Knesset to approve bill legalizing settler homes on private Palestinian land

The legislation could give the Ofra settlement a reprieve from a High Court of Justice ruling that nine homes in their community must be demolished by February 8.

January 29, 2017 08:05
4 minute read.
West Bank construction

Construction in Amona settlement. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

In a historic move, the Knesset is likely to pass into law on Monday the “settlement regulation bill,” which retroactively legalizes close to 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian property in Area C of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past has been reluctant to support the bill, came out publicly in its favor on Sunday both in the weekly cabinet meeting and on his Facebook page.

“Tomorrow we will submit to the Knesset what is being called the settlement regulation bill, he said. “The law is designed to normalize the status of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria once and for all and prevent recurrent attempts to harm the settlement enterprise.”

The bill would provide financial compensation for the Palestinian landowners, in accordance with Israeli land laws within the state’s sovereign borders.

According to Peace Now, which opposes the legislation, some 797 of the illegal structures are located in 55 outposts.

The bill’s passage would help pave the way for the eventual authorization of those 55 outposts, the group warned.

The bill would answer a longtime demand by settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers, particularly the Bayit Yehudi party, to legislate the issue of unauthorized settler homes.
MK Hotovely on legality of settlement resolution and regarding Amona

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said, “The bill is necessary because justice must be done. It’s inconceivable to destroy homes in places where it is clear that Palestinians will not be allowed to live.”

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi), one of the original authors of the legislative initiative, said this is a historic achievement and a strategic event for the settlement enterprise.

“It is one more step toward the normalization of the lives of thousands of citizens,” she said.

Moalem-Refaeli added that the unique opportunity provided by a right-wing government in Israel and a supportive US administration “requires us to strengthen sovereignty in the land.”

The bill passage would mark one of the few times in the last 50 years that the Knesset has approved legislation for the West Bank. Area C is under Israeli military and civilian rule and is, according to Israeli law, outside the Knesset’s legal purview, particularly with respect to land issues.

Opponents of the legislation consider it a step toward annexation, since the full application of Israeli law to Area C would be considered the application of sovereignty.

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on Sunday told Israel Radio that the entire Israeli legal establishment opposes the legislation, warning that it was a form of annexation.

“I call on the coalition legislators to act responsibly and oppose the bill,” Herzog said.

Former Labor party secretary MK Hilik Bar called it a “bad and cowardly” piece of legislation, which counters the legal opinion of Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit. Bar added that “It endangers not only the settlements bloc, but the entire State of Israel.”

Mandelblit warned Netanyahu on Sunday that the bill is unconstitutional and could harm Israel before the International Criminal Court, which is “already examining the possibility of taking us to court on the issue of settlements,” he said.

Still it is expected that a joint Knesset Law and Foreign Affairs and Defense committee will approve the legislation on Monday prior to its passage in the plenum.

Israeli legal experts have also warned that the legislation is problematic under Israeli law, and is unlikely to withstand any constitutional challenges to the High Court of Justice.

Last month, spurred in part by preliminary votes with regard to the bill, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which called on Israel to halt all settlement activity and Jewish building over the pre-1967 lines in Jerusalem.

The resolution had the full support of 14 out of the 15 council members.

The United States abstained, even though it had the power to veto the measure.

The Obama administration blamed its decision not to block the measure in part on the settlement regulation bill.

It’s presumed that US President Donald Trump will not adopt former president Barack Obama’s no-tolerance policy when it comes to settlement activity. As such, Israel believes the risks of such a bold act are lower under the Trump administration.

Passage of the bill helps Netanyahu politically at a time when he is under pressure from right-wing politicians.

The settler leadership opened a campaign over the weekend against Netanyahu, as well as three other coalition party heads: Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu).

The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria also plans to hold a Jerusalem rally against the government on Monday, which they have called the “day of rage.”

Left- wing activists also plan to hold a counter rally.

Passage of the settlement regulation bill is only one of the three overall demands that settlers have made to Netanyahu, insisting that he must act on them immediately given the change in US administrations in Washington.

Aside from the settlement regulation bill, these demands also include the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim and to eliminate the concept of settlement blocs, so as to allow wide-ranging construction approvals in all of Judea and Samaria.

Settlers have dismissed as inconsequential Netanyahu’s pledge last week to advance 2,500 settlers units, noting that many of the projects were already in progress and that almost all of them were in the blocs.

The bill is not applicable to the Amona outpost, nine permanent homes in the Ofra settlement and 15 homes in the Derech Ha’avot outpost because the High Court of Justice has already ruled that those homes must be taken down. At present both the Amona outpost, which is home to 40 families and the nine homes in the Ofra settlement are slated for demotion on February 8.

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