Israel’s Knesset Legalizes Settlement Outposts in the West Bank

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by David Wainer and Michael Arnold

Israel’s Parliament passed a controversial bill legalizing West Bank settlement outposts as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was en route home from meeting the U.K. prime minister. 

Speaking with reporters in London on Monday after meeting with Theresa May, Netanyahu said he was scheduled to land in Israel around midnight and would go directly to the Knesset to vote on the legislation. He got there too late: The parliament passed the bill by a 60-52 vote just before 11 p.m., with most of Netanyahu’s Likud Party supporting it.

The bill legalizes about 4,000 homes in unauthorized outposts across the West Bank — many consisting of little more than rusting mobile homes hastily towed to the sites — that were built on land privately owned by Palestinians, and offers the landowners compensation. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said some of the bill’s provisions are illegal, and Israel’s opposition has warned it may open Israel to prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Court Challenges

Thousands of Israelis live in the unauthorized enclaves. In addition, Israel has built more than 120 authorized West Bank settlements, housing about 400,000 people, that it considers legal and that most countries don’t. Israeli troops last week evacuated one outpost of some 40 homes that wasn’t grandfathered under the current legislation.

The Prime Minister’s Office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the bill’s passage in Netanyahu’s absence. Speaking earlier in London, Netanyahu said he had informed the administration of new U.S. President Donald Trump that he expected the bill to pass Monday night.

“We do not surprise our friends and we keep them updated,” Netanyahu told reporters. “The American administration has been updated.”

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in e-mailed comments that the law would ”legalize theft of Palestinian land.” Palestinians see all settlements as illegal “regardless of any law passed by the Israeli parliament or any decision taken by any Israeli judge,” Erekat said.

Netanyahu had delayed the vote until after the departure of the Obama administration, which was strongly critical of Israeli settlement-building in land it won in the 1967 Middle East war. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported Netanyahu wanted to delay the vote further until he could discusssettlements with Trump in Washington next week, but the vote was pushed by pro-settlement parties in his government.

UN Resolution

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Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the outpost bill after it passed a preliminary vote in December. Palestinians says it’s an illegal land-grab aimed at facilitating Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. The bill’s initial approval provided fuel for a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements that the Obama administration allowed to pass without the customary U.S. veto.

Last week, Sean Spicer, Trump’s White House press secretary, put out a statement on settlements that took a middle-ground position.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” Spicer said.

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