Bill to legalize West Bank outposts advances after Kahlon folds

The bill is considered by the 40 families residing in Amona to be the last hope to avoid the High Court of Justice-ordered December 25 demolition of their hilltop community.

November 16, 2016 14:54
4 minute read.

Amona. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

A bill that would legalize West Bank outposts passed a preliminary reading on Wednesday, with coalition disputes about the bill continuing until the last moment.

The bill is considered by the 40 families residing in Amona to be their last hope to avoid the state carrying out the High Court of Justice ruling to demolish their hilltop community by December 25.

Kahlon had come out against the bill on Tuesday, saying it would damage the court’s standing and the rule of law, in that it circumvents court rulings. However, he ultimately decided – following intense debate in his faction – that Kulanu MKs would vote in its favor.

“I just finished meeting with the prime minister,” Kahlon said minutes before the bill went to a vote, “and we agreed that the coalition chairman will announce that there will be no harm done to the High Court and then Kulanu can support it. If there is harm to the High Court during the legislative process we will oppose it.”

The deciding factor for Kulanu was concern that Bayit Yehudi would vote against the state budget, undoing the economic reforms on which the party is focused.

Without Kulanu, the coalition would not have had enough votes, because one minister is abroad and MK Bennie Begin (Likud) has refused to vote in favor of the bill.

Bayit Yehudi insisted that the legislation be brought to a vote without delay, and many in the Likud supported the stance. Had the vote gone differently, the proposal would not have been able to be brought up again for six months, which would have been too late for Amona.

The bill now has to go through three more votes in the plenum, with committee meetings in between, before it becomes law.

During the day, Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett instructed his party’s MKs not to negotiate, and said he would not compromise. Bennett later met with Kahlon to discuss the matter. The sides came to an agreement over changes to the bill to ensure that the court is protected, but they did not get into specifics of what that would mean.

The legislation states that Palestinians with a claim to the land on which an outpost was built with cooperation from the state would be paid damages, but the outpost would not have to be evacuated.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit opposes the bill, saying that it violates both Israeli and international law.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, however, defended the bill’s legality ahead of the vote in the plenum.

“The ruling on Amona was given in the framework of administrative law, in which the chances of a government decision are examined,” said Shaked. “As I’ve said before, the Knesset is sovereign, and it is the High Court’s job to check that the government is keeping the laws the Knesset passed or decisions it made itself.”

As such, the decision to demolish Amona was based on the laws that existed at the time and the answer the state gave then, but laws can change and the Knesset has the right to change them, Shaked said.

Shaked also called the Left hypocrites, saying they have selective vision and are constantly changing their positions.

She accused the Left of claiming to be “champions of the rule of law,” but meeting with the PLO in the pre-Oslo days when it was illegal to do so.

“The Left is not looking for justice and morality,” she added. “They never were. The Left is hungry for destruction.

I won’t allow them to use the courts to set a policy.”

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi), the bill’s sponsor, called it a major achievement for “law-abiding citizens living in Judea and Samaria. This is true justice, and protects human rights for all citizens... We cannot demolish construction built in good faith with the authorization of the Israeli government.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) argued that the bill violates international law and is not a solution for Amona residents’ problem.

“The settlers in Judea and Samaria are my brothers,” he said. “Netanyahu lied to you and did not regulate your status for 10 years while he’s in office, and we told you the truth from the beginning and made it clear that this law will not stand, legally or internationally, and another solution in the [settlement] blocs must be found. If you want to continue believing in lies, Netanyahu is your address.

If you want a real, dignified solution, the Zionist Union is your place.”

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that a declaration that the bill won’t harm the High Court is a “pathetic excuse,” and in fact, is harmful to the court and to democracy.

Similarly, Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah criticized Kahlon for “hiding behind an empty promise.”

“All this bill is spin and politics...

those who proposed it want it to be canceled by the High Court so they can blame it again and undermine the foundations of democracy more,” he stated.

Meretz faction chairman Ilan Gilon called the outpost bill “organized crime,” and said politicians had allowed themselves to be influenced by “criminal squatters.”

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh warned that the bill is the beginning of annexing the West Bank.

“The government sent a clear message to the world that it does not see the occupation as temporary, and it does not want an agreed-upon solution, but rather to continue warfare and occupation,” Odeh said. “This law, which makes theft and robbery legal, proves again that the occupation cannot exist at the same time as the rule of law.”

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