The European Union on Thursday said it opposes a bill that could legalize thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, and stressed that settlements are an obstacle to a two-state solution.
Originally designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the illegal outpost of Amona, the Regulation Bill was initiated by lawmakers from the national-religious Jewish Home and the governing Likud parties. The bill was cleared for a Knesset vote earlier this week after a clause that would have violated a direct High Court ruling mandating Amona’s demolition was struck from it. Amona is slated for demolition by December 25.
The legislation stipulates that settlement construction in the West Bank that was carried out in good faith, namely without the knowledge that the land was privately owned, would be recognized by the government provided the settlers had some kind of state assistance — which in some cases could be as simple as having existing infrastructure, since most infrastructural services fall under the purview of state ministries.
“The Israeli Knesset is in the process of adopting the so-called ‘Regularization Bill,’ which could lead to legalization of numerous illegal settlements and outposts, built on private Palestinian land in violation of Israeli and international law, by confiscating property rights of Palestinians for settler use,” the EU said in a statement.
“If it passes, this would be the first law adopted by the Knesset on the status of land in the West Bank, an occupied territory not under its jurisdiction. Senior members of the Israeli government have called this a step toward annexation of the West Bank,” the statement added. “Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the two-state solution impossible, the European Union reiterates its strong opposition, in line with the position of the Middle East Quartet, to Israel’s settlement policy and all actions taken in this context.”
The statement came after MKs voted Wednesday night 58 to 51 in favor of a first reading of the bill, which was praised by some of its supporters, and castigated by its opponents, as a first step toward imposing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the bill breaches both local and international law, and indicated that the High Court is likely to strike it down. Some officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who voted for the bill along with all but one member of his coalition — have warned that the law could see Israeli officials prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the Regulation Bill will legalize 55 outposts and 4,000 housing units in existing outposts and settlements in the West Bank, cast over some 8,000 dunams (3 square miles) of privately-owned Palestinian plots.
The proposed legislation notes that the government support may be explicit or implicit, from the start or post facto, and that the backing of local municipalities is considered state support.
Under the bill, the government will be able to appropriate land for its own use if the owners are not known. If the owners are known, they will be eligible for either yearly damages amounting to 125 percent of the value of leasing the land, a larger financial package valued at 20 years’ worth of leasing the plots, or alternate plots.
The legislation has been slammed by the US and UN as a breach of international law, with the State Department on Tuesday calling it “profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution.”