The settler community and its supporters racked up two major successes in yesterday’s cabinet meeting. The first was cabinet approval for recognizing the Ariel University Center as a full-fledged university. The second was a promise by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that new deputy attorney general Shai Nitzan would not deal with settlement issues.
Both the university at Ariel and the appointment of Nitzan, whom the settlers consider hostile, generated heavy pressure from settler leaders on the Likud ministers, a lobbying campaign dubbed “the SMS force” by Minister Benny Begin. Starting Thursday, during the weekend and even yesterday morning the ministers were bombarded by text messages calling on them to oppose Nitzan’s appointment and to upgrade the Ariel college. Likud ministers, smelling elections, were eager to oblige.
Several Likud ministers joined the attack against Nitzan, who has served in several positions in the state prosecution over more than 20 years. Nitzan has been appointed to a special two-year position, created especially for him at the request of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, in which he will assist Weinstein primarily on issues relating to the defense establishment.
The two most vocal Nitzan opponents were Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who raised the issue even before the cabinet meeting, at the meeting of the Likud ministers.
Both Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman clarified during yesterday’s cabinet meeting that Nitzan would not deal with settlement issues, which will be the purview of the other deputy attorney general, Dina Zilber, who is inheriting all the assignments and authority of her predecessor, Mike Blass. Only after this rather strange declaration did the Likud ministers approve the appointment, except for Livnat, who abstained.
The next item on the agenda, the college at Ariel, was pushed by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Here Defense Minister Ehud Barak pushed back, demanding to know why there had to be a university in Ariel, rather than in the Galilee. “Why can’t we turn Tel Hai College into a university?” he asked.
Here Barak ran up against Netanyahu, who declared that “Ariel is an indivisible part of Israel and so it will remain under any future [diplomatic] arrangement. Establishing a university in Ariel is one of a series of steps we are taking to strengthen higher education in Israel.”
Both Barak and the other Atzmaut minister, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, left the cabinet room for the vote, leaving behind notes saying they were abstaining.
Despite the cabinet’s approval, the wording of the decision leaves the final implementation of the Ariel upgrade to the approval of the attorney general, following a High Court of Justice ruling on a petition against the move. It is not clear when that ruling will be delivered.
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