Israel’s ruling Likud party announced last Sunday a new bill that seeks to apply Israeli domestic law directly to settlements. The bill, expected to be introduced in two weeks, is an exact copy of a decision unanimously approved by the Likud Central Committee on December 31, 2017, which would de facto annex all Israeli settlements.
This is will not be the first time that a bill proposal to apply sovereignty on all Israeli settlements is presented to the Knesset, truth is, Israel has been incrementally extending its sovereignty in practice over the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967, when it annexed East Jerusalem.
As Jewish-Israeli civilians started settling in occupied territory following the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel started applying its own domestic legislation extraterritorially to settlers. This has created two parallel legal realities in the West Bank, where Jewish-Israelis live under Israeli civil law while the occupied Palestinian population is subjected to military rule. Moreover, settlement municipalities and regional councils are based on the usual local council model inside Israel and are managed in a similar way, diluting any formal differentiation between the illegal settlements and Israeli cities. These legislative measures have led many groups and experts to claim that Israeli policies vis-a-vis settlements amount to a “creeping annexation” of the occupied territory.
Still there are remaining disparities in how Israeli citizens are governed inside of Israel versus over the Green Line. The new Likud bill distinguishes itself from previous annexation measures by applying Israeli civil law not only to the Israeli citizens in the settlements, but to the territory controlled by settlements as well, rending this piece of legislation the most comprehensive guide to annexation yet. The bill would completely revoke the military governor’s legislative role in the West Bank making all Israeli laws directly applicable in settlements. For example, whereas at the moment all the land law applicable in settlements is that of the West Bank, a mix of Ottoman, Jordanian and British laws, the new bill would extend Israeli land legislation to settlements. This is in complete violation of international humanitarian law, which strictly prohibits the occupying power from changing the laws in place in occupied territory, and it would facilitate the completion of the gradual annexation of settlements by Israel.
The acquisition of territory by force, also known as annexation, is strictly prohibited and constitutes one of the most serious violations of international law. Despite this prohibition, Israel continues to implement annexation policies with impunity, mainly through its discriminatory planning and zoning regime and extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.
The annexation of Jerusalem and neighboring areas
These policies have had a significant impact on the areas surrounding Jerusalem, which have been gradually annexed using the Jerusalem master plans as a tool to facilitate the process. These plans share the common aim of realizing a Jewish-Israeli majority in Jerusalem through the progressive transfer of Palestinians out of the city and expanding the municipal boundaries deeper into the West Bank. The Jerusalem 2020 Master Plan of 2004, for example, aims to develop current Jerusalem to make it a big metropolitan center, connecting the settlements to the city not only geographically, but also economically and socially.
The separation and annexation wall is another mechanism used to cement the forcible acquisition of Palestinian land by Israel. Under the guise of security, Israel managed to de facto annex several settlements to Jerusalem by building the wall around them, while at the same time physically cutting off three Palestinian neighborhoods from the rest of the city. The wall has created new boundaries for Jerusalem making it the largest city in Israel, and has resulted in the annexation of 62 square miles of occupied land. Although the Palestinian neighborhoods on the other side of the wall remain officially part of Jerusalem, they do not receive any services and Israel has recently announced plans to leave them outside the municipal boundaries completely.
The New Likud bill in context
The annexation of East Jerusalem, the extraterritorial application of Israeli laws, the wall and the Jerusalem master plans, have all facilitated the increased sovereignty of Israel over occupied territory. They have also eased the way for annexation bills to start being discussed in the Knesset. Most recently, in October 2017, the “Greater Jerusalem” bill was taken to the Knesset by Likud member of the Knesset Yoav Kish, with the official support of Prime Minister Netanyahu. This Bill aimed to annex 19 settlements around Jerusalem by incorporating them to the municipal boundaries, among those the Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion settlement blocs, both of which comprise large swaths of Palestinian land. Before that, several members of the Israeli government had showed support for other bills to annex different parts of the West Bank.
It is in this context that Likud has now presented a bill proposal to the Knesset, taking past annexation policies one step further and aiming to formalize the annexation of all Israeli settlements under Israeli law. What remains to be seen now is whether the bill will be adopted by the Knesset in light of past reticency to vote for such Bills in favor of more subtle and gradual annexation policies. The main reason behind the sidelining of such proposals has been avoiding backlash by the international community, as the acquisition of territory by force triggers obligations on third states to act. Changes in Jewish demographics have also acted as a deterrent for previous bills, given that Ultra Orthodox Jerusalemites do not support the plans for thousands of Israelis of different lifestyle to access the municipal voting polls.
The almost unconditional U.S. support for the current Israeli government, however, might be the deciding factor for the Likud bill to finally being passed in the Knesset. MK Yoav Kish stated that Vice President Mike Pence, who visited Israel two weeks ago, expressed strong support for governmental policies and added that “Pence’s visit has strengthened the feeling that this is the right time, that this is the time to apply sovereignty. We’re at a historic juncture.”
Whether the bill is finally passed or not remains to be seen, but what is quite clear is that Israeli annexation policies will continue unstopped, as they have since the beginning of the occupation. While such a bill would constitute a change to the status quo, it might also serve as a wake up call for the international community to finally step in and intervene to put an end to the ongoing annexation of the occupied Palestinian territory.