The Israeli Law to Legalize Land Theft

The bill to legalize settlements invites the world to conclude that Israel is a criminal state, and should therefore not be spared international sanctions.

Palestinians burn tires in protest against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near the settlement of Kedumim (background) in the West Bank Jan. 27, 2017.
Jaafar Ashtiyeh, AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become embroiled in two campaigns of criminality. One relates to his private life; his conduct and that of his family are being scrutinized in a series of cases that appear to show contempt for the law, good government and public morality. The second relates to crime on the national level, and on the international one as well.

On the first front, regarding his alleged personal crimes, the state is the party that’s investigating him and may put him on trial. But on the second front, Netanyahu is liable to put the state on trial, on charges of violating international law. One might almost think the prime minister was avenging himself on the state for having dared to investigate his misconduct.

Now he is planning to take a far-reaching step, to the very brink of the abyss, by advancing a bill that would legalize many settlement outposts built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land. Though he initially opposed it, or at least favored trying to keep it from advancing beyond its initial Knesset vote to its intermediate and final votes, Netanyahu, pressured by competition from the reckless right, and with his police investigations and the tailwind from U.S. President Donald Trump in the background, has asked coalition chairman David Bitan to advance this burglary law.

It isn’t just his rival, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, whom Netanyahu is rushing to appease, but also residents of the settlement of Ofra, where nine houses were built on privately owned Palestinian land and are therefore slated for demolition, as well as residents of the illegal outpost of Amona, since plans to transfer them to another nearby site collapsed with a bang when it turned out that this site, too, had Palestinian owners.

The legalization bill isn’t just a direct shot at the High Court of Justice. It also invites the nations of the world, and especially those of the European Union, to conclude that Israel is a criminal state, and should therefore not be spared international sanctions. In this case, Israel’s reliance on Trump won’t help it against a European tribunal that will declare Israel a state deserving of punishment. But it seems international threats have long since ceased to impress Israel’s leaders, who are running the affairs of their villa according to the law of the jungle.

This euphoria ought to keep Israeli citizens awake at night, because if they aren’t concerned about Palestinians’ property rights, they’re assuredly concerned about their own quality of life. And Israel’s citizens are the ones who will pay the price for the kashrut certificate being given to lawless settlements. They will bear the costs of building, maintaining and guarding them; they will be the ones stigmatized as citizens of a law-breaking country; and if Israel is punished, they’re the ones who will pay the fine.

The elected law-breakers who will vote tomorrow to approve the legalization bill have no right to endanger the status and security of all Israeli citizens. Netanyahu, who was revolted by the bill, knows this better than anyone, and he ought to prevent the crime. But he has apparently become a mere hitchhiker on a leadership that he no longer controls.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel