Israeli parliament to vote on bill legalizing settlement outposts

Jewish settlers preparing for eviction FILE PHOTO: Israelis prepare for an expected eviction of the Jewish settlement outpost of Amona in the occupied West Bank, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament is widely expected to vote into law on Monday a bill retroactively legalizing about 4,000 settler homes built on privately-owned Palestinian land, a measure the attorney-general has said is unconstitutional.

Passage of the legislation, backed by the right-wing government and condemned by Palestinians as a blow to statehood hopes, may be largely symbolic, however, as it goes against Israeli Supreme Court rulings on property rights. Critics and some legal experts say it will not survive judicial challenges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had privately opposed the bill, which won preliminary parliamentary approval in November amid international denunciations and speculation in Israel it would subsequently die a quiet death in committee.

But the far-right Jewish Home party, a member of the governing coalition looking to draw voters from the traditional base of Netanyahu’s Likud, pressed to revive the legislation.

With Netanyahu under criminal investigation over allegations of abuse of office, and Likud slipping in polls, the right-wing leader risked alienating supporters and ceding ground to Jewish Home if he opposed the move. He has denied any wrongdoing.

While the measure seems certain to stoke further international condemnation of Israeli settlement policies – the Obama White House described the first vote two months ago as “troubling” – Netanyahu could get a more muted response from Republican President Donald Trump.

An Israeli announcement last week of plans for 2,500 more settlement homes in the West Bank caused no discernable waves with the new U.S. administration, whose spokesman responded to by describing Israel as a “huge ally”.

The government sought parliamentary approval of the bill despite Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s description of it as unconstitutional and in breach of international law since it allows the expropriation of private land in territory Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

The homes covered by the legislation are in outposts built deep in the West Bank without Israeli government approval.

The new law would allow settlers to hold on to land if, as stated by the bill, they “innocently” took it – ostensibly without knowing the tracts were owned by Palestinians – or if homes were built there at the state’s instruction. Palestinian owners would receive financial compensation from Israel.

Supporters say it will enable thousands of settlers to live without fear their homes could be demolished at the order of courts responding to petitions by Palestinians or Israeli anti-settlement organizations. Palestinians see it as a land grab.

Most countries view all Israeli settlement in occupied territory as illegal. Israel disputes this.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Heavens)

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