ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Labor head: 'Law allows crazy settlers to do what they want'

Disengagement repeal law for northern West Bank approved in first reading

Reversing sections of the 2005 disengagement law is critical for the government’s goal of legalizing the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh

Youths sits on a water tank painted orange, the color symbolizing the movement opposing the disengagement, at the West Bank settlement of Homesh, 12 June 2007 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Youths sits on a water tank painted orange, the color symbolizing the movement opposing the disengagement, at the West Bank settlement of Homesh, 12 June 2007 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

A contentious bill repealing sections of the 2005 Disengagement Law that paved the way for the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank was passed in its first reading in the Knesset plenum late Monday night.

Forty Knesset members voted in favor of the bill, while 17 lawmakers opposed it.

The bill would repeal the clauses of the Disengagement Law that ban Israelis from living in the region where the four settlements of Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur previously stood in the northern West Bank.

“There is no longer any justification to prevent Israelis from entering and staying in the evacuated territory in northern Samaria, and therefore it is proposed to state that these sections [of the disengagement law] will no longer apply to the evacuated territory,” reads the introductory text to the amendment, using the Biblical name for the northern West Bank.

The draft law is a vital element in the government’s objective of legalizing the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh, which settler activists have repeatedly tried to rebuild.

Watchdogs and opponents of the bill have said it will be used to further expand settlement activity in the region in general, and will lead to de facto annexation of large parts of the West Bank, undermining Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state.

Settlers at the Homesh Yeshiva gather in a tent at the former settlement of Homesh, west of the West Bank city of Nablus, on December 30, 2021 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

The legislation, which will now go back to committee to be prepared for its final readings, was introduced by its sponsor Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Edelstein, who didn’t show up for the earlier vote to prevent the High Court of Justice from having the power to suspend a prime minister from office and has questioned the overhaul push, reportedly made a joke about the criticism he has received: “They say I’m moving to the left-wing, so here’s a left-wing law I’m promoting.”

“After many years, it is clear to everyone how unjust the ‘disengagement plan,’ as they called it, was,” said Edelstein. “I hope we can set an example that we in the Knesset know how to correct injustice, even if it takes a few years.”

Likud MK and Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Yuli Edelstein speaks in the Knesset plenum in favor of his bill to repeal the sections of the 2005 Disengagement law which led to the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank, February 15, 2023. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson’s Department)

Labor leader Merav Michaeli responded to the passing of the law, telling Army Radio it “gives the crazy settlers permission to do whatever they want in Judea and Samaria, and to hell with Israel’s security.”

According to the Haaretz newspaper, opposition MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) had asked for the National Security Council, the Israel Defense Forces, the Foreign Ministry and the Shin Bet to give their opinions on the legislation, but the vote was brought to the plenum even though those statements have not yet been received and representatives of those bodies have not attended any of the hearings. The Defense Ministry has said it sees no obstacle to advancing the legislation in its current format, the report said.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli attends the Maariv conference in Tel Aviv, October 24, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The passage of the legislation in its first reading came after the government approved the legalization of nine illegal settlement outposts and advanced plans for the construction of over 7,000 new settlement homes last month.

Along with Edelstein’s declared intention of expanding Israeli settlement activity in the region, the bill is also part of the government’s plan to legalize Homesh.

In January, the government informed the High Court of Justice that it had reversed the previous government’s commitment to evacuate Homesh and instead seeks to legalize the outpost by repealing the relevant clause of the Disengagement Law.

Settlers at the Homesh Yeshiva gather at a tent at the former settlement of Homesh, west of the West Bank city of Nablus, on December 30, 2021 (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

The state was responding to a petition by the anti-settlement Yesh Din organization, which demands the outpost be removed and the Palestinian residents of the nearby village of Burqa be given access to their private land, on which the outpost sits.

Although the government hopes the repeal of the Disengagement Law will facilitate the legalization of Homesh, High Court justices expressed doubt that the settlement could be legalized, even if the Disengagement Law were amended, given that it is built largely on private Palestinian land.

The court gave the government 90 days to explain why it has not yet demolished Homesh, and the coalition is therefore expected to expedite as much as possible the legislation repealing the relevant clauses of the Disengagement Law in order to advance its goal of legalizing the outpost.

The disengagement legislation came up for vote during an all-night session at the Knesset for votes on a number of pieces of legislation key to the agenda of the government, Israel’s most hardline to date.

The Hadash-Ta’al alliance of majority-Arab parties said it was the only faction to fully remain in the plenum for the whole session.

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