Knesset to vote on repealing Disengagement Law for northern West Bank

Contentious shift in West Bank policy set to be approved with little fanfare, with coalition sources saying they aim to divert attention from measure

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

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)
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 Knesset on Monday is set to roll back legislation that ordered the evacuation of four northern West Bank settlements concurrent with Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, as the coalition works to legalize a wildcat outpost currently occupying the site of one of the former communities.

The bill would repeal the clauses of the Disengagement Law that ban Israelis from the area where the settlements of Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur stood. They were the only West Bank settlements to be cleared during what is termed the disengagement from Gaza.

These destroyed towns have been a symbol to settlement supporters of an injustice they seek to undo, while to Palestinians they are another section of West Bank territory stripped from them. The High Court of Justice has ruled that at least one of the communities was illegally built on private Palestinian land.

Repealing restrictions on Jewish entry is a required step toward the government’s stated goal of legalizing the outpost at Homesh.

Despite the importance of repealing parts of the law to some parties in the hard-right government, they have not publicly touted their efforts, which coalition sources say is a deliberate tactic to divert attention from the controversial measure and thus better ensure its swift passage.

Additionally, opposition lawmakers who normally blanch at further entrenching Israel’s presence in the West Bank have been relatively quiet on the issue, with much of their energy focused on countering the government’s plans for overhauling the judicial system. Center-left Labor leader Merav Michaeli, for example, focused her remarks to the media Monday on the latest developments in the coalition’s plan for selecting judges and did not mention this shift in West Bank policy.

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein arrives for a committee hearing, March 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the bill is contentious internationally and its final Knesset readings are planned at a tricky time. Earlier this week, Israel — in the presence of US, Egyptian, and Jordanian officials — reaffirmed its pledge to the Palestinian Authority to refrain from advancing settlement plans for four months and from advancing the legalization of West Bank outposts for six months.

This promise, and an accompanying Palestinian promise to freeze unilateral actions that are opposed by Israel, are aimed at lowering Israel-Palestinian tensions that frequently simmer around Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, expected to begin on Thursday.

National Unity leader Benny Gantz called the Homesh bill a “strategic mistake” but said he was letting members of his opposition party — which includes a number of right-leaning lawmakers — vote their conscience.

Leader of the National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The bill is sponsored by MK Yuli Edelstein and also backed by several other Likud MKs, ultra-Orthodox Shas lawmakers and members of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties. Among them is freshman Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, a former resident of Homesh whose first husband was killed in a terror attack while living there.

Har-Melech is one of a number of far-right MKs who called Sunday to escalate actions against Palestinian terror, following the second attack in the Palestinian town of Huwara this month.

Reclaiming Homesh has become an important cause for backers of settlements, who have engaged in a years-long cat-and-mouse game with the Israel Defense Forces of destroying and rebuilding an illegal yeshiva and some living quarters on the hilltop.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has pledged to preserve the yeshiva, despite court orders to demolish it. In January, the High Court of Justice ordered the government to explain why the illegal settlement should not be evacuated.

While it constitutes a critical step, Monday’s bill will not immediately legalize Homesh.

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