JERUSALEM, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Legislation aimed at legalizing nearly 4,000 Jewish homes in the West Bank moved forward in Israel's Knesset, potentially breaking an impasse.
A new version of a bill, retroactively making about 100 unauthorized-but-tolerated settlements in the West Bank legal unless it can be demonstrated the homes are built on private land, was approved Monday by Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation and quickly passed in a preliminary vote in the legislature.
Interest in the bill is intensified by a deadline of Dec. 25 set by Israel's Supreme Court for the demolition the largest of the West Bank communities, Amona, which is home to about 40 Jewish families. Founded near Ramallah in 1995, it was later discovered Amona was built on land owned by Palestinians. A protracted legal battle began, with occasional violent clashes in Amona, ending with the calling for the village's demolition and the removal of its inhabitants to another West Bank location. This could be prevented by a blanket law retroactively legalizing all the settlements.
West Bank Palestinians see legalization of the settlements as a step toward Israeli annexation of the West Bank, land which would be sovereign Palestinian territory should a two-state solution ever be reached. The non-governmental agency Yesh Din, which has been supportive of Palestinian real estate rights, petitioned against the relocation of Amona residents Monday, noting that an alternative parcel of land where the residents would be temporarily housed is also privately owned by Palestinians.
With a deadline drawing near, competing factions within the Israeli government have begun coalescing around legalization of the settlements. A meeting Monday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, education minister and leader of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi Party, prompted Netanyahu to comment, "We're finding solutions to problems that didn't exist before today, within the framework of the law, in order to solve this problem."