Israeli Bill to Recognize Settlement Outposts Passes First Vote

  • Palestinians denounce the legislation attempt as war crimes
  • UN envoy says bill lessens chance of Israeli-Palestinian peace

Israel’s parliament voted to give official recognition to unauthorized settlement outposts across the West Bank in legislation that provoked Palestinian outrage and was condemned as a land grab by the United Nations.

The bill, introduced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, passed 57-51 in Israel’s Knesset and must be approved in two more votes to become law. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a prominent supporter of the legislation and chief of the Jewish Home party, hailed it for demonstrating that a “nation can’t be an occupier of its own land.”

The UN’s Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, had called on Israeli lawmakers to reject the bill, saying in a statement before the vote that it was a violation of Palestinian property rights and “will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace.” Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said an earlier version of the bill was “flagrantly illegal” and he can’t defend it. The current bill retains provisions he criticized.

Thousands of Israelis live in the unauthorized enclaves. Although they were built without following formal procedures, government officials knew they were being erected and gave them infrastructure hookups and military protection. In addition, Israel has built more than 120 authorized West Bank settlements, housing about 400,000 people, that it considers legal and most countries and the UN do not.

Likud lawmaker Amir Ohana said the government was acting no differently than countries around the world that “expropriate land for national needs, such as for building railroad tracks.” He called the bill’s passage a declaration by the Knesset that “settlements are in Israel’s interest.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the measure was an “attempt to legalize war crimes.” All Jewish settlements in the West Bank are on illegally occupied land, he said, “regardless of any law passed by the Israeli parliament or any decision of an Israeli judge.”

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