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Netanyahu spars with right-wing allies over timeline of outpost 'Legalization bill' vote

Feb. 5, 2017 10:40 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 6, 2017 10:45 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Tensions arose on Sunday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some far-right elements of his ruling coalition over the timeline for a vote on the controversial “Legalization bill,” which would provide retroactive government recognition to a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli media reported on Sunday that Netanyahu had requested that a final vote on the “Legalization bill” initially scheduled for Monday be postponed, as Israel’s Army Radio reported that Netanyahu told coalition party leaders that he “would like to coordinate the issue with the (US President Donald) Trump administration,” likely during a visit to Washington, DC scheduled in 10 days.

Israeli officials have openly stated that they expect a Trump presidency to facilitate the dramatic expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, while consolidating right-wing demands to annex the West Bank.

However, Netanyahu has faced resistance from members of his own coalition, who insist on the bill -- also known as the “Regularization” or “Formalization bill” -- be voted on and passed into law as quickly as possible.

Senior members of the ultra-right Jewish Home party told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the bill would be brought to a vote on Monday as planned.

“Half a million residents of Samaria, Judea and the Jordan Valley deserve normal lives just like residents of Kfar Saba and Tel Aviv,” Jewish Home said in a statement quoted by the Times of Israel on Sunday, using an Israeli term for the West Bank.

“Fifty years late, the Regulation Bill will come up tomorrow and pass in the Knesset in order to give them this normalcy,” the party added. “We are certain that all members of the coalition will lend their support to make that happen.”

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.

Knesset member Tzipi Livni criticized the bill for giving a poor image of Israel on the international stage.

“The ‘legalization law’...tells the world that the government of Israel supports the expropriation of private land and does not care about international law,” Haaretz quoted her as saying on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Regional Cooperation Minister Yitzhak Hanegbi, a member of the right-wing Likud party, denounced the bill as “political manipulation” to make Israeli settlers and their supporters forget that Netanyahu was unable to stop the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona on Wednesday.

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 front of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Netanyahu has changed his position several times regarding the bill, calling it an “irresponsible move” likely to provoke international backlash in January, before reiterating his commitment to illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory.

In January, Netanyahu also pledged to lift all restrictions on settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem and to advance settlement expansion in the West Bank. More than 6,000 housing units have been approved for construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank by the Israeli government since the beginning of 2017.

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.

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 publicly stating their opposition to a Palestinian state.
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