Israeli bill to legalise settlements under fire
London - International condemnation mounted against proposed Israeli legislation that would legalise 4,000 settler homes built on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law but Israel differentiates between those it has authorised and those it has not. The bill proposes to legalise settlements established without previously obtained approval from the government.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the bill would clearly violate international law.
“All Israeli settlements, whether outposts built without formal approval but often with the support of the Israeli authorities and which are currently illegal under Israeli law or settlements approved by Israel, are clearly and unequivocally illegal under international law and constitute one of the main obstacles to peace,” Hussein said in a statement.
“I strongly urge lawmakers to reconsider their support for this bill, which if enacted, would have far-reaching consequences and would seriously damage the reputation of Israel around the world.”
About 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, excluding annexed East Jerusalem, along with 2.6 million Palestinians.
The United States, UN officials and the European Union have warned that continued settlement building is eroding the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution. We’ve also been troubled by comments that we’ve heard by some political figures in Israel that this would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank.”
Germany, which tends to be more reserved than other European countries in its criticism of Israel due to the legacy of the Holocaust, urged it in rare strong language to scrap the legislation.
“We’re extremely concerned about this development and have noted with consternation statements made by Israeli government officials during this debate,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Marit Berger Roesland of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the proposed law “cast doubts about Israel’s declared support for the two-state solution”. Sweden, whose relations with Israel have been strained since Stockholm recognised Palestinian statehood in 2014, said it is “deeply concerned” about the bill.
Fifty-seven members of the 120- seat Israeli Knesset voted to approve the draft legislation in the first of three readings, while 51 were against it.
Key figures in Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, considered the most right-wing in Israeli history, openly oppose a Palestinian state.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the bill’s main backer, has advocated annexing most of the West Bank as did other Israeli religious nationalists. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said the bill was “deepening our hold on our beloved land”.
The bill has advanced despite stated concerns of Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said he would not be able to defend it before the courts and warned it would violate Israeli and international law.
The legislation could ultimately be overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court, where human rights groups are widely expected to challenge the effective expropriation of privately owned land.
While the bill sparked international condemnation, opinion polls indicate a significant percentage of Israelis support annexation. A recent survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank showed that 44% of Jewish Israelis asked said they support annexing all of the West Bank, while 38% stated opposition.
Netanyahu has said he supports a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict but is nonetheless supporting the bill. That position is seen in Israel as part of the power struggle within his ruling coalition.
Netanyahu’s failure to support the bill would have ceded ground to Bennett in their pursuit of conservative voters that form the power base of both Bennett’s Jewish Home and Netanyahu’s Likud parties.
“Naftali Bennett has scared [Netanyahu] more than the US administration and more than the European Union. Even though Netanyahu has been prime minister for 11 years, he still remains more a politician than a leader,” Amnon Abramovitz, political analyst for Israeli Channel Two, told Reuters.
Critics in Israel and abroad fear that Netanyahu’s machinations aimed at appeasing political partners could have grave consequences internationally. Israeli officials also stated concern that the bill could provide grounds for prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Palestinian officials appealled for international action.
“We call upon all states of the United Nations, particularly Security Council members, to support a forthcoming resolution on settlements,” Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in a statement.
“Additionally, we will provide the International Criminal Court with information about this and other steps taken by the Israeli government.”
Walid Assaf, the Palestinian minister responsible for monitoring Israeli settlements, called the bill “the most dangerous law issued by Israel since 1967”.