UN: Israeli settlement law crosses ‘thick red line’

A picture taken from the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday shows a view of the Kiryat Arba Jewish settlement on the outskirts of the Palestinian city. (AFP)
Updated 08 February 2017

UN: Israeli settlement law crosses ‘thick red line’

JERUSALEM: The United Nations’ Mideast envoy on Tuesday said a new Israeli law legalizing dozens of unlawful West Bank settler outposts crossed a “very thick red line,” while Israeli rights groups said they would fight to overturn the measure in the Supreme Court.
The explosive law, approved by Israeli lawmakers late Monday night, was the latest in a series of pro-settler steps taken by Israel’s hard-line government since the election of Donald Trump as US president. It is expected to trigger a number of challenges in the Supreme Court, while members of the international community have already begun to condemn it.
The law legalized dozens of outposts home built unlawfully on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. According to the law, Palestinian landowners would be compensated either with money or alternative land, even if they did not agree to give up their property.
Critics say the legislation enshrines into law the theft of Palestinian land. It also marked the first time that the Israeli parliament has imposed Israeli law on Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. The area, captured by Israel in 1967, is not sovereign Israeli territory and Palestinians there are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the legislation “opens the floodgates to the potential annexation of the West Bank.” If Israel moves to solidify its control over the area, it would imperil the internationally backed idea of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a negotiated peace deal, he said.
“It will have a drastic legal consequence for Israel and for the nature of its democracy,” Mladenov said. “It crosses a very, very thick red line.”
Britain’s minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, condemned the law, saying it “damages Israel’s standing with its international partners.” He spoke a day after Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London.
The law also cast a cloud over a visit to Israel by Turkey’s tourism minister. Israel and Turkey recently repaired ties after a six-year rift, and the tourism minister, Nabi Avci, was visiting as part of that reconciliation.
Asked about the law, Avci said he hoped Israel’s Supreme Court would strike it down. “I think, I hope, that on this issue, the high court will make the right decision, a decision in accordance with international law, a decision in accordance with United Nations decisions,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition is dominated by West Bank settlers and their allies. After repeated clashes with President Barack Obama, they have grown emboldened by the election of Trump, who has signaled that he will take a much softer approach toward the settlements than his predecessors or the rest of the international community.
The law was “a first step in a series of measures that we must take in order to make our presence in Judea and Samaria present for years, for decades, for ages,” said Israeli Cabinet Minister Yariv Levin, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “I do believe that our right over our fatherland is something that cannot be denied.”
Since Trump took office last month, Israel has announced plans to build over 6,000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians.
After ignoring a string of Israeli announcements, the Trump White House last week finally said that settlements “may not be helpful” for peace.
But after the law was passed late Monday, it said only that it would wait for Israel’s courts to rule on the legislation before taking a stance.
Prominent Israeli human rights groups plan to ask the Supreme Court to strike it down. A number of prominent legal experts have said the law will not survive a judicial review, and even Netanyahu’s own attorney general has refused to defend it in court.
“There’s going to be a legal battle against this bill,” said Lior Amihai, spokesman for Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group. He said his group was already preparing its legal challenge, but that it could take about two weeks to file the case.
Netanyahu also expressed misgivings about the law, reportedly saying that it could invite international legal actions against Israel. But under heavy pressure from the Jewish Home party, a coalition partner linked to the settler movement, he reversed course and allowed the bill to pass. Netanyahu was flying home from London late Monday and missed the vote.
Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, told Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday that the goal of the bill was create the same conditions in the settlements as in Israel proper.
“At the end of the day, behind all the talk there is a simple question: what do we want for the future of Israel?” he said.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, have also condemned the vote and urged the international community to punish Israel.
“Nobody can legalize the theft of the Palestinian lands. Building settlements is a crime, building settlements is against all international laws,” said Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Minister Rula Maayaa. “I think it is time now for the international community to act concretely to stop the Israelis from these crimes.”
The vote passed 60-52 in Israel’s 120-member Knesset. The raucous debate saw opposition lawmakers shouting from their seats at governing coalition lawmakers speaking in favor of the vote. Some spectators in visitors’ seats raised a black cloth in apparent protest.


Israeli Cabinet postpones vote on West Bank annexation

Updated 29 January 2020

Israeli Cabinet postpones vote on West Bank annexation

  • A Cabinet vote on annexing territories on Sunday was not technically feasible because of various preparations
  • Hard-line Israeli nationalists have called for the immediate annexation of West Bank settlements

JERUSALEM: A senior Israeli minister said on Wednesday that a Cabinet vote to endorse annexation of parts of the West Bank will not take place early next week, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge a day earlier to act quickly after the US released a peace plan rejected by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu said he would ask the Cabinet to advance the extension of Israeli sovereignty over most Jewish settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley, a move that would likely spark international outrage and complicate the White House’s efforts to build support for the plan.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Israel Radio that a Cabinet vote on annexing territories on Sunday was not technically feasible because of various preparations, including “bringing the proposal before the attorney general and letting him consider the matter.”
Hard-line Israeli nationalists have called for the immediate annexation of West Bank settlements ahead of the country’s third parliamentary elections in under a year, scheduled for March 2.
They have eagerly embraced the part of President Donald Trump’s peace plan that would allow Israel to annex territory but have rejected its call for a Palestinian state in parts of the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians angrily rejected the Trump plan which largely adopts the Israeli position on all the thorniest issues of the decades-old conflict, from borders and the status of Jerusalem to security measures and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Levin, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump peace plan is “roughly the same Palestinian Authority that exists today, with authority to manage civil affairs,” but lacking “substantive powers” like border control or a military.
Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, has warned against any Israeli “annexation of Palestinian lands,” reaffirming its commitment to an independent Palestinian state formed on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal under international law.
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted Wednesday that “that which is postponed to after the elections will never happen.”
“If we postpone or reduce the extension of sovereignty (in the West Bank), then the opportunity of the century will turn into the loss of the century,” said Bennett, a hawkish Netanyahu ally with the New Right party.
Nahum Barnea, a veteran Israeli columnist, stridently criticized the Trump plan in Wednesday’s Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, saying it would create a Palestinian state “more meager than Andorra, more fractured than the Virgin Islands.”
He cautioned that annexation would lead to “a reality of two legal systems for two populations in the same territory — one ruling, the second occupied. In other words, an Apartheid state.”