Another attempt by the settlers to bend the law in the West Bank to their extremist ideology failed on Wednesday, with the evacuation of the so-called Machpela House. The eviction came after Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that delaying the execution of the Civil Administration's eviction order could ignite the area, in addition to constituting contempt of court and undermining the authority of the military commander and the defense minister. This was an important reminder that the West Bank is not the settlers' state.
Even though the episode ended in the best possible manner, for now, it has left a bitter aftertaste. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that enforcing the eviction order would undermine the stability of the governing coalition. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz demonstrated his attitude toward the rule of law by affixing a mezuzah to the door of the criminals' house. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein demanded that the handling of settlement affairs be taken out of Barak's hands. Netanyahu must demand of his party and coalition colleagues to choose between the rule of law and the advance of peace on one hand, and encouraging criminal activity and perpetuating the conflict with the Palestinians on the other.
To reassure the right, Netanyahu announced his intention to legalize the Sansana, Rehalim and Bruhin settlements and to endeavor to legalize the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El, to prevent its demolition. The settlers do not deserve compensation for deigning to be evacuated from an illegal settlement.
The decisive action should serve as a precedent for government policy toward all the illegal outposts in the West bank. Netanyahu must make it clear to the settlers and their patrons in his government that obtaining land or buildings in Hebron or Migron is not sufficient to establish facts on the ground. The legalization of unauthorized outposts does not jibe with his declared ambition of renewing the negotiations with the Palestinians to keep Israel from becoming a binational state. The evacuation of the building in Hebron must be followed by confidence-building measures vis-a-vis the Palestinians, both on the ground and at the negotiating table.
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