UN peace envoy warns Israel of far-reaching consequences to outpost bill
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UN peace envoy warns Israel of far-reaching consequences to outpost bill

Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov urges Israeli MKs to reconsider legislation to legalize settlements built on private Palestinian land

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov talks to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on June 30, 2016. (screen capture: UN)
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov talks to reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on June 30, 2016. (screen capture: UN)

The United Nations envoy on Middle East peace warned Monday that a controversial outpost legalization bill, set for a final Knesset vote in the evening, could have significant legal implications for Israel and would push away the hope of a peace agreement with the Arab world.

The so-called Regulation Bill seeks to legalize several thousand West Bank settlement homes built illegally on private Palestinian property.

Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement: “I am concerned by the scheduled vote on the so-called “Regularization Bill” [sic] as it would enable the continued use of privately-owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.”

“If adopted into law, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. The bill has been deemed unconstitutional by the Attorney General of Israel and is in contravention of international law.”

“I urge Israeli legislators to reconsider this move,” Mladenov said. He noted that “settlements are illegal under international law and, as outlined in the Middle East Quartet report, present one of the main impediments to peace.”

View of caravan houses in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona on January 16, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
View of caravan houses in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona on January 16, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

The Regulation Bill offers financial compensation to the Palestinian landowners and staves off any further demolitions such as the one carried out against the illegal Amona outpost last week.

It has faced strident opposition, including from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has warned that it marks the first time Israeli legislation explicitly affirms government support for settlements, and would openly curtail property rights of Palestinians in the West Bank in a way that contravenes the protections granted to occupied populations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“All core issues should be resolved between the parties through direct negotiations on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions and mutual agreements,” Mladenov said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly sought to defer the Knesset vote on the bill, requesting it be delayed until after his meeting next week with US President Donald Trump.

But far right members of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, especially ministers from the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, have vowed to move ahead with the bill’s Monday vote.

Netanyahu left for an official visit to London on Sunday and met with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street in London on Feb. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street in London on Feb. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

While the Trump administration has mostly declined to condemn settlement building, the president has reportedly asked Netanyahu not to surprise him with unilateral moves in the West Bank and the issue is expected to be high on the agenda when the two meet in the White House on February 15.

In recent months, the Regulation Bill has been pushed by right-wing lawmakers, in part to offset the political fallout from the Amona evacuation.

If it passes its second and third readings, the legislation would legalize several thousand settlement homes that were unknowingly built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The bill would freeze demolition proceedings against the homes. For any homes found to have been built in good faith – that is, owners did not know the house was built on privately owned land before building there – the state would seize the property from its Palestinian owners in exchange for compensation valued at slightly more than the land’s market value, as determined by an Israeli government committee established for that purpose.

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