Knesset passes settler law bill, months after legislation felled previous coalition

Right-wing MKs now lead push to renew extension of civil and criminal law to settlers; their opposition to it on political grounds in previous Knesset led to government’s collapse

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

File: View of the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank on July 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
File: View of the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank on July 2, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

A bill that extends Israeli civil and criminal law to Israeli citizens living in the West Bank was renewed for the next five years by the Knesset overnight Tuesday and passed into law after its second and third readings in the plenum.

The bill passed 39-12.

The legislation, which is usually renewed as a matter of routine upon its expiration, failed to pass during the waning days of the last coalition in June 2022. Right-wing parties, then in the opposition, voted against the measure though they would normally be expected to support it, leading directly to the collapse of the Lapid-Bennett government.

The legislation renews regulations that allow the state to apply criminal law and certain key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank.

Originally enacted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, the law, which was last extended in 2017, remains an “emergency measure” that must be renewed every five years.

Although the West Bank is not part of Israeli sovereign territory, the measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as though they live in Israel in most matters, without extending those same legal arrangements to Palestinians.

The West Bank settlement of Efrat, March 10, 2022. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

The Labor party, which had backed the bill while in the government last year, announced earlier this month that it would no longer vote for the regulations, which it called “annexation measures that are in opposition to Zionism.”

It said that policy goals of the new hardline government raised doubts about how temporary the regulations were.

“The party is staunchly opposed to steps that will harm Israeli security and lead us to a binational state as per the vision of [Religious Zionism head Bezalel] Smotrich and his partners,” Labor said in a statement, according to Ynet news.

Smotrich has long advocated for massively expanding settlements and for annexing large parts of the West Bank without granting equal rights to Palestinians in those areas. Under terms of a coalition agreement between Likud and  Religious Zionism, Smotrich was made a minister within the Defense Ministry and given authority over the Civil Administration, which is in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank — giving him unprecedented influence over the daily lives of Palestinians and Israelis there.

Ahead of the vote, National Unity leader Benny Gantz said his opposition party would back the measure, which had been championed last year by then-justice minister Gideon Sa’ar.

“What happened during the last administration was wrong on the part of the opposition and killing the law was against national interests,” said Sa’ar, now a senior National Unity MK.

“We are in opposition to the government, not the state and its essential interests,” he added earlier this month.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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