In a move critics are describing as a “land grab,” the Israeli parliament has voted to retroactively recognize thousands of illegal settlements built on private Palestinian lands. The bill has passed its first round of voting and is expected to also pass the next three rounds.
The bill has been condemned by the international community, including the United Nations envoy for the Middle East peace process and the United States, the latter of which has called for an end to the construction of more settlements. Even factions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing right-wing coalition, including Netanyahu himself, have opposed it for fear of the international repercussions of passing such an indefensible piece of legislation.
Last month, a previous version of the bill that proposed defying a Supreme Court decision ordering the evacuation of more than 300 illegal Amona settlers by Dec. 25 received the support of many of the far-right members of the coalition. But fearing the international condemnation of such an inflammatory decision, center-right members criticized going against the court.
The compromise was to go ahead with the relocation of the illegal Amona settlers to nearby land that Israel considers abandoned by its Palestinian owners, though land-ownership claims by Palestinians have already been filed with Israeli authorities.
The bill has therefore garnered even more criticism for purporting to do justice by going after one settlement – Amona – while on the same breath legitimizing thousands of previously illegally-built ones.
“There is no precedent, nothing like it, in which the Israeli government authorized a law that allows taking land from private people,” opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, told The Guardian earlier this year.
The bill also presents an obstacle to the possibility of resolving the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine with a two-state solution.
While critics decried this, Israeli far-right leader Naftali Bennett celebrated what he called a “historic day” that could put an end to any talk of two states and “spearhead the extension of (Israeli) sovereignty.”
According to estimates by prominent anti-occupation group Peace Now, the law would see 55 illegal outposts and over 4,000 housing units suddenly legalized, effectively swallowing up much of the the West Bank.
The legislation “has the objective of protecting illegal settlements built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN envoy for the Middle East peace process said, The Guardian reported. “It is a very worrying initiative. I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider such a move, which would have far-reaching legal consequences across the occupied West Bank.”
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