Amid UN warning, Israel set to pass historic settlements bill

The legislation is set to retroactively legalize 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian land and offers to compensate its land owners.

SHOW US the money. Lawmakers attend a preliminary vote on a bill at the Knesset (photo credit: REUTERS)
SHOW US the money. Lawmakers attend a preliminary vote on a bill at the Knesset
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset late Monday night is set to pass historic legislation hailed by the Right wing for salvaging 4,000 settler homes and attacked by the Left as the first step toward de-facto annexation.
The vote is not expected to take place until at least 10:30 p.m. Israeli time. On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed that he would head to the Knesset for the vote on the Settlements Bill, immediately upon landing in Israel after meeting earlier in the day with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
“Yes, I plan to be there for the vote on the bill,” Netanyahu told reporters in London as he dismissed speculation that he had wanted to torpedo the legislation.
Just one day earlier, Netanyahu had said that he wanted to coordinate the bill's passage with US President Donald Trump and his new administration, which led to speculation that he would not authorize the legislation until after his February 15 meeting with the president in Washington.
In London the premier said he merely wanted to make sure that there would be no surprises between friends, a problem that plagued his relationship with the previous US president, Barack Obama. “I said I would act according to our national interests and it is in our best interest not to surprise our friends, certainly not our very good friends. Friends do not surprise each other,” Netanyahu said.
In a veiled reference to reports that the Bayit Yehudi Party had pressured him to support the legislation that began as a private members bill, Netanyahu said, “I am acting responsibly and not according to any kind of dictates.”
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov urged Israel to refrain from approving the legislation.
"If adopted into law, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. The bill has been deemed unconstitutional by the Attorney General of Israel and is in contravention of international law."
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“I urge Israeli legislators to reconsider this move,” he stressed.
Earlier on Monday, Culture Minister Miri Regev warned that if the bill will be disqualified, her government would be justified in taking immediate steps to annex Judea and Samaria. She went on to warn that if the court took that step it would further inflame tensions.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog reacted as well, saying  that the bill was illegal and passing it would be a disaster for Israel. Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni noted that most factions in the coalition opposed the bill and called upon them to have courage to resist pressure from Bayit Yehudi to pass it.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said the only reason the bill was being advanced was that coalition MKs realized that Netanyahu has been weakened as a result of the ogoing criminal investigations against him and so they saw that now would be a good time to pressure him.
The legislation is set to retroactively legalize 4,000 settler homes on private Palestinian land and offers to compensate its land owners. It’s a move that runs counter to almost 40 years of Israeli judicial rulings against the construction of homes on private Palestinian property.
It would also mark the first time that the Knesset has legislated for the Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian rule. That territory is considered to be outside the Knesset’s purview and a legislation act concerning it could be viewed as a de-facto step toward annexation.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the legislation is unconstitutional and would not withstand any legal challenges. Left wing opponents also raised concern that it would sway the International Criminal Court to rule on the issue of West Bank settlements.
The plenum on Monday afternoon began its debate on the bill and was then halted after the opposition pulled its objections. Lawmakers aimed their criticism at the voting procedure imposed on the by the coalition, and not to the bill itself.
Last week, the Knesset House Committee voted in favor of limiting the time of the discussion on the bill in order to prevent filibusters by the opposition. It was decided that the opposition will have time to present their objections on Tuesday, Wednesday and Monday, and the vote will take place on Monday at 10:30 PM.
"We, the opposition factions' members, said again and again that we object the way the discussions are made and that they are not according to the Knesset regulations," said MK Dov Henin (Joint List).
"Never in the Knesset history [did it] happen that such fundamental debate takes place as it is something minor, and MKs can decide whether to show up or not. Therefore all opposition factions decided not to cooperate with this anti-parliamentary move, especially in a bill that is lawfulness is in doubt," he added.
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), who is in charge of coordinating the opposition factions in the Knesset, said: "The opposition withdraws all our objections and [is] ready to vote on the bill right now."
After the opposition's announcement, deputy speaker of the plenum MK Yitzhak Vaaknin (Shas) said that the plenum discussion is locked and will be renewed at 9:30 PM. Then, the joint panel chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) will reply to the opposition objections and the vote will take place at 10:30 PM as planned.