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'Legalization bill' moves forward in Knesset, excludes legalization of Amona

Dec. 5, 2016 11:31 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2016 3:45 P.M.)
Israeli settlers in the illegal outpost of Esh Kodesh on March 5, 2008. (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The so-called "Legalization bill" passed a preliminary reading in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Monday evening, a law that both its supporters and opponents say would pave the way to annexing the occupied West Bank. Leading up to the vote, a clause demanding that the symbolic Amona outpost be retroactively legalized was removed from the bill.

The bill -- passing with 60 voting in favor and 49 against -- would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized.

Israeli ministers and lawmakers have promoted the bill in hopes it will prevent the evacuation of the Amona outpost, slated for demolition by Dec. 25, while others in the government -- including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- have warned the bill would attract widespread international condemnation, and Israel’s attorney general has said that the law, if passed, would be indefensible in court.

However, the Knesset's Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed a version of the bill that would not be applicable to Amona.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu reached a compromise with champion of the bill, Education Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett to remove the clause that would have retroactively legalized the outpost, following outrage from members of the opposition who highlighted that the Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled multiple times to demolish Amona.

The revised version allows the state of Israel to give settlers “usage rights” to privately-owned Palestinian land, but not ownership rights, while Palestinians who can prove ownership of land would receive “compensation,” according to Israeli daily Haaretz. The bill only applies to settlements established with government assistance.

"This is a historic day in the Knesset, which went from establishing a Palestinian state to Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria," Israeli media quoted Bennett as saying, using the Israeli government's term for the occupied West Bank. "Have no doubt: The settlement bill is leading the way to annexation."

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reacted immediately to the passage of the bill, reiterating that despite the exclusion of Clause 7, the proposed law still contravenes Israeli and international law.

Mandelblit expressed his support last week for a solution for Amona’s residents that would see them temporarily relocated to a nearby “abandoned” plot of land under the Absentee Ownership Law, with Israeli newspaper Haaretz reporting the move came only after intense pressure from the Israeli prime minister.

However, four claims were filed on Monday by Palestinians asserting ownership to the land in question, leaving just two plots directly at the proposed site where no ownership claims have been made, according to Haaretz.

Despite Mandelblit’s objections, the current version of the bill is “expected to sail through the Knesset,” in its next reading, expected to be held as early as Tuesday, according to Israeli online newspaper Times of Israel.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry harshly criticized Israel over the bill, and called Bennett’s recent statements following the election of US President-Elect Donald Trump “profoundly disturbing,” after the minister said the election spelled the end of the two-state solution and that the “era of the Palestinian state is over.”

Kerry said Israel’s right-wing government and ministers did not want and were not working towards a two-state solution, which the United States and other foreign peace brokers have been regarding for decades as the ideal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The latest report from Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said, referring to the bill, that the “Dispossession of Palestinians was never a matter contingent on this legislation, it has been integral to the settlement enterprise from its very inception and is one of the most consistent trends in Israeli policy over the decades.”

Rights group Peace Now called the proposed law “grand land robbery" on Tuesday, arguing that its passage “will not only lead to a moral deterioration by approving the theft of private lands, but will also be a devastating blow to the two-state solution as it will allow the establishment and expansion of new settlements, far from the Green Line.”

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and with some having advocated for its complete annexation.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

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