Israel settler law angers Palestinians, peace advocates
JERUSALEM - Palestinians and proponents of the two-state solution on Tuesday fiercely criticised a new Israeli law allowing the appropriation of private Palestinian land for Jewish settler outposts.
The legislation passed late Monday, which legalises dozens of wildcat outposts and thousands of settler homes, prompted a call by the Palestinians for the international community to punish Israel.
Britain, France, the United Nations and Israel's neighbour Jordan were among those coming out against the legislation.
Pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs said they would ask the Supreme Court to strike down the law.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned the legislation could result in Israeli officials facing the International Criminal Court.
France called the bill a "new attack on the two-state solution," while Britain said it "damages Israel's standing with its international partners".
Turkey "strongly condemned" the law and "unacceptable" Israeli settlement policy, while the Arab League accused Israel of "stealing the land and appropriating the property of Palestinians."
The United States, however, refused to comment, in stark contrast to the settlement criticism voiced by the previous Obama administration.
The State Department said President Donald Trump's administration "needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward."
A State Department official said that "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."
The law, which passed 60 to 52 in its final reading, will allow Israel to legally seize Palestinian private land on which Israelis built outposts without knowing it was private property or because the state allowed them to do so.
Palestinian owners will be compensated financially or with other land.
It would apply to 53 outposts as well as houses within existing settlements, potentially legalising more than 3,800 homes, according to anti-settlement NGO Peace Now, which called the law "another step towards annexation and away from a two-state solution."
International law considers all settlements to be illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it sanctions and those it does not, which are known as outposts.
The law would protect settlers against eviction from outposts discovered to have been built on private Palestinian lands such as in the case of Amona, where 42 families were evicted and their homes demolished in recent days at the order of the Israeli Supreme Court.
To some Israelis, the law reflects the God-given right over the territory, regardless of the courts, the Palestinians and the international community.
"All of the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people," Science Minister Ofir Akunis of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party said, using the biblical term that included the West Bank.
"This right is eternal and indisputable."
Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the law "signals the final annexation of the West Bank."
"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," she said in a statement Monday.
"Accountability should include punitive measures and sanctions before it is too late," Ashrawi said.
The law marked the first time Israel has applied its civil law to land in the West Bank recognised as Palestinian, law professor Amichai Cohen said.
Herzog compared the law to a train that would take Israeli officials to the Hague, where the International Criminal Court is located, "and out of its cabins will come international charges against Jewish and Israeli soldiers and officers."
Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has warned the government that the law may be unconstitutional and risks exposing Israel to international prosecution for war crimes.
Human Rights Watch said the legislation "reflects Israel's manifest disregard of international law" and deepens the "de facto permanent occupation" of the West Bank.
"The Trump administration cannot shield them from the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court", the rights group warned.
Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home party, who was one of the forces behind the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Trump as president, "without whom the law would have probably not passed".
Israel has approved more than 6,000 settler homes since Trump took office on January 20 having signalled a softer stance on the issue than Obama.