Israel votes to legalise wildcat settler homes dubbed 'an aggression against the Palestinian people'

Abbas: 'What we want is peace... but what Israel does is to work towards one state based on apartheid'

Tuesday 07 February 2017 10:41 GMT
Israeli MKs narrowly voted to legalise settlements built on Palestinian land
Israeli MKs narrowly voted to legalise settlements built on Palestinian land (AFP/Getty)

Mahmoud Abbas has condemned as an aggression against the Palestinian people a vote in Israel’s Knesset to legalise thousands of “wildcat” settlement homes built on private land in the West Bank.

After more than a week of parliamentary discussion members of the Israeli parliament voted on the controversial legislation, retroactively recognising 4,000 Jewish homes in 54 “outpost” settlements late on Monday night.

Speaking after a meeting with the French President Francois Hollande in Paris on Tuesday, Mr Abbas said the bill was “contrary to international law”.

“This is an aggression against our people that we will be opposing in international organisations,” the President of the Palestinian Authority said.

“What we want is peace.... but what Israel does is to work towards one state based on apartheid.”

The bill was narrowly passed by 60 votes to 52 in the 120-member Knesset in Monday's late-night vote. During a heated debate, 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.”

Outpost or “wildcat” settlements, as they are sometimes known, have been built on Palestinian land without government permission. The international community, which views all Israeli building over the 1967 Green Line as illegitimate, does not recognise the distinction between outposts and regular settlements.

The vote marks the first time Israel has applied its own civil law to land it recognises as Palestinian-owned in the West Bank. It is the latest in a string of bold pro-settlement steps the state has undertaken since US President Donald Trump took office last month.

Thousands of new homes are slated for construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now that Barack Obama, who was critical of settlement building, has given way. President Trump is more sympathetic to Israeli interests, although his administration has blown hot and cold over the subject of settlements in the last week, warning the new legislation on outposts would not be “helpful” for the peace process.

Barack Obama uses final interview as President to slam Israeli policy on settlements

The US has not issued an official statement on Monday’s vote. The State Department later said: “The Trump administration will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling.”

The legislation stipulates that the original Palestinian owners of the land should be given either generous financial compensation or land elsewhere, whether they agree to such a deal or not.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) has described the measure as being “as good as a declaration of war”, and PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat said the bill is “putting the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution”.

Palestinian Authority cabinet minister Rula Maayaa insisted that “nobody can legalise the theft of the Palestinian lands.... I think it is time now for the international community to act concretely to stop the Israelis from [committing] these crimes.”

The explosive law, proposed by the right-wing Jewish Home party, is expected to trigger lawsuits and reach Israel’s Supreme Court.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu meets Theresa May

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly told Mr Netanyahu earlier this month that he would not defend the legislation against the expected legal challenges because he believes it violates both Israeli and international law.

Mr Netanyahu himself – who missed the vote as he was travelling back from talks with Prime Minister Theresa May in London – is thought to have personal misgivings about the law, which is popular with right-wing Jewish Israeli voters, but has split the population more generally.

Critics have warned it could drag Israel into a legal battle at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is already pursuing a preliminary examination into settlements.

Among the law's problematic elements is that the West Bank is not sovereign Israeli territory, and that Palestinians who live there are not citizens and therefore do not have the right to vote for the government that imposed the law on them.

Before the law passed, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s envoy for the Middle East peace process, called on Israeli MKs to vote against the law, warning “it will have far-reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace”.

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