In a heated plenary session Wednesday afternoon, the Knesset passed a preliminary reading of a controversial bill legalizing West Bank outposts, with the coalition mustering full support of all its parties thanks to a last-minute deal, despite initial opposition to the move. Opposition legislators said the bill would legalize “daylight robbery” of private Palestinian land.
The so-called Regulation Bill, designed to avert to the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona by December 25, passed by 58-50 days after it won the backing of coalition ministers, despite efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the vote and repeated statements from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that the legislation runs contrary to international law and would be indefensible in the High Court of Justice.
Minutes before the vote, Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon agreed to support the bill after a meeting with Netanyahu. “We will not support any attack on the High Court at any stage of the legislation. As long as that is clear, the Kulanu faction will support it. We will support it today,” he said.
While the ministers supported the proposal, they stopped short of making it an official government bill, with the Knesset voting on three separate private members bills proposed by several different MKs.
In one vote, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, one of the bill’s staunchest backers, accidentally voted against, though the measure still sailed through.
Before the vote MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud), Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Jewish Home) and Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) presented their arguments for the bills, with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked closing the defense with an attack on left-wing “hypocrisy.”
From the opposition, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said that the bill constituted “daylight robbery.”
“It takes private lands, entirely contravening international law,” he added.
After the vote, Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni slammed Kahlon’s defense of the legislation, saying she had “never heard such a ridiculous excuse.”
“This law already causes huge damage, not just to the High Court but also to the pillars of Israeli democracy,” she said. “It mocks the court’s ruling, the rule of law, the attorney general, international law and basic morals.”
Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid said that the bill would not become Israeli law and was nothing but a political move to appease the settler community but offered no real solution.
“They are taking them for a ride,” he said in a statement after the voted directed towards Israeli’s living in West Bank settlements. “Once again they are giving them false hope, once again they are telling them that it will be OK and once again they [the settlers] will realize that they are running circles around them just in order to get headline.”
The legislation will now be sent to either the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee or the Constitution, Justice, and Law Committee to be revised ahead of its first reading. To become law, the proposals will need to pass three readings in the Knesset plenum. The process is expected to be expedited due to the looming evacuation order of the Amona outpost.
The High Court of Justice on Monday rejected a request by the government to postpone Amona’s demolition and evacuation.
Netanyahu on Sunday voiced opposition to pushing the measure through before the High Court had its say. However, he stopped short of using his veto when it came for a vote before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also said Sunday he opposes the measure on the grounds that it would harm the rest of the settlement enterprise. However, he and his party voted for the measure with the rest of the coalition.
The Amona outpost, founded in 1995 on a hill near Ramallah in the central West Bank, is home to about 40 families. It is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts — built without permission but generally tolerated by the government — that dot the West Bank.
A partial evacuation a decade ago sparked violent clashes between residents and security forces and it is feared a new evacuation could trigger another showdown.