US silent on outpost bill as international community condemns Israel’s move

February 8, 2017 Agencies
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The U.S. has remained mum on the historic, yet controversial passage of an Israeli bill that retroactively legalises settlement outposts in Judea and Samaria.

Rather than issuing a new statement, the White House immediately responded to the Regulation Law by referring to its statement from last week, which said “we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace” but that construction of new settlements “may not be helpful” in the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

The White House. Credit: Matt Wade Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Late Monday night, the Knesset passed the bill 60-52, retroactively legalising some 4,000 homes that sit on private Palestinian land, while also providing compensation to the landowners. The State Department said that “at this point, indications are that this legislation is likely to be reviewed by the relevant Israeli courts, and the Trump administration will withhold comment on the legislation until the relevant court ruling,” AFP reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump Feb. 15, where the two will likely address the issue of settlements among other topics.

Meanwhile, the international community and Arab leaders slammed the legislation on outposts, with the Palestinians calling it an attempt to “legalize theft” of Palestinian land.

“This is an escalation that would only lead to more instability and chaos. It is unacceptable. It is denounced and the international community should act immediately,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Arab League said the law “is only cover for stealing the land.”

Just a day after Netanyahu met with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, British Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said the bill “damages Israel’s standing with international partners.”

“It is of great concern that the bill paves the way for significant growth in settlements deep in the West Bank, threatening the viability of the two-state solution,” Ellwood said.

Similarly, French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault said the law “constitutes a blow to the two-state solution.”

Meanwhile The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) is concerned over the settlements regulation bill in Israel’s Knesset, which would retroactively legalise settlement outposts built on land owned by Palestinians while providing compensation in return:

In a joint statement National Chairman Mark Leibler and Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein said: “While just about everyone – including Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Israeli and foreign international law experts, and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman – agrees that Israel’s Supreme Court will likely strike down this law, AIJAC believes that it remains a counter-productive and unwise piece of legislation aimed at pandering to fringe constituencies at the expense of Israel’s integrity and image abroad.

“The biggest barrier  to peace at the moment is the Palestinian refusal to negotiate, not settlements – which comprise just one of the contentious final status issues that must be negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinians, and one whose importance has often been exaggerated and distorted. However, this unhelpful law seems likely to make resolving that issue more difficult when and if the Palestinians end their self-destructive boycott of the negotiating table.

“It  also is important to remember that settlements still comprise less than two percent of the land in the West Bank, and this law will not substantively change that reality, nor is it likely to result in any new housing being built. Moreover, one must not lose sight of the fact that – even in the unlikely event this law was to stand up to a Court challenge – it would not prevent any future Israeli government from implementing the painful withdrawals from territory that would constitute a Palestinian state, as provided for in the previous peace offers Israel made to, but ignored by, the Palestinians in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

“Yet while the negative effects of this new law should not be exaggerated or distorted, AIJAC nonetheless remains concerned that it does not serve the long term interests of Israel, including the nurturing of circumstances conducive to an eventual negotiated two-state resolution.”

Adding their voices are The Executive Council of Australian Jewry President, Anton Block, and Executive Director, Peter Wertheim, who added “The ECAJ has a long and proud history of principled support for Governments of the State of Israel whatever their political complexion. However, the Regulation Law passed by the Knesset on February 7 is very troubling.  It seeks to legalise retroactively outposts that were built on land in the West Bank that had been privately-owned by Palestinians.

At the time they were built these outposts were illegal under Israeli law.   The Regulation Law was enacted despite the opposition of the Attorney General of Israel.  Both he and the Defence Minister, as well as many legal experts, are predicting that the law will be successfully challenged in the Supreme Court of Israel.  We can only hope that that occurs, reaffirming that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is a democracy governed by the rule of law.  This episode will also have the unfortunate effect of feeding the false narrative that settlements are the primary reason for the absence of peace and will provide the Palestinians a further excuse to keep avoiding a return to direct negotiations with Israel.”

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