Analysis

Israel's Land-grab Law Is a Brazen, Decisive Step Toward Annexation

If Israel pushes through the so-called 'Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria Law,' it could send the country’s leaders to the dock in the International Criminal Court

File photo: A Jewish settler looks at the West Bank urban settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, from the E-1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, in December 2012.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

A government representative said on Sunday at a discussion in the High Court of Justice on the Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria Law, that debate over the legislation cannot be based on international law – only on Israeli law. (The legislation in question, the so-called land-grab law, would legalize the status of settlements partially built on privately owned Palestinian land.)

If this opinion is accepted, that would mean that the territories in the West Bank have become Israel’s territories. The government is adopting this policy despite its heavy diplomatic price, and doing so in the knowledge that the act contradicts international law, as interpreted by the High Court.

The discussion and petitions against the land-expropriation bill are unique, and do not constitute just another petition against a Knesset law. The legislation further intensifies the focus on the status of the territories in the West Bank. Are they under military control, subject to the international law that applies to such territories – or are they the territories of the State of Israel?

The government prefers to leave this question open and vague: to pretend to the world that it administers these lands as territory under military control. And it does so as if Israel were the owner – in order to implement Israeli interests in them at the expense of Palestinian interests, and to fundamentally change the situation on the ground, with the aim of creeping annexation.

What prevents Israel from actual annexation is the awareness that such an act is against international law and will get us into big trouble with the world. The current legislation deviates from the usual policy by annexing from the "diving board," as it were: by directly applying a Knesset law to the territories and to ownership rights, those of Palestinians too, and not only those of Israeli citizens.

Using legislation to throw sand in people’s eyes is not an everyday occurrence, but neither is it very rare. The land-grab law is trying to conceal the fact that this is a matter of rivalry between Jews who do not live in Israel proper and Palestinian residents of the territories, and that the settlement they are trying to establish and develop is Jewish settlement. The law is trying to sell beads to the Palestinian Indians when it declares arrangements for the takeover of their private land as temporary.

What is rare is the outright brazenness of the claim being made on behalf of the government, to the effect that in a dispute over private land there is a preference for those who didn’t behave legally over the legal law-abiding owners. Why is this? Because the former are Jews and the latter are Palestinians. There’s no greater contradiction to the principles of equality and the rule of law.

It is relatively rare for the Knesset to be led by an extremist “Smotrich-like” approach, characterized by the willingness to crudely trample the rights of the Palestinians, and also – and mainly – the willingness to champion a move that contradicts the basic interests of the government itself. Such a move reveals Israel’s annexation policy to everyone, contradicts the government’s claims that the settlement project doesn’t harm the Palestinian residents and endangers Israel’s international standing.

Even worse, this step is liable to send the country’s leaders to the dock in the International Criminal Court, since the legislation constitutes proof that Israel sends its inhabitants to territories being held in contradistinction to international criminal law.

Another issue is that of the legal representation of the government. It is very rare for the attorney general to express unequivocal opposition to a proposed Knesset law, even refusing to defend it, and also to explain his reasons for that, as is the case here. It’s just as rare that a private attorney rather than the attorney general is representing the government in court.

There is now a concern that the permission given by the attorney general to use a private attorney will become common practice, which would destroy the post of the attorney general. The government can always find someone to represent it, even in cases of its most bizarre positions. If such representation is possible when the attorney general believes the decision or law is indefensible – who will heed his advice?

Now all that remains is to see if the steps being taken against the High Court, which are meant to terrorize it, especially in connection with the territories, will bear rotten fruit.