Israel could lose legal control in West Bank if settlement bill falls

Failure to pass the bill by the end of June could bring civilian life in the settlements to a grinding halt.

 Ra'am head Mansour Abbas at the Knesset plenum, December 15, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ra'am head Mansour Abbas at the Knesset plenum, December 15, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The fate of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition may hang in the balance on Monday over Knesset vote on a directive giving Israel legal jurisdiction over settlers living in the West Bank, which has been approved every five years since 1967.

Right-wing members of the opposition have pledged to vote against the bill as part of a push to bring down Bennett’s government.

Yesha Council head David Elhayani, of the coalition’s New Hope Party, has warned that failure to pass the bill will create “absolute chaos” for Israelis living in Judea and Samaria.

If the first reading of the bill is not passed on Monday, it could still be passed the following Monday. Failure to pass it by the end of June could bring civilian life in the settlements to a grinding halt.

Israeli police would not be able to operate in Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located and which is under Israeli military and civilian rule.

 NAFTALI BENNETT and Mansour Abbas in the Knesset. Is a partnership like this lost for good?  (credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images) NAFTALI BENNETT and Mansour Abbas in the Knesset. Is a partnership like this lost for good? (credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

The more than 450,000 Israelis who live there would be stripped of rights that allow them to operate as if they live within the borders of sovereign Israel. This could include access to state health insurance, the ability to be drafted into the army and the renewal of driver’s licenses.

As of Sunday night it was not clear that the bill had support even within the coalition. Ra’am (United Arab List) and rebel MKs Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Idit Silman may end up deciding how to vote at the last minute, which will make it very hard to know if there is a majority to pass the bill.

Ra’am leaders met on Sunday night to consider how to vote. Party leader Mansour Abbas is in favor of it and is trying to persuade other MKs in Ra’am and Rinawie Zoabi to vote for it in order to keep the coalition together.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has warned of political consequences if the bill is not passed. Sa’ar told confidants in the coalition that his threat would not apply if the bill is blocked by Silman.

One possibility is to purposely bring the bill to a vote as a no-confidence motion and then have Silman declared a defector if she votes against it. Silman told confidants that she was not deterred by such threats and could not be declared a defector for one vote against the coalition.

If Silman would be declared a defector, she could not run for the next Knesset on the slate of either Likud or the Religious Zionist Party.

Bennett’s associates said they would bring the bill to a vote repeatedly until it passes. Unlike other bills, it would not have to wait six months to be brought to a vote again if it is defeated in the Knesset plenum.

But Elhayani said that the impact of the bill is so great, that no one should be playing politics with it.

If this law fails there will be lawyers who can’t register to practice, young adults that can’t enter the army and people who arrive at the hospital that can’t receive treatment, said Elhayani, who is also the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council.

“Every day there will be a new story of someone who was harmed,” he said, adding that “the impact is so dramatic that I can’t understand why people are playing politics with this.”

the impact is so dramatic that I can’t understand why people are playing politics with this

David Elhayani

More than 70% of those living in Judea and Samaria voted for parties that now want to abandon them by voting against this directive, Elhayani said.

“It’s a slap in the face to those voters.”