Israel’s passage of a controversial law that would retroactively legalize some Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land was met in Canada mostly with silence and disapproval.
The Knesset voted 60-52 in favour of the provocative measure on Feb. 6 to legalize some 4,000 settler homes in 16 settlements. The roughly 800 hectares of Palestinian-owned land is in part of the West Bank that is under Israeli civilian and military rule.
The law allows the state to seize land privately owned by Palestinians in the West Bank and grant the properties to Jewish settlements for their exclusive use.
It’s designed to protect homes in Jewish settlements from any court-ordered evacuation and demolition.
The law came less than a week after police carried out a court order to evacuate about 40 settler families at the Amona outpost, declared illegal a decade ago.
Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, said the bill violates domestic and international law and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court. He said he would not even defend the law before the high court.
‘the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution’
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it recognizes the law “is a contentious issue and that many feel that this development is unhelpful,” but its “implications” won’t be clear until Israel’s Supreme Court rules on it.
CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel said in a statement that the organization’s lay leadership will be in Israel next week to meet with senior officials “to further develop our understanding and perspective on this and other issues.”
Canada “is deeply concerned” about the measure, which is “illegal under international law,” Chrystia Freeland, minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement.
The law’s passage “is unhelpful to the advancement of the peace process in the region. Canada calls on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that prejudge the outcome of direct negotiations and jeopardize the prospects for a two-state solution,” Freeland said.
Even the normally pro-Israel Conservative party expressed concerns.
While the legislation “clearly intended to pre-empt further Amona-like removal confrontations,” it’s “safe to say the bill is not helpful to Israel’s international image and the peace process,” Peter Kent, the Tories’ foreign affairs critic, told The CJN in an email.
But, Kent added, it seems “highly likely” the law will be overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court, based on statements by Mandelblit and Avigdor Lieberman, the defence minister who also said the law would likely be struck down.
In Israel, Peace Now issued the following statement: “By passing this law, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu makes theft an official Israeli policy and stains the Israeli law books. By giving a green light to settlers to build illegally on private Palestinian land, the legalization law is another step towards annexation and away from a two state solution.”
Canadian Friends of Peace Now endorsed the statement. “We are upset with the government action. We find it obstructs a negotiated peace,” said Friends’ spokesperson Gabriella Golliger.
The law might be intended for domestic consumption “to pander to the settlers, and if it upsets the leftists and some other countries, who cares?” said Karen Mock, chair of JSpace Canada, a progressive Zionist group.
“Or maybe the government is testing [U.S.] President Donald Trump to see what it can get away with,” Mock added.
B’nai Brith Canada president Michael Mostyn was unavailable for comment.
Emanuel Adler, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Chair of Israeli Studies and professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said he could sum up the law in one word: “Disaster. It’s a flagrant violation of international law, not just of Israeli law.”
Adler said many MKs on the coalition side of Israel’s government have been emboldened by Trump’s election.
And, he added, Netanyahu has been weakened by an investigation over his alleged acceptance of gifts from wealthy businessmen.
The U.S. State Department was tight-lipped, issuing no comment on the law. But Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein called the bill “brutal,” saying it will “lead to takeover of the West Bank, making a two-state solution impossible.”
The measure contravenes international law “and will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned in a statement.
France called the bill a “new attack on the two-state solution,” while Britain said it “damages Israel’s standing with its international partners.”
The European Union said the law “crosses a new and dangerous threshold by legalizing under Israeli law the seizure of Palestinian property rights.”
MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli of the pro-settler Jewish Home party said the bill was “dedicated to the brave people of Amona who were forced to go through what no Jewish family will have to again,” the Times of Israel reported.
Bezalel Smotrich, also of the Jewish Home Party, a major force behind the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Trump, “without whom the law would have probably not passed.”
Israel approved plans to build 2,500 new settler homes in the West Bank just days after Trump’s inauguration.