Image by Carlos Latuff
The Israeli Knesset on Monday passed a controversial new law that allows the Israeli government to expropriate private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, making more than a dozen Israeli settlements legal under Israeli law.
The unprecedented bill passed late Monday night with 60 votes in favor to 52 against, according to Palestinian government news agency Wafa. The legislation, refered to as the “Regularization Bill,” legalizes more than 4,000 settler outpost units under Israeli law, and has been dubbed the first step toward de facto annexation.
It is the first time in history that the Knesset has imposed Israeli civil law the occupied West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian rule.
Bayit Yehudi party MK Bezalel Smotrich, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the law was “a historic step toward the completion of a process that we plan to lead; the application of full Israeli sovereignty on all the cities and communities in Judea and Samaria,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
Following the bill’s passing, Education Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted one word: “Revolution.”
The law is in direct contravention with international law, which deems all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal.
Following the vote, international and local human rights groups strongly condemned the new legislation.
Meanwhile, the European Union canceled a summit between Israel and the European Union scheduled for Feb, 28, according to Israeli daily Haaretz. The daily reported that France, Sweden, Ireland, The Netherlands and Finland publicly “expressed their reservations regarding the summit,” and that “some countries argued that holding a meeting at this time would be akin to rewarding Israel for its bad conduct.”
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights NGO, called the bill a “slap in the face of the international community.”
“The Knesset today proved yet again that Israel has no intention of ending its control over the Palestinians or its theft of their land. Lending a semblance of legality to this ongoing act of plunder is a disgrace for the state and its legislature,” the group said in a statement.
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Country Director at Human Rights Watch, said the legislation, “reflects Israel’s manifest disregard of international law.”
“The bill further entrenches the current reality in the West Bank of de facto permanent occupation where Israeli settlers and Palestinians living in the same territory are subject to ‘separate and unequal’ systems of laws, rules and services,” Shakir said. “Israeli officials driving settlement policy should know that the Trump administration cannot shield them from the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court, where the prosecutor continues to examine unlawful Israeli settlement activity.”
On Monday, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) said passing such a law would amount to a “declaration of war.”
After the vote, PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi expressed concern for what the law could mean for future land annexation by Israel.
“Such a law signals the final annexation of the West Bank. Not only does it attempt to retroactively legalize the settlements and outposts built on Palestinian private property, it also gives clear license to the settlers to embark on a land grab in the occupied West Bank with impunity,” she said.
“Israel is authorizing the unlawful act of land theft and its illegal settlement activities which are a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and an egregious violation of international law and conventions,” she said. “ All settlements are illegal, whether on private property or on state land that belongs to the Palestinian collective as a whole.”
“This also proves beyond doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist, racist coalition government are deliberately breaking the law and destroying the very foundations of the two-state solution and the chances for peace and stability.”
Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesperson for the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department said the law essentially “legalized theft of Palestinian land” adding that the legislation “negates peace and the possibility of the two-state solution.”
“Looting is illegal,” Abu Eid said. “All Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal and a war crime regardless of any law passed by the Israeli parliament or any decision taken by any Israeli judge.”
Peace Now, an Israeli NGO aimed at promoting a two-state solution, strongly condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being “willing to compromise the future of both Israelis and Palestinians in order to satisfy a small group of extreme settlers for the sake of his own political survival” and called on the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn the legislation.
“By passing this law, Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books. By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two-state solution. In light of this madness, we must act as the responsible adults and turn to the Supreme Court in order to strike down this dangerous law,” the group said in a statement.