An Israeli ministerial committee has approved a proposed bill that would ensure the wholesale application of Israeli law to Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a move sponsored by politicians who want Israel to annex part of the territory
The bill needs to be submitted to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for voting and must pass three readings before becoming law.
However, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians that collapsed in April, said she would appeal against the decision, effectively putting parliamentary ratification on indefinite hold, the Reuters news agency reported on Sunday.
Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank are currently formally subject to military rule.
However, the area’s 350,000 settlers are effectively under the jurisdiction of civilian courts in Israel because parliament has already applied a clutch of laws, primarily criminal and tax laws and military conscription, to them.
At present, to ensure that other Israeli laws are binding on settlers in the West Bank, the military commander there has to transpose them, at his discretion, into military regulations.
The new draft bill would make it mandatory for the commander to issue, within 45 days of a law’s passage in parliament, an identically-phrased military order, effectively ensuring that all ratified legislation also applies to settlers.
According to the new bill, Israelis living in the occupied West Bank will be under Israeli law, while Palestinians who live in the same areas would remain under military rule.
Sponsors of the bill said such arrangements would not change the status of the territory or contravene international law.
The Knesset House Committee passed a resolution in July confirming that all Knesset permanent committees may summon any party, including the Israeli military commander of the occupied territory, to report on issues within their competence.
Issam Aruri, the director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre, said what this essentially means is all Knesset permanent committees can exercise oversight over the West Bank.
“This means the Knesset may become responsible for certain parts of the West Bank, which may be a step towards the formal annexation of the occupied Palestinian territory without a formal announcement as such,” he said.
Aruri said that this paves the way for more “pressure by Knesset committees on the military commander to support settlement-building and land-confiscation measures”.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, including those in East Jerusalem, have been declared illegal under international law.