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December 6, 2016 2:24 pm

Israeli Education Minister Says Outpost Bill Paves Way for West Bank Annexation

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Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Photo: Facebook.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Photo: Facebook. – Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the country’s Jewish Home party, hailed the preliminary passage of a controversial bill to retroactively legalize Israeli settlement outposts as paving the way for Israel’s eventual annexation of the West Bank.

“Today, the Israeli Knesset moved from heading toward establishing a Palestinian state to heading toward sovereignty in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and to remove any doubt about it — the outpost regulation bill is the tip of the iceberg in applying sovereignty,” Bennett said, following the legislation’s  60-49 win in its first Knesset vote.

The measure has been staunchly opposed by many in Israel, including Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has said that the bill violates international law. Israeli opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog called the preliminary passage a “dark day for the Knesset.”

The bill was originally designed to prevent the court-ordered December 25 demolition of the Amona outpost, but it will not prevent that community from being relocated after a compromise was reached between Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Instead, the measure will recognize other Israeli settlement construction that took place on private Palestinian land in good faith, including instances in which settlers were not aware that the land was privately owned or in which they received some form of state assistance. Additionally, the bill provides compensation for Palestinian landowners.

According to the anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now, the bill will enable the Israeli government to legalize 55 outposts and build another 4,000 housing units in Judea and Samaria.

The proposed legislation has been criticized by the US, the European Union and the United Nations.

The bill still faces three more Knesset readings before it becomes law.

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