Is­rael gives ini­tial back­ing to bill to le­gal­ize set­tler homes

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

JERUSALEM: The Is­raeli par­lia­ment gave ini­tial ap­proval yes­ter­day to a bill to le­gal­ize thou­sands of West Bank set­tler homes, a mea­sure draw­ing in­ter­na­tional anger and pos­ing the govern­ment’s big­gest test since 2015 polls.

The mea­sure, which would ap­ply to an es­ti­mated 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish homes in the oc­cu­pied West Bank, re­quires three more full par­lia­men­tary votes to be­come law. There have been re­ports that a be­hind-the-scenes com­pro­mise could see the bill now stall. The vote in the Knes­set, or par­lia­ment, was 58-50. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ini­tially op­posed the bill, fear­ing an in­ter­na­tional back­lash and le­gal im­pli­ca­tions, but voted in fa­vor yes­ter­day.

Ne­tanyahu faces pres­sure to hold his right-wing coali­tion to­gether and not be seen as mov­ing against the pow­er­ful set­tler move­ment. There has been spec­u­la­tion that the bill could even cause the govern­ment to col­lapse-though a num­ber of an­a­lysts cau­tion that a com­pro­mise seems more likely for now.

The bill has been pushed by hard­line mem­bers of Ne­tanyahu’s coali­tion who de­fied his pleas not to move for­ward, while the coun­try’s at­tor­ney gen­eral says it will never hold up in court. But those who sup­port it say the move is ur­gently needed to pro­tect a Jewish out­post in the oc­cu­pied West Bank called Amona.

The out­post, where some 40 fam­i­lies live, is un­der a high court or­der to be de­mol­ished by De­cem­ber 25 be­cause it was built on pri­vate Pales­tinian land. The bill how­ever goes far be­yond le­gal­iz­ing Amona and would al­low an es­ti­mated 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish homes in the West Bank built on Pales­tinian land to be le­gal­ized.

Pales­tinian landown­ers would be of­fered com­pen­sa­tion in ex­change, but At­tor­ney Gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit says the move would un­der­mine pri­vate prop­erty laws. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion says it is “deeply con­cerned.” “This would rep­re­sent an un­prece­dented and trou­bling step that’s in­con­sis­tent with prior Is­raeli le­gal opin­ion and also break long­stand­ing Is­raeli pol­icy of not build­ing on pri­vate Pales­tinian land,” State Depart­ment spokes­woman El­iz­a­beth Trudeau said.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­sid­ers all Is­raeli set­tle­ments in Is­raeli-an­nexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank to be il­le­gal, whether they are au­tho­rized by the govern­ment or not. The Is­raeli govern­ment dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween those it has ap­proved and those it has not. The progress of the bill, ap­proved ear­lier by a com­mit­tee of min­is­ters on be­half of the govern­ment, has demon­strated the power of the set­tler move­ment.

Ne­tanyahu’s govern­ment is seen as the most right-wing in Is­raeli his­tory, and key mem­bers of his coali­tion ad­vo­cate an­nex­ing most of the West Bank while openly op­pos­ing the idea of a Pales­tinian state.

Op­po­si­tion leader Isaac Her­zog, who heads the La­bor party, said the bill con­tra­vened Is­raeli and in­ter­na­tional law while jus­ti­fy­ing “theft.”

Hard­liner ‘dic­tated agenda’

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, who heads the hard­line Jewish Home party and has been the driv­ing force be­hind the bill, has made no se­cret of his po­si­tion. Last week after the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent in the United States, he called for the end of the idea of a two-state so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, the ba­sis of years of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

He said “the era of a Pales­tinian state is over.” Ne­tanyahu’s govern­ment cur­rently con­trols 66 of the 120 seats in par­lia­ment. Fi­nance min­is­ter Moshe Kahlon, whose cen­tre-right Ku­lanu party holds 10 seats, has been key and had ini­tially threat­ened not to vote. In the end, he voted for Wed­nes­day’s ini­tial back­ing but said he would with­draw sup­port in the fu­ture if it “harms” the coun­try’s high court.

The state­ment was a ref­er­ence to Amona and the high court rul­ing against it sig­nal­ing that the bill could stall in the fu­ture if the out­post is not re­moved from it.

Some Is­raeli an­a­lysts have spo­ken of the out­sized power Ben­nett has ac­cu­mu­lated with the help of the set­tler move­ment, say­ing it could seem Ne­tanyahu was serv­ing in his cabi­net rather than the other way around. Ben­nett’s party has only eight seats in par­lia­ment. But both men have lit­tle in­ter­est in new elec­tions for now, a num­ber of an­a­lysts said. “Ben­nett knows that it will be dif­fi­cult to have a govern­ment more right-wing than the cur­rent one,” a govern­ment of­fi­cial told AFP on con­di­tion of anonymity.

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