A new and controversial bill extending Israel's laws to West Bank settlements without formally annexing the area was approved Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, thus overcoming the first legal obstacle en route to becoming a law.
While settlers living in the West Bank are formally subject to military rule, the bill will see the region's military commander ratify bills passed in Israel's Knesset as military decree, thus de facto extending legislation passed in Israel to the occupied territories.
The news comes at a volatile time for Israel, with tensions between Jews and Arabs reaching new heights with violence spearing across the nation, as well as international pressure on Israel growing, with more and more states passing bills vowing to recognize a Palestinian state.
The bill – dubbed The Norms Law – was sponsored by rightists MK Orit Struk (Bayit Yehudi) and MK Yariv Levin (Likud) and saw four ministers object and six vote in favor. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is a committee of ministers charged with choosing which bills go forward with the legislation process.
Justice Minister Livni, who voted against the bill, slammed it, saying "the real goal of this bill is to normalize an abnormal situation – an expanding occupation masquerading as civil rights."
According to the bill, the IDF’s Central Command – which is the sovereign in the Israeli controlled parts of the West Bank and serves as the area's governor - will ratify the laws in an ad hoc manner some 45 days after they complete the legislation process.
According to Struk and Levin, the bill will serve both Israelis and Palestinians, however it is far from certain this will be the case, as it is unclear to which areas the law will be extended and moreover, it is not retroactive – and will only pertain to laws passed after the Norms Law is ratified – thus Palestinians will not be given the right to vote, for example.
Meanwhile, the committee chairwomen Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finace Minister Yair Lapid vowed to fight the bill.
"Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is home to 350,000 Israeli citizens that vote for the Knesset, but their lives are not managed by it because the Israeli law does not apply. This is unacceptable situation which harms residents and undoubtedly infringes on their rights, discriminating against them," the bill touted.
According to its sponsors, the bill is intended to extend basic rights to settlers, for example, labor laws which currently do not apply to the areas.
The bill also noted that in Judea and Samara there is currently a mix of Ottoman, Jordanian British and Israeli laws which are applied arbitrarily to certain areas, but not to them all: "The new (proposed legal) mechanism will equalize the norms prevalent in the area in an gradual and responsibly manner and stipulated that any bill ratified by the Knesset will be put into effect within 45 days by the IDF military commander's decree."
Meretz Chairwomen Zehava Gal-On slammed the bill, saying "The Knesset is attempting to take on the responsibilities of a military commander in the territories, who is the sovereign of an occupied territory, and extend on settlements the norms prevalent in Israel, a sovereign country."
"This stands in complete contradiction with international law which Israel has accepted. Whoever chooses to live in the settlements knows this is occupied territory. Now they want to conduct a de facto annexation while only extending the law to settlers, which creates a policy of apartheid.