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Israeli ministers push law legalising settlements

Israeli government ministers gave a green light on Sunday evening to a bill that would retroactively legalise Jewish outpost settlements in the occupied West Bank which, if approved by the Knesset, would likely bring international criticism and anger the Palestinians.

The ministerial committee for legislation approved the draft legislation unanimously, despite opposition from Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister. Avichai Mendelblit, attorney general, told ministers that the bill contradicted international law and might be overruled by the high court of justice.

The bill was advanced by Jewish Home, the far-right, pro-settler party of education minister Naftali Bennett, which has been encouraged by last week’s electoral victory by US president-elect Donald Trump. Mr Bennett said last week that Mr Trump’s election presented Israel with an “opportunity” to reject any notion of creating a Palestinian state.

Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party © Reuters

During the campaign, Mr Trump delighted right-wing Israelis by saying that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, breaking with White House policy. Earlier on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu warned ministers and MPs to allow the incoming administration to formulate its Middle East policy, and refrain from addressing the subject in interviews and statements.

Tensions have been building between Mr Netanyahu and Jewish Home, who sit together as part of a hard-right, six-party coalition. Mr Bennett’s party is angry about a court order requiring Jewish settlers to evacuate Amona, an outpost settlement in the northern West Bank, by December 25, and promoted the “formalisation bill” tentatively approved on Sunday in response.

Outpost settlements are illegal under Israeli law, but Israelis differentiate between them and large “settlement blocs” they would aim to keep under a future peace agreement. International law regards all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem as illegitimate, and Palestinians describe it as a primary obstacle to peace.

Amona has long been a flashpoint: a settler defies Israeli police in 2007 © Reuters

Via FT