The bill proposal that would allow settlers to enter the areas of the West Bank that Israel evacuated as part of the Disengagement Plan in 2005, was approved yesterday, on March 16, 2023, by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and is expected to be voted in the second and third readings as early as next week. The law marks a significant landmark in the ambition of changing the northern part of the West Bank from a contiguous Palestinian area to an area with settlers, outposts, and settlements. Hence, politically, this law is destructive to the two-state solution. From a security standpoint, the law will increase friction between populations and endanger the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Background and Explanation:
On Monday, March 13, 2023, the Israeli Knesset passed a series of bills in a first reading. Most of them were related to the Israeli legal system and the weakening of its democracy. In addition, an amendment to the Law for the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan (2005) was approved in the Knesset by a majority of 40 against 17 MKs. On Thursday, March 16, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved the law as it was passed in the first reading, and now it is set to be voted for a second and third reading in the Knesset (final readings before final approval). The public attention on the changes in the legal system and the weakening of democracy pushed the issue of this amendment to the sidelines. Despite this, the amendment is a significant step towards canceling the Disengagement Plan in the northern West Bank.
In 2005, Israel evacuated all of its settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank (Sa-Nur, Ganim, Kadim, and Homesh). The evacuation was carried out based on the law for the Implementation of the Disengagement Plan. The proposed law that was approved today in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee refers only to the northern West Bank and not to the Gaza Strip, and cancels articles 23 to 27 from the original Law from 2005. These are the articles that prohibit Israelis from entering the evacuated area without the commander’s permission, and that deem violating the law is punishable by up to two years in prison.
The meaning of the amendment to the law that is expected to be approved as law as early as next week, after it passes the second and third readings, is that Israeli citizens will be able to enter the evacuated settlements (except for private lands) like any other area in Area C, and security forces will not have the authority to evacuate them.
The impact of the amendment to the law on the Palestinian territory: a security threat to human life and a severe blow to the two-state solution.
The current version of the proposed law does not authorize establishing settlements on the land. However, allowing Israelis to enter the evacuated areas will have a significant impact on the space and lives of Palestinians in the northern West Bank. We are already familiar with the phenomena of the increasing and ongoing presence of Israelis in Palestinian areas that are not settlements. Throughout the year, settlers organize tours, protest marches, prayer events, family gatherings, and more, adjacent to Palestinian areas. We estimate that the change in the law will lead to an increase in Israeli presence in the northern part of the West Bank and in the evacuated settlement areas. Israeli presence will significantly change the way of life of Palestinians living in these areas and increase friction between the populations. We assume that with the approval of the law, settlers will organize various events that will be accompanied by heavy military security, which will disrupt the lives of Palestinians.
Furthermore, even if according to the proposed law, there is no possibility of returning and settling on the land, it is highly likely that once settlers reach the northern West Bank with more ease, there will be attempts to establish outposts in the area and pressure to establish settlements in the area will increase. The establishment of outposts and settlements in the northern West Bank constitutes a severe blow to the two-state solution. In the entire West Bank, there are almost no continuous Palestinian areas without settlements or outposts. Furthermore, in all previous negotiations, this region was an area that Israeli governments did not have policy demands towards. The proposed law is thus where the first step is taken to change this Palestinian space into a space with settlements targeting to harm the chances of reaching a future political and peaceful agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Re-establishing the Settlement of Homesh
In particular, the proposed law will be a milestone in the re-establishment of Homesh, which was mostly established on private Palestinian land registered in the land registry. Despite the fact that Homesh was evicted as part of the Disengagement Plan, a small Yeshiva located there is the major source of violence by settlers who receive protection from the army. Both the army and the settlers prevent Palestinian farmers from reaching their land. Removing the legal prohibition on Israelis staying in the area will encourage more settlers to come to the area and send a clear message from the government that settler violence and land theft are effective and acceptable actions for creating settlements. The law will establish and encourage a situation in which Palestinian lands continue to be effectively seized.
The proposed law as part of a broader annexation move
The proposed law is expected to be voted on for a second and third reading next week and is expected to be supported by some MKs from the opposition as well. As a reminder, the coalition agreement between the Likud party and the religious Zionist party, and the Jewish Power party, decided on extensive changes in the management of the West Bank. Among other things, it was decided to transfer authorities from the Civil Administration to the Minister within the Defense Ministry, Bezalel Smotrich, as well as regularization of all outposts, easing of land registration in the occupied territories, cancellation of the disengagement laws, and more.
The approval of the Law to amend the Disengagement Law, is the first significant law in the government’s plan and joins the cabinet’s decision to legalize 15 outposts, promote almost 7,200 housing units in settlements, and changes in Civil Administration that were made by transferring powers to an additional minister in the Ministry of Defense, Bezalel Smotrich, from the religious Zionist party.
Settlements are a violation of international law and not an internal Israeli matter
From the perspective of the State of Israel, since the disengagement was carried out unilaterally in 2005 and without an agreement with the Palestinians, it chooses to present the issue as an internal Israeli matter, as if it is comparing the evacuated areas to the rest of the areas in Area C of the West Bank. However, settlements are a violation of international law and harm Palestinians, both their human rights and their right to self-determination and sovereignty. As stated above, a change in the disengagement law would actively lead to significant changes in the area. It can be said that the first law that the current Israeli government approved regarding the West Bank reflects the policy that right-wing parties declared before the government was formed and which was expressed in coalition agreements.