A picture shows a view of the Givat Harsina Jewish settlement on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Hebron on Feb. 7, 2017. Israel's parliament passed Monday a controversial law to retroactively legalize wildcat Jewish outposts built on private Palestinian lands, despite international condemnations and warnings that the law is unconstitutional. (Xinhua/Mamoun Wazwaz)
by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Israel's parliament, the Knesset, passed a contentious bill earlier this week to retroactively legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank that previous Israeli governments deemed illegal.
Some of the settlements which will be legalized have been ruled to be built on land that was previously privately owned by Palestinians.
Chances are that the so-call regulation bill will be annulled by the Israeli Supreme Court -- there are already petitions against it. Israel's attorney general said he would not be defending the law in court, signaling how contentious the legal battle is expected to be.
Hours before the vote took place, an editorial article in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper in Israel said lawmakers who would vote in favor of it would be "voting 'yes' for theft."
Israel is at odds with the majority of the international community regarding settlements.
Israel captured the land in 1967 from Jordan and immediately began populating the land. While Jordan later said it had no claim over the land, the international community sees the territories as an integral part of a future Palestinian state.
Israeli settlements create facts on the ground that make the foundation of a Palestinian state impossible. There are over 380,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank living side-by-side over 2.5 million Palestinians.
The settlements which the bill legalizes were supported by all Israeli governments beforehand. The bill seeks to regulate their position, erasing any ambiguity Israeli law previously enabled on the issue.
Israel also captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 War. While it immediately annexed it and declared it part of its capital, Israel never annexed the West Bank.
Many Israelis refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, its biblical name, highlighting what they see as their age-old attachment to the land.
There is speculation that the regulation law will eventually lead to an annexation of the territories. This is something some members of the current Israeli coalition government have said they are in favor of.
Speaking after a meeting with French President Francoise Hollande, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the law was "an aggression towards the Palestinian people."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a right-wing coalition. One of his main partners is Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, which is considered more hawkish than Netanyahu's Likud party.
While for Netanyahu, the law causes discomfort, Bennett sees it's passing as a victory. On his Facebook page he called the law a "revolution," saying it was the beginning of "a new legal regime in Judea and Samaria that will normalize all of the settlements and eventually (lead to) the application of Israel's sovereignty on the whole of Judea and Samaria."
Daniel Shek, a former Israeli diplomat, sees the passing of the bill as mainly an internal political issue.
"Many of those who voted in favor of the bill are hoping and waiting for the court to save them from it," Shek said.
Last week, Israeli police forces evacuated an illegal outpost of Amona in the West Bank. Scenes of Israeli officers dragging settlers from their homes are not politically beneficial for Netanyahu or Bennett.
The law which was intended to pass before the court-mandated evacuation was too late for Amona, which will enable the Israeli government to avoid such scenes in the future.
The new American administration led by U.S. President Donald Trump is seen by Netanyahu as more convenient for his policy. The Israeli prime minister frequently clashed with former U.S. President Barack Obama on the issue of settlements.
In a bitter ending to their relationship, the U.S. did not veto a UN resolution calling all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
"It enables the Israeli government to expropriate Palestinian land in order to build new settlements," said Shek.
The law is an attempt by the right-wing elements in the Netanyahu government to pacify their constituents.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), has denounced the passage of the regulation bill as "putting the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution."
It is highly likely that the Palestinians will take steps against the law.
"There is no doubt the Palestinians will try to capitalize on the sympathy towards them by making moves in international organizations or perhaps turning to the International Court of Justice in the Hague," believes Shek.
The consequences of the law on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will become clear once the Israeli Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on the issue.
While Netanyahu seems to enjoy an easier relationship with the current U.S. administration, the law may dampen the warmth.
"It is still unclear what the U.S. position is. They do not want to refer to the law until the (Israeli) Supreme Court does. They are avoiding an answer and are also waiting for the Trump Netanyahu meeting scheduled for next week," explained Shek.
While Bennett said he is in favor of the annexation of the West Bank, it is highly unlikely that the government will go for such a controversial move.
"I do not think it will happen because the government does not have the courage for any political move. That is why they took a legal move that does not take any courage," said Shek. He added that the Trump administration will be "extremely dissatisfied" with an Israeli annexation.
Netanyahu allowed the annexation bill to pass, knowing Israel's Supreme Court will most likely strike it down. It helps him save face showing his main voter base that while he has acted in favor of Israeli settlements, it was the country's court who curbed his ambitions.
Legal or not, Israeli settlements remain on the ground.