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With Bill to Legalize Settlements, Israeli Ministers Are Pushing Obama to the Security Council

If the Palestinians put forth their own Security Council resolution declaring the settlements illegal, all Obama has to do is refrain from vetoing it.

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President Barack Obama waits to be introduced before speaking in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2016, during a Veterans Day ceremony.
President Barack Obama waits to be introduced before speaking in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2016, during a Veterans Day ceremony.Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

The political row on the right between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, regarding the evacuation of the illegal outpost at Amona has put the Israeli government in an international and legal mess. For the umpteenth time, it became clear again on Sunday that legendary U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was right when he said Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy.

Behind the bill to retroactively legalize outposts that was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday lies the “base,” that group of voters over which Habayit Hayehudi and Likud are competing. This refers to those four Knesset seats, or perhaps even more, that moved from Bennett to Netanyahu during the last five days of the 2015 election campaign and thanks to which the prime minister won another term.

This emotionally saturated battle between Bennett, Shaked and Netanyahu isn’t really about anything of substance, but about a narrative. It’s about who will be blamed by the settler lobby for not having done enough to prevent the evacuation of an illegal West Bank settlement of 40 families. It’s about who will succeed in being more rightist than the right. The bill is also the result of the bad blood between the heads of Habyit Hayehudi and the prime minister. Bennett and Shaked have cut of all of our noses to spite Netanyahu’s face.

The bill euphemistically referred to as the “regularization law” is unprecedented in that it permits the theft of private Palestinians lands in the West Bank. Any way you look at it, there is nothing about this bill that is consistent with the rule of law. It’s no coincidence that the jurists in the Justice Ministry made it clear that it constitutes a blatant violation of international law that is liable to land Israel in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and not for nothing that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has protested the move and threatened not to represent the state before the High Court of Justice if the law is challenged – and it will be.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the cabinet gathered to pose for a portrait, May 19, 2015. Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

But beyond the serious legal ramifications and the injustice that such a law would create, the move being pushed by Shaked and Bennett is a diplomatic folly, particularly at this time. Even from the Israeli right’s perspective, there’s no sense in passing a law like this before incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama leaves the White House on January 20. This bill crosses all red lines as far as the international community is concerned and would essentially force Obama to make a move against the settlements in the UN Security Council, which he has consistently refrained from doing since taking office in 2009.

Donald Trump’s victory in last week’s U.S. presidential elections shocked the White House and practically speaking delayed if not totally halted the Obama administration’s plan to try to advance one last initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the Security Council. But the bill approved by the Israeli government on Sunday could serve as a wake-up call for the outgoing administration and could grease the wheels of those among Obama’s advisers who are pushing him to take a stand against in the settlements in the United Nations.

This move by Bennett and Shaked also provides the Palestinians with diplomatic ammunition. A few weeks ago the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations showed the Americans and other Security Council members a draft resolution that establishes that the settlements are illegal. One of the clauses includes an explicit call to all UN member states not to assist settlement construction either directly or indirectly. From there the road to international sanctions isn’t very long. The Palestinians plan to submit the resolution for a vote before the end of the year. Essentially, then, Obama doesn’t even have to promote a new initiative of his own; all he has to do is abstain in that vote and not veto the resolution.

When one sees the way Bennett, Shaked, and many Likud ministers have been behaving over the past few days it’s hard to avoid the impression that the political changes in the United States have made part of the Israeli right downright dizzy. It’s not for nothing that Netanyahu, at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting and in front of the cameras, chided ministers who rushed to make announcements and joyful predictions about the presumed policies of the incoming Trump administration. 

Who knows? Maybe the Bennett-Shaked fantasies about Trump are all correct and will all come true. But it seems that the two are taking too big a gamble and are certainly taking it too soon. A weight of hundreds of tons has suddenly been dropped on Trump’s shoulders, and it’s hard to believe that in the 75 days until his inauguration he’ll be able to have an entire new administration on its feet.  What the president-elect needs now is some time and as little as possible background noise. Bennett and Shaked’s bill, which establishes facts on the ground and embarrasses the United States, does just the opposite. 

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