During the night from Monday to Tuesday, the Knesset put the second and third reading of the so-called deduction law on its agenda. The members of Israel’s parliament decided to reverse the withdrawal from four settlements in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. After the amendment to the Disengagement Law, Israeli settlers could return to the four settlements of Khomesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sanur, which lie between the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Jenin.
International reactions followed promptly: In a rare move, the US government summoned Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog to meet with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who expressed “US concern” about the change in law.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to clarify that the “government has no intention of establishing new settlements in these areas.” But the Knesset’s decision would end a “discriminatory and degrading law” that did not allow Jews to live in their “historic homeland.”
The repeal of the Withdrawal Act is a major success for pro-settlements and the far-right pro-settlement parties in government. The current right-wing religious coalition has set itself the task of promoting settlement expansion and thus a possible annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.
Why Israeli Settlements Were Abandoned
In 2005, the then government under conservative Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from the settlements in the Gaza Strip and four other settlements in the northern West Bank. At that time, the high military effort required to protect the settlers was one reason for evacuating the settlements. But the security concerns that Sharon had almost 20 years ago are more relevant today than ever.
The situation in the northern West Bank in particular has continued to deteriorate in recent months. According to the Israeli military, it carries out “anti-terrorist operations” almost every day in the cities of Jenin and Nablus as part of “Operation Break the Wave”. Violence by settlers has also increased. According to Palestinian sources, at least 80 people have died since the beginning of the year, including militant Palestinians but also civilians. At least 15 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
After the withdrawal in 2005, settlers in Chomesh set up an illegal trailer park with a yeshiva, a Jewish religious school. They were expelled several times by the Israeli army. Now they could legally return.
Israeli jurisprudence versus international law
The current right-wing religious government under Netanyahu recently legalized nine so-called settlement outposts, which were considered illegal even under Israeli law, and decided to build around 7,000 new apartments in settlements in the West Bank.
According to international law, Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law, and Israel rejects this view. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel conquered and occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among other things. East Jerusalem was later annexed. However, Palestinians want to establish their own state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as the capital. The construction of Israeli settlements is seen as a major obstacle to this, because it further subdivides the Palestinian territory and makes a contiguous state almost impossible.
The scope of the Knesset decision
Even if it is still unclear whether these settlements will ever again be inhabited by Israelis, new settlement outposts could now arise in the north of the West Bank. The presence of settlers would then lead to further conflicts. The “messianic” government is thus creating “facts to prevent a Palestinian state,” argues the left-wing Israeli organization “Peace Now,” which has been documenting the settlement activities of Israeli governments for years. “It’s a huge security issue and a source of settler violence. This decision will have repercussions for generations.”
The vote in the Knesset came just hours after a US-brokered summit of Israeli and Palestinian officials in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh aimed at calming the overall heated situation. In the final declaration, Israel pledged not to engage in any new settlement activities in the next four months – as one of the measures to avoid further escalation in the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan.
Sharp reactions from abroad
Palestinian and international reactions to the law change were not long in coming. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sees this as “a violation” of the 2016 UN Security Council resolution that describes settlements as illegal, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reports.
The US government has criticized the law in unusually harsh terms as “provocative and counterproductive”. The US is “extremely concerned,” said Vedant Patel, deputy press secretary at the US State Department, noting that “Chomesh is built on private Palestinian land.” The law is also in conflict with Israeli guarantees that were agreed upon in the days of President George W. Bush. “Around 20 years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrote to George W. Bush, on behalf of Israel, to evacuate the settlements and outposts in the northern West Bank in order to stabilize the situation (…).”
The renewed diplomatic irritation between the Biden government and the right-wing religious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is still waiting for an invitation to the White House, did not stop there: There are also sharp reactions from the United Nations and the European Union , including Germany, and from neighboring Jordan.
As local media reports, the Israeli ambassador in Amman had been summoned shortly before because the far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich had once again made racist and anti-Arab remarks. Smotrich, who also heads the civil-military administrative authority in the occupied West Bank, said at an event in Paris that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.” The politician from the “Religious Zionism” party stood in front of a map showing the occupied West Bank and Jordan as Israeli state territory.