Israel Passes Provocative Law to Retroactively Legalize Settlements - The New York Times
New York Times
7th February 2017
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Parliament passed a provocative law late Monday that would retroactively legalize Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land, pressing ahead with a statement of assertiveness despite the likelihood that the country’s high court will nullify the legislation. It was a defining — opponents said frightening — moment in Israel’s relations with Palestinians and amid fading hopes of ending decades of conflict through a solution. While polls consistently show that most Israelis still support two states, their leaders and the reality of what is happening on the ground are consistently heading in the opposite direction: Fifty years after Israel defeated Jordan and captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, many politicians say that now — with negotiations with the Palestinians frozen — is the moment Israel must decide what it wants and act decisively on it.
The new law is “deteriorating Israel’s democracy, making stealing an official policy and bringing us one step closer to annexation” of more land Palestinians claim for a future state, said Anat Ben Nun, the director of external relations for Peace Now, an group. Only a few months ago, the law was believed to have little chance of coming up for a vote. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was flying back from a meeting with Britain’s leaders as the law was being debated, seemed to oppose its passage for fear of further international censure.
The bill had been so contentious that the nation’s attorney general, who described it as unconstitutional and in contravention of international law, said he would not defend it in the high court, which seemed in any case likely to nullify it. That is partly because the law applies to Palestinians and their property rights. Since Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are not Israeli citizens and cannot vote for candidates for Israel’s Parliament, or Knesset, critics of the legislation say it is inherently .
Under the law, Palestinian landowners will be offered compensation for the use of their property but will not be able to reclaim it. But the bill gained internal momentum through several forces: Mr. Netanyahu is determined to show his support to the powerful settler movement, and is under pressure from on the right and from corruption investigations that even his supporters say appear serious.
That pressure intensified last week after Mr. Netanyahu’s government carried out a court order to evacuate about 40 settler families at the Amona outpost, declared illegal a decade ago. “Today Israel decreed that developing settlement in Judea and Samaria is an Israeli interest,” said Bezalel Smotrich, a lawmaker, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
“From here we move on to expanding Israeli sovereignty and continuing to build and develop settlements across the land. ” At the same time, Mr. Netanyahu and the right — some allies, some opponents — have taken into account that they have more leeway under President Trump than under President Barack Obama, who regularly condemned settlement building.
It is uncertain, however, just how firm the support from the new administration in Washington is: Last week, the White House issued a statement, amid announcements here about thousands of units of housing for settlers, saying that further expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving a deal with the Palestinians, which Mr. Trump has said he wants. A clearer sense of how Mr.
Trump differs from Mr. Obama and from nearly 50 years of American opposition to settlement building is expected to emerge from a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr.
Netanyahu on Feb. 15 in Washington. The vote on Monday, which passed, 60 to 52, retroactively legalized several thousand housing units in 16 settlements on about 2, 000 acres of land.
The law provides for compensation to Palestinian landowners. Opponents said the law would encourage more settlements on Palestinian land, with the expectation that they, too, would be legalized. “Looting is illegal,” Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, said in a statement after the vote.
“The Israeli settlement enterprise negates peace and the possibility of the solution. ” Yair Lapid, the opposition politician seeking to succeed Mr. Netanyahu, said before the vote: “It’s unjust, it’s not smart, and it’s a law which damages the state of Israel, the security of Israel, governance in Israel and our ability to fight back against those who hate Israel.
” He added, “They are passing a law which endangers our soldiers, will undermine our international standing and undermine us as a country of law and order. ” Israel’s settlement activity has come under intense international criticism. In December, the United Nations — with the tacit support of the outgoing Obama administration — condemned Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as an impediment to a solution.
Settlers and Israelis say the West Bank and East Jerusalem, captured from Jordan in the War of 1967, belong to the Jewish people. The international significance of the vote on Monday was underscored during Mr. Netanyahu’s quick trip to visit Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain.
On one hand, she noted that her first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu came 100 years after the Balfour Declaration, in which the British government governing the area supported the creation of Jewish state. She said, however, that Britain remained “committed to a solution,” adding, “It’s the best way of building stability, peace and prosperity in the future.
” Appearing before reporters with Mrs. May in London, Mr. Netanyahu, who has in the past tepidly supported a solution, did not do so on Monday.
As voting neared, tensions rose in the divided Knesset. “You are only passing this law so that the Supreme Court will later overturn it, and then you’ll be in the position to blame the judges,” Revital Swid, a member of the Zionist Union Party, told the governing Likud Party’s science minister, Ofir Akunis. “The land of Israel is ours, and this cannot be disputed or be divided,” Mr.
Akunis responded. “The concept of settlement blocs is no longer relevant because there are no Arabs to negotiate with anymore. ” The vote came on the same day as a rocket fired from Gaza landed near the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
No one was hurt. The Israeli military responded with artillery fire and airstrikes in northern Gaza. It was unclear if the rocket attack was related to Monday’s vote.
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