AG Likely to Back PM Plan to Relocate Ulpana Settlers

Likud officials say Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein prefers relocating homes, built on private Palestinian land, to legalizing them.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to give the go-ahead on Tuesday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to relocate the settlers living on Ulpana Hill, senior Likud ministers and officials in Netanyahu's bureau said.

Weinstein's likely support for the plan to relocate the settlers reportedly stems from his disapproval of a bill that would legalize the presence of the homes on Ulpana Hill, which were built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Weinstein believes a major battle with the High Court of Justice would erupt if such legislation were to go forward.

Sources in the coalition said they believe the bill would not pass when the Knesset votes on it on Wednesday.

A senior Likud minister said he believed Netanyahu had guaranteed the support of a majority of Likud ministers and many other MKs against the bill.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon told his fellow Likud ministers at a meeting on Monday that Weinstein had made clear that he would find it difficult to defend the legislation to legalize the Ulpana settlement.

Netanyahu told the Likud ministers that such a bill could create "international complications that must not be taken lightly."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a conference in Eilat on Monday that he wanted to know Weinstein's decision before he decides how his Yisrael Beiteinu faction will vote.

Lieberman said he hoped "another reasonable solution" would arise, and if not, "the only thing left to do would be to approve a bill" legalizing the status of the Ulpana neighborhood.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, meanwhile, announced he would support the bill.

However, sources close to the prime minister said both Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu had left themselves a way out so they could oppose the bill if Netanyahu pressured them.

Likud officials said Netanyahu would convene the cabinet or Ministerial Committee on Legislation before the Knesset vote to discuss the objection of ministers Daniel Hershkowitz and Yuli Edelstein to an earlier decision, which had obliged the ministers to vote against the bill.

On Monday, Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset faction: "We are a government that respects the rule of bill and strengthens settlement, and there is no conflict between the two."

Several ministers, among them Limor Livnat, Moshe Kahlon and Yuval Steinitz, were not present at the meeting and have not come out either for or against the legislation.

Those present expressed their support, albeit with some hesitation, for the prime minister's plan. "It was clear that all the ministers present at the meeting support Netanyahu and all the deputy ministers and MKs support the bill," a Likud MK said Monday.

As of Monday, the only minister who said outright that he would vote for the bill was Yuli Edelstein.

Ya'alon said Monday: "The solution the prime minister has devised is that we build alternative housing for the people living in the five buildings in an area already earmarked for this 300 more housing units in Beit El with the legal defense of the attorney general."

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he still had not taken a position on the bill, but he praised Netanyahu's conduct toward the settlers. Others at the meeting said they believed Sa'ar would support Netanyahu's plan.

Participants said Ya'alon's and Sa'ar's nod in favor of Netanyahu's plan could allow other ministers to oppose the bill or at least abstain without overly angering Netanyahu and risking their positions. Netanyahu has not yet said whether he will dismiss ministers who vote for the bill.

The Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El.
Emil Salman