Following a lengthy debate Wednesday, the Knesset passed in a preliminary vote the Arrangement for Settlements in Judea and Samaria Act 5777-2016, submitted by MKs Bezalel Smotrich, Yoav Kish, Shuli Mualem, David Bitan and Oren Hazan, with 58 for and 51 against. The bill will return to the joint committee for Constitution, Law and Justice and Foreign Affairs and Security, to be prepared for a second and third vote.
According to the thrice revised bill in its final version, should the military commander of Judea and Samaria find that in the period prior to the new legislation an Israeli settlement had been built on land where the use and retention rights do not belong to the military commander nor to the custodian of government property, and construction on the land had been done in good faith, or – in cases where previous ownership had not been proven – given government approval, land use rights shall be appropriated and passed to the custodian of government property. Henceforth, the appropriation of land use rights will remain in effect until a political decision is reached regarding the status of the territory.
A claimant who proved ownership of the appropriated land will be able to choose between collecting an annual rent at a rate of 125% of said land’s annual value; aggregated rent for periods of 20 years at a time at 125% of land value for this period of time; or receiving alternative land. Appropriate land market values shall be set by a committee established by the Justice Minister in consultation with the Defense Minister. Committee members shall be representatives of the justice and finance ministries, as well as a representative of the military commander.
As to the burning issue of Amona, in Samaria, which is slated for demolition by decree of the Supreme Court on Dec. 25, the new bill determines that all cases which have already been ruled by the courts prior to its going into effect will be carried out. However, regarding three settlements – Ofra, Netiv Ha’avot and Eli – all proceedings in areas about which the courts have not yet ruled will be suspended for 12 months. The military commander will use this delay to examine whether said settlements were established in good faith, in which case they, too, would be included in the new law.
Needless to say, the opposition – and Likud MK Benny Begin – was irate at the proposed bill and expressed its rage at length and in great detail, essentially accusing the Likud-led government of legalizing theft, as Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg noted, “Provided that the thieves are Jewish and those being stolen from are Arabs.”
MK Ayman Odeh (Joint Arab List) accused the government of populism and corruption. MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Camp) condemned the residents of Amona who dared set up temporary housing for thousands of protesters they invited for eviction day. MK Dov Hanin (Joint Arab List) said that had the government spent the time it devotes to Amona to finding solutions to Israel’s housing crisis, said crisis would have been long gone.
MK Amir Ohana (Likud) reminded the plenum that Israel, like all other governments, regularly employs the concept of eminent domain – the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation. The bill is attempting to employ the same logical principle in an occupied territory that should have been annexed and normalized long ago. Why must Israeli civilians suffer because their government still hesitates to make things right in Judea and Samaria?
Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett represented the government in the deabte and said the new bill is a historic turn in Israel’s history, deciding that half a million Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria “are not guests, nor are the occupiers, they are local residents.”
Bennett promised that next the government will impose Israeli sovereignty on the town of Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem. Such a move will create an urban corridor across the narrowest segment of the liberated territories, eliminating any chance for a future contiguous Palestinian State.
“I wish to thank Peace Now, who’ve kept sending us little mosquitoes in the form of another Supreme Court ruling, and yet another one,” Bennett told the plenum. “Now, because of Peace Now we are no longer fighting the mosquitoes – we’re draining the swamp.”
The latter line was an obvious reference to President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to drain the DC swamp, and a clear promise from the Habayit Hayehudi leader to take full advantage of the new and very different leader of the free world.