Israel passes controversial Regulation Law retroactively legalizing outposts in Judea and Samaria

Young Jewish men seen outside the synagogue on the morning of the second day into the evacuation of the outpost of Amona, on February 2, 2017. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Knesset members passed a highly controversial law this week, under which 4,000 settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land in Area C of the West Bank will be retroactively legalized.

Under the new Regulation Law, settlements like the recently evacuated Amona would be allowed to remain, with Palestinian landowners being paid compensation over and above the market value of the land.

In 1995, under the Oslo II Accord, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Area A is governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) only. Area B is administered by both Israel and the PA. Area C is administered by Israel.

Areas A and B, comprising some 40 percent of the West Bank has a population of around 2.8 million Palestinians. Area C has around 390,000 Jewish Israeli citizens living in settlements and outposts.

Although Area C is under Israeli civil and military control, the new legislation represents the first time the Knesset has passed a law affecting an area over which Israel has no official sovereign power.

Many Israelis who support the settlers consider that the bill is an affirmation of the right of Jews to live in their historical and biblical homeland. Some commentators consider that the Regulation Law is a concrete step toward Israeli annexation of Area C.

Indeed, Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich of the right wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party reportedly announced, “This is a historic step toward the completion of a process that we plan to lead; the application of full Israeli sovereignty on all the cities and communities in [the West Bank] Judea and Samaria.”

The law has a great many complex ramifications and potential consequences, but a major issue is the status of Palestinians living in area C in the event Israel applies sovereignty there.

According to the UN there are some 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C. If Israeli law emanating from the Knesset is to affect the area, then the question arises as to the citizenship of these local Palestinians.

It is understood that Palestinians in Area C do not wish to become Israeli citizens, and neither does Israel want them to.

“[The law is] the boomerang effect of Palestinian unilateralism, which sought to force Israeli agreement to a two-state solution at the 1967 line by refusing to negotiate until there was a consensus on this one principled point,” according to Tovah Lazaroff of the Jerusalem Post.

Passed by a vote of 60-52, the law has drawn sharp criticism from both the Palestinians and the international community.

In a press release Saeb Erekat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee secretary-general described the legislation as legalizing land theft.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated that “if the colonization continues” he would have “no choice” but to suspend security cooperation with Israel.

“It would not be my fault,” Abbas told France’s Senate on Wednesday during a visit to Paris.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN’s Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Nickolay Mladenov, UN’s Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Referring to the prospects of a two state solution, UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov reportedly stated that the law “opens the potential for the full annexation of the West Bank and therefore undermines substantially the two-state solution.”

Tobias Ellwood, Britian’s minister for the Middle East expressed similar consternation.

“It is of great concern that the bill paves the way for significant growth in settlements deep in the West Bank, threatening the viability of the two-state solution,” he said.

Many Israelis on the right of the political spectrum view the legislation as relief for the settler population living under the threat of expulsion.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett at the plenum session in the Israeli parliament on February 06, 2017. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett at the plenum session in the Israeli parliament on February 06, 2017. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Imagine if the Israeli government told you to go and live in Modiin [a city inside Israel proper]. You arrive together with hundreds of families, equipment and your children,” Minister of Education and of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennet asserted in Israeli media. “Twenty years later, Peace Now [an NGO] makes an investigation and manages to find an Arab who did not know that part of the land there was allocated to him during the period of Jordanian rule in the 1960’s. Because of this…the whole city must be destroyed…This same threat hangs over thousands of housing units in Judea and Samaria.”

Addressing the issue of the settlements being built of privately owned land, Bennet also said that “Carmiel [inside Israel proper], like many Israeli towns, was built on private lands expropriated by the state. There are many places like Carmiel, and the picture we get here is distorted.”

Nevertheless, some legal scholars in Israel, including the Attorney General Avichai Mendelbit himself, believe the legislation is unconstitutional.

“Among many other problems, the Bill interferes with private property rights of Palestinian land owners in order to benefit Israeli settlers, and runs contrary to long-standing jurisprudence of the Israeli Supreme Court, according to which the construction of settlements in the West Bank can be permitted only on non-private land,” Prof. Yuval Shany and Yael Ronen wrote.

Several Israeli human rights groups concerned with Palestinians are expected to challenge the legitimacy of the law and the Attorney General has already stated, even before the passing of the law, that he will not defend it in the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, 17 Palestinian municipalities petitioned the High Court of Justice to rule the law is unconstitutional and to suspend its implementation pending a final ruling.