Israel delays vote on Bill legalising wildcat outposts

The Israeli Knesset has postponed a vote that would allow Israel to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank.
The Israeli Knesset has postponed a vote that would allow Israel to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's parliament has postponed a vote that would allow it to appropriate hundreds of hectares of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, the parliament's website said on Tuesday (Jan 31).

The Knesset, or parliament, on Monday (Jan 30) began to consider the Bill ahead of second and third parliamentary readings due to take place this week.

Voting will now take place next week, the Knesset website said, with Feb 6 the earliest the Bill can be passed.

Presented by the pro-settlement lobby, the Bill would retroactively legalise nearly 4,000 Jewish homes in the occupied West Bank built in contravention of Israeli law, according to the anti-settlement organisation Peace Now.

More than 800 hectares of Palestinian land would be expropriated, the organisation said.

The Palestinian owners of the land would be compensated financially or with land elsewhere.

It would be the first time Israel has applied its own civil law to land it recognises as Palestinian-owned in the West Bank, critics say.

The Bill is backed by Israel's right-wing government but has alarmed the international community and supporters of an independent Palestinian state.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation has called it a "declaration of war".

Israel's opposition leader Isaac Herzog says the law would pose a danger to Israel and could amount to annexation of parts of the West Bank, the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

The opposition had initially demanded that debates on the Bill be spread out over 38 days, but this period was shortened, the Knesset website said.

The delay means the vote could now come in the same week as the Feb 8 deadline for the evacuation of the "outpost" settlement of Amona.

The fate of Amona, which an Israeli court demanded be demolished as it is built on private Palestinian land, was one of the key factors driving the right wing's push for the Bill.

However, Amona is not included among the 54 outposts that would be legalised, according to Peace Now.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, with much of the international community seeing them as a major obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.