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Israel authorizes bill retroactively legalizing settler outposts in the West Bank

Nov. 16, 2016 5:30 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2016 3:40 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Wednesday a preliminary reading of a controversial “Legalization bill” which would notably retroactively legalize an Israeli outpost slated for evacuation.

The illegal Amona outpost, where at least 40 Israeli families reside, in the central occupied West Bank was slated for demolition in 2008 after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Palestinians whose private land the settlement outpost was built on.

The Supreme Court dismissed a petition by the Israeli government to postpone evacuating Amona on Sunday, ruling that the evacuation be carried out by Dec. 25 as previously ordered by the court.

However, the Legalizion bill, which would retroactively legalize settlement outposts in the West Bank, has been pushed forward by right-wing Israeli politicians to prevent the displacement of Amona settlers.

The bill has garnered large amounts of criticism, as Israel’s attorney general said that the bill contravened international law and that there was no legal precedent for the expropriation of privately owned land.

While the draft law would allow land to be "leased" to settlers -- financially compensating Palestinian landowners who would not have the right to appeal -- rights group Peace Now said on Monday that “the idea of the lease is simply a bluff meant to evade land expropriation. History in the region has shown that what is temporary becomes permanent. Thus, the leasing means a de facto expropriation.”

The odds of the bill passing through the first reading seemed slim on Wednesday, as MK Moshe Kahlon had initially stated that he and his party, Kulanu, would not vote in favor of the draft legislation, Israeli news site Ynet reported.

However, after reaching an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the eleventh hour, Kahlon agreed to vote in favor of the bill so long as Kulanu had assurances that “there will be no harming of the High Court of Justice.”

Kahlon said that Kulanu could retract its support of the bill down the line if it felt that the draft legislation would hurt the Israeli Supreme Court.

“If there is any harm brought to the High Court at any point in the legislation, I will stop it,” Ynet quoted Kahlon as saying.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that MKs voted on three different versions of the bill which all passed, with respectively 58 votes to 50, 57 to 52, and 58 votes to 51.

It remained unknown on Wednesday which version of the bill would become the official government bill down the line.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli from the far-right Jewish Home party, said the bill was “true justice and protects human rights for all citizens,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Meanwhile, the head of the Arab Joint List coalition, Ayman Odeh, said that the draft legislation was “a clear message to the world that it does not see the occupation as temporary, and it does not want an agreed-upon solution, rather than to continue warfare and occupation."

"This law, which makes theft and robbery legal, proves again that the occupation cannot exist at the same time as the rule of law," The Jerusalem Post further quoted Odeh as saying.

MK Yousif Jabareen of the Arab Joint List also denounced the bill, calling it “more proof of the cruelty, immorality and violence of the occupation.”

"It gives lands to cruel robbers and spits in the face of the law and the international community," Haaretz quoted the politician as saying.

After appeals from right-wing Israeli government officials, and attempts by Amona settlers to prove they had legally purchased the land, an Israeli police investigation in May 2014 found the entirety of the outpost to have been built on private Palestinian lands, and that the documents used by Amona residents to claim their purchases were in fact forged.

However, Amona settlers have pledged to resist any demolitions carried out in the area.

The Israeli rights group Yesh Din, who represents the Palestinian petitioners whose land the Amona outpost was built on, reacted to Wednesday's ruling by vowing to "continue to assist the petitioners [...] and other Palestinian landowners whose land has been taken away, in the struggle against land theft led by the government using every legal measure available."

"Members of the coalition have appointed themselves -- for the first time -- as the sovereign in the West Bank in contempt of democracy in Israel, Israeli citizens, and Palestinian residents," Yesh Din's statement read. "The Knesset has made another step towards legalizing widespread land grab in the West Bank and annexing the occupied territory to Israel, all because the so-called leaders are incapable of standing up to lawbreakers.”

The Israeli government has continued to be embroiled in conflict over the Supreme Court ruling, with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat threatening last week that any dismantlement of the illegal Israeli outpost would be met with the mass demolition of Palestinian homes lacking Israeli-issued building permits in occupied East Jerusalem.

While the settler outposts constructed in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government -- despite authorities commonly retroactively legalizing the outposts -- each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the West Bank are also constructed in direct violation of international law.
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