U.S. State Department calls outpost bill a ‘troubling step’

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The U.S. State Department called a controversial Knesset bill that would legalize some unauthorized West Bank outposts a “troubling step” and “corrosive to the cause of peace.”

In a briefing to reporters on Monday, State Department Press Office Director Elizabeth Trudeau first referred to the legislation as “a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already gravely endangering the prospects for a two-state solution.” She later amended her statement to say the “issue of the settlements” instead of a settlement enterprise, calling it a “good clarification.”

Trudeau was responding to a question about the legislation, which on Sunday passed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and is expected to be introduced in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday for its first reading.

The measure was sponsored by the Jewish Home party in an effort to save Amona, which Israel’s Supreme Court has determined was built on private Palestinian property and ordered demolished by Dec. 25.

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Under the bill, the government would pay the Palestinian landowners large sums of money and give them new property in exchange for their land.

“We’re deeply concerned about the advancement of legislation that would allow for the legalization of illegal Israeli outposts located on private Palestinian land. Israel’s own attorney general has reportedly expressed serious concerns about the constitutionality of the proposed legislation. If this law were enacted, it could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank. This would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that’s inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and also break longstanding Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land,” Trudeau said. “Our policy, as you know, on settlements is clear. We believe they are corrosive to the cause of peace,” she added.

Trudeau declined to answer a question on whether the Obama administration would “do something tangible” if the bill becomes law.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked brought the bill to the committee over the objections of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Oct. 31, the State Attorney’s Office asked for a delay of seven months from the Dec. 25 deadline to evacuate Amona, saying it could not arrange alternative housing for the residents before the target date. The government indicated at the time of the request that it would go ahead with the demolition of the settlement on time if required. The request was denied on Monday.

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