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Israel delays votes on controversial bills on mosques, settler homes

Posted by AFP on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 Under: Middle East
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Israel on Wednesday delayed parliamentary votes on controversial bills that would limit the volume of calls to prayer at mosques and legalise several thousand Jewish settler homes in the West Bank.

The votes were put off until next week following a decision by government ministers, a parliament spokesman told AFP.

Deputies were to take a preliminary vote on a bill to prevent the use of loudspeakers for late night and early morning calls to prayer at mosques, a proposal that has angered Muslims.

A first reading of a bill to legalise around 4,000 settler homes in the occupied West Bank was also planned, but both were delayed.

The noise bill was put off until December 7, while the settlement bill was to come up on Monday.

Israeli media reported that the votes were put off because a majority could not be assured. Discussions were continuing on both measures.

The noise bill would prohibit the use of loudspeakers between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am. It would officially apply to all religions, but it is widely seen as targeting calls to prayer at mosques.

The bill's backers say it is needed because the loudspeakers are a nuisance and can also be used to broadcast inciting messages.

Government watchdog groups say the measure is an unnecessary provocation that threatens freedom of religion. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is among those against the bill.

The settlement bill has tested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, widely seen as the most right-wing in the country's history.

Netanyahu does not want the bill to pass, warning that it could violate international law and result in repercussions at the International Criminal Court.

Countries including the United States have also strongly criticised the bill and Netanyahu is concerned over an international backlash.

But he is also faced with holding together his coalition and not being seen as acting against the powerful settler movement.

- Defying Netanyahu -

The international community considers all Israeli settlements in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank to be illegal, whether they are authorised by the government or not.

The Israeli government differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not.

The settlement bill has been pushed by hardline members of Netanyahu's coalition, led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who defied his pleas not to move forward.

The country's attorney general says the legislation will never hold up in court.

But those who support it say the move is urgently needed to protect a Jewish outpost in the occupied West Bank called Amona.

The outpost, where some 40 families live, is under a high court order to be demolished by December 25 because it was built on private Palestinian land.

The bill, however, goes far beyond legalising Amona and would allow an estimated 4,000 Jewish homes in the West Bank to be legalised, according to settlement watchdog Peace Now.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose centre-right Kulanu party holds 10 seats, has been key and has said he will not support a measure that "harms" the country's high court.

The statement was a reference to Amona and the high court ruling against it -- signalling he would oppose the bill if the outpost is not removed from it.

There has been speculation that the bill could even cause the government to collapse -- though a number of analysts caution that a compromise seems more likely for now.

Peace Now called the legislation "a grand land robbery, which will lead not only to the expropriation of 8,000 dunams (nearly 2,000 acres, 800 hectares) of private Palestinian lands but might also rob Israelis and Palestinians of the possibility of arriving at a two state solution".

In : Middle East 

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