US troubled by comments that Israeli settlement bill is first step to annexation

“50 years after the Six-Day war, we're taking one more dramatic step in regulating the lives of people in Judea and Samaria.”

The Knesset (photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Knesset
The United States said it was ‘troubled’ to hear from Israeli lawmakers that the settlement bill was a first step toward the annexation of Area C of the West Bank.
“This legislation if it is enacted would be a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already greatly endangering the prospects for a two-state solution,” US Deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington.
“We have also been troubled by comments from some political figures that this would be a first step toward annexation,” Toner said.
He added that the United States had conveyed its concerns to the Israeli government.
Toner spoke in advance of a first reading of the bill in the Knesset Wednesday. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has called the bill a historic “watershed moment” for the settlement enterprise.
The legislation retroactively legalizes 4,000 settler homes built on private Palestinian property, while offering the Palestinian landowners compensation.
The bill is designed to resolve the issue of the homes, which the government does not want to raze but lacks the legal power to authorize.
It’s opponents consider it a de-facto form of annexation because the Knesset has no authority over Area C of the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since 1967.
Since Israeli law cannot be applied to that area without annexation, it is governed by a series of military regulations.
For this reason a Knesset vote creating legislation for the area is a highly unusual event.
The legality of the law and the issue of annexation was part of a heated debate in a special Knesset committee on Tuesday night, which worked on preparing the bill for Wednesday’s vote.
Attorney Tehila Roth from the Justice Ministry explained that the bill was illegal under Israeli and international law. Among other things it does not meet the criteria set under Israeli law for the confiscation of property in Judea and Samaria, she said.
Her words echoed those of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who has ruled that the bill is unconstitutional.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) who opposes the bill told right-wing law makers that they were trying to fit “an elephant into a keyhole.” He further charged that right-wing lawmakers were trying “through sly and dishonest means to advance the annexation of Judea and Samaria.”
MK Shuli Moalem-Refael (Bayit Yehudi) said, “we’ve never hidden our agenda to annex Judea and Samaria.” She added that when her party had the political power to make that area part of Israel’s permanent borders it would do so.
In the interim, she said, “50 years after the Six-Day War, we're taking one more dramatic step in regulating the lives of people in Judea and Samaria.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said the issues here were diplomatic and political. The entire notion that the law is illegal stems from a legal interpretation that Judea and Samaria is “occupied territory.” But his government, and most certainly his party, does not believe that this is true, Smotrich said. The moment one changes the legal definition of the territory, then the legislative possibilities change as well, he said.
He added that he didn’t believe the High Court of Justice would interfere with a law that was essentially the reworking of a new diplomatic understanding of the placement of Judea and Samaria within the Israeli political landscape.