The Knesset late Monday night passed historic legislation hailed by the Right for legalizing some 4,000 settler homes and attacked by the Left as the first step toward de facto annexation.
Its passage by a vote of 60-52 marks the first time that the Knesset has sought to impose Israeli law in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian rule. That territory is considered to be outside the Knesset’s purview and such an action could be viewed as an initial application of sovereignty.
"This is a historic step toward the completion of a process that we plan to lead; the application of full Israeli sovereignty on all the cities and communities in Judea and Samaria,” said MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi). Smotrich and Likud MK Yoav Kisch both are co-chairs of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus, that helped sponsor the bill.
Bayit Yehudi party Naftali Bennett tweeted one word. “Revolution.”
“Our determination paid off,” a jubilant Bennett said, as he thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party for supporting the vote.
“To our friends in the opposition who are surprised that a nationalist government would pass a bill in favor of the settlements – that’s democracy,” he added.
Left-wing Israeli non-governmental groups Peace Now, Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel immediately promised to petition the High Court of Justice against the legislation.
Ahead of the voting, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog called on the coalition to halt the vote, claiming that its consequences will harm Israel.
“This vote is not about whether we are with or against the settlers, it’s about what the State of Israel needs,” he said. “This government is passing a bill that is an acute danger to the State of Israel,” he continued. “Never in the history of Israel has the Knesset passed a bill against state laws and against the senior legal advisers of the government.
“This legislation is de facto annexation,” he continued. “Our opposition to the law stems from our opposition to annexation... We have just a few more minutes to stop this terrible train before it leaves here and stops at The Hague.”
Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis dismissed claims that the bill advances a bi-national state.
“We will not annex territories with Palestinians. They have their own Palestinian rule and they can vote for the Palestinian parliament,” he said. “We heard all the claims about the bill contradicting international law, and that the Supreme Court will overrule it. It is all nonsense.”
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin blamed the opposition for mentioning the international community and the ICC as reason to object the bill.
“It’s about time that you’ll understand that this is our country. It transcends politics and you and should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said.
The vote took place without Netanyahu, who was still on his way back from London after meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. Likud MK Bennie Begin voted against the legislation, the only coalition MK to do so.
The bill’s passage ends months of bitter debate over the legislation, both within the right-wing parties and between the coalition and the opposition.
Netanyahu had initially appeared to oppose the legislation, and there was much speculation that he had changed his position due to pressure from Bayit Yehudi.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu told reporters in London that he would be in the Knesset for the vote, as he dismissed speculation that he wanted to torpedo the legislation.
Just one day earlier, Netanyahu had said he wanted to coordinate the bill’s passage with US President Donald Trump and his new administration, which led to speculation that he would not authorize the legislation until after his February 15 meeting with the president in Washington.
In London, where he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May, the premier said he merely wanted to make sure that there would be no surprises between friends, a problem that plagued his relationship with former US president Barack Obama. “I said I would act according to our national interests and it is in our best interest not to surprise our friends, certainly not our very good friends. Friends do not surprise each other,” Netanyahu said.
In a veiled reference to reports that Bayit Yehudi had pressured him to support the legislation, which had begun as a private members bill, Netanyahu said, “I am acting responsibly and not according to any kind of dictates.”
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov urged Israel to refrain from approving the legislation.
“If adopted into law, it will have far-reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. The bill has been deemed unconstitutional by the attorney-general of Israel and is in contravention of international law. I urge Israeli legislators to reconsider this move,” he stressed.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) noted that most factions in the coalition opposed the bill and called upon them to have the courage to resist pressure from Bayit Yehudi to pass it.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said the only reason the bill was being advanced was that coalition MKs realized that Netanyahu has been weakened as a result of the ongoing criminal investigations against him, and so they see that now would be a good time to pressure him.
The legislation is set to retroactively legalize some 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian land and offers to compensate its owners. The intention is to prevent future demolitions, like the one that occurred last week in the Amona outpost.
Approval of the legislation runs counter to almost 40 years of Israeli judicial rulings against the construction of homes on private Palestinian property.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the legislation is unconstitutional and would not withstand any legal challenges.
Culture Minister Miri Regev had warned that if the High Court of Justice overruled the law, the government would be justified in taking immediate steps to annex Judea and Samaria. She went on to warn that if the court took that step, it would further inflame tensions.
Left-wing opponents also raised concerns that it would sway the International Criminal Court to rule on the issue of West Bank settlements.
Last week, the Knesset House Committee voted in favor of limiting the discussion on the bill in order to prevent filibusters by the opposition.
“We, the opposition factions’ members, said again and again that we object to the way the discussions are made and that they are not according to the Knesset regulations,” said MK Dov Henin (Joint List).
“Never in the Knesset history [did it] happen that such a fundamental debate takes place as if it is something minor, and MKs can decide whether to show up or not. Therefore, all opposition factions decided not to cooperate with this anti-parliamentary move, especially in a bill whose lawfulness is in doubt,” he added.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement late Monday expressing concerns over the legislation.
This law “will be harmful to Israel’s image internationally and could undermine future efforts to achieving a two-state solution,” the statement said. “The bill may also trigger severe international legal repercussions.”
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