Israeli AG Deems Bill Legalizing Settlement Building on Seized Palestinian Land Unconstitutional

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Amona, an unauthorized outpost in the West Bank, east of the Palestinian town of Ramallah, May 18, 2016.
Amona, an unauthorized outpost in the West Bank.Credit: Oded Balilty, AP

The coalition faction heads on Sunday postponed by a week a vote on a bill meant to legalize the expropriation of private Palestinian lands for settlements, after the attorney general told them the proposal was unconstitutional.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said the bill would not withstand petitions against it to the High Court of Justice, and that it would ultimately harm the settlement enterprise.

The bill aims to give legal status to the Amona outpost, which the High Court ordered evacuated and demolished by the end of the year, and parts of other settlements.

Senior Likud figures believe the coalition will not advance the bill despite its broad support in the cabinet.

The right-wing cabinet ministers have begun to examine whether an area adjacent to Amona, whose lands have been declared absentee property, can be legalized and the families in Amona moved there before the end of December.

Earlier Sunday, Likud sources said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was determined to block the passage of the bill, as he has in the past when right-wing Knesset members sought to advance it, even though Likud ministers strongly support it.

Netanyahu recently asked party members to suggest other solutions for legalizing Amona or preventing its evacuation. A senior Likud official said that if no solution was found and Amona were evacuated, the coalition would disintegrate.

During his previous term, Netanyahu allowed his ministers to support the bill in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, but blocked it from moving out of committee; it was not even submitted to the Knesset for a preliminary reading.

Amona residents plan to pressure the chairwoman of the committee, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), to put the bill to a vote. Seven out of 13 committee members – six from Habayit Hayehudi and one from Likud – are expected to vote in favor of bringing the bill to a vote in the Knesset.

“Regulating Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is the only way to solve problems such as Amona, which was established with government support,” said Habayit Hayehudi whip Shuli Moalem-Refaeli when she submitted the bill in June.

“It’s unjustified for the state to harass settlers, destroy their homes and expose them to legal action while presenting them as lawbreakers,” she stated.

The bill stipulates that Palestinian landowners will receive generous compensation, in the form of cash or alternate land, with buildings already in place on their legally approved land. The law will not allow them to object to the actual expropriation.

The settler organization Regavim has reported that 2,026 structures have been built on private Palestinian land. Israel has never addressed the legal status of these structures. The bill is intended to bypass High Court of Justice rulings and prevent discussions regarding future evacuation of settlements.

The chances of the bill moving forward are thought to be slim, because of the severe international censure it would likely trigger.

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