Israeli settlers at risk of losing special West Bank status
Israel rejects that allegation as an attack on its legitimacy.This is the piece of legislation that enables apartheid, said Jessica Montell, director of the Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which provides legal aid to Palestinians.The whole settlement enterprise depends on them enjoying all the rights and benefits of being Israelis even though they are in occupied territory. An overwhelming majority in the Knesset support maintaining the separate systems.
If Israel's parliament does not act, a special legal status accorded to the settlers will expire at the end of the month, with wide-ranging consequences. Lawyers who live in the settlements, including two members of Israel's Supreme Court, will no longer be allowed to practice law. Settlers would be subject to military courts usually reserved for Palestinians and would lose access to some public services.
While few expect things to reach that point, the looming deadline has put Israel's government on the brink of collapse and drawn dire warnings.
"Without this law, it would be a disaster," said Israel Ganz, governor of the Benyamin Regional Council, a cluster of settlements just outside Jerusalem. "The Israeli government will lose any control here. No police, no taxes." For over half a century, Israel has repeatedly renewed regulations that today extend a legal umbrella to nearly 500,000 settlers — but not to the more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank. After failing to pass on Monday, the bill will be brought for another vote in the Knesset next week in a last-ditch effort to save the governing coalition — and the legal arrangement.
The law underpins separate legal systems for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank, a situation that three major human rights groups say amounts to apartheid. Israel rejects that allegation as an attack on its legitimacy.
"The whole settlement enterprise depends on them enjoying all the rights and benefits of being Israelis even though they are in occupied territory." An overwhelming majority in the Knesset support maintaining the separate systems. The main reason the bill didn't pass was that the nationalist opposition — which strongly supports it — paradoxically refused to vote in favor in an attempt to bring down Israel's broad-based but fragile coalition government. In a similar vein, anti-settlement lawmakers voted in favor of the legislation to keep the coalition afloat.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built more than 130 settlements there, many of which resemble small towns, with apartment blocks, shopping malls and industrial zones. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state. Most countries view the settlements as a violation of international law.
Israel refers to the West Bank by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria, and considers it the heartland of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett supports settlement expansion and is opposed to Palestinian statehood. Israel officially views the West Bank as disputed territory whose fate is subject to negotiations, which collapsed more than a decade ago.
"Applying the law to the territory could be considered as annexing the territory, with all the political consequences that Israel did not want to have," said Liron Libman, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a former top Israeli military prosecutor.
Failure to renew the bill by the end of this month would have far-reaching consequences.
The Israel Bar Association requires lawyers and judges to reside in the country. Without the law's carve-out, settlers would not be able to practice law in Israeli courts. That would include two Supreme Court justices, one of whom recently upheld an order to forcibly relocate hundreds of Palestinians.
The settlers could lose their ability to use national health insurance for treatment inside the West Bank, and the ability to update their status in the population registry and get national ID cards — something routinely denied to Palestinians.
The law also provides a legal basis for Israel to jail thousands of Palestinians who have been convicted by military courts in prisons inside Israel, despite international law prohibiting the transfer of prisoners out of the occupied territory. The law's lapse could force Israel to move those prisoners back to the West Bank, where there is currently only one Israeli prison.
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