By William Booth
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · ·
JERUSALEM - Israel’s parliament passed a contentious law late Monday that allows the state to seize land privately owned by Palestinians in the West Bank and grant the properties to Jewish settlements for their exclusive use.
The measure is designed to protect homes in Jewish settlements, built on private Palestinian property “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” from possible court-ordered evacuation and demolition.
Thousands of homes in dozens of settlements and outposts may now be protected, at least temporarily. The bill is likely headed for a high court challenge.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the legislation and has told his constituents that no government had done more for the settlers. On Monday, the Israeli leader said he had informed the Trump White House that a vote on the legislation was imminent.
Israeli legislators in the opposition condemned the bill as reckless and warned that it would turn the world against Israel while goading prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to take action against the Jewish state.
The bill passed on a vote of 60 to 52.
The private Palestinian land would be seized by the government and held until there is a final resolution of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian landowners could apply to the state for annual rents or be given another parcel.
A member of parliament in Netanyahu’s own Likud party, Benny Begin, son of the former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, speaking before the vote, labeled it “the robbery bill.”
Another Likud legislator, former justice minister Dan Meridor, condemned the bill as “evil and dangerous.”
Meridor, a lawyer, warned the Israeli parliament that the West Bank remains under a “belligerent occupation,” 50 years after Israel won the territory from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians who live in the territory are not Israeli citizens. They don’t vote in Israeli elections. They live under a military authority.
If Israel’s parliament legislates for the Palestinians - rather than control them by military rule - then Palestinians would have the right to become citizens and vote in Israel, Meridor argued.
“Don’t cross a line we’ve never crossed before,” Meridor pleaded with his fellow legislators in a newspaper column. “No government in Israel has applied its sovereignty to the West Bank.”
The Palestinian Authority said the measure was “an illegal land grab.” Former Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat compared the Israelis to “looters.”