Unsettled over settlements

The neighbourhood of Gilo in East Jerusalem. Photo: Jpost/Wikimedia Commons

AUSTRALIAN Jewish leaders have expressed concern over Israel’s controversial new legislation on settlements, describing the law which would retroactively legalise an estimated 4000 West Bank settler homes built on privately owned Palestinian land as “troubling” and “counterproductive”.

In a joint statement, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Anton Block and executive director Peter Wertheim said the Regulation Law passed by the Knesset last week, which prevents the government from demolishing the homes and forces the landowners to accept compensation, is “very troubling”.

“It seeks to legalise retroactively outposts that were built on land in the West Bank that had been privately owned by Palestinians. At the time they were built these outposts were illegal under Israeli law,” Block and Wertheim noted.

Stating that the law was enacted “despite the opposition of the Attorney-General of Israel”, they said, “Both he and the Defence Minister, as well as many legal experts, are predicting that the law will be successfully challenged in the Supreme Court of Israel. We can only hope that occurs, reaffirming that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is a democracy governed by the rule of law.”

The pair warned that this episode will also have the “unfortunate effect of feeding the false narrative that settlements are the primary reason for the absence of peace and will provide the Palestinians a further excuse to keep avoiding a return to direct negotiations with Israel”.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) national chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said AIJAC believes the bill is a “counterproductive and unwise piece of legislation aimed at pandering to fringe constituencies at the expense of Israel’s integrity and image abroad”.

“The biggest barrier to peace at the moment is the Palestinian refusal to negotiate, not settlements – which comprise just one of the contentious final status issues that must be negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinians, and one whose importance has often been exaggerated and distorted,” they said.

“However, this unhelpful law seems likely to make resolving that issue more difficult when and if the Palestinians end their self-destructive boycott of the negotiating table.”

Noting that the law’s “passage is seen by many as a retrograde step in keeping alive any prospect of a negotiated peace” and that it is not expected to survive a challenge in Israel’s Supreme Court, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) Danny Lamm said, “Whatever else might be said about this issue, the principle barrier to a peaceful resolution is the Palestinian refusal to negotiate. Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to trade land for peace even where established Israeli communities have been uprooted as a result.”

He added, “The ZFA is extremely proud of the system of checks and balances that operate within Israel’s thriving democracy which include strict adherence to the rule of law. Issues in the disputed territories remain to be solved in a way that is consistent with Israel and her neighbours living in peace and security and a negotiated permanent resolution to the conflict.”