Bethlehem, occupied West Bank - Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank may be granted further protections if a new proposal for an official dual legal system, set forth this week by Israel's Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, comes to fruition.
Israelis living in illegal West Bank settlements are already governed by a separate set of laws laid out by military decrees, legal rulings and legislative amendments. For every law passed by the Israeli Knesset, another set of paperwork must be put together by one of several governmental institutions to make the same Israeli law relevant in Israeli settlements.
Shaked's proposal, referred to as the Norms Bill, would ensure that laws passed in the Israeli legislature would immediately apply to illegal Israeli settlements, without applying to their Palestinian neighbours.
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"It is my goal to equalise conditions [between Israel proper and Israel's settlements] within one year, either by a [military] decree or through legislation," Shaked said earlier this week in a speech at the Legal Forum for Israel's annual conference. Al Jazeera could not immediately reach Shaked for further comment.
Critics have slammed the proposal, claiming it furthers a system that already threatens the future of a possible two-state solution.
Any automatic extension of Israel's domestic legislation to its settler population merely reinforces Israel's commitment to the implementation of a two-tier legal system inside the West Bank.
Aida Touma-Suleiman, a member of the Knesset's Arab Joint List, called Shaked's plan part of Israel's "expansionist ideology" that is leading to the "crawling annexation of the occupied territories.
"This adventurous policy will ultimately lead the two peoples to the verge of explosion, threatening many more lives of innocent Palestinian and Israeli civilians."
While Touma-Suleiman and others on the Joint List say they would vote against the proposed legislation, they fear it would be passed regardless. While Shaked says she wants the changes to be implemented within the next year, there is no scheduled timeline yet for discussion of the proposal.
"I think, unfortunately, this legislation would pass, especially if it has the government's support - but even if the government isn't in support, there are members of the opposition who fully support the initiative, and that could be enough," Touma-Suleiman said.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), an Israeli human rights group, has long documented problems resulting from the current, unofficial dual legal system.
In a 145-page report released in 2014, the group broke down the dual system, explaining the effects on everything from criminal and traffic law to building and planning regulations, to freedom of expression.
In one case highlighted by the ACRI, two residents of Hebron, where Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents live side-by-side, got into an altercation. The Israeli settler was detained, taken to a civil court hearing within 24 hours, and released on bail; the Palestinian, meanwhile, was held for four days, then brought before a military court and jailed directly.
ACRI has denounced Shaked's new proposal, noting that institutionalising the two sets of laws for Israelis and Palestinians would result in furthering "systematic discrimination against the Palestinian population". Ronit Sela, the group's public outreach director for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said the move would further legitimise illegal Israeli settlements and their expansion.
"It's a mess, and Shaked's claim is that she wants to make the mess less messy … But Shaked is taking one more step on a path that has already been paved by other people," Sela told Al Jazeera. "It's a gradual path whereby in the West Bank there's actually two rules of law, which was never intended, but happened gradually. And now Shaked is looking to institutionalise these two separate rules of law that should have never existed."
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The proposal would be particularly troubling with regard to laws on building and planning, which are supposed to be different for Israeli settlements, where building is meant to be strictly regulated compared with inside Israel.
Simon Reynolds, the legal advocacy coordinator for the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, said the proposed legislation not only threatens any hope for a two-state solution, but is also in direct breach of international law.
"Any automatic extension of Israel's domestic legislation to its settler population merely reinforces Israel's commitment to the implementation of a two-tier legal system inside the West Bank, and in doing so highlights a contempt for the rights of Palestinians and for international law generally," Reynolds said.
"Not only is such a clear separation of law along racial lines entirely compatible with the accepted legal definition of apartheid, but in exercising de facto sovereignty over occupied territory, Israel is acting in gross contravention of a key principle of the law governing military occupation: that the occupying power's control of a territory is to be temporary in nature."
Source: Al Jazeera