Mar 21, 2023 - World

U.S. slams new West Bank law, says it's a violation of Israeli commitments

Israeli right-wing activists and settlers take part in a protest march at the West Bank outpost of Homesh in Dec. 2021. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Biden administration harshly criticized an Israeli law passed on Monday in the Israeli Knesset that repeals the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the northern occupied West Bank, calling it a "provocation" and a violation of commitments Israel made to the U.S.

Why it matters: The law allows Israeli citizens to enter the area between the cities of Jenin and Nablus, which Israeli settlers evacuated in 2005. The law could dramatically increase the potential for friction between settlers and Palestinians in the most sensitive and volatile area of the occupied West Bank.

Flashback: During the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza, Israel also evacuated four settlements in the northern West Bank and banned Israelis from entering the area.

  • 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 governments.

Behind the scenes: The law wasn’t pushed by the government but was a private bill initiated by Yuli Adelstein, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud who is the chair of the Knesset foreign relation and security committee.

  • Although the bill has significant national security and foreign policy implications, the Israeli security cabinet hasn’t held any known discussions about it.
  • Israeli defense officials told Adelstein the Israeli military opposed the law warned of its security implications.
  • The Biden administration, which has been focused on the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting earlier this week and efforts to reduce tensions ahead of Ramadan and the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, started pressing the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office hard on Monday to postpone the vote, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
  • At this point, it was too late to stop the vote or postpone it. A European diplomat said the U.S. and several European countries pressed the Prime Minister’s Office simultaneously, but officials were told the law is part of Netanyahu’s commitment to his coalition partners.

What they're saying: 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 said the law is even more problematic because of its timing – shortly before Ramadan and Passover. “This law is provocative and counterproductive to the efforts to reduce tensions ahead of Ramadan and Passover," he said.
  • He called on the Israeli government to refrain from allowing settlers to return to the area covered by this legislation.

What to watch: Patel told reporters the Biden administration is considering several options it could take to respond to the Israeli government policy in the West Bank.

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