Palestinians slam outpost bill, demand US recognize Palestine
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Palestinians slam outpost bill, demand US recognize Palestine

Noting Kerry’s recent criticism of Israel’s West Bank policy, Ramallah also urges Washington to back UN resolution on settlements

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on February 21, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. (US State Department)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on February 21, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. (US State Department)

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called on the US administration to officially recognize the state of Palestine and support a UN resolution against Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in response to Israel’s preliminary approval Monday night of a bill that would legalize outposts.

The so-called Regulation Bill, which was slammed by Israeli opponents as a “land grab” and has been harshly criticized by the US, EU and UN as a breach of international law, sailed through the Knesset in a preliminary reading, clearing its first legislative hurdle by a count of 60 MKs to 49. Israel’s attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit, has warned that the bill breaches local and international law.

The Palestinians said in a statement they “welcomed” recent international criticism of Israeli settlements, “especially” by US Secretary of State John Kerry, before the preliminary approval of the Regulation Bill.

Kerry on Sunday harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the Israeli leader of not taking the required risks to reach a two-state solution, and calling the settlements “an obstacle to peace.”

Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Saban Forum in Washington DC on December 4 2016. (Ralph Aswang, via JTA)
US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Saban Forum in Washington DC on December 4 2016. (Ralph Aswang, via JTA)

“The ministry asserts that this statement [from Kerry], although belated, and in the last quarter-hour of the life of the Obama administration, clearly places full responsibility on the Israeli government for thwarting the negotiations and destroying the chances for peace,” the statement said.

The Palestinian ministry called on the US to “translate its positions into practical steps that will save the two-state solution of peace and opportunity. This would include the immediate cessation of settlement building through the US recognizing the State of Palestine and supporting the draft resolution against settlements in the UN Security Council.”

One hundred and thirty-seven countries have already officially recognized the state of Palestine.

Kerry, however, also said Sunday that Washington would continue to oppose “any resolution that is unfair and biased against Israel.” Outgoing President Barack Obama is said to have been mulling various steps to cement his legacy on the peace process, but “there’s been no decision made about any kind of step that may or may not be taken in that regard,” Kerry said.

Originally designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the Amona outpost by December 25, the Regulation Bill was initiated by lawmakers from the national-religious Jewish Home party. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of Jewish Home, hailed the bill’s approval as “a path of extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria,” his party’s stated goal.

The bill’s current version no longer includes a controversial clause that would have allowed the overriding of a High Court ruling requiring Amona’s demolition, but will recognize other settlements built on private Palestinian land.

Attorney General Mandelblit, however, opposes the most recent version as well, which suggests that, if passed, it may not survive a challenge in the High Court.

Israeli parliament members vote during a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting regarding the so-called Regulation Bill, which is designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona, in the Knesset on November 30, 2016. (Issac Harari/Flash90)
Israeli parliament members vote during a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting regarding the so-called Regulation Bill, which is designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona, in the Knesset on November 30, 2016. (Issac Harari/Flash90)

Settlement watchdog Peace Now said the bill would legalize 55 outposts and 4,000 housing units in existing Jewish outposts and settlements in the West Bank, cast over some 8,000 dunams (3 square miles) of privately owned Palestinian plots.

The PA ministry said the bill comes “in the context of the Israeli right and extreme right tightening its control and imposing its unjust and extremest ideology on the joints of the government in Israel.”

“Despite opposition from the Israeli attorney general for the project… and opposition from large segments of the legal and human rights [groups] inside Israel… and despite the international criticism and warning of… consequences to the two-state solution, the Knesset approved the preliminary reading of the bill, which contrasts starkly with international law and the Geneva Conventions, the laws in force in Israel and the decisions of the Supreme Court of the occupation state,” it added.

Marissa Newman and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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