An Israeli law which retroactively legalises 4,000 Jewish settler homes could make it easier to prosecute Israeli politicians, military personnel and civilians, NGOs have warned.
In a 63-page petition delivered to Israel's High Court, the NGOs said the law could be considered criminal under international law and argued it constituted an annexation of parts of the West Bank.
The law, passed by the Knesset in early February, retroactively recognised more than 4,000 "wildcat" settlement homes built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank.
“The petition stresses that the implementation of the provisions of the law may serve to incriminate Israeli citizens and security personnel who would implement it, as well as the MKs who voted in support of the law, as their actions may be considered war crimes according to international criminal law,” the petition said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
It said the Knesset acted outside its jurisdiction by approving the law, because it has no authority over the West Bank, which is beyond Israel's sovereign border.
The law marks the first time Israel has applied its own civil law to land it recognises as Palestinian-owned in the West Bank.
“To date, and for nearly 50 years, Knesset legislation in relation to the West Bank was limited to individual legal rights – applying only to Israeli citizens who live in the West Bank – while legislators refrained from directly administrating the area itself,” the petition added.
“Legislating this law is a clear act of sovereignty, and thus constitutes unlawful annexation.”
The NGOs said the law violates both Israeli law and regulations at the heart of international law, including the Fourth Geneva convention of 1949, the Hague Regulations of 1907 and laws dating back to the American Civil War.
During a heated debate on the bill in February, cabinet minister Ofir Akunis said: “We are voting tonight on our right to the land.
“We are voting tonight on the connection between the Jewish people and its land. This whole land is ours. All of it.”
The legislation stipulates the original Palestinian landowners should be given either generous financial compensation or land elsewhere, whether or not they agree to such a deal.
Legislating a law depriving people of their property, through a process in which they are not represented, is the "textbook definition of tyranny," the petition added.
When the law was approved, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, said: “This is an aggression against our people that we will be opposing in international organisations."
He added: “What we want is peace... but what Israel does is to work towards one state based on apartheid.”
Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he would not defend the legislation against the expected legal challenges because he believes it violates both Israeli and international law.
The international community, which views all Israeli construction of the 1967 Green line as illegitimate, considers the settlements an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
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