Fearing International Ire, Netanyahu Blocks Annexation – but Promotes Applying Israeli Laws to Settlements

Israel's 'creeping annexation': While the premier bars territorial annexation bills, the government passes laws that apply specifically and immediately across the Green Line

Construction at the settlement of Ma'ale Adumin in 2017.
\ Gil Cohen-Magen

It’s doubtful any of the Likud members who attended this week’s party caucus this week was surprised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that he was discussing the future of the settlements with the United States. In recent months Netanyahu has repeatedly issued similar declarations to block bills liable to generate criticism of Israel.

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Netanyahu took care to use this argument only in closed forums like the Likud ministers’ forum or the meeting of coalition party heads, and managed to prevent votes on bills just before they went to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. But this week, for the first time, he chose a more public setting for his remarks, leading the White House to issue a fierce denial of the “false reports.”

The current Netanyahu government has always pushed for a significant change in the status of the settlements, to only partial success. Alongside attempts at annexation, the cabinet and the Knesset have taken steps to apply Israeli law to the settlements and to improve the settlers’ living conditions. The opposition calls this “creeping annexation.”

“There’s an anomaly regarding Judea and Samaria,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset Monday. “Did you know, for example, that the Disabled Accessibility Law doesn’t apply to Judea and Samaria? Nor does the Holocaust Survivors Law. Why should someone be discriminated against just because of where he lives? I don’t recall that he pays less tax or does less reserve duty. They’re always surprised that we came to rule and to advance what we believe in.”

A Ma'aleh Adumim neighborhood in 2014.
Amar Awad/Reuters

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During this Knesset term, Netanyahu blocked several territorial annexation bills. MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) sponsored bills to apply the state’s laws, jurisdiction and administration to the settlements. Bills to annex Ma’aleh Adumim, to bring Jerusalem-area settlements under the city’s jurisdiction and to roll back the disengagement from Gaza are just some of the proposals submitted almost every week to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and rejected every time.

Under international law, only the head of the army’s Central Command can translate a law passed by the Knesset into military orders that apply to the settlements, and that does not happen with every law.

This government, however, has passed laws that applied specifically and immediately across the Green Line. On Monday night the Knesset passed a bill that applies the Council for Israeli Higher Education Law to academic institutions in the territories. As a result, the parallel council that had been overseeing those institutions is being abolished. Bennett made it clear that the move could pave the way to establishing a medical school at Ariel University.

A few weeks ago the Agriculture Ministry submitted a bill that would allow the transfer of egg quotas from poultry growers in the territories to those in Israel proper. This option is not possible in other industries, such as dairy farming, which operates separately in Israel and in the territories. The agriculture minister is Uri Ariel of Habayit Hayehudi.

In January 2017 the Knesset passed a law that makes the rulings of military courts in the territories admissible evidence in civil proceedings in Israeli courts. The move was aimed at making it easier for terror victims to sue for compensation in civil proceedings, even though the attorney general had previously said that the move was contrary to the principles of international law.

In March two government bills were approved in preliminary reading. One would allow settlers to apply tax breaks given within the Green Line to profits earned in the territories. The other would create a new payment mechanism for homebuyers in the settlements that will prevent their having to make double payments to both the Civil Administration and the Income Tax Authority. Both bills were approved in a surprise, early-morning vote and were sent to committees for processing.

“While the world is rejecting and boycotting the settlements and their products, the State of Israel is encouraging investment in the settlements,” said MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) at the time.

In February 2017 the Knesset passed a law requiring– the identification of businesses that do not make deliveries or service calls to the settlements. The regulations to accompany this law are expected to call for the posting of signs near every cash register in a business that declares that it doesn’t service these communities.

The law does not only apply to refusal to service the settlements, but also to businesses refusing to service outlying communities or those near the Gaza border. One of the clauses in the law, however, says specifically that it aims to help settlement residents cope with the refusal of business owners to cross the Green Line to provide service for ideological or security reasons.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has, during the past month, successfully introduced a new procedure in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which she chairs. Now every government ministry must, in the bills they submit, note how the proposal can apply over the Green Line, whether by legislation or by military order.

“The 450,000 residents of Judea and Samaria are entitled to the same rights and are bound by the same obligations as the rest of the citizens of Israel,” said Shaked when the new requirement went into effect. “I will make sure that a government bill will be discussed by the committee only if it addresses this issue.”