By a margin of 58-50, the Knesset on November 16 took the first step to retroactively legalize Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian lands.
The proposed legislation, known as the Regulation Bill, is the brainchild of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leaders of the radical right-wing Jewish Home Party and two of the most extreme members of Israel’s parliament.
If enacted, the bill would, as a U.S. State Department spokesperson correctly warned, “pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank” and “gravely endanger the prospects for a two-state solution,” which already is on life support.
Shaked and Bennett sponsored the bill after the Supreme Court ordered the unauthorized Jewish outpost of Amona, the largest one of its kind in the West Bank, to be evacuated and demolished before a December 25 deadline.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for a delay in implementation, but the court rejected his request on November 14.
Home to some 40 families, Amona was established in the 1990s on private Palestinian land without the approval of the Israeli government, which makes a distinction between “legal” settlements it authorizes and “illegal” outposts it opposes.
There are 125 settlements and 100 outposts in the West Bank, all of which were built to establish “facts on the ground.” In plain language, the settlements are designed to maintain Israel’s control over the West Bank and squelch the possibility of Palestinian statehood.
Though an ardent supporter of settlements, Netanyahu was of the view that the bill was ill-timed and needlessly provocative. Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman warned it could inflict damage on Israel’s West Bank settlement project, which runs counter to international law and is opposed by virtually every country in the world.
Despite their reservations about the bill, Netanyahu and Liberman endorsed it, setting the stage for its first reading in the Knesset. Netanyahu could have vetoed it, but chose to let it pass out of deference to his base. As usual, he was thinking of his political survival rather than of the good of the country.
Let there be no illusions. If the bill becomes the law of the land, there will be dire consequences.
Confident that the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States signifies that “the era of the Palestinian state is over,” Bennett and his allies are determined to tighten Israel’s grip on the West Bank and thereby sabotage the chances of a peaceful resolution of Israel’s long-running conflict with the Palestinians.
Bennett and his rejectionist followers have urged Israel to annex much of Area C, which comprises a little more than 60 percent of the West Bank. The annexation of Area C — the site of all of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank — would definitely spell finis to the prospect of Palestinian statehood.
Absent Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians most probably would escalate their resistance to Israel’s nearly 50-year occupation, plunging both sides into another spiral of bloodshed.
The leader of Israel’s opposition, Isaac Herzog, understands the gravity of the unfolding situation. The bill, he observed, is a “serious stain” on Israel because it “authorizes theft and robbery.”
Under the provisions of the bill, Palestinian landowners supposedly would be compensated for the loss of their lands, but since when it is permissible for Jewish settlers to take the law into their own hands and seize private land from their rightful proprietors?
This does not happen in a democratic country where the rule of law is cherished and respected.
The bill is so outrageous that Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned Netanyahu that it contradicts international law and would be torn to pieces in a hearing before the Supreme Court.
It’s incumbent on Netanyahu to quash this misbegotten bill at the first opportunity.