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Israeli committee approves outpost 'Legalization bill,' paving way for final vote

Jan. 31, 2017 7:24 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 1, 2017 7:56 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The widely condemned outpost “Legalization bill” passed its final committee vote on Tuesday, according to Israeli media, only necessitating one more round of votes for it to be adopted into Israeli legislation. The bill is expected to retroactively legalize dozens of Israeli outposts -- considered illegal under Israeli domestic law -- built on private Palestinian land and confiscate thousands of dunams of Palestinian land.

According to The Times of Israel, the bill was approved by a slim vote of seven in favor and six against in the Knesset’s Law Committee and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a special joint committee formed to push through the bill toward its final vote in the Knesset.

The controversial bill is expected on Monday to undergo its second and third readings, which are typically voted on in the same parliamentary meeting and would result in the bill becoming law.

The Times of Israel reported on Sunday that the bill states that any settlements built in the West Bank “in good faith” without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians could be officially recognized by Israel pending “minimal” proof of governmental support in its establishment.

The news outlet added that the Israeli government would be able to appropriate land if its Palestinian owners were not identified, or offer compensation packages to the landowners -- whether by leasing the land or offering alternate plots of land.

Both opponents and supporters of the bill have said the legislation would pave the way to annexing the majority of the West Bank.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has repeatedly stated that the bill contravenes both Israeli and international law and that the Israeli Supreme Court would likely strike it down, while Israeli officials have also reportedly expressed worry that the passage of the bill could land Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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, Ynet reported that Israeli officials had met with settlers from the illegal Ofra outpost to inform them of Netanyahu’s determination to pass the Legalization bill into law, as well approve the construction of 68 housing units there.

Nine homes in Ofra have been slated for evacuation by February -- like the neighboring outpost of Amona -- with Ofra settlers announcing that they were planning a hunger strike outside the Knesset to obtain government recognition. However, the hunger strike has been postponed pending the outcome of the Legalization bill vote.

Rights groups have highlighted that, while settler outposts constructed in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also built in direct violation of international law.

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.

Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) urged the ICC in a statement on Tuesday to open up an “immediate investigation” into Israel’s settlement activities in the Palestinian territory.

“Throughout the first month of 2017, Israel has pushed for the construction of more than 3,200 new settlement units and has concurrently demolished about 30 Palestinian homes, which led to the forced displacement of close to 40 Palestinian families comprising 240 people, more than half were children,” the statement read.

“The commitment of Netanyahu's government to colonization and segregation and its determination to defy international law and resolutions continues to destroy the prospects of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine. Hence, the Palestinian leadership will pursue all necessary political, legal and diplomatic steps in order to hold Israel accountable and to bring justice to our people,” the statement continued, adding that this included documenting Israeli settlement activities and sending the information to the ICC.

“Israel continues to systematically violate the rights of the Palestinian people and to give a green light and support for settlers to take over more Palestinian land and to terrorize the Palestinian population. This immoral situation shouldn't continue to be tolerated by the International community. It has to end.”
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