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Legalizing Outposts: Netanyahu's Ministers Try to Profit From West Bank Attacks

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Illegal outposts in the Itamar settlement area near Nablus in the northern West Bank, 2018.
Illegal outposts in the Itamar settlement area near Nablus in the northern West Bank, December 12, 2018.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Mordechai Kremnitzer.
Mordechai Kremnitzer

The decision by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to approve a bill that would retroactively legalize illegal construction in the West Bank for a two-year period demonstrates that neither security nor the rule of law are what interests this government – only its political survival.

To this end the bill’s sponsor, Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), had to get his share to satisfy the right-wing settler base without passing the Likud party from the right. If Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett couldn’t get the defense portfolio, let them at least be comforted by trampling on the rule of law. After all, it’s inconceivable that there should be a terror attack without extracting some political benefit from it. Everything goes in the effort to strengthen the Jewish hold on the West Bank at the Palestinians’ expense. Even the horrifying linking of innocent blood with the strengthening of the settlement project deters no one, as if the former were a condition for the latter.

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The ministerial committee was rightfully told that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit vehemently opposes the bill for constitutional reasons, i.e., because the bill conflicts with the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty given the sweeping harm it poses to the right to property, not to mention the legal difficulties it raises in the context of equality before the law and the rule of law. Mendelblit was also right to warn the ministerial committee, through his deputy Raz Nizri, of the international implications of the bill and the real risks Israel would be exposed to in this respect.

Indeed, we’re talking about a serious provocation of anyone who holds international law dear. Even in the current diplomatic reality, with the weakened status of international law, it’s still liable to bite. But the ears of the ministers are sealed to responsible legal counsel. Even the alternative suggested by Mendelblit – to make more selective use of the market regulation concept (a dubious alternative) – did not satisfy the ministers. There is nothing more permanent than the temporary nature of the bill, since if it becomes law, it will in practice lead to the legalization of everything that was built illegally, including what is built on private land - unless the High Court of Justice intervenes.

The arrangement will in reality be irreversible. Given the way the attorney general’s opinion was ignored, the impression is that Habayit Hayehudi and the extreme right parts of the Likud are deliberately leading to a showdown with the High Court, while constantly raising the stakes. The idea is to intimidate the justices so that they do not dare stand up to these thieving laws, and if they do, the way will be paved to undermine the authority of the court in the name of loyalty to the Land of Israel.

For decades, ever since the first Yehudit Karp report in 1982, which confirmed for the first time that settlers who harm Palestinians enjoy de facto immunity from criminal proceedings, there has been serious doubt as to whether Israel’s rule in the West Bank is the rule of law. The bill advanced Sunday once against makes it clear that for this government there is no rule of law but rule of theft. It’s also clear that legitimizing the violation of past laws invites the violation of future laws, so that instead of laws, the Jewish rulers will prevail by force. Instead of the law serving to protect basic rights, it will become a tool for undermining them, based on discrimination between Jews and Arabs, between those who see themselves as the lords of the entire land and those who are considered by them to be trespassers, even on their own property.

What do the terrorists want? To bring those they are batting to lose their composure and to take steps that will only bring more terror. The decision by the ministerial committee shows a loss of judgment and it will lead to more attacks. It’s false to claim that incitement is the only explanation for terror. Israeli seizure of Palestinian land, while undermining the rights to private property and destroying the chance of establishing a Palestinian state is a clear factor that encourages terror. So it is with home demolitions and other measures that harm those who weren’t actually involved in terror.

The ministers are thus serving the terrorists by playing into their hands. What else will it take for us to understand that this government has reached the end of the line?

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