Israeli Ministers Approve Bill That Would Legalize 66 West Bank Outposts

According to proposed law, state would have two years to decide on whether to legalize outposts ■ Law could have international ramifications that would expose Israel to significant risks, attorney general says

Alumot outpost in the West Bank, November, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the advancement of a bill that would authorize more than 60 Israeli outposts and settlement neighborhoods built in the West Bank over the last 20 years.

According to the proposed legislation, initiated by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), the authorization would be temporary and the state would have to decide on whether to legalize these outposts within two years of the law’s passing. Until then, any demolitions in these outposts would be suspended, except in cases in which a direct order is given by the prime minister or defense minister, with the cabinet’s approval.

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The bill stipulates that during those two years the state would be required to provide these outposts with municipal services, including hooking them up to water and electricity and providing maintenance and garbage removal. The law also allows the finance minister to guarantee mortgages given for the purchase of apartments in these outposts.

The bill was approved unanimously by the committee, which also decided that these steps would be followed until a special task force would decide on the question of legalizing the outposts.

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The law, even if approved, will have marginal effects, since enforcement in these outposts is already suspended, pending High Court of Justice decisions on petitions opposing the so-called land-grab law that would enable the legalization of outposts even if these were built on private Palestinian land. In the meantime, the sides agreed that the Civil Administration would not demolish any illegal structures that may come under the proposed law.

It should be noted that most of the established outposts are already hooked up to water and electricity, usually via adjacent settlements. The authorities see these outposts as recognized settlements and budgets are routinely transferred to them, both from the government and local West Bank councils. In some cases, the local councils erect illegal public buildings, as revealed several times by Haaretz, with no one enforcing the law against them.

The new bill aims at forcing the government to make a decision regarding these outposts within two years, but since the government has a majority in the Knesset, even if no decision is made in two years, the deadline could be extended.

In any case, a High Court of Justice ruling on the law’s constitutionality is also required. If the new proposed law regarding settlement authorization is deemed unconstitutional, as believed by the attorney general, it will not be possible to resolve the status of these outposts.

At the cabinet meeting, Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri expressed vehement opposition to this bill, saying it was unconstitutional. He believes that passing this law would cause a sweeping violation of property rights and cause many problems related to equality before the law and the rule of law. He said the law could have international ramifications that would expose Israel to significant risks.

Habayit Hayehudi lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset, February 13, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin welcomed the law's approval. “It’s time to stop treating settlers as second-class citizens. We’ll repair a long-lasting wrong,” said Bennett.

Shaked said they had changed the discourse from one of evacuation to one of regulation. “There’s no reason these people have to live under a constant threat of evacuation. Terrorists will know we’re here to stay, and attacks will not deter us.”

“Strong settlements are the best answer to terror and murder,” said Levin. “These settlers deserve all municipal services like any other citizen.”

Elkin expressed his hope that the law would pass quickly. “It’s our moral duty to help settlements which were established with the state’s help, and return them to a normal life. We’ll continue with resolve to develop these communities.”