In step toward annexation, ministers demand new laws include settlements

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced Tuesday that all government legislation will henceforth explicitly mention applicability to residents of West Bank settlements, in an apparent step toward expanding Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

MKs were holding a series of committee meetings on improving the lives of Jews living in West Bank settlements — regarding education, immigration absorption, and housing — as the Knesset celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, when Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Sinai.

“We are trying to change the reality of legislation in the Knesset,” Shaked, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, told the Knesset House Committee.

“There is no doubt that the lives of residents of Judea and Samaria need to be exactly the same as the lives” of other Israeli citizens, she said, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

The directive by Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin applies strictly to government-backed laws from June 1 but not to private legislation presented by individual lawmakers. Shaked said she had instructed the ministers to comply with the new instructions, which require “a reference” to West Bank residents on government bills. She said only half a dozen Israeli laws currently mention the settlers, including adoption laws and recent anti-discrimination laws.

Laws will not be required to extend to settlements, but will need to explicitly state whether they do or do not, and an explanation will be needed in cases where they only apply to one side of the Green Line.

Currently, Israeli law is applied to the settlements by issuing individual military orders, a process that Shaked described as cumbersome and selective.

Levin (Likud) said the application of martial orders rather than Israeli law directly to West Bank residents in some cases was “discriminatory and unequal.”

He said it was time to “liberate the residents of Judea and Samaria” from Israeli military orders, some 50 years after the war, by transferring the powers of the Civil Administration, the governing authority in the West Bank, to Israeli ministries.

“I think the rule must be that the law applies [to the settlers], unless there is a good reason not to,” he said. “And not the opposite.”

Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin seen at the Israeli parliament during a vote on a law changing the structure of the new Israel Broadcast Corporation news division, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, April 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are not seeking ‘creeping annexation’; we are looking for justice for the residents,” he said.

“And if there are those saying that through legislation we are advancing ‘creeping annexation’ — we won’t argue,” he added.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) said he was seeking, by the end of the year, to change the law in the area to allow Jews to legally purchase land in the West Bank from Palestinians.

“The Jews in Judea and Samaria are outsiders, they are not allowed to buy land,” he lamented.

At the hearing, Jewish Home MK Shuli Moallem-Refaeli said she had “no desire to conceal” the government’s intention to annex the West Bank. She added that the process must not be done in a “backdoor” fashion, but rather openly.

There is “total inequality” between Israeli citizens and settlers, she said, as the latter “have same obligations, but they don’t have the same rights.”

“We all know there is no sovereignty in the West Bank,” she said, adding that 50 years on from the war, “we are all working to fix that.”

On housing, the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group presented a plan to another Knesset panel on Tuesday to build 67,000 housing units in the West Bank.

The settler group outlined a bid to expand the Tel Aviv metropolitan area into the West Bank, saying it would drive down housing prices in central Israel. In a presentation to the Knesset Interior Committee, the council proposed a building boom in the West Bank areas adjacent to the densely populated Gush Dan region, from the settlement of Alfei Menashe in the north to Modiin Illit in the south, and Ariel in the east — overall, a 40 percent increase of built-up territory.

The West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe (Wikimedia Commons/Jonathan Schilling/CC BY-SA 3.0)

With tens of thousands of housing units in this eastern corridor, the cost of living in central Israel would drop considerably, the settlement council told lawmakers, in a session attended by Housing Minister Yoav Galant.

Galant responded with a call to build in various settlements in those areas.

“The entire expanse from Avnei Hefetz, Oranit, Nili, Naale, Gush Halamish, Talmonim, from Kfar Saba to Ben Gurion Airport, is essential for life in Gush Dan,” said Galant. “Settling this area will offer a security, strategic solution.”

Housing Minister Yoav Galant calls for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad at a conference in Latrun, near Jerusalem, on May 16, 2017. (Miriam Tzachi/Office of Yoav Gallant)

Chairing the meeting, Likud MK David Amsalem implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to increase West Bank construction.

“A city that does not go forward goes backward,” he said. “If there is no building in Ma’ale Adumin and Jerusalem, they will turn into old age homes.”

“Not building is a form of expulsion,” he added. “A child who grew up somewhere and you are not allowing him to live there as an adult [because of lack of housing] — you are in effect removing him from that place.”

Meanwhile, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held a “festive” meeting celebrating the outcome of the war, though most of its members were in Washington.

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