On Monday, the Knesset passed a bill that allows for West Bank settlements built in violation of Israeli law—or determined after-the-fact by Israeli courts to have been built on private Palestinian land—to obtain legal status. In effect, the bill will, for the first time, bring Israeli law to the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur clears away some of the now-widespread misconceptions about this law and explains its implications:
The law does not, as often claimed, suddenly allow the Civil Administration, the Israeli agency administering the West Bank under the army’s auspices, to seize private property for Israeli settlements. The Civil Administration is already allowed to do so, at least on paper. Rather, the new law requires that it do so.
In places where Israelis built settlements on privately held Palestinian property in good faith—i.e., without knowing it was privately owned—or received the government’s de-facto consent for squatting there, the Civil Administration is now forced to carry out the seizure in the squatters’ name in exchange for state compensation to the [Palestinian] owners equal to twenty years’ rent or 125 percent of the assessed value of the land. . . .
The law is a potential watershed moment not because of the powers it confers or the requirements it demands of state bodies, but for the simple fact that it appears to penetrate the carefully constructed legal membrane between democratic, sovereign Israel on the one hand, and the occupied—or at least, under the Fourth Geneva Convention to which Israel is a signatory, specially protected as though occupied—Palestinian population on the other. Tear down this barrier, this legal balancing act that has endured for five decades, and Israel faces a stark question: why are some of the people living under the civil control of the Israeli state enfranchised as full citizens, but others are not? . . .
Here lies the deeper message, the statement of principle that makes palatable the legal risks and diplomatic fallout, even if the law is ultimately overturned by [Israel’s] supreme court: that the Israeli population in the West Bank belongs there, that its presence is legitimate and just, that they are as much the “inhabitants” of Judea and Samaria as the Palestinians. This is not a message intended for foreign audiences, but for Israelis. . . .
This is the strange irony at the heart of this law: that it is less a reliable signal of what the future holds for Israel’s policy in the West Bank—no one who voted for it expects it to survive being challenged in the supreme court—and more a reflection of the deep sense of alienation and vulnerability that has permeated the very settlements that, superficially at least, appear so empowered by its passage.