If you want to bury the two-state solution, this is the way to do it. In the two and a half weeks since Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President, the Israeli government has approved 5500 new homes in settlements across the West Bank, and a further 500 in East Jerusalem. Now, they’ve forced through what’s variously been described as the “land regularisation”, “legalisation”, and “outpost” bill. “Common theft” seems more appropriate.
The effects of this new law are startling. In one fell swoop, the Knesset has retroactively OK’d the seizure by Israeli citizens of thousands of dunams of private land in the West Bank owned by Palestinians. Over 50 West Bank outposts, previously deemed illegal under Israeli law, have been given new-found legitimacy. Nearly 4000 housing units built by settlers on land that does not belong to them now have official Knesset approval. This despite the fact that – before he supported it – Prime Minister Netanyahu worried that it could land Israelis in court at the Hague. Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home party were forceful advocates for the bill, sees it as the first step towards annexation of the West Bank – a move that would end all hopes for peace with the Palestinians, and threaten Israel’s future.
Opposition to the law in Israel spans left and right. Veteran Likud MK Benny Begin – a fervent supporter of the settlements – dubbed it “the robbery law” and former Likud Minister Dan Meridor slammed it as “evil and dangerous”. Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog called it “a threat” to Israel. Netanyahu’s handpicked attorney general deems it indefensible.
Their views are shared over here as well. The vast majority of British Jews – 75% according to the latest research – see settlement expansion as a “major obstacle to peace”. Britain’s government has condemned the law which, let’s not forget, was passed only hours after Israel’s Prime Minister sat in 10 Downing Street expressing his commitment to “the quest for peace”.
The governing coalition in the Knesset has now made clear it has no regard for a mindblowing list of basic principles. These include Israeli law, international law, the rights of private Palestinian landowners, the long-term viability of the state, and Israeli-Palestinian peace. There’s also something in the Ten Commandments about stealing.
It’s up to Israel’s friends around the world – and all who support peace – to join forces with those Israelis who are fighting for a better future against laws like this one. At Yachad, we’ve launched an open statement expressing our heartfelt wish for an Israeli government that supports peace building, not settlement building. At times like these, we must stand up to be counted. The law may not survive a Supreme Court challenge, but that should not excuse the shame of those who let it happen.