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Outpost legalization bill passes first Knesset reading

Dec. 8, 2016 3:05 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 8, 2016 9:16 P.M.)
The Israeli Knesset (AFP/Eric Feferberg, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a first reading of the so-called “Legalization 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, Israeli media reported on Wednesday evening.

The Legalization bill, which has also been referred to as the "Formalization bill" or "Regulation bill," received 58 votes in support and 51 against, with Likud MK Benny Begin once again opposing the bill despite having being suspended from a Knesset committee on Tuesday for being the sole member of the right-wing parliamentary coalition to not vote in favor of the draft legislation.

The bill would need to pass through two more rounds of voting in the Knesset before becoming law.

Education Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett expressed great satisfaction regarding the outcome of the first reading, calling it “a day of extreme pride,” and a step towards broader annexation of the occupied West Bank.

“It is a day on which half a million (Jewish Israeli) residents of Judea and Samaria and all Israeli citizens can raise their heads in the knowledge that not only are we truly the people of this land, but we are also the people according to the law of the State of Israel,” Bennett was quoted by Israeli news outlet Ynet as saying, using an Israeli term for the West Bank.

“The next step is to impose Israeli sovereignty on Maale Adumim,” Bennett added, referring to the third largest illegal Israeli settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the occupied West Bank. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli city that would remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement reached with Palestinians as part of a two-state solution.

Bennett sarcastically thanked Israeli rights group Peace Now for its opposition to the bill -- a draft legislation which Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has repeatedly stated contravenes Israeli and international law.

“Peace Now sent small mosquitoes in our direction -- Supreme Court and more Supreme Court -- and today, thanks to the best people in Peace Now, we are not fighting these mosquitoes but rather draining the swamp,” Bennett said.

A compromise was reached regarding the bill between Bennett and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week, allowing for the bill to be considered by the Knesset on condition that a clause, which would have retroactively legalized the outpost of Amona, be removed.

The revised version allows the state of Israel to give settlers “usage rights” to private Palestinian land, but not ownership rights, while Palestinians who can prove ownership of land would receive compensation. The bill only applies to settlements established with government assistance.

According to a statement released by Peace Now in late November, should the bill pass into law, 55 outposts built on 3,067 dunams (758 acres) of Palestinian land would become legal under Israeli law.

Opposition lawmaker Tzipi Livni was quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday as denouncing the bill, stating that Netanyahu "and his friends" were "legitimizing theft."

The bill has garnered outrage from the international community, with the European Union stating on Thursday that, should the bill pass, it would “be the first law adopted by the Knesset on the status of land in the West Bank, an occupied territory not under its jurisdiction.”

“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the two-state solution impossible, the European Union reiterates its strong opposition, in line with the position of the Middle East Quartet, to Israel's settlement policy and all actions taken in this context,” the EU statement read.

Meanwhile, Ynet reported on Wednesday that the Israeli government was considering a number of relocation alternatives for settlers from the Amona outpost, which the Israeli Supreme Court has slated for demolition by Dec. 25.

The proposals reportedly include the temporary transfer of part of the settlers to land near the illegal settlement of Ofra in the Ramallah district of the West Bank, and of the rest of the settlers to Shvut Rachel, an illegal settlement outpost in the Nablus district. However, the Amona settlers have repeatedly expressed their refusal to move from their outpost, which is built on privately owned Palestinian land.

All Israeli settlements and outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory are deemed illegal under international law, despite the Israeli government’s official recognition of the some 196 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground.

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 as many Knesset members have called for an escalation of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, and some advocating for its complete annexation.

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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