An Israeli government bill to legalize unauthorized settlement construction in the West Bank came under a hail of criticism Monday, a day after a parliamentary committee endorsed the proposed legislation.
The proposal is designed to sidestep recent Israeli high court rulings calling for the razing of unauthorized hilltop outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The bill would empower Israel to expropriate the property and offer compensation to Palestinian owners, allowing Israeli settlers to have homes retroactively legalized. The bill has yet to be formally introduced in parliament, but the endorsement by the committee is expected to improve the chances for passage.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the outpost legislation would violate international law.
“Israel’s escalation of its illegal settlement enterprise and continued theft of Palestinian land and resources, as well as the flagrant violations of Palestinian rights and freedoms, are the essence of its dangerous and destructive polices,’’ Ashrawi said in a statement.
Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Israeli parliamentary opposition, called the proposed measure a “virus’’ that threatens Israel’s democracy and legal system.
Israeli Atty. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, who came out against the proposal before it was adopted by the committee, also reportedly said it violates international law.
The committee is expected to push for passage in parliament ahead of a court-imposed Dec. 25 deadline to evacuate the Amona outpost, a hilltop area where 40 Israeli families live a few miles northeast of the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
Amid the uproar over the bill, Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected an Israeli government request for a seven-month postponement of the deadline for the evacuation of Amona.
Domestic and international critics of the Israeli policy have said efforts to preserve the hilltop outposts is a sign that the right-wing government seeks to expand the footprint of occupied West Bank settlements to block the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.
State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” by the bill and warned that it would enable “the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank.”
“Israel needs to decide whether it wants to build more settlements or prefers to advance the two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians, she said.
Israeli settlers and their allies argue that residents of Amona were allowed to establish homes in the hilltop outpost with the help of government officials and should be allowed to remain in their homes. They say that thousands of homes in Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank could face similar evacuation orders because they were built on private Palestinian land.
“Remove the sword of expulsion and transfer from Amona residents,’’ Avichai Boaron, a resident of Amona leading the lobbying campaign for legalization, said in a news conference. “Help the hundreds of thousands whose future is hazy — pass the bill immediately” on legalization, he said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, told reporters the bill seeks to ensure that Israeli settlers won’t be treated like “second-class citizens” and live under threat of evacuation.
Mitnick is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Washington contributed to this report.