing site near their homes.
The outpost has insisted from the start that the only resolution of the issue is the passage of legislation, such as the settlements bill, which would legalize their homes retroactively.
On Saturday night, three representatives from the Amona outpost sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a letter in which they objected to the plan, saying it makes no sense to spend NIS 50 million to relocate the homes to property that is only 4% the size of the current location and is not large enough to sustain the development of a permanent community.
There is no point in “wasting” public funds in this way, which could be better spent on education or welfare, they said.
“We will not cooperate with this compromise, and we will do everything possible to thwart it,” the Amona spokespeople said, adding that they plan to resist any plan to demolish or relocate their homes.
“We will block the tractors with our bodies,” they said, urging Netanyahu to support a legislative solution rather than coming up with alternative options.
“We do not need a creative solution, we need a courageous solution,” they told Netanyahu.
Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.