MK Benny Begin, the only coalition member not supporting the Settlements Arrangement Bill on its first reading Monday night, was suspended for three weeks from activity on the Knesset Constitution Committee – and with good reason, Yerushalayim and Immigration Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Army Radio Tuesday. “It is perfectly acceptable for a penalty to be meted out to an MK that breaks coalition discipline,” said Elkin. “This is the road Benny chose and I am sorry he did so. I believe he is wrong in his choice, but regardless of my or anyone’s thoughts, this was an action that was necessary.”
The suspension was announced Tuesday morning by coalition chairman MK David Bitan after Begin failed to raise his hand in support of the law, which passed its preliminary reading by a vote of 60 MKs in favor and 49 against. In a statement, Bitan said that “with all the due respect we have for MK Begin, he is subject to coalition discipline rules like any other MK. Anyone who violates these rules is sanctioned.”
The Settlements Arrangement Law would replace the process whereby claims by Arabs that they own land that Israeli homes are built on are dealt with. Currently, such claims are adjudicated by the High Court, but the bill would instead institute a special arbitration process that would, among other things, advocate land swaps that would replace the land claimed by Palestinians with state land of an equal or greater value that is not in dispute. The law is designed to prevent the demolition of homes at outposts and settlements that were built in good faith, but later were discovered to be built on private land.
Immediately Tuesday the bill was sent to the Constitution Committee for changes and revisions, in preparation for its first reading Wednesday, and its subsequent second and third readings – which the government intends to carry out in the coming days.
The law approved was a revised version that eliminated a clause that would apply to Amona, the issue that was the impetus for the filing of the law by Jewish Home – hence the moniker “Amona Law” to describe the bill. The original version of the bill included a section that would have specifically grandfathered the law to include Amona, but State Attorney Avihai Mandelblit, along with Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, opposed that section, saying that it was designed to outmaneuver a High Court decision. In the end Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich, sponsor of the bill, dropped that section, paving the way for Kachlon and his Kulanu party to vote in favor. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who along with Kachlon had been very hesitant to support the bill, put the full weight of the coalition behind it after the Amona clause was dropped. That came about as the result of talks Sunday night between Netanyahu and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett.
Begin earlier Tuesday told Israel Radio that the law was a bad idea. “I am in favor of settlement as much as anyone else, but this is not the way to do it,” said Begin. “The law will place Israel at risk of charges in international forums for violation of international agreements and conventions, and will tie up the courts with lawsuits and actions for years. The risks and problems of the bill will far outweigh any benefit.”