Under Right-wing Pressure, Israeli Army Okays Extending Two Agricultural Laws to West Bank

Criticized by the opposition as a means of 'creeping annexation' of settlements, laws to benefit organic-produce and poultry farmers there

A farm in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the West Bank, June 18, 2018.
Emil Salman

Israel's Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Habayit Hayehudi) confirmed Monday that the army has approved implementation of two Israeli laws regarding agricultural products in West Bank settlements. Although Israeli law does not cover those areas per se, the head of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command has the authority to decide to apply certain statutes there.

Habayit Hayehudi and Likud have been exerting heavy pressure on the Civil Administration over the past few months, as well as on the Knesset, to strengthen Israel's rule of law in the settlements. Members of the opposition call such actions “creeping annexation” of those communities, since more extensive legislation of this nature, such as that calling for annexation of the large settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim east of Jerusalem, has to date been blocked due to pressure from the United States.

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One of the two laws Ben-Dahan mentioned, originally passed in 2005, involves regulating the standards for growers and marketers of organic produce in the country. The other, enacted just a few months ago, is intended to allow West Bank poultry farmers for the first time to transfer their egg-production quotas to their counterparts in Israel proper, whose quotas are smaller.

“I consider this move an incomparably important mission,” Ben-Dahan said, adding, “It is inconceivable for the citizens of Israel who live in Judea and Samaria to be discriminated against relative to the rest of the residents of Israel. I will continue to work in the near future to have more orders signed that will benefit the citizens of Israel who live in Judea and Samaria."

His party colleague, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, said: “We are working all the time to equalize and apply the regulations in agriculture throughout the Land of Israel.”

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Last February, Habayit Hayehudi chairman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, declared from the Knesset rostrum that there was “an anomaly with regard to Judea and Samaria. Do you know for example that the law governing access for the disabled does not apply in Judea and Samaria? Nor does one of the laws concerning Holocaust survivors.

"Why should a person have to be discriminated against only because of where he lives? I don’t recall that he pays less taxes or does less reserve duty. People are always surprised that we came to govern and advance what we believe in,” Bennett added.

During the term of the current Knesset, a number of laws have been passed that were applied immediately to the area beyond Israel's pre-1967 border. For example, MKs approved applying the Council for Higher Education in Israel Law to institutions of higher learning in the West Bank, which now have the same standing as their sister institutions within the Green Line. As a result, the locally based branch of the CHE that had previously supervised the institutions there was abolished. The legislation was proposed in order to allow establishment of an accredited medical school at Ariel University.

In January, the Knesset passed a law that would recognize and accept verdicts handed down in West Bank military courts as evidence in civil suits handled by courts in Israel proper. The move was aimed at facilitating the filing of civil suits for compensation by terror victims, although the attorney general had previously ruled that this contradicted the principles of international law.

Two months later, in a surprise pre-dawn move, the Knesset in an initial vote approved two government-sponsored bills relating to settlers, and sent them to committee for finalization. One would allow the latter to receive the same tax breaks available to Israelis living inside the Green Line. The other legislation would establish a new apparatus for home buyers in the settlements that will do away with dual payment of taxes to both the income tax authorities and the Civil Administration.

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

Added MK Esawi Freige (Meretz): “The purpose of the bill is to make it easier for purchasers of land in the West Bank and Gaza. To put it bluntly, this is creeping annexation."

The Knesset also passed a law in February stipulating that businesses that do not provide delivery, repair or other services to West Bank settlements, peripheral communities and locales along the Gaza border – ostensibly either for security or ideological reasons – must be identified as such. Regulations accompanying the new law are expected to include the posting of signs above cash registers in such businesses that state that they do not provide services in settlements and outlying areas.