MK thanks Trump after Knesset legalizes West Bank outposts
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MK thanks Trump after Knesset legalizes West Bank outposts

Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich says controversial legislation 'would probably not have passed' were it not for US election result

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a vote on the Regulation Bill in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a vote on the Regulation Bill in the Knesset on December 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A lawmaker from the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party on Monday thanked US President Donald Trump after the Israeli Knesset voted in favor of legislation that would see thousands of housing units in West Bank outposts legalized, in a move that has drawn condemnation and is likely to spark legal battles.

After the Knesset voted in a late-night session for the so-called Regulation Law, MK Bezalel Smotrich, known for courting controversy with his comments, thanked the American people for electing Trump as president, “without whom the law would have probably not passed.”

He also said it was a “historic day for the settlement [enterprise] and for the State of Israel.”

Smotrich was one of the forces behind the legislation, which aims to prevent future demolitions of settler homes built on private Palestinian land.

The original proposal was intended to overturn a High Court of Justice verdict forbidding the expropriation of the privately owned Palestinian land on which the illegal outpost of Amona once stood. The clause that would have circumvented that court ruling, however, was removed from the bill following coalition infighting.

Speaking before the vote, Jewish Home MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli, one of the MKs who proposed the legislation, said the law was “dedicated to the brave people of Amona, who were forced to go through what no Jewish family will have to go through again.” She used her speech to read out the names of every one of the 42 Amona families evicted last Wednesday.

The Jewish Home party had insisted that the bill be brought Monday for its final vote, amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought to delay the vote until after his meeting with Trump on February 15.

Science Minister and Likud MK Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset on February 6, 2017 ahead of the vote on the so-called Regulation Bill. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Science Minister and Likud MK Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset on February 6, 2017 ahead of the vote on the so-called Regulation Bill. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking for the government in defense of the measure before the vote, Science Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) said the vote was not just over this specific law, but rather about the right of the Jewish people to live in Israel. “This whole debate is based on one question: Who does this land belong to?” he told the plenary

The law has also faced strident opposition, including from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has warned that it marks the first time Israeli legislation explicitly affirms government support for wildcat settlements, and would openly curtail property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that contravenes the protections granted to occupied populations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (right), party colleague and Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog seen in the Knesset just prior to the passage of the Regulation Law, which retroactively legalizes outposts built in the West Bank. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (right), party colleague and Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog seen in the Knesset just prior to the passage of the Regulation Law, which retroactively legalizes outposts built in the West Bank. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking before the vote, opposition leader Isaac Herzog slammed the bill and urged coalition MKs to “stop tonight’s vote, which would be a disaster for the state.

“This vote is not a vote for or against the settlers, but a vote for or against Israel’s interests,” Herzog, of the Zionist Union faction, said, warning that the law will cause indictments against IDF soldiers in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

MK Tzipi Livni, another senior Zionist Union lawmaker, said it was “a bad day in the history of the State of Israel, [where] an extremist and aggressive minority, under the guise of a weak leader, is leading us all to Masada,” a reference to the siege of the mountaintop fortress by Roman forces in the first century CE where Jewish rebels attempted a last stand.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid told his faction meeting earlier Monday that the “only reason this law is being raised is politics,” vowing to vote against the measure.

“They are passing a law that will endanger IDF soldiers, will endanger Israel’s international standing, will endanger our being a state of law and order, because they have problems within the coalition,” Lapid said.

The law applies to 53 outposts and homes within existing settlements recognized by Israel as having been built without a permit on Palestinian land, according to the left-wing organization Peace Now, which has said it would appeal to the Supreme Court to strike down the law.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel has announced some 6,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

Trump has signaled a far more accepting approach to settlements, and his administration has been largely silent on the announcements. But last week, the White House issued a statement saying settlement expansion “may not be helpful” for peace prospects, signaling that the US under the Trump administration may also have its limits.

The White House on Monday refused to comment directly on the Regulation Law, saying the Trump administration needed to “have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.”

A State Department official said that Washington was still hoping for a peace deal but understands that the Israeli law will face challenges in the country’s own judicial system.

“At this point, indications are that this legislation is likely to be reviewed by the relevant Israeli courts, and the Trump administration will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling,” the State Department said Monday.

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