Israeli Ministers Unanimously Approve Bill to Legalize West Bank Outposts

The vote on the so-called 'Formalization Bill' took place against the backdrop of an earlier confrontation between Netanyahu and Bennett.

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A boy sits near an Israeli flag atop the roof of a vehicle at the entrance to the settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, October 20, 2016.
A boy sits near an Israeli flag atop the roof of a vehicle at the entrance to the settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, October 20, 2016.Credit: Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously approved on Sunday a bill that would retroactively legalize outposts in the West Bank, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's objection and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's position on the issue.

Mendelblit told committee members that the bill contradicts international law and that he would be unable to defend it in the High Court of Justice. The bill would have to pass several readings in the Knesset to become law.

The vote took place against the backdrop of a confrontation between Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett demanded that the vote take place on Sunday, while Netanyahu objected to this and called the move "childish and irresponsible."

"They're trying to gain a moment, while we’re trying to obtain a postponement by the court," Netanyahu said.

The controversial bill to retroactively legalize outposts built on private Palestinian land, also known as the "Regulation Bill," would see the state expropriate the right to use private Palestinian land rather than take ownership of it. The law would only apply to settlements in which the government was involved in their establishment. This process will allow the settlers living there to use the argument of having acted in good faith. Palestinians who prove their ownership over such land will receive financial compensation.

Following the vote, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also criticized the timing.

"Anyone who fears for the future of the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria understands that at this moment the most important thing is to coordinate positions with the new American administration," he said, referring to the West Bank.

"This is the first time there's a right-wing government in Israel, a Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate and Congress, so facts on the ground must not be created and the incoming administration must not be embarrassed," Lieberman said.

Earlier on Sunday, during a coalition heads meeting to discuss the bill, Lieberman told Bennett that he is "endangering the future of the settlement enterprise on an electoral whim." Following arguments, Bennett and fellow Habayit Hayehudi lawmaker Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked left the meeting without reaching an agreement.

At a meeting of Likud ministers that took place earlier in the day, Netanyahu said that he would like to delay the vote on the bill and wait least until the High Court of Justice rules on the state's request to delay the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona, currently slated for December 25.

The Justice Ministry responded to the vote's approval.

"The attorney general presented tonight to the prime minister and to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation his legal opinion regarding the formalization bill, according to which the bill allows the expropriation of private property contrary to Israeli law and in a way that is inconsistent with the State of Israel's obligations under international law.

"Furthermore, the attorney general presented to the prime minister and the committee members that the bill is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the rule of law, in that it contradicts the duty of state authorities to respect the rulings of the judiciary in individual cases," according to the ministry.

After the bill was approved, Bennett said that "the State of Israel began today a historic move to regulate the settlement in Judea and Samaria. I congratulate the prime minister and his party's ministers, who bore the responsibility required of a right-wing government and voted in favor of realizing the national vision. With determination and governance, we will continue to fulfill the objectives we were elected for."

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon also responded to the bill's approval in the committee.

"The government gave in to the extreme right, and is enacting a law bypassing the High Court that is meant to legitimize a theft that has already taken place, the robbery of land belonging to Palestinians. The formalization bill isn’t meant only to regulate Amona, if it passes – illegal construction of more houses built on private Palestinian land will be legitimized in the same way. The Israeli government's ministers don’t give a damn, not only for the High Court, but also for the prime minister, only to carry favor with a group of law-breaking settlers," she said.

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