Ramallah, occupied West Bank - Late Monday evening, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial bill to retroactively legalise thousands of settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
The “Legalisation Bill”, which passed on a vote of 60 to 52, came just days after President Trump’s administration cautioned Israel that expanding settlements “may not be helpful in achieving” peace in the Middle East.
Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home party, one of the forces behind the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Donald Trump as president, "without whom the law would have probably not passed" and described it as a “historic day for the settlement movement and for Israel.”
Its passage marks the first time that the Knesset has sought to impose Israeli law and sovereignty in Area C of the West Bank. Former Likud minister, Dan Meridor, affirmed that Palestinians living in the West Bank did not vote for the Knesset, meaning it has no authority to legislate for them. “These are basic principles of democracy and Israeli law,” he said.
The vote quickly drew widespread condemnation by Palestinian leaders and rights groups, with many calling the bill a direct infringement of international law.
Minutes after the vote, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), Saeb Erekat, denounced the law as a means to “legalise theft” of Palestinian land. Calling on the international community to “stop treating Israel as a state above the law”, he stated “the Israeli settlement enterprise negates peace and the possibility of a two-state solution.”
B’Tselem said the timing of the bill weeks after UN Security Resolution 2334 was “a slap in the face of the international community (…) While enshrining the dispossession in law is a new development, in practice it is another facet of the massive land grab carried out openly for decades by declaring 'state land,'" a statement from the organisation said.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative told Palestine Monitor that the law signified severe cause for concern. “This is not just another law. This law will legalise land grabbing and theft of Palestinian land for the sake of Israeli settlers,” he said. “It aims to annex most of the West Bank and it consolidates the system of apartheid, with 2 systems of law being practised – one for Israelis, one for Palestinians. The ultimate goal is to kill the prospects of a future Palestinian state and a two-state solution.” For him, the supposed compensation plans are a smokescreen: “They know Palestinians won’t accept money for their land.”
Though passed, the bill could still be challenged.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last week: “The chance that it will be struck down by the Supreme Court is 100 percent.”
Among others, the Israel NGO Peace Now vowed to appeal the law at the Supreme Court. “It became clear that Netanyahu is willing to compromise the future of both Israelis and Palestinians in order to satisfy a small group of extreme settlers for the sake of his own political survival,” said a tweet from the settlement watchdog.
Ahead of the vote, chairman of the opposition, lawmaker Isaac Herzog took to the Knesset’s podium, warning that, “This legislation is de facto annexation. Our opposition to the law stems from our opposition to annexation…it is not too late to stop the horror of a freight train”, which he believes would be a one-way trip to the International Criminal Court.
Dr. Barghouti remains sceptical: “The public should be wary of Israel’s actions to dampen international outcry by claiming the supreme court will overturn the law. We do not trust the Israeli system. In my opinion, the Palestinian Authority should issue a state referral to the ICC and every country supporting a two-state solution should immediately recognise the Palestinian state and impose sanctions on Israel. Nothing will stop the expansion of settlements but sanctions.”
Palestinian NGO Al-Haq also called for sanctions as the only way to rein in Israel's flagrant disregard international law. “Through the passage of this new legislation, Israel has once again shown that it considers itself above the law,” a statement read. “The international community must show that this is not the case, and that international law applies to all states. Israel has responded to the words of Security Council Resolution 2334 with action. It is time for the international community to respond with action. It is time for sanctions.”