In doomsday move, Knesset may affirm settlers don’t live in Israel - analysis

To show that Bennett’s government is weak, politicians may reject the law that gives settlers in the West Bank the same legislative status as an Israeli resident.

 Jewish settlers look on during a march near Hebron in the West Bank, June 21, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
Jewish settlers look on during a march near Hebron in the West Bank, June 21, 2021

If one wants to measure the depth to which right-wing politicians in the opposition will sink, one need look no further than their plan to clarify in the Knesset on Monday that West Bank settlers do not live in Israel.

It’s the legislative equivalent of bombing one’s own house.

Indeed, the Likud party – the very party that promised to annex the settlements – now wants to vote to destroy the legislation that ties them to Israel.

These are the same politicians who exclusively use the phrase “Judea and Samaria” rather than “West Bank,” or “communities” instead of “settlements,” to drive home the message that these areas are part of sovereign Israel.

To demonstrate that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government has no capacity to rule, these politicians plan to reject the law that gives settlers in the West Bank the same legislative status as a resident of Israel.

 PRECARIOUS PRIME minister: ‘Naftali [Bennett] already fell.’ (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) PRECARIOUS PRIME minister: ‘Naftali [Bennett] already fell.’ (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The law was put in place soon after Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967, and has been renewed every five years without fanfare. It is a legislative go-around that allows for Israeli civilian life in Area C of the West Bank to function, even though the area is under IDF military rule.

Politicians on the left and the right renewed the legislation so that its existence would be overlooked. It remained outside of the domestic political and international debate that often dominates every action in the West Bank.

The ulterior motives

The need for its renewal is a technicality that has been exploited by the opposition, which hopes that its failure to pass and the ensuing chaos would doom Bennett’s government and lead to an election.

It is such a high stakes gamble that prompted the Yesha Council, including its leader David Elhayani and its CEO, Yigal Dilmoni, to urge politicians in the Likud and the religious-Zionist party to vote in favor of the bill.

Projected real-life consequences

Erasure of the law presents security concerns, as it would prevent the Israeli police from operating in the West Bank.

No less important would be the erasure of many of the civilian laws that allow settlers to function. They would effectively be viewed as Israelis living outside the county, and would lose access to rights granted to Israelis in sovereign Israel.

This would include, for one, driving licenses and car registration. An Israeli living in Germany, for example, cannot apply for an Israeli driver’s license. Should the law fail to pass, neither will the Israeli living in Ma’aleh Adumim. The story is the same if the car is stolen – insurance will not apply.

The same is true for national insurance and state health insurance. Budding attorneys who live in the settlements will not be able to register for the bar, and young adults cannot be drafted into the army.

Tax laws are not applicable nor are inheritance laws or adoption laws.

“If this law is not renewed, chaos will descend,” said Dilmoni, adding that both the security of the area and civilian life there were at risk.

“It could drag the area into anarchy,” he said.

He urged politicians to forgo the power battle and to renew the law.

“Anyone who cares about life in Judea and Samaria must vote for this bill.”

Yigal Dimoni

Some pundits have speculated that the risk is cosmetic. The vote to renew can fail on Monday, but the legislation can be brought back and passed either by the time the legislation expires at the end of June or soon after.

This brief time, in which the rights are revoked, might cause problems the way a strike would, but the issues would disappear once the bill was restored.

The fear is what happens if the bill is rejected and the government falls, thereby creating an unduly prolonged period in which civilian life grinds to a halt.

For almost 55 years, Israel has quietly reaffirmed the right of its citizens to live with full rights outside its sovereign borders, effectively making those communities de-facto islands of Israeli sovereignty.

Not passing the bill could be the kind of statement that awakens international opposition to reinstating the legislation, should it be absent for a prolonged period.

It effectively gives credence to those who want to see the settlements evacuated.

Time will tell

On Monday, the passage or failure of the bill will first be an issue of domestic politics. If the settlements are annexed in the future or a resolution to the conflict is reached, this debate will remain an internal one.

But if the status quo continues, it is likely that the next battle to renew the bill won’t be between the government and the opposition, but between Israel and the international community.