Government to explore upgrading personal laws in Area C

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants the same laws in the Area C parts of the West Bank as the rest of Israel.

Aerial view of Ariel settlement in West Bank 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Aerial view of Ariel settlement in West Bank 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The government is looking into upgrading through military orders all personal laws for Israelis living in Area C, starting with the workplace, to ensure that they match those legislated by the Knesset for citizens in the rest of the country.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked the Justice Ministry to start the task, at the end of a discussion on the labor law for working mothers in Judea and Samaria, held Sunday at the government’s weekly meeting, an official said.
The issue of legal rights for working mothers in Area C must be addressed at the government’s October 13 meeting, Netanyahu insisted on Sunday at the end of the debate.
He asked that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein present the government on the 13th with military legislation to that effect.
If that timetable is not met or the military legislation does not sufficiently address that issue, Netanyahu said he would support a Knesset bill to impose Israeli law protecting the work rights of pregnant Israeli and Palestinian women in Area C.
“Israeli women citizens, including those who live in Judea and Samaria, must receive equal rights. I am committed to this,” Netanyahu said.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the cabinet also decided to evaluate gaps in legislation vis-à-vis labor laws in order to prevent discrimination against Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria, an area of the West Bank that is under Israeli military and civil control.
The government set a four-month timetable on Sunday for this to occur. These laws are also likely to improve rights for Palestinian workers in Israeli companies in the West Bank.
But no similar timetable was set for overhauling military legislation of personal rights for settlers. This legislation would likely not be broadly applicable to Palestinians.
Full Israeli law does not apply to Area C of the West Bank. This means that Israelis living there do not receive all the legal rights afforded those who live in the rest of the country.
The military laws designed to give them those rights often fall behind updated legislation in the Knesset.
The matter is complicated because attempts to impose Knesset legislation on Area C are often seen as a de facto attempt to annex the area to Israel, one legislation at a time.
The issue was first highlighted last year by MK Orit Struck (Bayit Yehudi) after a pregnant woman who lived in Judea and Samaria complained to Struck she was fired because protective legislation did not apply to Area C of the West Bank.
Netanyahu had initially favored extending the labor law with those protective rights to Area C. Based on his support, the legislative committee a few months ago approved a bill on that issue authored by Struck.
But after the vote, Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri appealed the decision, which he said was tantamount to “creeping annexation.” He argued that the issue could be dealt with through military legislation.
On Thursday Weinstein wrote a legal opinion in support of Peri’s stance.
Labor laws were of a “territorial nature,” and imposing them on Area C of the West Bank would have implications for Israel in the international legal arena, Weinstein said. In the past, labor issues, such as minimum wage, had been dealt with through military legislation, he wrote.
Weinstein differentiated between territorial laws and personal ones with regard to crime, taxation, IDF service and voting, which do apply to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria.
In a nod to Weinstein, Netanyahu agreed to give the IDF time to rectify the situation, before asking the Knesset to extend the law. In the interim, he promised that women would be protected until the issue was resolved.
Struck said she welcomed Netanyahu’s commitment to women’s labor rights, but that she was sorry he had listened to Weinstein’s opinion about the military order.
“It’s an advancement, but not enough,” she said, adding that Netanyahu should have discarded Weinstein’s opinion, because labor laws were of a personal and not territorial nature.
The civil administration, Struck said, has been working on military legislation to protect working women for the last six years without any results.
But Peri told the cabinet that imposing this labor law for working mothers on Judea and Samaria – whether personal or territorial – would harm Israel’s international standing and the renewed negotiations with the Palestinians because it would be viewed as step toward annexation of the area.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) argued that the issue was much broader than just the rights of working mothers or labor laws in general. There are many personal laws that were not properly legislated in Judea and Samaria, and as a result its residents do not benefit from full rights.