The Rearrangements Bill passed its first reading in the Knesset today. It sounds innocuous, but in fact it is revolutionary. This Bill resulted from a compromise between the center right of the Likud Party and the Kulanu faction led by Moshe Kahlon and the right-wing of the Likud and Bayit Yehudi Party, all within the Netanyahu Government coalition. The crisis was triggered when the Amona outpost was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Israel because they found that it is built on private Palestinian land on the West Bank.
Amona was declared an illegal settlement, founded without Government approval, in 2005 and was cleared and destroyed by Israeli forces. But, gradually the settlers came back and the governments in between did not have the strength to destroy it again. It has now grown to a settlement of some 2,000 people, and it has taken years for the Supreme Court to finally rule that the land that it was built on is privately owned Palestinian Land, which is not always clear since many Palestinian claims cannot be proven.
In order to resolve the situation the Netanyahu Government decided that they would give the settlers land that is nearby, only several hundred yards away on the same hill, that was not privately owned. But, this requires that the settlers move and rebuild, and they have declared that they will not do this. Also, this solution was not acceptable to Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett. So a further compromise was reached in which the State would be given the right to appropriate even privately owned Palestinian Land on the West Bank if it was needed for State purposes.
But, Kahlon objected to this version since it included the Amona settlement and this would have undermined the decision of the Supreme Court. So a further compromise was reached in which the Rearrangements Bill would exclude Amona, and this was acceptable to both sides. The right consider this a victory since it means that such a situation cannot recur since the Government can legally invoke “eminent domain” to resolve the issue. But, the settlers of Amona have declared that they will not cooperate with this decision, and they warn that some 20,000 supporters will gather at Amona to thwart the actions of the Israeli forces and police. In the past there was violence and although they declare that their intentions are peaceful, clashes can be expected.
However, beyond the Amona case, the Rearrangements Bill does change the basic situation, meaning that even if there are illegal settlements in the future that are built on private Palestinian land, the State can legally resolve the issue by appropriating the land. However, there are clauses that require compensation for the owner, at least 120% of the value of the land, or a rental agreement, or a plot of land elsewhere. So although situations such as the Amona case will be avoided in future, expect the situation to get worse before it gets better. And note that the Bill requires more readings and may still be amended before it becomes law.