The Knesset Fails To Renew Regulations Applying Israel Law to Settlers
A plenum session and vote on the state budget at the Knesset (Israeli parliament), in Jerusalem on Nov. 3, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

The Knesset Fails To Renew Regulations Applying Israel Law to Settlers

Failure to pass bill by end of month could create legal chaos, further destabilize government

Israel’s crumbling governing coalition suffered another blow when it failed to muster a majority to renew legislation extending Israeli law to citizens living in the West Bank for another five years.

While the coalition officially numbers 60 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset, two members of the coalition voted Monday against extending emergency regulations that subject Jewish settlers in the West Bank to Israeli criminal, and in some cases civil, law.

If the regulations are not renewed by the end of June, they will lapse.

Two Arab coalition legislators, Ra’am party member of Knesset Mazen Ghanaim and Meretz’s Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, both voted against the government. Ra’am’s other three lawmakers and MK Idit Silman, from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, did not attend the vote.

The right-wing members of the opposition, who support the legislation in principle, voted nay, ensuring its defeat 52-58. The coalition lost another important vote on Monday night when it failed to reappoint Matan Kahana of Yamina as religious services minister, in a 55-55 tied vote.

Ahead of the vote on the West Bank regulations, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, chairman of the New Hope party, which has six MKs in parliament, said passing it was vital to the continued existence of the government.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, head of the 17-seat Yesh Atid party, tried to convince Ra’am party members to support the regulations, which are part of the legal status quo the coalition agreed upon.

“He is highly invested in the efforts to make sure the regulations pass today. If they don’t, we’ll try again at the end of the month,” a Lapid spokeswoman told The Media Line.

Sa’ar explained to The Media Line that, according to the deputy attorney general, approving the regulations in parliament is the only way to keep civil law applied to Jews living in the West Bank. Last week, Sa’ar said in an interview that “if the regulations don’t pass, it will be the end of Ra’am’s path in the coalition.”

According to a legal opinion issued by the deputy general attorney, failure to approve the regulations by the end of the month would have dramatic implications: Jewish settlers in the West Bank would not be subject to Israeli civil law, thus becoming subject to the military courts, along with Palestinian residents of the area.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, chairman of the Blue and White party, said one possibility would be to have OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, whose area of responsibility includes the West Bank, issue an ordinance applying parts of Israeli criminal and civil law to settlers.

However, Israeli courts might strike down such an ordinance.

A change in legal status could deprive settlers of voting rights, professional licenses, and protection of Israeli criminal law. If the regulations aren’t extended, it could also mean that Palestinians and Israelis who live in the West Bank could only be imprisoned there, and not in Israel. There are nearly 3,500 Palestinian security prisoners jailed in Israel who would have to be moved to prisons in the West Bank if that happens.

As the regulations are vital to the daily routine of settlers in the West Bank, supporting them is considered a right-wing agenda. This puts Ra’am, an Islamist party whose members identify as Palestinians, in a difficult position, as its members don’t want to be portrayed as supporters of Israel’s policy in the West Bank.

The Likud party heading the opposition is following a policy of opposing any bill proposed by the coalition. MK Miri Regev explained the policy two weeks ago, saying in a party meeting: “We’re a fighting opposition and we decided to tackle the government, so we won’t suffer stomach aches [when voting against bills] for soldiers, domestic violence victims or rape victims.”

The “emergency regulations” have been in force for the last 55 years, guaranteeing Jewish settlers living in a military-ruled area access to Israeli courts. Palestinians in the West Bank are judged in military courts according to military law.

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