Despite harried government efforts to reach a compromise on a controversial bill that will allow the government to legalize outposts on private Palestinian land, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would still oppose the measure as it rushed toward Knesset approval Monday.
Mandelblit, who has warned in the past that the legislation would not be defensible in court, said his opposition still stands, despite an agreement to drop a clause in the bill that would retroactively override a High Court ruling to raze the Amona outpost by December 25.
Mandelblit said the amended bill still bypassed standard land regulation procedures in the West Bank and still legalized Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian land in breach of local and international law.
According to reports, Mandelblit is mulling asking the High Court to postpone the December 25 deadline for a period of 30 days to give outpost residents additional time to move.
A preliminary vote on the new draft bill was to be held in the Knesset plenum later on Monday evening, with the legislation expected to go forward despite Mandelblit’s objections.
The Knesset discussion on the bill began stormily with a speech by Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich that descended into chaos as opposition lawmakers attempted to shout him down and drown him out by banging on tables.
The measure is the result of negotiations after the Jewish Home Party demanded keeping the Amona clause in and the Kulanu party said it would torpedo it if so.
As it stands, the proposal — endorsed by Smotrich and party colleague Shuli Moalem-Refaeli as well as Likud MKs David Bitan and Yoav Kisch — has the backing of all the coalition parties, including the center-right Kulanu, which had rejected previous versions of the legislation that would have been extended retroactively to avert the razing of the Amona outpost by the end of the year.
The bill is expected to sail through the Knesset after gaining coalition support in an emergency meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation Monday night. If passed, it would then inevitably be challenged before the Israeli High Court.
Rather than save Amona from the bulldozers, the 11th-hour compromise reached among coalition members would see settlers moved to a nearby parcel of land held under the Absentee Ownership Law, a measure proposed by Mandelblit himself.
Settlers have refused to move willingly, even after the compromise was reached, leading to fears of a repeat of a violent confrontation with troops when homes in the outpost were demolished in 2006.
The new bill will not apply retroactively to the Amona outpost; it will, however, recognize other settlement construction that was built on private Palestinian land.
Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now says the Regulation Bill will legalize 55 outposts and 4,000 housing units in existing Jewish outposts and settlements in the West Bank, cast over some 8,000 dunams (3 square miles) of privately-owned Palestinian land.
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, and if the settlers had some component 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 — would be recognized by the government.
The proposed legislation notes that the government support may be explicit or implicit, from the start or post-facto, and the backing of local municipalities is considered state support.
Under the law, 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 explicitly refers to structures in three settlements that have been subject to legal efforts to demolish buildings constructed on private land — Eli, Netiv HaAvot, and Ofra. It says that all administrative proceedings in these three settlements will be frozen with the enactment of the law, and within the first 12 months, the government must determine whether these structures were built in good faith and with government assistance. If they are — the Regulation Bill will apply to these areas, it stipulates.
“In many cases, settlements were built in agreed-upon areas, and were even encouraged or built in coordination with the state, or were built in good faith by the Israeli residents, who were unaware that this was privately-owned land,” the proposal says. “Leaving the situation as is in these settlements or their destruction is liable to seriously, unjustifiably harm those who have lived there for many years. Therefore, the regulation of these settlements is necessary.”
Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett praised the measure as the first step toward annexing West Bank land for Israel. “Today, the Israeli Knesset shifted from a path to establish a Palestinian state, to a path of extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Let there be no doubt, the regulation bill is what will spearhead the extension of [Israeli] sovereignty,” Bennett said.
Others, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have warned in the past that the law could see Israeli officials prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.