Politicians advance bill to legalize 70 West Bank outposts

The bill, put forward by Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich would make it possible for anyone to directly purchase land in Area C.

Bezalel Smotrich (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Bezalel Smotrich
Frustrated right-wing politicians turned to the Knesset on Sunday to ensure the legalization of 70 West Bank settler outposts and put a halt to any further demolition action against those hilltop communities.
The co-chairs of the Knesset Land of Israel caucus MKs Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) submitted the outpost bill so that the Ministerial Legislative Committee can vote on it this coming Sunday before it disperses for the summer break on July 18.
It’s one of a number of bills right-wing politicians have tried to push through, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been loath to support their efforts.
Sunday morning, the ministerial committee delayed debates on three bills to strengthen Israel’s hold on Area C of the West Bank.
That included legislation that would have allowed the Kiryat Arba settlement and those in the South Hebron Hills to be considered part of the Negev region for economic purposes.
The law would not annex those settlements to Israel, but would allow them to benefit from government initiatives and grants to develop the Negev.
At present, such funds and initiatives can only be applied to Israeli communities within sovereign Israel.
The ministers also pushed off legislation that would have dramatically changed the way property is purchased in Area C of the West Bank.
The legislation proposed by Smotrich aims to change a 1953 law, put in place when Jordan ruled the West Bank prior to the Six Day War, that prevents foreigners and non-Arabs from directly purchasing land.
That law has remained on the books for the last 51 years. A 1971 injunction designed to amend the Jordanian law does allow for a company registered to operate in Judea and Samaria to purchase property, irrespective of the ethnic or national identity of the owners. This loophole has been used to enable the Jewish purchase of property.
Smotrich’s bill would allow anyone to directly purchase land in Area C.
The explanation for the bill states that it is “unacceptable” for Israelis citizens to be barred from buying land in Judea and Samaria just because they are Israeli citizens.
In addition, the committee pushed off any debate on legislation that would rescind the 2005 Disengagement Law as it applied to the sites of four northern Samaria settlements that the IDF destroyed that summer.
The ruins of Sa-Nur, Homesh, Kadim and Ganim have remained under Israeli military rule. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, himself a Sa-Nur evacuee, has pushed for the communities to be rebuilt.
Prior to Sunday morning’s meeting, Dagan mounted a brief campaign to pressure ministers to debate and approve the bill, which he said has been pushed off at least 12 times.
Settlers now hope that the Ministerial Legislative Committee will debate and approve the bill at next Sunday’s meeting. Supporters are of the belief that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) can ensure its passage.
The Land of Israel Caucus also has its sights set on next Sunday’s meeting, where it hopes for passage of the outpost legalization bill.
The bill is designed to support a May 2017 security cabinet decision to create a committee to regulate some 70 illegal Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as outposts.
But a budget for the committee has yet to be allocated; the Prime Minister’s Office only requested the funds less than two weeks ago.
Smotrich’s bill states that government offices and enforcement agencies should treat those communities, built without property authorizations, as if they were already legalized.
It calls for a suspension of any enforcement action against the structures there unless the prime minister or the Defense Ministry has ordered them to do so. Such an order would have to be backed up by a cabinet decision, according the bill.
The legislation calls for the communities to receive full municipal services. This includes hookups to electricity and water.
Residents would also be eligible for bank mortgages so they could purchase, build, extend or rebuild their homes.
Last week, Kobi Eliraz, the Defense Ministry’s secretary of settlement affairs, told the Internal Affairs committee that 50 of those outposts could become neighborhoods or extensions of existing settlements.
Another 20, he said, were problematic and would need a government decision to be authorized.
In 2012 the Knesset rejected a bill to legalize the West Bank outposts, but since then the government and the Civil Administration have moved slowly and steadily to pave the way for their authorization.
Netanyahu’s attitude toward the outposts runs counter to the public positions held by former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who spoke of their removal.