With Netanyahu’s backing, controversial legislation that would recognize 4,000 West Bank housing units set to become law
The Knesset this week is set to pass into law a controversial bill that would legalize some 4,000 housing units in the West Bank built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
The so-called Regulation Bill was put on ice in December until US President Donald Trump entered the White House on January 20.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) to bring the proposed legislation to its second and third readings in the plenum this week, according to Hebrew reports.
A special Knesset committee created to hammer out the legislation was set to vote on its final formulation on Monday morning, clearing the bill for its final votes in the plenum as early as Monday afternoon, though a final date has not yet been confirmed.
The votes come ahead of the court-ordered demolition of the Amona outpost and nine buildings in the nearby West Bank settlement of Ofra by February 8. The legislation was not expected to circumvent the final court order on Amona but could avert the demolitions of other structures for which a final ruling has not yet been handed down.
The residents of Ofra, who had planned to launch a hunger strike this week, called off the protest after the government announced it would advance the law, amid hopes it would annul the demolition orders, the Ynet news website reported.
The legislation, which was approved by the Knesset in its first reading, has faced fierce backlash from the international community, the Obama administration, and Israel’s attorney general.
The legislation stipulates that settlement construction in the West Bank that was carried out in good faith, without the knowledge that the land was privately owned, would be recognized by the government provided the settlers could show some kind of state support in establishing themselves at the site — which in some cases could be as minimal as having access to public infrastructure.
Under the bill, the government will be able to appropriate land for its own use if the owners are not known. If the owners are known, they will be eligible for either yearly damages amounting to 125 percent of the value of leasing the land, a larger financial package valued at 20 years’ worth of leasing the plots, or alternate plots.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the Regulation Bill breaches both local and international law, and indicated that the High Court is likely to strike it down. Some officials, including Netanyahu — who voted for the bill along with all but one member of his coalition — have warned that the law could see Israeli officials prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The final votes on the bill come a week before the Amona outpost — home to some 40 families, and established in 1996 — was set to be evacuated.
In a deal struck last month with the government, the outpost residents agreed to move peacefully to an adjacent plot. But the deal was complicated after a Palestinian claimed ownership of the nearby plot, prompting the High Court to stop all work on the site.
The deal had apparently run into trouble even before the court ruling, with Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz reportedly telling ministers from his Likud party on Sunday that the agreement with Amona residents could not be implemented because of legal complications.
The lack of a clear solution has once again raised the possibility of a forced evacuation of the Amona settlers and fears that violence could result.
The residents of Amona last week renewed their protest against the government and vowed to resist the evacuation after the compromise appeared to fall through.