The Palestinian Authority is calling for the international community to punish Israel for a new law that legalizes thousands of Jewish homes built on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank.
The law passed Monday in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament, by a vote of 60-52. Under the legislation, about 100 settlement outposts that were built without government approval are now legal under Israeli law.
The vote sparked outrage in the Palestinian Authority (PA) that rules parts of the West Bank, with officials accusing Israel of legalizing land theft in violation of international law.
“Such a law signals the final annexation of the West Bank,” said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi. “It also gives clear license to the settlers to embark on a land grab in the occupied West Bank with impunity.”
PA officials say the next step is to take Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes. Until then, they are demanding action from the world powers.
“It is imperative that the international community, including the United States and the European Union, assumes its moral, human and legal responsibilities and puts an end to Israel’s lawlessness and its system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” Ashrawi said. “Accountability should include punitive measures and sanctions before it is too late.”
Israel is also facing legal challenges at home from left-wing NGOs.
“We plan to petition [Israel’s Supreme Court] in the hope of canceling this law,” said attorney Suhad Bishara of the Israeli Arab legal rights group Adalah.
Legal experts say the High Court is likely to overturn the law since it violates property rights in occupied territories that are not part of the State of Israel.
Despite the legal challenges, the settlers and their supporters are declaring victory for Jewish claims to all of the biblical Land of Israel.
This law is about “the connection between the Jewish people and its land,” said Cabinet Minister Ofir Akunis of the ruling Likud party. “This entire land is ours.”
Knesset member Moti Yogev of the hawkish Jewish Home party told Israel Radio that it is a “historic day” for Israeli democracy. He warned that if the Supreme Court overturns the law, it would be equivalent to a “dictatorship” overruling the democratically-elected parliament.
Comparing the Supreme Court to a dictatorship underscores how the charged issue of settlements is polarizing Israeli society. While supporters see the settlements as a national and even God-given right, opponents fear that Israel is losing its democratic and Jewish character by ruling over another people, while also facing growing international condemnation and isolation.
Indeed, the law was harshly criticized by, among others, Jordan, Turkey, the European Union, and United Nations.
Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the legislation imperils “the internationally-backed idea of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a negotiated peace deal. It will have a drastic legal consequence for Israel and for the nature of its democracy. It crosses a very, very thick red line.”
The law is part of a major Israeli settlement expansion project since U.S. President Donald Trump took office last month, including plans to build more than 6,000 new homes in the West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem. Israel curbed construction under former President Barack Obama who saw the settlements as an obstacle to peace, but Israel believes Trump is more sympathetic.
While Trump’s appointee of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is known to be strongly pro-settlement, the president appears to be urging Israel not to go too far too fast.
In response to the Knesset vote, the White House referred to a statement it issued last week, “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”
The settlement issue is likely to top the agenda when President Trump holds his first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on February 15.