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Washington slams Israel’s West Bank law, says it’s violation of Israeli commitments

The Biden administration criticized on Tuesday an Israeli law passed in the Israeli Knesset on Monday that repeals the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the northern occupied West Bank.

The Israeli Knesset passed the second and third readings of an amendment that would allow colonial Israeli settlers to return to four illegal outposts in the West Bank evacuated in 2005 as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plans.

The readings were passed late on Monday night in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, with a majority of 31 votes in support and 18 who voted against.

The development could see Israeli settlers return to the evacuated settlements of Homesh, Sa-Nur, Kadim and Ganim, all of which are located around the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus.

While the government has passed the bill, the Israeli military must still issue a military order allowing Israeli settlers to return to these areas.

In August 2005, the disengagement plan implemented by Sharon saw ‘Israel’ remove more than 9,000 settlers in 21 illegal settlements located in the besieged Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

In return, the Bush administration agreed to recognize that the big settlement blocks in the West Bank adjacent to the 1967 lines would stay part of ‘Israel’ in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

This understanding between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then-President George W. Bush was enshrined in an official exchange of letters between the two sides.

US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said at the start of the daily briefing that the Biden administration is extremely troubled by the law and the fact it could lead to the rebuilding of settlements and outposts in this area.

Patel said the law was a violation of the written commitment late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave then-President Bush in 2005.

He added it is a violation of the commitment the current Israeli government made just last Sunday during a security summit in Sharm el-Sheikh to refrain from taking unilateral steps that could escalate the situation in the occupied West Bank.

Patel noted the law is even more problematic because of its timing – shortly before Ramadan and Passover.

“We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the achievement of a two-state solution.”

“This law is provocative and counterproductive to the efforts to reduce tensions ahead of Ramadan and Passover,” he said.

He called on the Israeli occupation government to refrain from allowing settlers to return to the area covered by this legislation.

Patel also told reporters the Biden administration is considering several options it could take to respond to Israel’s policy in the occupied West Bank.

Between 650,000 and 700,000 Israeli settlers live in hundreds of illegal settlements and outposts, the majority built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land, across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The evacuated settlement of Homesh, in particular, has been the focus of tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, who have consistently attempted to re-establish the site permanently.

While all Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law, Homesh is also considered illegal under Israeli law as the Supreme Court ruled that the land belonged to private Palestinian owners from the nearby village of Burqa.

Despite the evacuation of the outpost, the Israeli army maintains a military base in the location, and settlers are allowed to access it and operate a school there, while Palestinian landowners are forbidden from doing so.

One day before being sworn in, the new Israeli government declared that advancing and developing settlements “in all parts of the land of Israel”, including the West Bank, is a national priority.

The new far-right Israeli government, sworn in at the end of last year, has blown full steam ahead with legislation to legalize nine outposts and expand existing settlements.

Several top figures in the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are hardline settlers themselves who are pushing a more right-wing agenda, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who lives in Kedumim near Nablus, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who lives in Kiryat Arba near Hebron.

Late on Sunday, Smotrich claimed there was “no such thing as a Palestinian” because “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people. There is no Palestinian history. There is no Palestinian language.”

“Do you know who are the Palestinians? I’m Palestinian,” Smotrich said, alleging “the Palestinian people is an invention that is less than 100 years old.”

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