Israeli Lawmakers Back Controversial Outpost Legalization Bill in Preliminary Vote

The legislation, passed by 60 to 49 vote, would not apply to the unauthorized settlement outpost of Amona, slated for evacuation by December 25. Likud's Benny Begin opposed the bill.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Netanyahu and Bennett at the Knesset, December 5, 2016.
Netanyahu and Bennett at the Knesset, December 5, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The Knesset on Monday voted in favor of a bill that would legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts but not Amona, which the High Court of Justice has said must be evacuated by December 25.

In a preliminary reading, the legislation passed 60 to 49. The bill, which would legalize the presence of Israelis on privately owned Palestinian land, needs to pass another three times in the Knesset, and the legislation could be changed as it is debated in committee.

MK Benny Begin (Likud) was the only member of the governing coalition to oppose the bill.

The legislation a new version of the bill says the state would give the settlers usage rights to privately owned Palestinian land, but not ownership rights. In another change, the bill only applies to settlements that the government helped establish. Palestinians who can prove ownership of land would receive compensation.

The bill has come in for criticism even within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had wanted Monday's vote deferred. Begin, the son of Menachem Begin, Israel’s prime minister from 1977 to 1983, has been a severe critic of the legislation, saying it violates international law.

The debate over the bill was contentious. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), a resident of a West Bank settlement, said that with the bill, the “legal terror of left-wing organizations against settling the land has come to an end.”

He said a sword had been lifted from over the homes of settlers, adding that the bill would create a new reality in the West Bank. The vote, he said, was an affirmation that the settlers are heroes whom the state must accommodate using the law.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said the legislation did not represent Zionism but rather “national suicide” that would bring about a binational state. “This law is a black day for the Knesset,” he said.

The UN peace envoy in the region, Nickolay Mladenov, said in response that "some have pronounced [this bill] to be a step toward the annexation of the West Bank [that could have] far-reaching legal consequences for Israel and across the occupied West Bank, and greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace."

'Beyond Amona there are Amonas'

“The solution will allow residents to remain on the hill as a community [but] beyond Amona there are Amonas. Recurrence of these incidents really concerns us,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of Likud officials.

“We are looking for legal solutions . This is a politically sensitive period, and I ask coalition members to act with restraint and demonstrate national responsibility.”

An attempt to legalize Amona would contradict a decision by the High Court, something that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has said he would not be able to defend.

In a related development Monday, Palestinians filed four claims asserting ownership of the land where Israel wants to temporarily relocate Amona in light of the court order to evacuate it. According to the claims, a relocation of the outpost there breaches international law.

In a meeting with the heads of the coalition parties Monday, Netanyahu sought to win approval for his plan to ask the High Court for a 30-day postponement of Amona’s evacuation. This would provide time to prepare alternative housing on land near the outpost that the government considers land abandoned by Palestinians.

“It’s impossible to maintain the value of settling the land without the rule of law,” said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the head of the center-right Kulanu party. “The existence of one depends on the other. We’ve taken a significant step in regulating the settlement project without damaging the Supreme Court.”

Earlier Monday, Mendelblit gave his support for moving Amona to land nearby. According to the plan, outpost residents will receive a temporary permit to live on the plots. They will be able to renew the permits every three years as long as no one makes a credible ownership claim.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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