A bill that seeks to legalize Israeli settlement homes built on private Palestinian property passed its final committee vote on Tuesday, putting the controversial legislation just one step away from becoming law.
The so-called Regulation Bill was narrowly approved by a vote of seven to six in a joint meeting of the Knesset’s Law Committee and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The bill is scheduled to face its second and third readings — the two final votes required to become law — on Monday.
Condemned by the Obama administration, the European Union, the United Nations and even Israel’s own attorney general, the Regulation Law has been hailed by the settlement movement as a turning point. Once passed, supporters say, the era of evacuating illegally built Israeli settlements will be over — though the measure will not cover the Amona outpost, whose evacuation order led to the drafting of the new legislation.
The bill was put on ice late last year as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly sought to avoid any additional fights with the Obama administration before its end on January 20. Netanyahu announced the bill’s return on Sunday.
The final draft of the bill outlines the procedures for legalizing unauthorized construction on private land and compensating the Palestinian landowners. It also immediately freezes administrative proceedings in 16 West Bank settlements for a period of 12 months. As the text stands, it does not apply to buildings that have received final demolition orders from Israeli courts, effectively excluding the outpost of Amona, which is set to be razed by next Wednesday.
The proposed bill stipulates that settlement construction in the West Bank that was carried out in good faith, without 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. This support could in some cases be as minimal as having access to public infrastructure.
Under the terms of the bill, the government will be able to appropriate land for its own use if the owners are unknown. 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 bill breaches both local and international law, and indicated that the High Court was likely to strike it down. Some officials, reportedly including Netanyahu himself in closed-door cabinet meetings, have also warned that the law could see Israeli officials brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Marissa Newman and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.