Palestinian politicians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory have warned of dangerous consequences if Israel’s parliament passes a bill to legalise land grabs in the West Bank.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian politician in Israel’s Knesset, said the bill is “an act of annexation” and part of Israel’s broader plans to “expand settlements and Judaize Jerusalem”.
Zoabi, a member of the predominantly Arab Joint List electoral coalition, argued that Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is no longer worried about international criticism” now that Donald Trump has become US president.
“Netanyahu wants there to be no rationale and no reason to negotiate with Palestinians,” she said.
Late on Monday, the Knesset delayed the final committee and plenary votes on the bill until Tuesday morning, according to local media.
If passed, the bill will “regulate settlement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and allow its continued establishment and development” by permitting the confiscation of private Palestinian land, according to its text. It will apply to 16 settlements and outposts.
More than half-a-million Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Although all settlements are considered illegal under international law, there are more than a hundred outposts that were built without authorisation and are considered illegal by even the Israeli government.
In practice, Israel has confiscated Palestinian land since its military occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip started as a result of the 1967 Middle East war.
‘Last building block of apartheid regime’
Though Prime Minister Netanyahu had previously opposed the bill, he has now declared his support for it. Writing on Twitter on Sunday, he said the bill would “prevent recurrent attempts to harm the settlement enterprise”.
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, described the bill as “the last building block of a racist apartheid regime”.
“It’s very dangerous because it means legitimising any confiscation of private Palestinian land,” he told Al Jazeera. “They’ve been doing it in the past for a long time, but it means now settlements are the argument in and of themselves.”
Barghouti argued that the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority should refer Israel to the International Criminal Court and end all security coordination with the Israeli army.
In order to do that, he said Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, which de facto governs the besieged Gaza Strip, must establish a national unity agreement in order to present a unified strategy against Israeli settlement expansion.
“Israelis have determined they want the end of a Palestinian state as an idea,” he said. “Any more delay will mean Israel has a completely free hand to do what it wants, confiscating land and killing the possibility of statehood.”
Flurry of settlement construction
Settlement expansion has been particularly rampant in recent weeks, particularly since the UN Security Council voted in favour of a resolution demanding the halt of settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank last year, with the US abstaining under the administration of former President Barack Obama.
After that vote, Trump, who was sworn in on January 20, vowed to change things at the UN.
In a plan to boost settlement expansion, Israeli authorities recently granted final approvals for the building of 153 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, with thousands more to follow.
Under Netanyahu’s reign, settlements expanded some 23 percent between 2009 and 2014.
Though Trump has not made official statements about settlement growth, Palestinians in the West Bank are already seeing the effects of his presidency on the occupied territory.
Najwan Berekdar, a Ramallah-based Palestinian activist from Nazareth, told Al Jazeera: “I don’t think Trump will condemn the settlements. He has not announced his objection to the settlement project.”
She added: “The law [if passed] enhances apartheid, these steps taken by Israel, ruins their own reputation. If it passes, it will highlight its [Israel’s] real goal – to occupy the whole of Palestine.”
The White House has announced that the US is in the early stages of fulfilling Trump’s pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that has been opposed by Palestinian leadership and by Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank.
“The law, like many Israeli laws, defies the principles of democracy,” Berekdar said. “It would ruin Israel’s relationship with Europe, and even the US since it’s [settlement building] illegal under international law.”