The government intends to bring the Settlements Arrangement Law for a vote on its second and third reading on Monday, government sources said Sunday. The law had been held up until now by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but over the weekend Netanyahu instructed Likud whip David Bitan to ensure that the votes needed to pass the law this week were in place.
One of the reasons for its holdup was the sharp criticism of the State Department in December, after the bill was passed on its first reading. Then, the U.S. expressed “grave concern” that the “profoundly damaging” bill could become law. According to State Department spokesperson Mark Toner, “Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution.”
However, with Toner and his boss — former President Barack Obama — out of office, Netanyahu feels more confident about moving forward with the law, government sources said. The Settlements Arrangement Law would replace the process now governing Arab claims of ownership of land on which Israeli homes are built. 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 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.
In the wake of the decision, residents of Ofra decided to postpone a planned mass protest that they had been set to conduct outside the Prime Minister’s Office this week, Arutz Sheva reported. As in Amona, the nine homes in a neighborhood on the edge of Ofra are built on land claimed by Arabs. Currently, under Israeli law, such claims are enough to warrant the demolition of homes even before proof of ownership is supplied, with the High Court ruling that the adjudication of whether or not the land is actually owned by absentee Arabs is decided when the land is vacant. However, with the passage of the Settlement Arrangements Law, there is a possibility that the planned demolitions there could be postponed.
In a statement, Ofra activists said that “based on the positive and relevant dialogue of the past few days, we have decided to postpone our protests. We will re-evaluate the situation and measure progress in several days.”