Kristine L Ming

MK Smotrich: Seizing Palestinian property is for ‘the good of the public’

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) on Tuesday defended the “settlement regulation bill” against Arab and left-wing criticism of it on moral grounds, saying that seizing Palestinian private property complies with democratic norms. “Every democratic country confiscates property for the good of the public,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “The settlement activity (in the West Bank) is a public purpose, not a private purpose.”

A vote on the bill – which is expected to be passed on Monday – was delayed until after the hard-right Trump administration took power. MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) said the proposed legislation “comes to legitimize the theft of land of the Palestinians and is an opening to annexation of the rest of the territory in the West Bank. It will change everything, it will close up the path to the peace process and to any two state solution. There won’t be two states, there won’t be a solution.”

Smotrich responded that no theft would be carried out, because all settlements in the West Bank were built on empty land. “Unlike [the war of] 1948, when villages were demolished and Jewish cities were built, no one settled in Judea and Samaria on a land that Palestinians lived on or even used for agriculture.” he said.

“Because it was empty, people thought it was state land and started building there. By this bill we want to fix the injustice and make it legal. Palestinians that would be hurt from this would obviously be compensated.”

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) echoed the notion that the bill would not cause an injustice. “I reject all the talking here about robbery, stealing and trying to rephrase the bible allegories [as if we are doing something wrong]. The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” he said.

“We have never said otherwise. Again and again a right-wing government will advance the Right agenda and will rule in a right-wing way. We were elected to the Knesset to promote what we believe in, not what Meretz, the Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and the Joint List believe in. The ‘settlements bill’ is an obligation of the right-wing government to regulate the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, 50 years after the great miracle of the Six Day War.”

Dror Etkes, director of Kerem Navot, an NGO that monitors land use in the West Bank, said the bill, if passed, would retroactively legalize many thousands of houses built on private property in hundreds of places.

These include not only settlement outposts but also established settlements that were built partly on private property, such as Beit El, Kochav Hashahar, Ofra, Eli, Ma’ale Michmash, and Kochav Ya’acov. “Almost every settlement in the West Bank has parts that were built on private Palestinian property,” said Etkes, who formerly monitored settlements for the left-wing Peace Now organization.

“If you don’t understand that stealing property from people, especially people that cannot defend their rights because they are at the bottom of the food chain [is wrong], then you have a moral and personal problem,” he said.

Etkes also said the bill violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and could therefore expose politicians, army officers and settlers to prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“This is heading to an escalation of the relations between Israel and the international community, at least parts of the international community that Israel wants to be respected by, namely Europe and sooner or later other countries,” he said. “Assuming Trump won’t remain president forever, sooner or later it will put Israel in confrontation with important parts of North American politics as well.”

MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) termed the bill “an extreme example of Israel’s ongoing tradition of land theft.”

“This law is illegal by Israeli legal standards and probably will not pass the Supreme Court. Maybe that’s what Bibi and Lieberman expect and count on,” she said.

“Colonization of occupied territory is a crime according to international law. From the onset of colonialist Zionism, Israel has disregarded the just rights of the local original population, the Palestinians. However, Israel is bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

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