Israeli politicians on the right expressed skepticism on Thursday about Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s announcement that nearly 70 illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank would be legalized, while those on the left said they were outraged.
Betzalel Smotrich, a member of Knesset, or parliament, from the right-wing opposition Yamina party, said: “I welcome the government’s declaration of its intent, but the true test will be its actions.” Smotrich, who has often criticized Netanyahu for not really being right wing, added that he “sincerely hopes this isn’t just another procrastination ploy and some impractical, meaningless declaration.”
Hanegbi said during a Knesset session Wednesday evening that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu supported the drafting of a proposal to legalize dozens of settlements where a total of about 20,000 people live on land captured by Israel from Jordan during the 1967 war. The bill would be cosponsored by Deputy Defense Minister Michael Biton, a member of the center-left Blue and White party, and would be presented “in the coming weeks,” said Hanegbi, of the prime minister’s Likud party.
Immediately after Hanegbi’s speech, Biton said the process of legalizing these new neighborhoods, adjacent to established settlements that Jerusalem already considers legal, would take “several years” and would be closely supervised by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
Biton also promised that every outpost would be examined separately, and that the human rights of all West Bank residents – Palestinians and Israelis – would be preserved.
Most of the international community does not regard the established settlements as legal, although US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last year that they were “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.” In doing so he upended longstanding US policy.
Despite the skepticism by some on Israel’s right and the long road ahead, others supported Hanegbi’s declaration.
“This is a meaningful announcement,” a spokesperson for the Yesha Council, the West Bank Jewish settlements umbrella organization, told The Media Line. “We expect to see the decision approved soon and put into practice.” The council also said it was already working closely with government teams to outline and advance the plan.
The Yesha Council and other right-wing groups have for years protested the limbo in which newer settlements have found themselves. Because the government has not officially recognized these settlements, thousands of homes have been denied basic infrastructure such as water, electricity and internet connections.
Leftist and human-rights groups point out that these communities were built unlawfully, sometimes on private Palestinian lands.
“This unity government, supposedly formed to handle the coronavirus crisis, has turned into an arm for authorizing theft and criminality,” a spokesperson for Peace Now, the largest and oldest Israeli group advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Media Line.
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“This is another contemptible attempt to misuse the final [US President Donald] Trump days. Now Blue and White has overtaken the Likud on the right in an embarrassing attempt to play to the settlement vote,” the spokesperson said.
This is another contemptible attempt to misuse the final [US President Donald] Trump days
There may be elections for a new national government in the spring if a budget is not passed by the Knesset by late December.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has come under pressure to recognize the unauthorized settlements.
After promising for more than a year to annex large swathes of the West Bank comprising up to 70% of the land, the prime minister said in August that he was postponing the move in order to sign the Abraham Accords normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain decided afterward that it would also participate in the agreement.
The outgoing Trump administration has remained friendly toward Israeli settlement efforts in the West Bank.
Pompeo made the first official visit by a serving US diplomat to a West Bank settlement last week when he visited a winery east of Ramallah.
In June, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a 2017 bill that would legalize settlements built on private Palestinian lands, saying it was unconstitutional, discriminatory and infringed on Palestinian human rights.