In Turnabout, Netanyahu Urges Ministers to Find Way to Leave Ulpana Intact

The political earthquake took the West Bank settlers by surprise - they expected the Likud primaries to work in their favor.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has backtracked and asked ministers to consider crafting bills to prevent the demolition of the Ulpana neighborhood in the Beit El settlement.

On Monday, the High Court of Justice gave the government 60 days to demolish houses in the neighborhood. In a surprise move early the next day, Netanyahu added Shaul Mofaz's Kadima party to his governing coalition.

Beit El’s Ulpana neighborhood.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Until recently, Netanyahu opposed bills on Ulpana because of the attorney general's opposition. But on Tuesday, Netanyahu discussed the matter with several ministers and asked them to "think" about it.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein vehemently opposes legislation as a way to solve the illegal outposts crisis. He has been reluctant to request the High Court to further postpone the demolition of the neighborhood. But he capitulated and agreed to submit such a request, and the High Court insisted that the neighborhood be demolished by July 1.

Bills on the matter have proposed that if the government built unknowingly on private Palestinian land, the owners will be compensated with land or cash. These bills would also set limits to avoid a massive takeover of land.

The political earthquake took the settlers by surprise, too. They went to bed on Monday night knowing that most of the ministers support legislation, and that the expected Likud primaries would work in their favor.

One settler leader told Haaretz Tuesday he wasn't sure how to view Mofaz. "On the one hand, he was the defense minister who sent soldiers to demolish houses at [the illegal outpost] Amona. On the other hand, he employed a settlement assistant who supported us, Ron Schechner," the settler leader said.

"The worst possibility, as far as we're concerned, is that [Mofaz] will continue to act as he has up to now: attending only to his immediate political interests."

Another settler leader said that now that Netanyahu has a broad coalition government, he is less dependent on MKs from Likud's right wing. This settler's biggest fear is that all proposed solutions will fall flat, and, with little time left until July, the demolitions will take place. Netanyahu would overcome the minor crisis with Mofaz's help.

Tuesday night, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz visited the neighborhood and criticized Netanyahu - an uncharacteristic move by the finance minister. Steinitz said the government's May 2011 announcement that the neighborhood would be demolished within a year was based on a "faulty, unbalanced and shortsighted" decision.

The decision was taken after a meeting attended by the prime minister, the defense minister, the home front defense minister and the justice minister. Alo present were Minister Without Portfolio Benny Begin and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

Steinitz added that he has no intention of clashing with the legal system, but that the High Court's decision was absurd. "My friends and I will spare no effort to find a legal and just solution, and change the legal status if there's no other choice," he said. "Demolishing the neighborhood is illogical and immoral."

The chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, Danny Dayan, added: "The High Court's ruling is a slap in the government's face. It was undoubtedly an effort to show the government who holds more power, who can win an arm-wrestling contest .... The ruling's only purpose was to show that the court was stronger than the government."

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