In a move that is likely to anger the US, the Ministerial Legislative Committee is expected to vote Sunday on a bill that would rescind the 2005 Disengagement Law as it applies to northern Samaria.
Once approved by the Knesset, the legislation would pave the way for the reconstruction of the four communities razed there that year.
“I think we have to do the right thing, and I am absolutely sure we are doing the right thing,” Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Yuli Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post in advance of the vote.
Edelstein, who opposed the 2005 disengagement in which Israel withdrew from Gaza and destroyed 21 settlements there before razing four more settlements in northern Samaria, authored the bill.
Along with Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, Edelstein has been a long-time advocate of rebuilding the four settlements of Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim and Kadim.
Settlement of Homesh to be rebuilt?
Homesh was built on private Palestinian property, while the other three settlements were located on state land. Edelstein said that there was enough state land on the hilltop for legal construction.
His legislation is expected to have enough support to pass the committee and the Knesset, but it is unclear if it would have the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who during his past tenure had prevented the ministerial committee from voting on the matter.
Private member bills to rescind the Disengagement in northern Samaria have not made it very far in the Knesset, but supporters of the current proposed legislation are optimistic that given the far-right nature of this government, the time has come for passage of the bill.
Public attention in recent years has focused in particular on the site of the former Homesh settlement, but the goal now is to rebuild all four communities whose former locations are now considered to be closed military zones that Israeli citizens cannot legally access.
Once approved, the sites of the former settlements would be opened to Israelis, but there would still be a long legislative road to reconstruction.
The bill’s most immediate impact would be on the small modular yeshiva on the Homesh hilltop, which has illegally existed at the site for close to two decades and against which there is a High Court of Justice petition filed by the left-wing group Yesh Din.
The bill’s approval would likely impact that court case and increase the possibility that the yeshiva could remain at the site.
The four settlements were located in an isolated part of Area C of the West Bank, on land that is behind the scope of the peace proposal presented by former US president Donald Trump, which allowed for half of Area C to be eventually folded into Israel’s final borders.
The Biden administration has publicly spoken against the legalization of the Homesh Yeshiva and any other settler building on that site. It has also been clear that it wants Israel to refrain from unilateral steps in the West Bank, such as settlement activity that would increase Israel’s footprint in that area. It has stressed that point particularly now in light of rising violence.
Edelstein said security is one of the most important reasons to support the bill, given that when it comes to terrorism, northern Samaria is “the most dangerous region” of the West Bank, which he referred to as Judea and Samaria.
It’s well known that civilian settlement helps improve security, Edelstein said, explaining that the destruction of the four Samaria settlements had increased terrorism in that area. The story is the same in southern Israel, which borders Gaza, he added.
But for Edelstein and others on the Right, the bill is a symbolic step against the 2005 pullout from Gaza.
“I consider the unilateral withdrawal [from Gaza] one of the worst decisions in Israeli history,” Edelstein said, adding that this bill would help reverse that “historic injustice.”
The push for this legislation comes as Likud supporters of Judea and Samaria, as well as the far-right coalition partners of the Religious Zionist and Otzma Yehudit parties, have had a difficult time advancing their agenda on behalf of the settlements.
Netanyahu has ignored coalition agreements that put Finance Minister and Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich in charge of civilian matters in Area C, where all the settlements are located.
Smotrich is tasked with doing this through a second post he was given as a minister in the Defense Ministry. But Netanyahu has not allowed Smotrich to exercise that control, which he has wielded along with Likud colleague Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
This has included decisions with regard to the demolition of illegal settler buildings, authoring state responses to the High Court of Justice and the demolition of illegal Palestinian homes.
Netanyahu had promised the United States that his hands would be “on the wheel” in these instances. He is under pressure from the US to suspend the authorization of new settler building projects.
In an interview with KAN, National Missions Minister Orit Struck dismissed the relevance of the US pressure.
“Our sovereignty over our land is important as is what our government decides to do, and this government was not created to freeze settlement building” or to hand its territory over to a hostile group such as the Palestinian Authority, she said.
Netanyahu knows his coalition partners and he knows what he signed and he knows that he has to respect those agreements, Struck said.
“We will not freeze the settlements,” she emphatically stated, hinting that approval for more settlement projects was forthcoming, noting that for the last year, new building plans had not been drawn up.
Yesh Din, which had petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Homesh Yeshiva, called the legislation a “land grab.” The group represents the Palestinian owners of property on that hilltop, whose land had been seized by the state in the 1970s for construction of the original Homesh settlement. After the Disengagement, the High Court recognized that ownership and granted the Palestinians permission to access the site to farm their land.
Yesh Din said the Palestinians had for years been prohibited from accessing their property and its theft now would be retroactively legalized in “a blatant violation of international law.”