Israel’s settlers clear path to annexation with new land law

Israel/Palestine
on 8 Comments

The Israeli parliament passed the “Regularization Bill”, on Monday night–a piece of legislation every bit as suspect as its title suggests. The law widens the powers of Israeli officials to seize the final fragments of Palestinian land in the West Bank that were supposed to be off-limits.

Palestinian leaders warned that the law hammered the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. Government ministers gleefully agreed. For them, this is the extension of Israeli law into the West Bank and the first step towards its formal annexation.

The legalization law–also commonly translated from Hebrew as the regulation or validation law–was the right’s forceful response to the eviction last week of a few dozen families from a settlement “outpost” called Amona. It was a rare and brief setback for the settlers, provoked by a court ruling that took three years to enforce.

The evacuation of 40 families was transformed into an expensive piece of political theater, costing $40 million. It was choreographed as a national trauma to ensure such an event is never repeated.

The uniforms worn by police at demolitions of Palestinian homes–guns, batons, black body armor and visors–were stored away. Instead officers, in friendly blue sweatshirts and baseball caps, handled the Jewish lawbreakers with kid gloves, even as they faced a hail of stones, bleach, and bottles. By the end, dozens of officers needed hospital treatment.

As the clashes unfolded, Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the settler party Jewish Home, called Amona’s families “heroes”. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu empathized: “We all understand the extent of their pain.”

The settlers have been promised an enlarged replacement settlement and will be richly compensated. In a more general preparation, plans have been unveiled for thousands of extra settler homes in the West Bank.

But the main prize for Bennett and the far right was the legalization law itself. It reverses a restriction imposed in the 1970s–and later violated by dozens of “outposts” like Amona–designed to prevent a free-for-all by the settlers.

International law is clear that an occupying power can take land only for military needs. Israel committed a war crime in transferring more than 600,000 Jewish civilians into the occupied territories.

Successive governments ignored their legal obligations by pretending the territories were disputed, not occupied. But to end the Israeli courts’ discomfort, officials agreed to forbid settlers from building on land privately owned by Palestinians.

It was not much of a constraint. Under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, plenty of Palestinian land has never been formally registered. Ownership derived chiefly from usage. Much of the rest was common land.

Israel seized these vast tracts that lacked title deeds, or that belonged to those expelled from the West Bank by the 1967 war, and declared them “state land”–to be treated effectively as part of Israel and reserved exclusively for Jewish settlement. But even this giant land grab was not enough.

The settlers’ territorial hunger led to dozens of settlement outposts being built across the West Bank, often on private Palestinian land. Despite the fact they violated Israeli law, the outposts immediately received state services, from electricity and water to buses and schools.

Very belatedly, the courts drew a line in Amona and demanded that the land is returned to its Palestinian owners. The legalization law overrules the judges, allowing private lands stolen from Palestinians to be laundered as Israeli state property.

Israel’s attorney general has refused to defend the law. Will the supreme court accept it? Possibly. The aim of the “traumatic” scenes at Amona was to depict the court as the villain of this drama for ordering the evictions.

Nonetheless, there could be silver linings to the legalization law.

In practice, there has never been a serious limit on theft of Palestinian land. But now Israeli government support for the plunder will be explicit in law. It will be impossible to blame the outposts on “rogue” settlers, or claim that Israel is trying to safeguard Palestinian property rights.

Dan Meridor, a former government minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, called the law “evil and dangerous.” Israel, he pointed out, can have jurisdiction over private Palestinian land only if Palestinians vote for Israel’s parliament–in short, this is annexation by other means. It shuts the door on any kind of Palestinian state.

Over time, he added, it will bring unintended consequences. Rather than make the outposts legal, it will highlight the criminal nature of all settlements, including those in East Jerusalem and the so-called “settlement blocs”–areas previous US administrations had hinted they might accept for annexation to Israel in a future peace deal.

The other major danger was noted by opposition leader Isaac Herzog. “The train departing from here has only one stop–at The Hague,” he said, in reference to the home of the International Criminal Court.

