(Photo credit: Hillel Meir/Flash90)
The Israeli Knesset has passed its third reading of a bill that would lift the ban on settlers returning to four settlements in the occupied West Bank, which were evacuated in 2005 following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Hebrew media reported on 21 March.
The vote was passed late on 20 March, with 31 lawmakers voting in favor of the bill and 18 voting against it.
The four settlements – Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim – were evacuated in 2005 under the government of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, which implemented a ‘disengagement’ policy that saw the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, and the evacuation of several settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank.
The legislation to reestablish the four West Bank settlements was proposed by Israeli lawmakers in December last year. Despite representing a repeal part of the 2005 Disengagement Law in regards to these four settlements, the compensation paid to the settlers who evacuated the settlements at the time will be left in place.
“There is no longer any justification to prevent Israelis from entering and staying in the evacuated territory in northern Samaria, and therefore it is proposed to state that these sections [of the disengagement law] will no longer apply to the evacuated territory,” the bill reads.
In January 2023, Israel’s High Court gave Benjamin Netanyahu’s government 90 days to explain its reasons for not dismantling the Homesh settlement in accordance with the Disengagement Law. The government had already been planning to repeal segments of the law as part of a plan to legalize the settlements, including the Homesh outpost.
Homesh is built on privately owned Palestinian land, but has nonetheless become a symbol of the ‘injustice’ of the disengagement policy toward settlers, and in recent years, has been the site of mass settler gatherings and protests.
Although Israeli troops have – under the law – prevented settlers from officially reestablishing the settlement outpost, they have allowed them to continue running a Talmudic learning school (yeshiva) there.
“After many years, it is clear to everyone how unjust the ‘disengagement plan,’ as they called it, was … I hope we can set an example that we in the Knesset know how to correct injustice, even if it takes a few years,” Yuli Edelstein, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said.
However, according to a leader in the Israeli Labor party, Merav Michaeli, passing the bill to legalize these four settlements “gives the crazy settlers permission to do whatever they want in Judea and Samaria, and to hell with Israel’s security.”
This comes as Netanyahu’s government has been planning a major judicial overhaul that would weaken the Israeli Supreme Court and give the prime minister the authority to select judges, a move which many in Israel believe is a threat to their ‘democracy.’
Hebrew media outlet Haaretz suggested last month that the judicial overhaul plan was the Israeli far-right’s “revenge” for the 2005 Disengagement Law.
The passing of the bill also comes a day after a security meeting in Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh between Israel and the PA, after which it was reported that Israel would temporarily halt the expansion of illegal settlements in a bid to deescalate tensions before the month of Ramadan.
This is despite the fact that the Israeli statement released after the meeting made no such promise and made only a vague reference to “possible agreements on the cessation of reciprocal unilateral measures.”