Israel passes contentious Palestinian land-grab bill in late night vote

Right praises vote as ‘historic day for the settlement movement’ | Bill allows Israel to declare private Palestinian land state property | Israeli opposition warns: bill will land Israel in The Hague.

Israeli lawmakers on Monday evening passed 60-52 a contentious bill that would retroactively legalize the expropriation of privately owned Palestinian land.

There were fears that the vote would be delayed, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters earlier Monday it would go ahead as planned after he had briefed the White House on the vote.

Far-right lawmaker MK Bezalel Smotrich praised the bill’s passage into law, saying it was a “historic day for the settlement movement and for Israel. Today Israel decreed that developing settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] is an Israeli interest. From here we move on to expanding Israeli sovereignty [on the West Bank] and continuing to build and develop settlements across the land.”

Chairman of the opposition, lawmaker Isaac Herzog, took to the Knesset’s podium ahead of the vote and warned that “it was not too late to stop the horror of a freight train. The train leaves from here will only stop at The Hague,” Herzog said in reference to the International Criminal Court.

“Its cars will carry international indictments against Israeli and Jewish soldiers and officers. This indictment will be signed by the prime minister of Israel.”

The purpose of the bill, a revised version says, is to “regulate settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and allow its continued establishment and development.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised the vote as proof that “determination pays,” a thinly-veiled reference to behind the scenes political tensions between himself and Netanyahu. Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party pushed for the bill’s vote, while Netanyahu feared it would anger the new administration in Washington.

“To our friends in the opposition who express surprise in a nationalist government’s passing a bill to benefit settlement: This is democracy. The cabinet is carrying out exactly the purpose for which it was elected: to govern,” Bennett said.
The vote on the bill, which paves the way for legalizing illegal construction on Palestinian land throughout the West Bank was postponed about a month and a half ago. According to the most recent version of the bill obtained by Haaretz, in the first stage, enforcement measures against 16 settlements and outposts will be suspended for a period of one year from the publication of the law.

Over the course of the year, a decision will be made as to whether these lands can be expropriated.

Afterward, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked may expand the list by means of an order and with the approval of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit continues to oppose the bill, and figures in his circle stressed Sunday that he does not intend to defend it, even in its current formulation, in the event that petitions against it are filed in the High Court of Justice.

Outside the Knesset plenum this afternoon, before the deliberations on the bill, opposition Knesset members announced that they do not intend to cooperate with the coalition, and the pre-vote session was adjourned. As a result, the prolonged voting session that was expected to continue into the night was significantly shortened, and instead of some three hours it is expected to last less than one hour. The opposition’s decision to withdraw its objections it expected to significantly contract the schedule, so that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to return tonight from his visit to London, will presumably not get back in time to vote on the bill in the Knesset.

Haaretz reported Sunday that Netanyahu was seeking to postpone the bill, but on Monday he said that he has informed the White House of his intention of putting the legislation to a vote and said he will return from the U.K. on Monday night to participate. However, he failed to arrive in time to vote himself.

British Prime Minister May, for her part, warned Netanyahu against the vote, saying it was unhelpful and would make things harder of Israel’s friends abroad.

The bill would allow the state to declare private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, “in good faith or at the state’s instruction” as government property, and deny its owners the right to use or hold those lands until there is a diplomatic resolution of the status of the territories.

The measure provides a mechanism for compensating Palestinians whose lands will be seized. A landowner can receive an annual usage payment of 125 percent of the land’s value as determined by an assessment committee for renewable periods of 20 years, or an alternate plot of land if this is possible, whichever he chooses.

The measure was also revised on Sunday to add another 16 settlements and outposts to the list of potential places where the bill may be applied.

Demolition orders against homes built on land claimed by Palestinian owners would be frozen for a year pending proceedings to determine whether the state may seize the land.

The stay of legal and administrative proceedings would apply to properties in the settlements of Ofra, Eli, Netiv Ha’avot, Kokhav Hashahar, Mitzpe Kramim, Alon Moreh, Ma’aleh Mikhmash, Shavei Shomron, Kedumim, Psagot, Beit El, Yitzhar, Har Bracha, Modi’in Illit, Nokdim and Kokhav Yaakov.

The measure would also empower Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to add more settlements and outposts to the list of areas where property may be seized from Palestinians, with the approval of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.