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Adamant Israel goes ahead with settlement bill, risks irking White House


Jerusalem, Feb 5: Israel's prime minister is moving ahead with a contentious law that would legalise dozens of settlement outposts in the West Bank, despite claims by experts that the bill itself is illegal and a warning from the White House that settlement construction "may not be helpful".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under intense pressure from members of his coalition to bring the bill to a vote in parliament following last week's court-ordered demolition of an illegally built settlement outpost.

But he risks drawing angry international condemnations, possibly even from the ostensibly friendly Trump administration, if he pushes forward. Netanyahu's nationalist coalition is dominated by West Bank settlers and their supporters. The Jewish Home, a powerful coalition ally, has been leading the calls to vote on the outpost law this week, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

The Jewish Home believes that with a friendly president in office, it is time for Netanyahu to lay out a clear policy for the West Bank, including the possible annexation of parts of the occupied territory. Netanyahu has sent mixed signals about the legislation, publicly voicing support for it while also reportedly expressing private misgivings. Today, he indicated that he might once again delay the vote in a possible sign he is rethinking his support.

Jewish Home lawmaker Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, one of the bill's sponsors, said that the West Bank is dotted with outposts that she claimed had been built over the years in "good faith" and should now be legalised. "What has been established cannot be destroyed," she told Israel Radio. Israel's powerful settler lobby was jolted last week by the court-ordered demolition of Amona, an outpost found to have been built on private Palestinian land.

Over 40 families were forced from their homes, putting pressure on the government to respond. Proponents of the new legislation are bent on passing it to prevent similar scenes from taking place. The bill would retroactively legalise several thousand homes built illegally on private Palestinian land. The original landowners would be compensated either with money or alternative land, even if they do not agree to give up their property.

Critics have said the bill will not pass legal muster. Netanyahu's own attorney general has said he will not defend the bill before the country's Supreme Court, and Netanyahu has reportedly expressed concerns that the legislation could strengthen a case against Israel in the International Criminal Court.


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