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Netanyahu backtracks on support of settlement legalization bill

Jan. 22, 2017 10:33 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2017 10:16 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- In an about face from his past support of a controversial bill which would see dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the so-called “Legalization bill” on Sunday as an “irresponsible move.”

According to Israeli news outlet Ynet, Netanyahu blamed the bill, which has also been referred to as the "Regularization bill" or the "Formalization bill," for prompting UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December, which condemned Israeli settlements and reaffirmed their complete illegality under international law.

"It's possible that the UN Security Council resolution passed because of the advancement of this legislation," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu nonetheless reiterated his commitment to settlement expansion, emphasizing that "there is no one who takes care of the settlement enterprise more than me and the Likud government. We'll continue taking care of it wisely."

In November, Israeli ministers advanced the “Legalization bill,” which would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized in addition to the Israeli government’s recognition of dozen of illegal settlement outposts.

Both opponents and supporters of the bill have said the legislation would pave to way to annexing the majority of the occupied 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 had been strategically stalled until Donald Trump was officially sworn in as president of the United States, as he has come out as a vocal supporter of Israel's illegal settlement policy.

Meanwhile, a vote on a bill seeking to annex the occupied West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim that was set to occur on Sunday was postponed at Netanyahu’s request, following reported pressure from Trump's administration.

Israel's ultra-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been keen to introduce the bill, with its introduction having also been delayed until Trump's inauguration.

Maale Adumim is the third largest settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the occupied West Bank. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli suburban city of Jerusalem, despite it being located on occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.

Calls to annex the massive settlement -- to pave the way for the annexation of the majority of the occupied West Bank -- have gained momentum among reactionary Israel’s lawmakers and ministers following the passage of UN Resolution 2334.

Netanyahu has been widely criticized for publicly claiming to advocate a two-state solution while simultaneously championing settlement policy to appeal to an increasingly right-wing government and Israeli public.

“His current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” former US Secretary of State John Kerry said in speech earlier this month. “The result is that policies of this government -- which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ -- are leading in the opposite direction, toward one state,” Kerry said.

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, with more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current Israeli government having publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state.

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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