A cluster of homes in the hills
West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim (Photo/JTA-Getty Images-Uriel Sinai)

New Israeli law legalizing settlements draws harsh reaction worldwide

A law passed on Feb. 6 by Israel’s Knesset to retroactively legalize settler homes built on private Palestinian land is drawing harsh reactions around the world.

Although the U.S. has refrained from commenting so far, European and Arab nations, as well as Palestinian groups and some American Jewish organizations, have denounced the controversial new law.

On Feb. 8, 17 West Bank municipalities and three Palestinian human rights groups from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn the law. The petition claims that the legislation violates international humanitarian law and asks the court to issue a temporary injunction against its implementation.

The regulation law, which the Knesset passed in a raucous late-night session on Feb. 6, allows the state to seize private Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built, as long as the settlers were not aware of the status of the land. In cases where the landowners are known, they are entitled to compensation.

The Palestinian groups argue the law violates the protections that international law gives property owners. Further, they say, it harms the dignity of the Palestinians living in the West Bank by putting the interests of the settlers above theirs.

The United States so far has refused to comment on the bill, saying the Trump administration was suspending judgment.

The White House’s immediate Feb. 6 response to the controversial “regulation law” was to refer to Trump’s statement last week that the expansion of West Bank settlements “may not be helpful” to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace.

The State Department said, “At this point, indications are that this legislation is likely to be reviewed by the relevant Israeli courts, and the Trump administration will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling.”

On Feb. 8, Germany condemned the new law, saying that it undermines trust in Israel’s seriousness about reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.

“Many in Germany who stand by Israel and feel great commitment toward it find themselves deeply disappointed by this move,” a German Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Our trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution has been fundamentally shaken.”

On Feb. 7, the European Union’s foreign policy chief on Feb. 8 said the new law was illegal and would “entrench a one-state reality of unequal rights.”

“This law crosses a new and dangerous threshold,” Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, said in a statement, by “effectively authorizing the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in occupied territory.” If implemented, it would lead to “perpetual occupation and conflict.”

That same day the U.N. envoy for the Middle East peace process said the law crossed a “thick red line” toward Israeli annexation of the West Bank, France called on Israel to “take back” the law, and Jordan and Turkey condemned it, as did Britain.

Some American Jewish organizations are also criticizing the Knesset move.

The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which traditionally have been hesitant to weigh in on Israeli domestic issues, both criticized the measure on Feb. 6.

ADL leaders said it would harm Israel’s image abroad and lead to legal repercussions.

“[I]t is imperative that the Knesset recognizes that passing this law will be harmful to Israel’s image internationally and could undermine future efforts to achieving a two-state solution,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director.

AJC said it was “deeply disappointed” about the bill’s passage and called on the Supreme Court to “reverse this misguided legislation.”

“The controversial Knesset action, ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Trump in Washington, is misguided and likely to prove counterproductive to Israel’s core national interests,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

The pro-settlement Jewish Home party first put forward the legislation in an effort to save the West Bank outpost of Amona, built without government authorization on private Palestinian land, from a High Court-ordered demolition. But the clause that would have circumvented the court ruling was nixed following coalition infighting, and Amona was evacuated last week and demolished on Feb. 7.

Even without the Amona clause, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has said he would not defend the law before the High Court. It was the first time that an Israeli attorney general has made such a refusal, according to legal experts.

Speaking after the vote, Bezalel Smotrich, a Jewish Home lawmaker known for his fervent support of the settlements and inflammatory statements, thanked Americans for electing Trump president, “without whom the law would have probably not passed.”
Smotrich added that it was a “historic day for the settlement [movement] and for the State of Israel.”

JTA

JTA news agency