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Palestinian MKs say new law passed by the Knesset aims to annex West Bank

Jan. 17, 2017 7:50 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 18, 2017 4:56 P.M.)
Israel's parliament, the Knesset. (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial bill on Tuesday which would allow verdicts from military court proceedings in the occupied West Bank to be submitted as evidence in Israeli civilian courts, a move which critics claim is another step aiming to illegally annex the West Bank by applying Israeli domestic laws in the territory.

During a debate over the bill -- proposed by MK Anat Berko from the ruling Likud party -- opposition MKs argued that the bill constitutes an extension of the Israeli occupation and the government's control over the West Bank, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

MK Zuheir Bahloul from the left-wing Zionist Union party was quoted by Haaretz as saying the bill would be a “de facto annexation of military court verdicts to civilian courts,” adding that the Israeli government would essentially be “applying Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, which is occupied territory.”

Previously, Israeli military rule, which Palestinians in the West Bank are subjected to, was separate from any civil legal proceedings inside Israel.

The new bill would act to synchronize these formerly distinct systems and allow Israeli civilians to use verdicts made in the military courts for civilian cases against Palestinians.

Berko reportedly argued in the Knesset debate that the law would “make it easier for victims of terror to demand compensation from convicted terrorists in civilian courts since they will not have to begin the legal process from zero, rather can base on evidence already produced in military courts."

However, since the Palestinian territory is under a military occupation, Israeli authorities are mandated by international law to follow the local legal systems already extant in the occupied territory, which in the case of Palestine falls within three legal systems: Ottoman, British, and Jordanian law.

Any application of Israeli domestic legislation or courts would be in violation of international law.

The decision is an unprecedented move by Israeli authorities and follows a right-wing upsurge in the Knesset with ultra-right ministers routinely pushing for the annexation of the West Bank.

Berko dismissed claims of annexation, claiming that “on the contrary, the law aims to fix discrimination [in the courts] in favor of the Palestinians, because while Palestinians can sue Israelis for civilian compensation based on a criminal conviction, Israelis cannot do the same to Palestinians,” adding that the bill would “balance” the legal situation.

However, Israeli criminal convictions are part of the country’s domestic law, which governs Israeli citizens, while Palestinians are under the Israeli military's jurisdiction, which is separate from any civilian legal proceedings in Israel.

MK Usama Saadi from the Joint List, representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, was quoted in Haaretz as saying that "this law is a continuation of a series of laws that we will witness in the near future.”

“Call the child by its real name and don't stand for a laundry of words - we're talking about a creeping annexation,” he added.

At the end of last year, Israeli ministers advanced the “Legalization bill,” also known as the “regulation” or “formalization” bill, which would see thousands of dunams of privately owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized.

Opponents of the bill also claimed the legislation was another strategy to annex the West Bank.

The legislation passed its first reading in the Knesset, but still needs to pass its second and third readings to become law. However, it is believed that the controversial bill has been strategically stalled until Donald Trump is official sworn in as president of the United States, as he has come out as a vocal supporter of Israel's illegal settlement policy.
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