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Bill to annex West Bank settlements moves forward in Knesset

December 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

The so-called ‘formalization bill’ passed a preliminary reading in Israel’s Knesset yesterday evening, a law that both its supporters and opponents say would pave the way to annexing the occupied West Bank.

Leading up to the vote, a clause demanding that the symbolic Amona outpost be retroactively legalised was removed from the bill.

The bill – passing with 60 voting in favour and 49 against – would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalised.

Israeli ministers and lawmakers have promoted the bill in hopes it will prevent the evacuation of the Amona outpost, slated for demolition by 25 December, while others in the government – including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – have warned the bill would attract widespread international condemnation, and Israel’s attorney general has said that the law, if passed, would be indefensible in court.

However, the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed a version of the bill that would not be applicable to Amona.

Earlier yesterday, Netanyahu reached a compromise with champion of the bill, Education Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett to remove the clause that would have retroactively legalised the outpost, following outrage from members of the opposition who highlighted that the Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled multiple times to demolish Amona.

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

“This is a historic day in the Knesset, which went from establishing a Palestinian state to Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” Israeli media quoted Bennet as saying, using the Israeli government’s term for the occupied West Bank. “Have no doubt: The settlement bill is leading the way to annexation.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reacted immediately to the passage of the bill, reiterating that despite the exclusion of Clause 7, the proposed law still contravenes Israeli and international law.

Mandelblit expressed his support last week for a solution for Amona’s residents that would see them temporarily relocated to a nearby “abandoned” plot of land under the Absentee Ownership Law, with Israeli newspaper Haaretz reporting the move came only after intense pressure from the Israeli prime minister.

However, four claims were filed yesterday by Palestinians asserting ownership to the land in question, leaving just two plots directly at the proposed site where no ownership claims have been made, according to Haaretz.

Despite Mandelblit’s objections, the current version of the bill is “expected to sail through the Knesset”, in its next reading, expected to be held as early as today, according to Israeli online newspaper Times of Israel.