A controversial initiative to authorize West Bank outposts — previously postponed until after President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House on January 20 — is “back on the table” following the United States’s failure to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
Fearing repercussions from the US administration, a final vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, which would legalize some 4,000 housing units in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land, had been shelved until President Obama leaves office, coalition chairman David Bitan confirmed last week.
But with the US abstention in Friday’s Security Council vote, “We are done playing nice,” a coalition source told The Times of Israel Saturday night.
“It’s back on the table,” he said of the bill, signaling it could be brought to a plenary vote in the coming weeks.
Despite early support for the move, since the US election in November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed cabinet ministers and Knesset members to avoid actions that could affect the US-Israel relationship. On December 3, the prime minister doubled down, telling a faction meeting it was essential Israeli politicians “act with restraint,” and noting that it’s “a very sensitive period from a diplomatic perspective.”
In his first public appearance since the Security Council vote however, Netanyahu on Saturday took a very different tone, accusing President Barack Obama of breaching a specific commitment to Israel by allowing the anti-settlement resolution to pass.
Vowing not to be forced by international pressure into withdrawing from disputed territory, he said the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump had indicated that it would join an all-out war against what he termed a “shameful” and “scandalous” decision.
Netanyahu described the 14-0 vote in the Security Council, with the US abstaining, as “the swan song of the old world that is anti-Israel.” Now, he said, “we are entering a new era. And as President-elect Trump said, it’s going to happen a lot faster than people think.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on whether the outpost bill could be brought to a vote before Obama leaves office on January 20 in response to the US abstention.
The proposed law, which has been condemned by the US, UN and EU, and criticized fiercely by Israel’s attorney general, was originally designed to avert the court-ordered evacuation of the Amona outpost, though later versions of the legislation removed a clause that would have retroactively applied it to Amona.
On Thursday, the High Court of Justice approved a government request to delay the demolition of Amona, originally scheduled for December 25, by 45 days.
While the Regulation Bill won’t prevent the court-ordered razing of Amona, the legislation was largely drafted in response to the court order amid efforts by the right-wing Jewish Home party to seek a broader solution to the widespread illegal construction in the West Bank that could be subject to future demolition orders.
Speaking Saturday night, former prime minister Ehud Barak said that the bill may have contributed to the the US decision not to veto the anti-settlement motion. Netanyahu’s unwavering support for isolated settlements has harmed all settlements, he said, adding that the prime minister was “blackmailed” by his far-right coalition allies to back the outpost bill.
Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday that Netanyahu could have avoided such an outcome in the Security Council had he not allowed for and boasted about increased settlement expansion on his watch.
“Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today,” Rhodes said on a media conference call, after citing US governmental figures on settlement growth in the West Bank and mentioning the Israeli premier’s past statements on his government’s allegiance to the settlement movement.
But “acceleration of settlement activity” and recent remarks from Israeli leaders, Rhodes said, had exacerbated American concerns — enough for a measure such as Friday’s to make it through.
Netanyahu’s statement last week calling his cabinet “more committed than any other” to West Bank settlements — made in reference to efforts to prevent the Amona evacuation — was among the remarks the United States found troubling, Rhodes said.
The proposed Regulation Bill stipulates that settlement construction in the West Bank that was carried out in good faith, without the knowledge that the land was privately owned, would be recognized by the government, provided the settlers show some kind of state support in establishing themselves at the site — which in some cases could be as minimal as having access to public infrastructures.
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.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that the Regulation Bill breaches both local and international law, and indicated that the High Court is likely to strike it down. Some officials, including Netanyahu himself, have warned that the law could see Israeli officials brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Marissa Newman and Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.