A proposal to regulate the World Zionist Organization Settlement Division’s authority to manage land in Judea and Samaria received the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s approval Sunday.
The bill is meant to delineate the responsibilities of the Settlement Division, which serves as the government’s construction arm in rural settlements – meaning smaller towns and agricultural villages in the West Bank – in response to court rulings calling its authority into question.
Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who proposed the bill, said it “will give the Settlement Division the tools necessary to manage land in rural settlements in Judea and Samaria as efficiently as possible for the good of the residents and without political pressure and legal obstacles.
Smotrich added that the bill is meant to expand on the Settlement Division Law of 2015, which anchored in law the government’s ability to instruct it to build in settlements.
The proposal says the state will lease land to the Settlement Division so the latter will manage it, according to standards accepted by the Israel Land Authority “while paying attention to the changes necessary and unique characteristics of the region,” meaning the West Bank, which is under Israeli military control and not regular government sovereignty.
The bill also would give the Settlement Division full control over all rural settlement in the West Bank, so that land is managed uniformly.
The transfer of authority would have to take place within two years.
The bill will have to undergo Knesset committee review and three plenum readings before becoming law.
Peace Now came out against the bill, saying it is meant “to whitewash five decades of land theft, crime and corruption, disguised as ‘unique characteristics and developing settlements.’” “Despite piles of State Comptroller reports, complaints by legal advisers and testimony about criminal offenses, the government scandalously intends to let the main land criminal be responsible for protecting them,” the veteran left-wing organization added.
Peace Now said that Smotrich brought the bill forward now because of the NGO’s petition to the High Court, calling for all of the Settlement Division’s decisions on land in the West Bank be made transparent.
“This bill is a hint at the government’s direction,” the organization stated.