If ICC prosecutors take their duties seriously, the legalization law significantly raises the pressure on them to put Israeli officials – even Netanyahu – on trial for complicity in the war crime of establishing and nurturing the settlements.

A version of this article first appeared in the National Abu Dhabi on Feb. 7, 2017. 

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.

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8 Responses

  1. just
    February 8, 2017, 3:48 pm

    “If ICC prosecutors take their duties seriously, the legalization law significantly raises the pressure on them to put Israeli officials – even Netanyahu – on trial for complicity in the war crime of establishing and nurturing the settlements.”

    I am afraid that the ICC is lamentably incurious and eerily complicit in Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. So are Israel’s ‘allies’ and those in and out of Israel that support Israel’s crimes (either silently or vociferously) , including this latest legalization of decades of theft by the Knesset.

    I’m afraid that it falls to informed, regular, and good human beings to stand up to their complicit governments and legal systems to impose severe sanctions, boycotts and divestments.

  2. Sulphurdunn
    February 8, 2017, 4:37 pm

    If G-d ever gave me a semi-arid wasteland like Palestine as my promised land, and told me all I needed do was violently disposes the native inhabitants and live in a giant concrete hive, like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie, on a barren hillside surrounded by walls and armed guards, just to exercise my birthright; I think I’d tell him, “Thanks anyway, Y-H-W-H old buddy, but you can have my cell in that insect colony. I’m moving back to New York.

  3. Ossinev
    February 9, 2017, 4:03 pm

    “Palestinian leaders warned that the law hammered the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution”

    Waiting for the Palestinian leaders referred to (presumably Abbas and Erekat ) to officially hand over the keys then ? Don`t hold your breath. They have made this threat almost as often as the Yahoo has insisted that he wants a 2SS

  4. just
    February 9, 2017, 8:05 pm

    O/T:

    “Le Pen: French Jews Will Have to Give Up Israeli Citizenship

    Leading contender in French election tells interviewer she won’t allow dual citizenships with non-European countries. Asked specifically about Jews and Israel, she said: ‘Israel isn’t an EU member.’

    In a France ruled by the far-right Marine Le Pen, Jewish citizens will be forced to give up their Israeli citizenship, the Front National party leader said on Thursday.

    Le Pen, a leading contender in the upcoming French presidential contest, told France 2 TV that if elected, she will not allow French citizens to hold on to any citizenship in a non-European country. When asked specifically about Israel and Jews, who form a large community in France, the Front National party leader responded: “Israel isn’t a member of the European Union, and doesn’t consider itself as such,” and therefore a dual French-Israeli citizenship will not be allowed.

    Le Pen said that the ban will also apply to citizens of the U.S. and North African countries, but that citizens of the EU, or of what she termed as the “Europe of nations,” which includes Russia, will be exempted. …”

    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/1.770915?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Ruh Roh…

    • RoHa
      February 9, 2017, 9:02 pm

      And I thought she had a good chance of becoming president. She’s blown it now. Expect some terrible scandal, assassination (by a crazed, Muslim, terrorist, of course), or similar obstacle to crop up.

  5. Talkback
    February 10, 2017, 4:25 pm

    Quite interesting these highly systematic and instutionalized disposessions based on faith/heritage. I wonder who their role models are.

  6. Sulphurdunn
    February 11, 2017, 11:59 am

    I’d happily see dual citizenship done away with everywhere.

  7. talknic
    February 12, 2017, 9:23 am

    “Under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, plenty of Palestinian land has never been formally registered. Ownership derived chiefly from usage. Much of the rest was common land.

    Israel seized these vast tracts that lacked title deeds, or that belonged to those expelled from the West Bank by the 1967 war”

    ‘Registration’ and ‘title deeds’ apply to ‘real estate’ not territory. Territory belongs to the legitimate inhabitants of the territory whether they own/rent/lease real estate or live under a bridge.

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