The Knesset just reinstituted Jewish settlements Israel withdrew from in 2005

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  March 21, 2023

The Israeli Knesset just passed an amendment to the 2005 Disengagement Plan which will facilitate settler expansion in the West Bank and legalize racial discrimination.

On Tuesday, March 21, the Israeli Knesset passed the second and third readings for changing the 2005 Disengagement and Implementation Plan’s name and repealing specific clauses that ban Jewish settlers from establishing new outposts in the north of the West Bank.

The bill was sponsored by rightwing Likud MK Yuli Yoel Edelstein and Jewish Power MK Limor Sonn Har Melech. The Knesset approved it with 31 votes in favor and 18 opposed.

The new amendments to the bill allow for settlers to remain in areas taken north of the West Bank and deny the ability for Israeli security forces to remove personal property and evacuate settlers from these areas.

“The Disengagement Plan Implementation Law is meant to legitimize the uprooting and expulsion of some 10,000 people from their homes, livelihoods and fabric of life in the framework of the Disengagement Plan,” an explanatory note justifying the amendments to the bill stated.

Bills submitted to the Israeli Knesset typically must pass through four “readings”  a “preliminary” reading followed by a “first,” “second,” and “third” reading  in order to be passed into law.

Repudiating calls for settlement freeze

The recent bills, which allow for the de facto annexation of settlements that encroach upon areas populated by Palestinians, are part of an effort to undermine regional attempts to curtail the Jewish settler movement.

On February 26, Jordanian, Egyptian, Palestinian, American, and Israeli security representatives met in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba and issued a Joint Communique meant to halt “unilateral measures” that would lead to a further unraveling of the status quo in the West Bank. 

A second follow-up meeting was held in the Egyptian city of Sharm al-Sheikh on March 19, which further solidified the agreements of the Palestinian and Israeli representatives. 

While these twin summits focused on formalizing the joint Israel-PA effort to quash armed resistance in the West Bank, reports also emerged that Israel would halt all new settlement activities for a period of at least 3 to 6 months. Top Israeli officials immediately repudiated these reports in the media, including PM Netanyahu and Finance Minister Belazel Smotrich, who said that “there won’t be a freeze on construction and development” of settlements, “not even for one day.”

Now that the Israeli Knesset has passed the second and third readings of amendments to the 2005 Disengagement Plan, these pronouncements repudiating the summits have been given legal weight. 

What is the Disengagement Plan?

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed the Israeli Disengagement and Implementation plan in 2003, which aimed to facilitate the evacuation and removal of Jewish settlers from certain areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The recent revisions to the 18-year-old bill are a reflection of the growing influence of settler interests on the rightwing Israeli government. Sonn Har Melech, one of the MKs at the forefront of the latest amendments to the bill, had also pushed for passing another law earlier in March mandating the death penalty for Palestinian political detainees convicted of “terrorism.”

The Disengagement plan was first implemented in 2005 when four settlements were evacuated, and 10,000 Jewish settlers relocated from the West Bank to within the 1948 borders of the Israeli state. By September 2005, the entirety of Gaza was vacated from illegal settlements and settlers, many of whom were resettled in the West Bank. 

“Gaza cannot be held onto forever. Over one million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation,” Ariel Sharon said in an address to Israelis on August 15, 2005. “They live in incredibly cramped refugee camps, in poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon.” 

Almost two decades later, the Israeli government reversed the decision, attaching an explanatory note which stated: “it is proposed in the bill to repeal parts of the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, and thus expunge, to some extent, the national and moral stain […] on the State of Israel.”

This “moral stain” refers to the predominant rightwing Israeli sentiment that the 2005 Gaza Disengagement constituted a betrayal of the Zionist project.

New legal precedent for ethnic cleansing

The latest bill was preceded by another reading at the Knesset on Monday, March 20. 

The Israeli Economic Affairs Committee approved a preliminary reading for an amendment to apply the rule of continuity law across the Cooperative Societies Ordinance. 

If the amendment were to pass second and third readings, it would allow the extension of Israel’s admission committees to areas experiencing continued settler expansion and annexation. The application of the bill includes areas in the southern Hebron hills, the Jordan Valley’s Negev, and Galilee. 

Admission committees can refuse or accept applicants for housing units — as per amendment 8, which has been active since 2011 — according to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab and Minority Rights in Israel.

“The Committees include a representative from the Jewish Agency or the World Zionist Organization, quasi-governmental entities,” the legal center explained. “The Committees, in practice, filter out Arab Palestinian applicants and others from marginalized groups.”

These committees have been focused in the Galilee and Negev, two areas inside Israel’s 1948 borders that still hold large Palestinian populations. This new bill would extend these committees’ discriminatory powers to the occupied West Bank, and allow for facilitating a greater Jewish-settler demographic majority by judicial decree. 

“The admission committees law is one of the most racist pieces of legislation that the Knesset has passed,” MK Ahmad Tibi said during the parliamentary convening on Monday. “A large share of the racist legislation in the Knesset was not passed by the fascist wing, but rather by Mapai and its ilk,” he explained, referring to the historically leftwing political group and indicating that the recent change is not solely due to specific rightwing groups, but due to the overall slide of the entire Israeli political spectrum to the right.

“This is still a racist law, and when the two Jewish sides join forces my task is more difficult,” Tibi added.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss