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Israel approves bill obligating businesses to publicly state refusal to serve settlements

Feb. 21, 2017 9:30 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 22, 2017 5:55 P.M.)
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, though not by the Israeli government (AFP/ Menahem Kahan, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli parliament, the Knesset, approved legislation on Tuesday that would obligate businesses in Israel to make public on their premises their refusal to provide services to residents of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move which critics say is the latest of a series of Israeli laws centered on the “practical annexation” of the Palestinian territory.

The legislation, initiated by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli from the ultraright Jewish Home party, added an amendment to the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Bill, which protects customers from being discriminated against by Israeli businesses based on their location of residence, according to a statement released by the Knesset.

The statement added that the legislation also aims to modify the 1981 Consumer Protection Law, which prohibits businesses from “misleading the consumer regarding the location to which the services or assets would be provided.”

If a business fails to publicly post that they do not offer services to Israeli settlements, the owners could face a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,660).

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, an article in the amendment “specifies that its purpose is to help settlers address the refusal by many business owners to cross the border out of security concerns or ideology.”

The Joint List -- a political bloc representing parties of Palestinian citizens of Israel -- strongly condemned the bill, with MK Masud Ganaim saying that “on its face, this bill seeks to promote justice and equality, but it`s impossible to do so while at the same time giving a stamp of approval to an occupied area and to lend a hand to creeping annexation.”

“This bill seeks to provide legitimization for occupied territory. This bill acknowledges this area as part of the State of Israel, and it isn’t,” he added.

Meanwhile MK Dov Khenin said that the bill was the latest of a series of laws which “attempt to promote politics of practical annexation.”

“They don`t do it explicitly but they actually annex these areas. They apply norms of settlements within the State of Israel on lands outside the State of Israel. There is an attempt to mislead the public,” Khenin said.

However, Moalem-Rafaeli said during the Knesset debate that the legislation would “benefit those who live in Beit El and in the same breath those who live in Tayibe,” meaning that the legislation would benefit Israeli settlers residing in the West Bank in contravention to international law in addition to Palestinian-majority towns in Israel.

”But the Arab MKs are not interested in taking care of their voters, but rather in harming the settlers. They would rather take out two eyes from the Arab public -- the most important thing is that one of the settlers` eyes will be taken out,” Moalem-Refaeli added.

While the international community has strongly condemned Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land, including passing UNSC Resolution 2334 in December last year, Israeli officials have shifted further to the right with some politicians openly calling for the complete annexation of the West Bank.

Earlier this month, the Knesset passed into law the contested outpost “Regularization bill,” granting official Israeli governmental recognition to more than a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank established on private Palestinian lands, as observers warned of the potentially disastrous effects of such legislation on Palestinians and on hopes of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli settlements, while considered illegal under international law, are authorized in Israeli law. However, unauthorized Israeli outposts are considered illegal even under Israeli law despite their status often being retroactively legalized by the Israeli government.

The Regularization law states that any settlements built in the occupied 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 and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

As it stands, the law would affect the status of 16 outposts, although Israeli media reports indicated that more could be included in the future. Critics have strongly decried the legislation, highlighting that it could be another step bringing Israel closer to the annexation of the West Bank.

In 2015, the European Union approved measures that would label products originating from illegal Israeli settlements.

"Since the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are not part of the Israeli territory according to international law, the indication 'product from Israel' is considered to be incorrect and misleading in the sense of the referenced legislation," the EU said at the time.

At the time, Israeli authorities strongly denounced the measures and were accused of targeting EU-donated humanitarian aid structures in Palestinian communities in the West Bank for demolition in response to the decision. However, no officials have publicly linked the demolitions to the EU regulations.

Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israeli settlers reside in illegal settlements scattered across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fast-tracking settlement construction and approving thousands of more settler housing units since the election of US President Donald Trump, despite routine condemnation from the international community.
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