1 of 5 | A partial view of the Israeli Settlement Homesh in 2005 prior to removal under the so-called Disengagement Law. The Knesset voted Tuesday to repeal the law, allowing Jewish settlements to return to the area. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
March 21 (UPI) -- Israel's national assembly has voted to repeal a longstanding law that banished Jewish settlers from four districts of the northern West Bank -- a move that seeks to re-establish the country's presence in Gaza Strip after nearly two decades.
The Knesset voted 31-18 in a second and final reading Tuesday to withdraw the so-called Disengagement Law, which was established in northern Samaria in 2005 as part of an agreement for Israel to pull out of the region and cede the territory to Palestinians.
Last week, the Knesset approved the measure on its first reading as lawmakers hurried to legitimatize a newly established Israeli hamlet in Homesh -- Palestinian land where a new Jewish school was built in recent months despite an Israeli court order to tear it down.
Lawmakers helped support the Jewish detachment by revoking restrictions that had previously banned Israelis from immigrating to the region.
Put forward by the conservative government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the law also won support from a handful of opposition lawmakers as massive political unrest continued to grip the country amid Netanyahu's efforts to overhaul the national judiciary.
The cancellation of disengagement creates the opportunity for Jewish settlers to return to Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur, where Israeli villages once stood before the withdrawal 18 years ago.
The issue of disengagement from the Gaza Strip has long been the subject of intense debate in Israel.
More recently, however, nationalist sympathies have grown among the country's conservative leaders who have felt disgraced by the pullout, saying the government had committed a massive blunder by leaving Gaza.
At the time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and several allies split from the ruling Likud Party over the issue as negotiations turned bitter over the final status of the West Bank.
"Seventeen years of attempts, an uncompromising struggle and a strong belief in the righteousness of this path converged into one moment when the Knesset plenum voted in favor of canceling the Disengagement Law," Likud minister Yuli Edelstein said on Twitter.
Many other legislators echoed the call for Israel's bold return to the region.
"This is the re-establishment of the four settlements that were evacuated in northern Samaria, and the return home to the region of Gush Katif, which was abandoned in an act of terrible folly and has become a nest of terror," said Knesset Minister Limor Son Har Melech of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, who was among those evacuated from Homesh in 2005. "We must galvanize tomorrow to complete the next two tasks that lie ahead of us."
The Israel Defense Forces Central Command has yet to sign off on an order for the military to begin facilitating the transition.
Opponents of the resettlement effort criticized Netanyahu's government, saying Israel's move back would only serve to ignite further conflict with Palestinians, who face having their land stripped away.
International watchdogs have expressed fears that the small resettlement effort in Homesh would eventually snowball, leading to an informal government takeover of vast regions of the West Bank.
"It is now clear that alongside the regime coup, a dangerous messianic coup is taking place, which will inevitably lead to the deepening of the occupation and set the area on fire. It is not for nothing that the security establishment warns that the return of settlers to the northern West Bank will be a tremendous security burden and a focus of settler violence," left-wing group Peace Now said in a statement.
This week, the Israeli government also told the Palestinian Authority it would not move to resettle the areas for at least four months, and also pledged to wait six months to legalize outposts in the West Bank.