Ministers to vote on bill legalizing 66 outposts deep in West Bank

Jewish Home MKs threaten to topple government if committee doesn’t back Regulation Law 2, retroactively authorizing communities built illegally on state land over the Green Line

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A view of the Givat Assaf outpost, located near the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the West Bank (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
A view of the Givat Assaf outpost, located near the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the West Bank (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

A key ministerial committee will vote on Sunday on legislation that would advance the legalization of 66 illegal Israeli outposts established deep in the West Bank.

The bill is known as Regulation Law 2 and 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 passed in February 2017.

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 is then 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 NGOs and Palestinian local councils petitioned the High Court against the law, arguing that the Knesset does not have 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 the legislation, or limit its scope, at the very least.

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

Fed up with the state’s handling of his proposal as it approached its two year anniversary since being passed by the Knesset, Jewish Home MK Bezalel 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 more than several 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 former chairman of the settlement umbrella group the Yesha Council Pinchas Wallerstein, a two-year deadline to legalize the 66 outposts.

Haresha outpost. (Courtesy)

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

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.

While 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.

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 Bezalel Smotrich and Uri Ariel 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 bring down the fragile ruling coalition of just 61 of 120 parliament members.

The Times of Israel secured a copy of the legislation with the list of outposts slated to be legalized, first revealed Friday by the Yisrael Hayom daily.

The outposts 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.

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