Israel has lifted a ban on settlers returning to areas of the West Bank evacuated by law 18 years ago.
Four settlements in the northern West Bank had been evacuated as part of the 2005 disengagement law, under which Israel also withdrew from Gaza, razing all 21 Jewish settlements in the coastal strip.
Right-wing lawmakers have been pushing to repeal the move for years. Settlers established an illegal presence in Homesh, one of the four communities, by setting up a yeshiva religious seminary in caravans and tents. A game of cat and mouse has taken place between the army and settlers, and troops have dismantled the yeshiva several times over the years only for the settlers to return.
The Knesset – Israel’s parliament – ratified the repeal overnight between Monday and Tuesday by a 31-18 vote. The move makes it legal once again for Israelis to enter the four evacuated settlements.
Right-wing parliamentarians celebrated on the Knesset floor following the vote, with some reciting the traditional blessing thanking God for “giving us life, sustaining us and allowing us to reach this moment,” amid a round of applause.
The Bill was supported by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition, made up entirely of right-wing and religious parties, as well as by several members of the parliamentary opposition.
“This is a very moving night because we have started the process of correcting a historic injustice,” said minister for finance Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionist party.
Knesset member Yuli Edelstein, of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, praised the efforts by settlers over the last 18 years to return to destroyed communities in the northern West Bank.
“Israel has started its healing process following the expulsion disaster. This is a first and meaningful step towards true repair and establishing Israel’s base in the areas of the homeland that belong to it.”
Knesset member Limor Son Har Melech of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party urged the government to resettle in Gaza as well as the northern West Bank.
Labour Party Knesset member Gilad Kariv voiced his opposition to the move.
“This is yet another step towards a binational reality. A pre-annexation law,” he said. “A law that will lead to the establishment of more illegal outposts. A law that will increase the violent, bloody friction between Israelis and Palestinians. A law that will stretch the army’s abilities in the territories even further. An anti-Zionist law.”
The Knesset vote came only a day after Israel committed at a summit meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh to stop all discussions about new construction in the settlements for four months and to suspend by six months the authorising of illegal settlement outposts.
The summit was attended by high-ranking representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US, Jordan and Egypt in an effort to de-escalate tensions in advance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins later this week and is traditionally a time of tension in the region, particularly in Jerusalem.