Kahlon’s opposition delays vote on controversial settlement bill
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Kahlon’s opposition delays vote on controversial settlement bill

Measure to overturn High Court ruling on illegal outpost Amona would set ‘problematic’ precedent, Knesset legal advisers warn

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, November 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, November 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s opposition to the controversial Regulation Bill stopped the measure in its tracks on Wednesday, according to multiple coalition sources familiar with the negotiations over the bill.

A morning meeting of a special committee of lawmakers tasked with finding a compromise version of the bill ended without result, although some coalition lawmakers said they remained optimistic that differences could be bridged on the initiative to prevent the demolition of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona.

But within an hour, the planned vote on the committee’s developing draft of the bill was pushed off to next Monday, apparently due to Kahlon’s opposition to a key stipulation in the legislation, a coalition source familiar with the negotiations told The Times of Israel.

Kahlon’s ten-seat Kulanu faction has de facto veto power over legislation in the 67-seat coalition, as bills require a 61-seat majority to pass.

Built on private Palestinian land, Amona has been the subject of 15 years of court deliberations that finally ended in 2014 with a High Court of Justice order that it be demolished by December 25, 2016.

Residents of the West Bank settlements of Ofra and Amona hold a demonstration demanding the approval of a bill legalizing West Bank outposts, near the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Residents of the West Bank settlements of Ofra and Amona hold a demonstration demanding the approval of a bill legalizing West Bank outposts, near the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The issue has galvanized pro-settlement politicians who have sought legislative ways to circumvent the court’s decision. But past proposals to grant the state the ability to seize the private land for Amona residents’ use were met with the vociferous opposition of officials and political leaders. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told lawmakers last month that such a breach of property protections would be deemed unconstitutional by the High Court of Justice. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have both expressed misgivings or opposition to the idea.

Kahlon’s opposition to the measure has sparked frantic maneuvering in the coalition, Knesset sources confirmed Wednesday.

Kulanu opposes only the part of the bill, article 7, that explicitly overturns the High Court of Justice verdict forbidding the expropriation of the privately owned Palestinian land on which the outpost sits, the sources said. It was Kahlon who demanded that Wednesday’s planned vote on the draft bill be delayed until next week, drawing the ire of the Jewish Home party that is the bill’s top backer.

View of caravan homes at the Amona Jewish outpost in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. (FLASH90)
View of caravan homes at the Amona Jewish outpost in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. (FLASH90)

In response, say sources, Jewish Home has said it will not vote for the so-called “muezzin bill,” which seeks to forbid the sounding of the Muslim call to prayer from loudspeakers during nighttime hours. According to sources familiar with the negotiations over the second bill, Jewish Home’s decision means Wednesday’s early vote on that bill would also be delayed until Monday, in order to punish Netanyahu – the top backer of the meezzin bill – for what Jewish Home says is his refusal to resist Kahlon’s delay of the Amona bill.

In the midst of all the coalition infighting, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, who chairs the joint committee that debated the Amona bill on Wednesday, sounded an optimistic note.

Constitution Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Nissan Slomiansky, a meeting in the Knesset, February 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Constitution Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Nissan Nissan Slomiansky, a meeting in the Knesset, February 23, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

When the bill is finally put to its first of three votes, he said, lawmakers would take the rare step of voting on two versions of the bill at once – one that explicitly overturns the High Court of Justice’s ruling on Amona and a second that leaves Amona out of the bill’s protections – while negotiations over its final version would take place in committee after the vote.

The bill now has the support of “both the Knesset legal adviser and the Knesset speaker,” he asserted.

If Wednesday’s delay is any indication, the bill’s trials may be just beginning.

During the committee’s debate Wednesday morning, its legal adviser, Elazar Stern, warned that the version of the bill that overturned the High Court verdict on Amona may mark a “very problematic” precedent for Israeli legislation “in that it cancels the final verdict of a court.”

According to Stern, “We examined all the examples brought to the committee that seemed to offer a precedent for legislation that canceled court verdicts, and all these examples, as well as others, not only did not seek to cancel a verdict, but in fact contained the explicit caveat that they would not apply to previous verdicts.”

Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog at a meeting at the Knesset, November 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zionist Union leader MK Isaac Herzog at a meeting at the Knesset, November 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who had canceled a trip to London Wednesday where he was to participate in a conference, responded to the delay by mocking the coalition as “without a leader and unable to make a decision on any critical issue.”

He called for new elections “to save the country from the messianic extremists who are dragging us over the edge of the cliff.”

Other opposition MKs criticized the government’s indecision as raising false hopes among Amona residents.

Yesh Atid’s Yaakov Peri called the bill a “cynical” effort to “gather Facebook ‘likes’ and newspaper headlines,” and insisted the entire process amounted to grandstanding and a “smokescreen before the residents of the entire settlement project in Judea and Samaria, and in Amona specifically.”

Zionist Union MK Omer Barlev said the special committee “was for decoration the entire time. The [planned vote on] two separate bills will only bring more suffering for this bill, and for Amona’s residents.”

Likud MK Yehudah Glick, a longtime pro-settlement activist, said that if Amona’s demolition could not be prevented, its residents should evacuate without violence.

“If, alas, we fail to save the settlement, make sure it’s a dignified evacuation. Show leadership to those young people who at some point will lose control. No one wins from a forced evacuation with mounted [police],” Glick said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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