Knesset gives initial approval to legalization of 65 West Bank outposts

The Young Settlements Forum called on Netanyahu and Gantz to shortcut the process by holding a government vote on the matter before the country's heads to a fourth election.

The settlement of Kfar Eldad as seen from above. (photo credit: GUSH ETZION REGIONAL COUNCIL)
The settlement of Kfar Eldad as seen from above.
In a move that could expand Israel's footprint in Area C of the West Bank, the Knesset gave an initial 60-40 approval to legislation that would legalize some 65 West Bank outposts.
Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Alternate Prime Minster Benny Gantz were present for the vote, according to the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus that submitted the private members bill.
"The Caucus set a just goal and has advanced toward achieving it," the group's co-chair MK's Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) and Haim Katz (Likud) jubilantly exclaimed after the vote.
"A huge majority of the elected Knesset members support the moral and humane process of regulating the young settlements [outposts]," they said.
Joint List Party head MK Aymen Odeh charged that the legislation was a form of de facto annexation.
"The Outposts Law is another sign that attempts to annex the West Bank and expropriate land from Palestinians living there have never stopped," Odeh said.
During the debate warning by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) that the legislation was likely  unconstitutional under Israeli law and problematic in the sphere of international law went unheeded.
Despite the Right's initial victory, its unclear if there is enough time to complete the legislative process, which includes committee approvals and three readings in the plenum, prior to the Knesset's expected dispersal next week.
The Young Settlements Forum called on Netanyahu and Gantz to shortcut the process by holding a government vote on the matter before the country's heads to a fourth election.
Community Affairs Minister Tzahi Hanegbi (Likud) had initially written out the text of a government decision on the matter. When it seemed as if no government meeting would be held due to disagreements between Netanyahu and Gantz, the Caucus brought the matter to the plenum based on a "Quality of Life" bill it had filed over the summer.
That bill gives provides de facto recognition to the outposts until the legalization process is complete within a two-year time frame. Effectively it transforms the outposts from illegal endeavors to communities awaiting authorization.
The legislation would allow for those outpost to be hooked up to utility grids and for its residents to receive mortgages for their homes.
According to the Caucus there is a list of 65 outpost that would be authorized a result of the bill, either as neighborhoods of existing settlements or as new settlements.
The legislation did not list the communities that would be impacted and any list that exists is expected to change. According to the left-wing group Peace Now there are over 100 outposts, but the conversation on the outposts has consistently involved a list of around 70 communities built over the last three decades.
If approved the bill, would render irrelevant US President Donald Trump's map, that would allow Israel to eventually annex up to 30% of the West Bank, because the outpost legalization would expand Israel's holding in Area C beyond that 30%.
Fear that the Trump map would necessitate the evacuation of the outposts, dozens of which were outside its boundaries and otherwise which were in its 15 enclaves, was one of the reasons the Right rejected the plan and wanted Netanyahu to independently apply sovereignty to all the jewish communities in Judea and Samaria including the outposts.
When all annexation plans were suspended, the Right has moved forward on outpost legalization as one of a number of measures to ensure israel's continued hold on West Bank territory in Area C.
Last week the Knesset plenum gave its initial approval to a bill that would require a referendum of a approval of 80 Knesset members prior to any withdrawal from territory within the boundaries of West Bank settlements.
The referendum would apply to the outposts that were legalized.
This is not the first time the Knesset has tried to regulate settlement building en masse. Three yards ago it approved a Settlement Regulation Bill that allowed Israel to retroactively authorize illegal settler homes built on private Palestinian property, in exchange in cases where compensation was offered to the Palestinian land owners.
The High Court of Justice struck down that legislation as unconstitutional.
In the plenum on Wednesday, Nissenkorn warned that this bill would likely suffer a similar fate.
The bill as it is written does not distinguish between property that can be regulated and that which is difficult to legalize, Nissenkorn said.
"Without clarifying this matter within the legislation, there is a constitutional impediment to advancing the proposal,' Nissenkorn said.
The legislation also failed to explain differentials in enforcement policies that raises "constitutional difficulties" with issues of equity, he added. "We think its incorrect" within the sphere of international law as well and would raise difficulties in that realm, Nissenkron said.
Hanegbi said that he had made of a list of 46 outposts that were on state land and whose legalization should not be an issue.
He called on those whose heart is with the Land of Israel to "strengthen our hold on the western Land of Israel."
There is no difference between these areas and Tel Aviv, Hanegbi said, adding that many Israeli communties had  been built first and authorized later.
MK Osama Saadi (Joint List) waned the plenum that it was "stealing land from Palestinians" and that the only state in the West Bank was the Palestinian state.
"There are some 50 unrecognized communities [of Israeli Arabs] in the Negev were tens of thousands live without electricity and water and roads" and no action has been taken to legalize those communities he said.