US tight-lipped as Israel settler law sparks world outrage

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned the government that the law may be unconstitutional

Afp February 08, 2017
Israel recently unveiled plans for 3,000 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. PHOTO: AFP


The United States was conspicuously tight-lipped Tuesday amid a world outcry over a new Israeli law allowing the appropriation of private Palestinian land for Jewish settler outposts.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League were just some of those coming out against the legislation passed in parliament late Monday.

"This bill is in contravention of international law and will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

"The European Union condemns the recent adoption of the 'Regularisation Law'," foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, arguing it "crosses a new and dangerous threshold by legalising under Israeli law the seizure of Palestinian property rights".

Israel legalises settler homes on private Palestinian land

The law legalises dozens of wildcat outposts and thousands of settler homes in the occupied West Bank, and prompted a Palestinian call for the international community to punish Israel.

Pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs said they would ask the Supreme Court to strike down the law, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned the legislation could result in Israeli officials facing the International Criminal Court.

Washington refused direct comment, in stark contrast to the settlement criticism repeatedly voiced under Barack Obama. "Prime Minister Netanyahu will be here on February 15. I don't want to get ahead of that now," White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said.

The US State Department said President Donald Trump's new administration "needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward".

 'Stealing Palestinian land' 

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 Israel's "unacceptable" settlement policy, and the Arab League accused Israel of "stealing the land and appropriating the property of Palestinians".

Britain and Israel's Arab neighbour Jordan also expressed concern.

Separately to the new law, 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 his predecessor.

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.

After East Jerusalem, Israel to build 2,500 new homes in West Bank

It would apply to around 53 outposts as well as some 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".

The law could still be challenged, with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying last week it was likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. International law considers all settlements illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it sanctions and those it does not, which are known as outposts.

 Protection for settlers 

The new 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 by order of Israel's Supreme Court.

To some Israelis, the law reflects their 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," said Science Minister Ofir Akunis of Netanyahu's Likud party, using the biblical term that includes the West Bank. "This right is eternal and indisputable."

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi called for the international community to assume its "moral, human and legal responsibilities and put an end to Israel's lawlessness".

The act marked the first time Israel applied its civil law to land in the West Bank recognised as Palestinian, law professor Amichai Cohen told AFP.

Arab League accuses Israel of 'contempt' on settlements

UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov also raised the possibility of potential court cases in the International Criminal Court against Israeli officials.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also 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". "The Trump administration cannot shield them from the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court," HRW warned.

Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home party, 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".