Israel freezes controversial settlement law

A picture taken from Hebron shows a Palestinian boy riding a horse, with the Israeli settlement of Givat Harsina appearing in the background, West Bank, February 5, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2017

Israel freezes controversial settlement law

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court has frozen implementation of a law legalizing dozens of Jewish settlements built on private Palestinian land, which the UN labelled a “thick red line.”
Court documents seen by AFP Friday show that Judge Neal Hendel issued Thursday an open-ended restraining order suspending a bill passed by parliament that would retroactively legalize a number of outposts across the occupied West Bank.
The decision was in response to a petition brought by 17 Palestinian local councils on whose land the settlements are built.
Israeli and Palestinian rights groups were also parties to the petition.
Hendel wrote in his decision that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had asked him to grant the order.
It did not specify a time limit but demanded that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, deliver its response by September 10 and that Mandelblit submit an opinion by October 16.
The act, known as the “legalization law,” was passed in February and brought immediate condemnation from around the world.
International law considers all settlements to be illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it sanctions and those it does not — so-called outposts.
Mandelblit himself warned the government the law could be unconstitutional and risked exposing Israel to international prosecution for war crimes.
UN envoy for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov said following the February Knesset vote the bill set a “very dangerous precedent.”
“This is the first time the Israeli Knesset legislates in the occupied Palestinian lands and particularly on property issues,” he told AFP at the time.
“That crosses a very thick red line.”
The act allows Israel to appropriate Palestinian private land on which settlers built without knowing it was private property or because the state allowed them to do so.
Palestinian landowners whose property was taken for settlers would be compensated with cash or given alternative plots.
Palestinians said the law was a means to “legalize theft” and France called it a “new attack on the two-state solution.”
Some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government advocate the annexation of much of the West Bank, a move that would end any hope of an independent Palestinian state.
Mladenov said that the “legalization law” could be a prelude to that.
“It opens the potential for the full annexation of the West Bank and therefore undermines substantially the two-state solution,” he said after its passing.


Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 39 min 1 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”