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Israel: Far-right coalition passes law to reestablish abandoned settlements

The Knesset in a late night vote passed legislation that effectively allows Israelis to return to areas of the West Bank evacuated in 2005
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made expanding settlements a centre piece of his coalition government (AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made expanding settlements a centre piece of his coalition government (AP)

Israeli lawmakers approved a controversial piece of legislation on Tuesday that would allow four abandoned Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank to be re-established after they were dismantled in 2005. 

An amendment to the legislation would permit Israeli settlers to return to areas of the West Bank evacuated in 2005 as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Israeli coalition lawmaker and co-sponsor of the bill, Limor Son Har-Melech from Jewish Power, the party of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, was triumphant following the vote.

"We must not rest on our laurels and bask in the euphoria,” said Melech on Twitter

“We must charge at the next two tasks that lie ahead of us tomorrow: the re-establishment of the four settlements that were evacuated [in the northern West Bank], and return home to the [evacuated Gaza settlement Gush Katif] that ... became a nest of terror," the far-right politician tweeted. 

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The latest actions by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government are another blow to Palestinian hopes for statehood and will raise tensions that are already at a boiling point. 

Huwwara: Israeli settlers release song celebrating the burning of Palestinian town
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Netanyahu’s government is dominated by settler leaders and allies who seek to promote settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territory.

Now Israeli settlers can potentially re-establish the four illegal settlements – Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim and Kadim - which were evacuated after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

The settlement of Homesh is also one of the most politically charged and symbolic hilltops in the West Bank. 

In recent years it has become a cause celebre amongst settlers seeking to establish Jewish supremacy over the whole West Bank territory. 

For many settlers, it’s also a means of establishing their religious arguments that no part of the land shall be off limits, as well as fulfilling a decades-long idea of grabbing as many hilltops as possible in a bid to establish “facts on the ground”.

The Jewish settlement of Homesh is also built on privately owned Palestinian land deep inside the West Bank. 

Despite not being allowed to establish a permanent presence in Homesh, settlers often guarded by Israeli soldiers, have regularly flaunted their presence on the hilltop. 

Whether establishing tents, religious schools and even parties on religious holidays, their presence has symbolised a vivid display of power and force that they will not allow politicians to give any concessions on settlements. 

Settlers emboldened 

Israeli settlers last month set the occupied West Bank town of Huwwara ablaze, while several Israeli politicians called for the Palestinian village to be wiped out.

At least one Palestinian was killed and nearly 400 wounded in the attacks on Huwwara and other West Bank towns and villages, Palestinian health officials said. 

Settlers burnt down at least 35 homes and 40 others were partially damaged, with many of the buildings set on fire while their Palestinian inhabitants sheltered inside, forcing them to flee. More than 100 cars were burnt or otherwise destroyed. 

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The rampage followed the killing of two Israeli settlers by a Palestinian near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

Israeli settlers have been sharing on their WhatsApp groups a song celebrating the burning of Huwwara and its anticipated erasure. 

The song was initially shared on the WhatsApp groups of the Hilltop Youth, a religious-nationalist settler group active in attacks against Palestinians and the establishment of illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank.

Settlers have stormed Huwwara several times since the rampage in a show of force and intimidation. 

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also responsible for Israel's civil administration in the occupied West Bank, has said that Israel should "wipe out" the town in the wake of the attack. 

"The state needs to do it and not private citizens," he said.

The US condemned the comments as  "repugnant, irresponsible and disgusting", with US State Department spokesman Ned Price calling on Netanyahu and other top officials to "publicly and clearly" disavow the minister's comments.

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