Regev: It's time 'Palestinians' realize it's Israeli land

Ministers advance bill that would legalize 66 outposts deep in the West Bank

Legislation would give Knesset-appointed committee 2 years to regulate hilltop communities; attorney general warns that proposal carries ‘significant legal problems’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

The West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted on Sunday to advance legislation that would require the state to legalize 66 illegal outposts located deep in the West Bank.

The bill, known as Regulation Law 2, seeks to regulate hilltop communities built beyond the Green Line over the past 20 years, in light of the High Court of Justice’s freezing of the so-called Regulation Law, sponsored by Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and passed in February 2017.

Following the bill’s approval, the Attorney General’s Office released a statement, slamming the proposal and saying it “raises significant legal problems, which may even lead to international repercussions and expose Israel to significant risks in this respect.”

During the debate over the bill, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri warned the ministers that even if the land in question is considered to belong to the state, it is not clear that outposts in question were legally acquired by the settlers. However, the ministers dismissed Nizri’s concerns and voted to advance the bill regardless.

Their vote granted coalition support for the bill, meaning that coalition members would be obliged to support it in all further readings in the Knesset, but there was no decision about when an initial vote would take place. Since the proposal was a private member’s bill and not official government legislation, it will require an initial vote in the Knesset plenary before three additional readings.

Smotrich praised the advancement of his legislation, boasting that it would allow for the legalization of some 6,000 illegally built Israeli homes throughout the West Bank. “This is the definitive answer to the murderous terrorism of the Arabs,” he said in a statement.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during an Interior Affairs committee meeting at the Knesset, January 1, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Culture Minister Miri Regev similarly praised the legislation, vowing in a statement that the government “will continue to invest in and strengthen settlement. This has been our land for thousands of years and so it will be forever. It is worthwhile for those who call themselves ‘Palestinians’ to recognize this.”

The Peace Now settlement watchdog blasted the move.

“The right-wing government consists of lying and convicted criminals, who are dancing on the blood of terror victims in order to build and legalize the most organized crime in Israel – the settlement enterprise. It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, it’s immoral and it will not work,” the left-wing NGO said in a statement.

The goal of the initial legislation had been similar: to legalize some 4,000 illegally built settler homes by expropriating the land where settlers were determined to have built in “good faith” or with government support. The original Palestinian owner would then be compensated for the land.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit refused to defend the law on the state’s behalf, arguing that it violated the rights of Palestinians. A group of left-wing groups and Palestinian local councils petitioned the High Court against the law, arguing that the Knesset does not possess the authority to pass laws regarding property in the West Bank, which is under the jurisdiction of the military. The top legal body subsequently stalled the implementation of the legislation pending hearings that have been ongoing. Most analysts predict that the court will strike down the legislation, or limit its scope at the very least.

Fed up with the state’s handling of his proposal as it approached its two-year anniversary since being passed by the Knesset, Smotrich put forward Regulation Law 2, which focuses on illegal outposts that are claimed to have been built on what is considered to be state land, rather than private Palestinian land.

However, on multiple occasions over the past two decades, settlers have had to walk back claims that their outposts had been built on state land when it was later determined that they had actually been established on private Palestinian land.

Last year, the cabinet passed a decision declaring its intention to legalize all outposts in the West Bank and created a special committee responsible for that exact task. However, the committee has not met since its establishment and the Knesset last month discovered that it has yet to receive a full budget.

Regulation Law 2 would give the committee, headed by Pinchas Wallerstein, a former chairman of the settlement umbrella group the Yesha Council, a two-year deadline to legalize the 66 outposts.

In the meantime, the hilltop communities will be safeguarded from demolition by the state, despite their construction without the necessary permits. The proposal would see the outposts treated as full-fledged settlements while the state works toward their regulation.

The outposts slated to be legalized are Avigayil, Ahuzat Shalhevet, Ahiya, Ibei Hanahal, Alumot, Nof Kane, Jabel Artis, Esh Kodesh, Beit Hogla, Adam East, Bracha A, Bracha B, Givat Assaf, Givat Arnon, Givat Hahish, Givat Hatayas, Givat Harel, Givat Haro’eh, Givat Sal’it, Gva’ot Olam, Hahar, Havat Skali, Har Hemed, Zayit Ra’anan, Havat Gilat, Havat Yair, Havat Talia, Havat Mor, Haresha, Yitzhar South, Yitzhar East, Mevo’ot Jericho, Magen Dan, Maoz Zvi, Ma’ale Yisrael, Ma’ale Rehavam, Ma’ale Shlomo, Mitzpe Danny, Mitzpe Hagit, Mitzpe Danny, Mitzpe Yitzhar, Mitzpe Cramim, Nofei Prat West, Mitzpe Lachish, Neve Erez, Nofei Nehemia, Nahalat Ami, Netiv Ha’avot, Adei Ad, Ayanot Kedem, Neve Shir, Nof Harim, Hayovel, Asa’el, Pnei Kedem, Tzur Shalom, Kedem Arava, Kida, Susya North, Ramat Gilad, Sde Boaz, Shalhevet Yam, Havat Ma’on, Tapuah West and Tekoa D.

Haresha outpost. (Courtesy)

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.

Although certain government ministries may currently not fund outposts to the same degree that they do settlements, local Israeli authorities throughout the West Bank have long taken financial responsibility for the illegal communities, ensuring that they are hooked up to water and electricity and receive the necessary public services. In addition, the IDF uses extensive resources to ensure that they are protected.

Consequently, the extent of the immediate impact that the legislation’s passing would have on the daily lives of settlers in the 66 outposts would appear to be minimal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 16, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

At Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had directed the Defense Ministry to establish new industrial zones near the Avnei Hefetz and Beitar Ilit settlements and to advance plans for the construction of 82 homes in the Ofra settlement where a terror attack took place a week earlier.

In addition, Netanyahu said that he had directed that the status of an additional 2,000 illegally built Israeli homes in the West Bank be legalized.

“There will be other steps,” the prime minister vowed.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett attending a rally protesting ongoing terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 16, 2018. (Courtesy)

Following a number of deadly terror attacks in the West Bank, the far-right National Union faction of the Jewish Home party issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, saying its two MKs, Smotrich and Uri Arie, would quit the coalition if roadblocks aren’t reinstated throughout the West Bank and if Regulation Law 2 is not quickly passed by the Knesset.

The threat, if carried through, could have brought down the fragile ruling coalition of just 61 of 120 parliament members.

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