British PM May Warns Netanyahu: Palestinian Land-grab Bill Is Unhelpful

After Netanyahu announces vote on bill which would legalize expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land to go ahead, May says it will make things more difficult for Israel's friends.

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Downing Street, London, February 6, 2017.
Peter Nicholls/AP

LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that an Israeli bill legalizing the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land is unhelpful and would make things more difficult for Israel's friends around the world, Haaretz has learned. 

After his meeting with May on Monday afternoon, Netanyahu told reporters that the vote slated for Monday on the bill will go ahead as planned. He added that he had informed the White House of his intention of putting the legislation to a vote and said he will return from the U.K. on Monday night to participate.

"I never said that I want to delay the vote on this law," Netanyahu said. "I said that I will act according to our national interest. That requires that we do not surprise our friends and keep them updated – and the American administration was been updated."

Minutes before the meeting, May's spokesman told the British press that the prime minister planned to tell Netanyahu she opposes settlement activity in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

While Netanyahu said that May did raise the issue of construction in the settlements, he stressed that the issue “was not discussed in detail, to say the least.” He said he told her that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and that preoccupation with them is a distraction from the main problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the start of their meeting, May told Netanyahu that the British government is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu told May that he shares her desire for peace in the region, but avoided voicing an explicit support of the two-state solution.

Netanyahu also asked May to stop the British Foreign Office from funding left-wing Israeli organizations, first and foremost the veterans' group Breaking the Silence, which responded to Netanyahu's remarks by saying the British government does not currently provide them with any funding.

Netanyahu and May's meeting was their first since May took office in July after her predecessor David Cameron stepped down over the results of the Brexit vote held the previous month. Besides the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the two leaders discussed Iran, the war in Syria and Israeli-British relations following the Brexit.

The bill would allow the state to declare private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” as government property, and deny its owners the right to use or hold those lands until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.

The purpose of the bill, the revised version says, is to “regulate settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and allow its continued establishment and development.”

The measure provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose lands will be seized. A landowner can receive an annual usage payment of 125 percent of the land’s value as determined by an assessment committee for renewable periods of 20 years, or an alternate plot of land if this is possible, whichever he chooses.