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MK penalized for opposing outpost legalization bill amid outcry on draft law

Dec. 6, 2016 5:11 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2016 3:46 P.M.)
Likud MK Benny Begin, left, and coalition head and Likud member David Bitan
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Likud member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Benny Begin was suspended from a Knesset committee on Tuesday for being the sole member of the coalition to vote against a bill which would see Israeli settlement outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land retroactively legalized, as critics slammed the proposed law as a "war crime" and a severe impediment to the peace process.

The coalition that makes up the Israeli government is comprised of the Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu, and Jewish Home parties, which would have unanimously moved forward the so-called “Legalization bill” in Monday evening’s preliminary vote, had veteran MK Begin not voted down the law, which has been condemned by Israel’s own attorney general.

According to Israeli media, Begin was penalized for his vote by being suspended from the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee of the Knesset. Head of the coalition and Likud party member David Bitan reportedly wrote in a letter to Begin that the suspension would last three weeks.

The “moderate” Kulanu party had initially opposed the bill when a previous version included a clause that would retroactively legalize the Amona outpost, which the Israeli Supreme Court slated for demolition by Dec. 25.

The party was instrumental in striking a last-minute deal that removed the clause, with Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon taking credit for “protecting the rule of law” by insisting that the bill honor the Supreme Court decision, in spite of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reiterating that even the revised version of the law would contravene international law and be indefensible in Israeli court.

The current version of the legislation plans to temporarily relocate the Amona evacuees to a nearby plot of land under Israel’s Absentee Ownership Law, though Haaretz reported on Monday that Palestinian landowners have already come forward claiming the land in question.

Bill condemned as ‘legal travesty’ and ‘war crime’

United Nations envoy for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov released a statement Tuesday warning that the law would be “a step towards the annexation of the West Bank” -- a fact that supporters of the bill have celebrated.

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

Mladenov highlighted that such a move would have “far-reaching legal consequences for Israel, across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace,” reiterating that “all settlement activities are illegal under international law and run counter to the Middle East Quartet position that settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace."

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) also reacted with outrage to the advancement of the law, which Israeli rights group Peace Now said would result in the retroactive legalization of 55 illegal outposts comprising 4,000 housing units, and lead to the expropriation of 8,000 dunams (1,977 acres) of private Palestinian lands.

PLO Executive Committee member Haneen Ashrawi strongly denounced the bill’s approval as a “legal travesty” as well as a “war crime” as defined by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to convene an emergency meeting “in light of Israel’s disastrous settlement activities and to undertake serious punitive measures against Israel.”

“(Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing extremist government is deliberately escalating its illegal settlement enterprise and stealing Palestinian land and resources,” she wrote, warning against the damaging effects of settlement expansion on the two-state solution.

As Israel has entrenched its presence in the occupied West Bank, 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.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right and called for an escalation of settlement building, as confirmed by the passage of the bill that is “expected to sail through the Knesset,” in its next reading, according to Times of Israel.

“Israel’s actions are provoking grave violence and instability in an already-volatile region; the international community must intervene immediately before it is too late,” Ashrawi insisted.

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat also released a statement, noting Israel’s “long history of attempts to ‘legalize’ war crimes,” and also demanded action from the UNSC and the ICC.

“This latest step shows the extremist Israeli government's confidence that the international community will not act. This culture of impunity continues to destroy the prospects to end the Israeli occupation and achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”
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