AP

Israeli coalition could crumble over settler laws vote

Jun 5, 2022, 2:51 PM | Updated: Jun 6, 2022, 4:23 am

FILE - A general view shows the West Bank Jewish Jewish settlement of Efrat, Thursday, March 10, 20...

FILE - A general view shows the West Bank Jewish Jewish settlement of Efrat, Thursday, March 10, 2022. Israel's coalition is gearing up for a major test of its viability with an expected vote on the legal status of Jewish settlers in the West Bank that could break apart the fragile union if the motion falls. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s ruling coalition is gearing up for a major test, with a vote expected Monday on the legal status of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The fragile union could collapse if the vote fails to pass.

Emergency regulations in place for decades have created a separate legal system for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, applying parts of Israeli law to them — even though they live in occupied territory and not within sovereign Israeli land.

These regulations expire at the end of the month and if they are not renewed, that legal system, which Israel has cultivated for its settlers in the West Bank since it occupied the territory in 1967, will be thrown into question. It could also change the legal status of the 500,000 settlers living there.

Proponents of extending the law say they are merely seeking to maintain a status quo and preserve the government’s shelf life. Opponents say extending the regulations would deepen an unfair system that pits Israelis and Palestinians in the same occupied territory under separate legal systems, which rights groups have equated to apartheid.

The coalition, made up of eight ideologically distinct parties, came together last year and pledged to sidestep divisive issues that could threaten its survival. Now, one of those very issues — Palestinian statehood and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank — risks toppling it.

One of the coalition’s members, the nationalist New Hope, has threatened to bolt if the coalition cannot pass the measure. Legislators and party leaders were scrambling to rally votes and even parties that support Palestinian independence and criticize Israel’s settlement enterprise were expected to vote in favor — just to save the coalition.

“It’s not simple or easy for us either but we understand there is an overarching goal and that overarching goal is the survival of this government,” Yair Golan of the dovish Meretz party, told Israeli Army Radio.

He urged all coalition members to vote in favor for the sake of the coalition, even if it defies their politics.

One of the parties deliberating over its vote is Ra’am, an Arab Islamist group that made history as the first Arab party to join an Israeli coalition. Voting in favor of extending the law will likely anger its constituents.

The opposition meanwhile, made up mainly of nationalist parties, appears ready to forsake its pro-settlement ideology and will vote against extending the regulations, to try to bring down the coalition.

If New Hope leaves, it could give the opposition the votes it needs to trigger new elections or form a new government.

“It will create legal chaos in Judea and Samaria” and harm Israeli citizens, New Hope’s leader, Justice Minister Gideon Saar, told Israeli public broadcaster Kan last week, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “The government has a responsibility, and the elementary responsibility is to pass and maintain basic legal arrangements.”

The government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has faced hurdles before. Idit Silman, the coalition whip from Bennett’s small, nationalist party, quit the coalition earlier this year, leaving the government with 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset — surviving immediate defeat but struggling to govern. Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, another legislator from Meretz also quit, but later rejoined after being promised a raft of benefits for her constituents, Palestinian citizens of Israel. Another member of Bennett’s party defected last year, and others have expressed misgivings with the coalition arrangements.

Bennett’s government came together last year after two years of political mayhem, with four elections producing no clear winner. The eight coalition members were united by their goal of ousting former leader Benjamin Netanyahu — who now heads the opposition, from where he is battling corruption charges — and have sought to work around their issues to keep him out of power.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized internationally and pulled out troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. But hundreds of thousands of Israelis reside in over 120 settlements dotting the West Bank, along with more than 2.5 million Palestinians.

Since Israel has never annexed the territory, it technically remains under military rule, creating a bewildering legal reality. For Jewish settlers in the West Bank, most of Israel’s criminal and civilian laws apply. They vote in Israeli elections, enlist for compulsory military service and pay their taxes to the state.

But these core laws are applied on a personal rather than a geographic basis, meaning they apply to Israelis because of their citizenship and regardless of their location.

To get around accusations of de facto annexation, Israel relies heavily on military decrees, rather than parliament, to enforce laws on settlers. Israel’s Supreme Court steps in when loopholes in this patchwork arrangement emerge.

Palestinians, meanwhile, are subject to a different set of laws, adding to the confusion — and often inequality.

This legal status will remain if the law in question on Monday passes. If it fails to pass, settlers will automatically fall under military rule, like Palestinians in the West Bank, according to Emmanuel Gross, an Israeli expert on criminal and international law and a former military judge.

Basic, everyday relations between settlers and the state will crumble: Israel won’t be able to levy taxes and police won’t be able to investigate criminal offences, among other things, Gross said. The status of Palestinian inmates being held in Israeli prisons will also be challenged, as Israel uses this same set of emergency regulations to hold prisoners outside of occupied land.

“The entire legal basis of what happens with the settlers today will be cancelled. This can cause chaos,” he said, adding that he expected the government would find a way to ensure the regulations are extended.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

3 days ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

3 days ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

3 days ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

4 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

4 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

7 days ago

Israeli coalition could crumble over settler laws vote