The final Knesset votes on controversial legislation that would legalize some 4,000 housing units in the West Bank built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land have been postponed until after President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House on January 20, The Times of Israel has learned.
The information was confirmed by coalition chairman David Bitan.
After weeks of marathon meetings to hammer out the legislation, a committee meeting to finalize the bill for its second and third readings in the plenary was canceled on Monday. A new date to clear the bill for its final readings in the plenum was not immediately set.
A spokesperson for Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said the committee votes to okay the bill in its final version would likely take place next week. He said it was possible the final plenary vote would be delayed until after the presidential inauguration, but that a final date had not been set.
The delay signaled a loss of political leverage for the Jewish Home party, which would no longer be able to condition their votes for the two-state budget — which must be approved by the end of the year — on the coalition’s support for the outpost bill.
Since the US election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed cabinet ministers and Knesset members not to comment on policy 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.”
Netanyahu was concerned that outgoing US President Barack Obama would seek an eleventh-hour United Nations Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though reports citing US officials indicated that was increasingly unlikely. On December 3, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel should wait until after January 21 to advance the Regulation Bill, which has been approved in the plenum in its preliminary and first readings.
The legislation, 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 Sunday, the residents of the outpost accepted a government offer to relocate ahead of the looming December 25 deadline, under which 24 of its 40 families will move to a nearby plot of land while the rest will receive temporary housing in the nearby settlement of Ofra. That deal was accepted after months of efforts by the government to encourage the residents to evacuate peacefully.
While the Regulation Bill did not 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.
The legislation 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 could 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 — who voted for the bill along with all but one member of his coalition — have warned that the law could see Israeli officials prosecuted in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.