Repeal of Disengagement Law for northern West Bank passes preliminary Knesset vote
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein says bill would right historic injustice, expand settlements; Labor MK Kariv says move contributes to annexation, creation of binational state
Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter
A highly controversial bill repealing parts of the 2005 Disengagement Law, which led to the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank, was passed in its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum Wednesday afternoon.
The bill would repeal the clauses of the Disengagement Law that ban Israelis from living in the region where the four settlements of Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur previously stood in the northern West Bank.
The bill is key to the government’s goal of legalizing the illegal settlement outpost of Homesh, which settler activists have repeatedly tried to rebuild. Left-wing groups have said the bill will be used to further expand settlement activity in the region in general.
The initial passage of the legislation, which will now go to committee to be prepared for its first reading, was hailed by its sponsor Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, for “rectifying an injustice” wrought 18 years ago by the Disengagement Law when settlements in Gaza and the four in the northern West Bank were evacuated.
Left-wing MKs and organizations denounced the legislation, with Labor MK Gilad Kariv arguing that it would lead to de facto annexation of large parts of the West Bank and undermine Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state.
The passage of the legislation in its preliminary reading comes after the government approved the legalization of nine illegal settlement outposts earlier this week.
The bill was backed by 34 MKs, including several ministers, and from across all coalition parties except Noam.
Following the approval of the bill in its preliminary reading, Edelstein said expanding settlements was crucial in combatting Palestinians’ efforts to increase their presence in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full civilian and military control but which was supposed to have been eventually transferred to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo II agreements.
“We need to go back and lead construction in all regions of the homeland and provide infrastructure for the residents who determine with their bodies and homes the borders of the State of Israel,” declared Edelstein.
The Likud MK and former Knesset chairman said “the people” had elected a right-wing government “to shape the face and borders of the State of Israel forever,” and that the bill would “correct one of the greatest injustices in the history of the State of Israel — the unilateral disengagement and the abandonment of the homeland to the scheming hands of the enemy.”
Edelstein added that restoring the territory in question to full Israeli control would “enable the democratic right of the residents of Israel to exercise the law of freedom of movement in the State of Israel” and “save settlement in northern Samaria.”
Kariv, however, excoriated Edelstein and the proponents of the legislation, denouncing it for the very reasons Edelstein lauded it.
“The purpose of this law is to start a process of returning Jewish settlement to northern Samaria and to the Gaza strip,” the Labor MK said using the Biblical term for one of the regions of the West Bank.
“This is a dramatic moment. What will guarantee the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country? Mixing millions of Palestinians with millions of Israeli citizens in bloody, binational reality, or separating from the Palestinians? That is the question,” insisted Kariv.
“There will not be a Jewish and democratic state here if you succeed in leading a de facto annexation plan… We will not let you destroy the Zionist vision and create a bloody, binational state.”
Along with Edesltein’s declared intention of expanding Israeli settlement activity in the region, the bill is also part of the government’s plan to legalize Homesh.
Last month, the government informed the High Court of Justice that it had reversed the previous government’s commitment to evacuate Homesh and instead seeks to legalize the outpost by repealing the relevant clause of the Disengagement Law.
The state was responding to a petition by the anti-settlement Yesh Din organization, which demands the outpost be removed and the Palestinian residents of the nearby village of Burqa be given access to their private land, on which the outpost sits.
Although the government hopes the repeal of the Disengagement Law will facilitate the legalization of Homesh, High Court justices expressed doubt that the settlement could be legalized, even if the Disengagement Law were amended, given that it is built largely on private Palestinian land.
The court gave the government 90 days to explain why it has not yet demolished Homesh, and the coalition is therefore expected to expedite as much as possible the legislation repealing the relevant clauses of the Disengagement Law in order to advance its goal of legalizing the outpost.