Israel’s parliament is to vote on a controversial bill next week that seeks to retroactively legalise Israeli settler outposts, simultaneously granting legitimacy to dispossessing Palestinians of privately owned land in the occupied West Bank.
The outpost “Legalisation Bill” passed its first reading in the Knesset in December and following Tuesday’s narrow win of seven to six in a committee vote, the controversial legislation is now two readings away from being adopted into Israeli law. The second and third reading, typically voted on in the same parliamentary session, are expected to take place on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted last Sunday that the law was designed to “regulate” settlement and “prevent recurrent attempts to harm the settlement enterprise.”
For many Palestinians, the move is yet another land grab.
Variations of the law have been proposed at the Knesset for years, with the current impetus to pass the legislation being precipitated by the Amona outpost eviction order. Excluded from the measure, Amona was evacuated last Wednesday.
Israel’s Education Minister and chairman of the ultra right-wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, spoke at the Knesset last week, calling the Amona settlers “heroes,” and reassuring that the bill would “put an end” to such “painful” experiences.
B’Tselem states that approximately 100 settlement outposts are located throughout the West Bank, all of which are hitherto considered illegal under Israeli domestic law.
As for international law, all Israeli settlements over the Green Line are condemned. The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly forbids an occupying power from moving its own civilians into occupied territory.
According to the Israeli NGO Peace Now, the regulation law would retroactively legalise 55 outposts, including approximately 4,000 housing units in both settlements and illegal outposts through the expropriation of over 8,000 dunums (about 2,000 acres) of private Palestinian lands.
The new law would grant settlers the right to live in the land if, as stated by the bill, they “innocently” took it – ostensibly without knowing Palestinians owned the tracts or whether homes were built there at the state’s instruction.
Opposition and Zionist Union leader, Yitzhak Herzog, said: “It is a very serious stain in the book of Israeli law because it is a law that approves theft and robbery.”
Under the terms of the bill, Palestinian landowners would only be eligible for compensation if they could prove their ownership, which Human Rights Watch recognise can be a tall order.
Israel’s attorney general and the government’s top lawyer, Avichai Mandelblit, opposes the bill and has vowed not to defend it in the Supreme Court, arguing that it contravenes both Israeli and international law.
Some Israeli officials, reportedly including Netanyahu himself, have also warned that the new legislation could see Israeli officials brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, a move that Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) promised to pursue in a press release on Tuesday.
The legalisation bill comes against the backdrop of a stream of Israeli announcements to build a total of 6,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, released a statement on Wednesday decrying the continued settlement expansion, asserting that it “marks a very worrying trend”, and risks thwarting any chance of a two-state solution.