UPDATED: Israel’s “Formalization Law”

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An Israeli outpost in occupied East Jerusalem (Shutterstock)

On Monday the Knesset passed a bill that would legalize settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank that were built on privately owned Palestinian land. The law can now be used to raise the status of outposts all over the West Bank to those of settlements that are legal under Israeli law (all settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal according to international law). That would be a tremendous setback to the already dimming prospects of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and to the two-state solution.

The law has already been challenged in court by Israeli human rights groups. Countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Jordan and Turkey have all condemned the law, as has the United Nations. American Jewish groups, including centrist groups like the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, have also expressed their objections to this law.

In light of the law’s passage, FMEP  is updating our policy brief about the “Formalization” or “Regularization” Law.

What is the “formalization law”?

The law allows the Israeli government to retroactively legalize outposts built in the West Bank if the outpost was set up on privately owned Palestinian land with government involvement, but was not an officially sanctioned settlement. Palestinian owners would not be able to retrieve their land, but would be entitled to annual financial compensation payments at 125% of the value of the land as determined by the Israeli government.

What are the specific problems with the bill?

Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, stated that the bill is inconsistent with Israeli law, violates international law, and seeks to undermine the status of the High Court of Israel. It is an attempt to legalize a procedure that also violates Israeli jurisprudence and precedent since the beginning of the occupation that has agreed that the State cannot simply confiscate privately owned Palestinian land for settlements. Forcing landowners to accept a payment in exchange does not mitigate this, as the Court has repeatedly confirmed. Mandelblit has since repeated that he would not defend this law against legal challenge.

What is the status of the bill now?

The bill is now the law of the land. The legal challenges it faces are considerable, and most observers believe the law will not withstand those challenges. Still, until Israel’s High Court of Justice makes a ruling on the case, the law is in place and we cannot be absolutely certain that the law will be struck down by the Court. In the meantime, the law will have an effect on the ground. There are currently 16 outposts and settlements that have demolition orders against them due to claims of private Palestinian ownership of their lands. The law will freeze those orders for one year. Given the difficulty of getting such orders implemented (the Amona outpost was taken down just last week, after first being deemed illegal by israel’s High Court in 2006), setting the clock back on them adds a new layer of complication to an already difficult process. Similarly, the very passage of this law encourages settlers to set up outposts with even greater impunity. By the time the Court rules, even if it does strike the law down, there could be many more outposts on privately owned Palestinian land.

For more background on the law, see our original policy brief here.