The proposed bill is just the latest part of a long-standing effort by Israel to annex the West Bank through creeping property purchases, the recognition of illegal settlements and control of critical resources like water.
TEL AVIV — Amid warnings from the United Nations that Israel is soon to formally annex Palestine’s West Bank, a proposed law set to be decided by Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation would allow Israeli Jewish citizens to purchase land in the occupied territory, paving the way for its eventual incorporation into Israeli territory. Introduced by right-wing politician Bezalel Smotrich, who infamously asserted that the Israeli military should kill Palestinian children who throw stones at soldiers, the bill would dramatically change how land is purchased in area C of the West Bank, which represents roughly 60% of the territory overseen by the Palestinian Authority.
The bill specifically seeks to amend a 1953 law passed when Jordan controlled the territory which prevents non-Arabs and foreigners from directly purchasing land in the West Bank. Though that law has remained on the books for decades, a 1971 injunction passed by the Knesset has allowed companies registered in the West Bank to purchase property regardless of ethnic or national identity, effectively creating a loophole that allows Jewish Israelis to purchase property in the area. However, the new proposed bill would allow the direct purchase by anyone of land in Area C of the West Bank, a move that would likely speed up the acquisition of land by Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.
Smotrich’s bill, which is rumored to be supported by Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, would do more than just open up West Bank property to Israeli buyers. As the Jerusalem Post notes, the bill would also allow for the government regulation of 70 illegal Jewish-only settlements in the territory – sometimes called “outposts” – and would require that the Israeli government and law enforcement treat the settlements “as if they were already legalized” despite being considered illegal under international law.
The proposed bill is just the latest part of a long-standing effort by Israel to annex the West Bank through creeping property purchases, the recognition of illegal settlements and control of critical resources like water. Indeed, even though area C was supposed to be given to the Palestinian Authority in 2000 per the Oslo Accords, the area has remained under Israeli military occupation, which has allowed for the rapid growth of illegal settlements in the area. As a result, illegal Israeli settlers now outnumber Palestinians in the area – a reality that has prompted calls from across the Israeli political spectrum, but particularly among the right wing, for the West Bank’s annexation.
Yet, with Trump in the White House, Israel’s efforts to annex the West Bank have become emboldened due to his administration’s marked pro-Israel policies. In the case of the West Bank, administration insiders have hinted for some time that Trump would be more than willing to support Israeli efforts to formally overtake Palestinian territory in the region.
For instance, long-time Trump advisor and current U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, notably declared in 2016 that Israel should annex the West Bank entirely and asserted that it could “assimilate” the Palestinians living in the area without endangering “the Jewish characteristics of Israel.” Friedman has also claimed that Trump would support Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank and even the entire West Bank, if Israel “deemed it necessary.”
With U.S. support for such a move almost guaranteed, Israel’s efforts to annex the West Bank are likely to move forward – even if Smotrich’s bill stalls. As U.S.-Israeli efforts to snuff out all hope for a future Palestinian state continue to gain steam, “the bleakest picture yet of the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” will only worsen as Israel creeps ever closer to annexing what remains of Palestine.