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Israel's Parliament Passes Controversial Settlement Law Retroactively

Feb 7, 2017
Originally published on February 7, 2017 6:12 am
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In the nearly 50 years that Israel has occupied the West Bank, many Jewish settlements have been illegally constructed on privately owned Palestinian land. Last night, Israel's Parliament voted narrowly to declare those illegal settlements legal. NPR's Joanna Kakissis is in Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Hebrew).

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Israeli Knesset approved the law late last night, just a few days after Israeli police forced settler families to leave an outpost built on private Palestinian land. This evacuation enraged hardliners like Education Minister Naftali Bennett. The new bill will legalize such settlements.

NAFTALI BENNETT: (Speaking Hebrew).

KAKISSIS: Bennett told Army Radio that Jewish settlements should be as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv and Haifa. But most of the international community considers settlements in the West Bank illegal. And with this new law, Israel is legitimizing homes that even its own government has not authorized, said Anat Ben Nun of the Israeli human rights group Peace Now.

ANAT BEN NUN: We're seeing more and more how this government is willing to compromise Israeli law in order to expand settlements. And this is a very worrying phenomenon.

KAKISSIS: In cases where Palestinians hold deeds of ownership, they would be forced to accept financial compensation or an alternate plot of land. Hussam Zomlot is an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

HUSSAM ZOMLOT: This is a political decision. And the political message coming from the Israeli prime minister and his very extreme coalition is that they are not heeding the cause of the international community, they will not respect international law, they are not interested in creating a two-state solution.

KAKISSIS: Since President Trump's inauguration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has approved the construction of thousands of new homes in the West Bank. Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli Consul General in New York, says Israel has to make up its mind what it's going to do.

ALON PINKAS: Do we or do we not proceed somehow toward a two-state solution? Or is Israel going to seriously contemplate annexing parts of the West Bank in a way that would make a Palestinian state almost unviable?

KAKISSIS: Critics say the Knesset passed the law that affects people who have no vote, the Palestinians. And for that reason, they expect it to be struck down by Israel's High Court of Justice. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.