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Land law is final nail in the two-state solution coffin

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From The National

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The Israeli parliament passed the legalization law on Monday night -- a piece of legislation every bit as suspect as its title suggests. The law widens the powers of Israeli officials to seize the last fragments of Palestinian land in the West Bank that were supposed to be off-limits. Now, almost nowhere will be out of the settlers' reach.

Palestinian leaders warned that the law hammered the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution. Government ministers gleefully agreed. For them, this is the extension of Israeli law into the West Bank and the first step towards its formal annexation.

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    The legalization law -- also commonly translated from Hebrew as the regulation or validation law -- was the right's forceful response to the eviction last week of a few dozen families from a settlement "outpost" called Amona. It was a rare and brief setback for the settlers, provoked by a court ruling that took three years to enforce.

    The evacuation of 40 families was transformed into an expensive piece of political theater, costing $40 million (Dh147m). It was choreographed as a national trauma to ensure such an event is never repeated.

      The uniforms worn by police at demolitions of Palestinian homes -- guns, batons, black body armor and visors -- were stored away. Instead officers, in friendly blue sweatshirts and baseball caps, handled the Jewish lawbreakers with kid gloves, even as they faced a hail of stones, bleach and bottles. By the end, dozens of officers needed hospital treatment.

      As the clashes unfolded, Naftali Bennett, the education minister and leader of the settler party Jewish Home, called Amona's families "heroes." Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu empathized: "We all understand the extent of their pain."

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        The settlers have been promised an enlarged replacement settlement, and will be richly compensated. In a more general reparation, plans have been unveiled for thousands of extra settler homes in the West Bank.

        But the main prize for Mr Bennett and the far right was the legalization law itself. It reverses a restriction imposed in the 1970s -- and later violated by dozens of settlements like Amona -- designed to prevent a free-for-all by the settlers.

          International law is clear that an occupying power can take land only for military needs. Israel committed a war crime in transferring more than 600,000 Jewish civilians into the occupied territories.

          Successive governments ignored their legal obligations by pretending the territories were disputed, not occupied. But to end the Israeli courts' discomfort, officials agreed to forbid settlers from building on land privately owned by Palestinians.

            It was not much of a constraint. Under Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule, plenty of Palestinian land had never been formally registered. Ownership derived chiefly from usage. Much of the rest was common land.

            Israel seized these vast tracts that lacked title deeds, declaring them "state land" -- to be treated effectively as part of Israel and reserved exclusively for Jewish settlement. But even this giant land grab was not enough.

              The settlers' territorial hunger led to dozens of "outposts" being built across the West Bank, often on private Palestinian land. Despite the fact they violated Israeli law, the outposts immediately received state services, from electricity and water to buses and schools.

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              Very belatedly, the courts drew a line in Amona and demanded that the land be returned to its Palestinian owners. The legalization law overrules the judges, allowing private lands stolen from Palestinians to be laundered as Israeli state property.

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              Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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