After Deadly West Bank Attack, Israel Moves to Boost Jewish Settlements

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit formally approved the so-called 'market amendment,' which is expected to lead to the legalization of some 2,000 housing units in the West Bank

Right-wing Israelis, mostly from settlements in the West Bank, protest outside the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on December 13, 2018
Right-wing Israelis, mostly from settlements in the West Bank, protest outside the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on December 13, 2018 Credit: AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he would legalize thousands of Jewish homes in the West Bank, hours after two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in a shooting attack.

After Netanyahu's statement, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit formally approved the so-called "market amendment," which is expected to lead to the legalization of some 2,000 housing units in the West Bank, at the pressure of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

The amendment is based on an order pertaining to government property in the West Bank, stipulating that "a transaction made in good faith between the custodian of the government property in the territories and another person, regarding a property the custodian believed at the time of the deal to be government property" is valid, even if in fact the land did not belong to the state.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, December 27, 2015.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

This principle was the basis for the Jerusalem District Court ruling in August, which stipulated that the outpost of Mitzpeh Kramim must be legalized. Although this was a singular case, jurists specializing in property law in Israel and the West Bank believe that courts can interpret the ruling to enable mass legalization of homes in the settlements.

Mendelblit believes this clause can be used to legalize construction on land that was believed to belong to the state when it was allocated to the settlers, even if in fact it didn't. The clause refers to a "transaction," although in most cases nobody paid for the land.

The Prime Minister's Office said it would promote the construction of 82 new housing units in the settlement of Ofra, as well as two new industrial zones near the settlements of Avnei Hefetz and Betar Ilit.

Netanyahu did not specify which buildings the order applies to; that is, whether they are built on state land. Nor did he discuss how he intends to legalize them. The Justice Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are looking into ways to legalize outposts and existing structures in settlements.

Israeli forces and forensic experts at a site of a Palestinian drive-by shooting attack outside the West Bank settlement of Givat Asaf, December 13, 2018.Credit: AFP

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to discuss a bill to legalize a series of outposts and settlements. The proposal seeks to supply settlements whose status has yet to be confirmed with services that would prevent their demolition until they receive official status. The committee, headed by a former head of the Yesha Council of settlements, Pinchas Wallerstein, was set up last year but has yet to meet.

The bill, proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), would let government ministries examine budgets and infrastructure needs such as water and electricity. The bill would also permit the construction of schools and other public buildings in unrecognized outposts in settlements that are already recognized. The bill refers to settlements that have been established over the past 20 years.

"Our response to murderous terrorism must be sharp and clear," said Yariv Levin, acting head of the ministerial committee and tourism minister. "We will work to continue construction throughout Israel and to strengthen settlements and new settlements."

Levin added: "The residents of the settlements are entitled to all municipal services just as any other citizen in Israel, including water and electricity infrastructure, budgets and everything necessary to maintain a normal life."

It is not clear what the full implications of the bill would be. Most established outposts are already connected to water and electricity, largely via nearby settlements. The authorities refer to such outposts as recognized localities; budgets from both ministries and West Bank regional councils are transferred to them on an ongoing basis.

Amid the recent string of terror attacks, the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party wants the committee to approve a bill that would allow the expulsion of members of terrorists' families within the West Bank. The party's chairman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, said the debate on the bill, which was originally due to take place weeks ago, was postponed at the request of Netanyahu, who promised to take steps to deter terrorism.

Bennett, however, intends to move the legislation forward. "Legalization paralyzes the defense establishment," he said, adding that he would push the bill "despite the opposition by lawmakers close to Netanyahu."

The committee is also scheduled to discuss a bill to imprison for one year anyone who flies the flag of the Palestinian Authority at a demonstration. According to the proposal by MK Anat Berko (Likud) “at least three people who publicly rally and raise the flag of an enemy state, entity or body that’s unfriendly to Israel or doesn’t let the Israeli flag be raised in their territory can be imprisoned for up to one year.”

The bill defines such a perpetrator as someone who does not recognize Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state."

Berko added: "Israel, as a democratic state, allows its citizens to protest issues in which they disagree with the authorities' decisions, but the bill draws a line between a legitimate protest and a protest in which there are flags of someone who doesn't recognize Israel, or who doesn't allow Israel to raise its own flag in its territory." The punishment of such acts would be the prohibition of protests

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