Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked Pushes Plan to Apply Israeli Law in West Bank Settlements

Despite Shaked’s intentions, right-wing leader Naftali Bennett says the effort does not reflect 'creeping annexation' of the settlements.

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The Elkana settlement in the West Bank.
The Elkana settlement in the West Bank.Credit: AFP
Jonathan Lis
Chaim Levinson

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday she is crafting a plan with the attorney general to apply Israeli law in the West Bank.

A committee on the plan would be established to review all Knesset laws and decide if Israeli law could immediately be implemented in the settlements through a military order.

Shaked said the initiative would replace failed efforts by her Habayit Hayehudi party in recent years to promote the so-called Norms Law, under which any law passed by the Knesset would apply to the settlements via orders by the region’s military commander.

Most such efforts known by critics as “creeping annexation” of the settlements have failed in recent years. Currently several similar bills are at the Knesset.

“We have to distinguish between enacting the Norms Law and the work I am talking about,” Shaked told Army Radio.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.Credit: Noam Moscowitz

Also speaking to Army Radio, Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett rejected the claim that Shaked’s plan meant the annexing of settlements to Israel. “There is a very big difference between annexation and equalizing legislation,” he said.

Israeli law does not apply in the West Bank. Legal construction there is based on Ottoman law, Jordanian law and Israeli military orders. The army’s legal advisers are responsible for explaining the legal situation, while the Supreme Court helps shape the interpretation.

But there has been a trend in recent years to apply Israeli law in the West Bank, both via rulings and military orders.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in the Knesset, March 28, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

There have, for example, been bills to apply Israeli land laws and building and planning laws in the West Bank. There have also been bills to apply Israeli law in Jordan Valley settlements, and to bar the evacuation of unauthorized West Bank outposts.

A bill banning discrimination in supplying products or services to settlements because of their location has also failed since it was first proposed in 2011.

During the previous Knesset, the military advocate general called on the attorney general to develop clear regulations for cases when Israeli law should be applied in the West Bank through an order by the regional military commander.

“We took the military advocate general’s letter, and it should be implemented,” Shaked said. “There will be a team that takes the laws and examines each on a case-by-case basis.”

On Sunday, Shaked made similar remarks at a meeting of the Legal Forum for Israel. “There should be an equalizing of conditions. Basic Laws do not apply in Judea and Samaria, and my goal is that within a year there will be equal conditions either through military order or legislation,” she said, referring to the West Bank.

As Shaked put it, “It’s important that the justice minister has political power and a capability.”

Bennett, for his part, cited what he considered anomalies; for example, when a pregnant woman can be fired in Ma’aleh Adumim in the West Bank but not in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv.

“It’s no secret that I believe that Israeli law should be applied in Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ofra, Ariel, Beit El,” he said, listing a settlement bloc and settlements in the West Bank.

Analysts say there are advantages and disadvantages to the arrangement in which Israeli law does not apply in the West Bank.

For example, in the previous Knesset, Habayit Hayehudi pushed an initiative to apply labor laws in the West Bank to help pregnant women. But it backtracked when it became clear that the legislation would improve Palestinian rights and add an economic burden to employers in the settlements.

Also, three months ago the Knesset approved the first reading of two bills that the opposition described as “creeping annexation.”

The first bill allows tax breaks in Israel proper for earnings obtained in the territories. The second bill establishes a new tax-payment mechanism for people who buy homes in the settlements; they would not have to pay both the Civil Administration and the Israel Tax Authority.

The surprise approval took place early one morning and the bills entered the next stage – Knesset committees.

“While the world boycotts the settlements and their products, Israel encourages investments in the settlements,” MK Merav Michaeli, Zionist Union’s floor leader in the Knesset, said at the time.

“The Netanyahu government is implementing Bennett's ideology and is imposing a creeping annexation in the territories. It will take years to fix the damage that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is doing to Israel and the world.”

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