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Lieberman: Postpone controversial 'Legalization bill' until Trump takes over

Dec. 3, 2016 2:23 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2016 3:43 P.M.)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issues a statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 4, 2015 (AFP/Gali Tibbon, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested on Friday that the controversial "formalization bill," which would legalize Israeli settler outposts throughout the occupied West Bank and is set to be voted on this Monday, should be postponed until US President Barack Obama leaves office.

According to Israeli media, the statement was made in Washington D.C. during the Saban Forum where the right-wing defense minister called for postponing the vote until Jan. 20, when President-Elect Donald Trump will be officially sworn in as the new American president.

Lieberman also expressed his hopes that Trump would play an “active role” in Middle Eastern politics.

The controversial bill would see the legalization of Israeli outposts which are deemed illegal by both Israeli and international law, and would cause what the Israeli NGO Peace Now called “grand land robbery.”

All Israeli settlements and outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory are deemed illegal under international law, despite the Israeli government’s official recognition of the some 196 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank.

According to a statement released by Peace Now on Tuesday, should the bill pass into law, 55 outposts built on 3,067 dunams (758 acres) of Palestinian land would become legal under Israeli law.

The bill would also legalize 3,125 housing units inside settlements already recognized by Israel and expropriate 5,014 dunams (1,239 acres) of private Palestinian land, the group added, highlighting that these were conservative estimates and that the amount of land confiscated would likely be greater as the bill would pave the way for further land expropriation.

The bill has been introduced in the wake of an Israeli Supreme Court decision to demolish the illegal Amona outpost in the central occupied West Bank, a ruling that has been met with strong resistance by right-wing Israelis.

Israeli officials have organized for years to prevent the demolition of the outpost and have scrambled to find an alternative housing solution for the current residents, including proposals to lease privately held Palestinian land whose owners reside outside of the West Bank, build a new settlement for the evacuees near the already-established settlement of Shiloh in Nablus, and continued attempts at introducing legislation that could retroactively legalize the outpost.

Human rights groups and international leaders have strongly condemned Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground.

Meanwhile, Friday was not the first time Lieberman has voiced his hope for Trump to facilitate Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Last month, Lieberman called on Trump’s new administration to work with the Israeli government to form a relationship that “will enable development in the settlements.”

“I ask myself why we didn’t succeed in developing the settlement enterprise as we wanted. The fundamental reason is simple: it is the failure to coordinate with the United States, the failure to create a coordinated policy with the American administration," Lieberman was quoted as saying in Ynet.

During his campaign back in May, Trump told the UK’s Daily Mail that he would support the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, saying that the practice should “keep moving forward.”

Last month, the Washington Post reported that one of Trump’s top advisers, Jason Greenblatt, said during an interview with Israeli army radio that Trump did not believe settlements were an obstacle to peace, breaking off from his American predecessors and the international community.

Despite Trump stating his hope in the past to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, his administration’s support for Israeli settlements flies in the face of any feasible peace negotiation, as the freezing of illegal Israeli settlements has been a central and unmoving demand of Palestinian negotiators and the international community.

However, Israel's construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory has continued unabated over the years, despite routine international condemnation.

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