Right-wing Lawmakers Misleading Settlers With Promise to Legalize Amona

Defense Minister Avidgor Lieberman infuriates MKs on the right for acknowledging that the outpost, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land, must be demolished.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Likud's Tzipi Hotovely, Yoav Kish and Yehudah Glick in the Amona.
Likud's Tzipi Hotovely, Yoav Kish and Yehudah Glick in Amona. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

A handful of Likud MKs, of whom the senior figure was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, came this week to Amona, the West Bank settler outpost slated for evacuation. They came to show solidarity with the 40 or so families who live there in trailers situated illegally on privately owned Palestinian land. “The solution is very simple,” Hotovely reassured the settlers on Monday. “We will enact the ‘regularization law’ and you’ll stay here.”

At the exact same moment, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told an audience at Ariel University, also in the West Bank, the truth: “There is no way that Amona can be left as it is today, in the place it’s in.” Lieberman recognizes, as Hotovely does, that the regularization law — Newspeak for an act of parliamentary hooliganism that is aimed at turning settlements established in sin and deceit kosher — will not pass in the Knesset. And if it does, it will be struck down by the High Court of Justice.

This is clear to Hotovely and her Likud colleagues — including almost all the party’s cabinet ministers, who have publicly declared their support for this obnoxious legislation, which was defeated by a large Knesset majority four years ago. But the cynical Likud politicians think nothing of throwing a little dust in the eyes of the residents of the illegal outpost and brandishing a magic solution that they know is false. When the bulldozers crush the temporary dwellings — which they will by December 25, as ordered by the High Court — they can always blame the justices of the court or the attorney general, who stated that the legislation is unconstitutional, or Habayit Hayehudi, the party that holds the justice portfolio. They will always have scapegoats. Because “only Likud can.”

The phenomenon of members of the ruling party mobilizing in support of a group of lawbreakers, as long as the legal breaches occurred in the West Bank and were perpetrated by settlers, has long since become routine. This time, the situation is more complex and more challenging. In addition to Amona, the High Court also ordered the evacuation of 17 homes in Netiv Ha’avot — an outpost in the Etzion Bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem — which was also built without permits on Palestinian land. Eight structures in the veteran settlement of Ofra were found to be on land owned by Palestinians. In July 2015, the demolition of two uninhabited buildings on a windswept, godforsaken hilltop adjacent to the settlement of Beit El generated a huge melee and brought Education Minister Naftali Bennett to a rooftop.

Amona is scheduled to be evacuated in the sensitive twilight period between the U.S. presidential election and the inauguration of the new president. It’s a period in which, according to diplomatic sources, Israel will have to fight hard to torpedo a resolution against it in the UN Security Council. Not a good time for international muscle-flexing.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett addresses protesters in the settlement of Beit El in the West Bank, July 28, 2015.Credit: Courtesy

Lieberman’s statement infuriated Likud MKs. He showed them for what they are. Because, with all respect for Hotovely and fellow Likud MK Yoav Kish, even the most optimistic of the settlers know that what the defense minister says, particularly if he’s named Lieberman, is more relevant.

Still, if the regularization bill does come up for a vote in the Knesset, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party is likely to vote for it. Its MKs were never among the fans of the Supreme Court. Kulanu, however, the party of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, is expected to vote against. Kahlon has faithfully fulfilled the role of gatekeeper of the judiciary, and he has no intention of reversing course.

The Amona issue will dominate the Knesset’s agenda in the coming session. It’s already firing up the settlers. The pressure to delay, defer and dodge will fall mainly on Likud and Habayit Hayehudi. The militant settlers’ lobby, which is expert at making threats and wielding pressure on those who will need its support in the primaries, is already calling up the reserves for the battle.

Habayit Hayehudi is hoping the plan to move the Amona trailers a few dozen meters to the east, to a hilltop under the authority of the Custodian of Absentee Property, will be its salvation. Its constituency expects Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is one of theirs, to take action on their behalf. After all, what are they requesting? That she induce her friend, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, to make the right decision? That she urge the attorney general, whom she herself appointed, to change his opinion? What’s the problem? Why is our Ayelet the justice minister? To dedicate a branch of the Bailiff’s Office in Kiryat Shmona?

Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judiasm and Arye Dery of Shas.Credit: Effi Sharir

Loud and clear

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and Interior Minister Arye Dery (Shas) gave two pretty good stand-up comedy performances at a Zaka conference this week. Litzman won by points. He’s turned the number he does on MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) into a regular feature at every ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) event. “He never even served in the army,” he said of Lapid. “He was a reporter for [the army journal] Bamahane. Well, I was a reporter on [the Haredi newspaper] Hamodia.” Dery wasn’t lagging far behind. “Just as he succeeded in rehabilitating me without speaking to me, he succeeded in becoming my friend without exchanging a word with me. He’s a magician,” Dery said of Lapid.

What was Dery getting at? A few days before last Sunday’s conference, a media report claimed that Lapid and Dery (“The convicted criminal who needs rehabilitation,” as Lapid called him in an election-campaign television debate) had forged a political alliance (possibly as part of Lapid’s rehabilitation plan).

The implied message was that Dery is a potential partner in a future Lapid-led coalition. The second implicit message was that Lapid, whose party is leading in the latest polls, is capable of mustering a coalition of at least 61 MKs. Every politico knows that’s not the case. The numbers just don’t add up. But Lapid is working to burn the message that it’s feasible into the electorate’s consciousness.

According to the report, the alliance had its roots last spring when Lapid “bolstered” Dery after it was announced that the Shas leader was under investigation for “potential criminal behavior.”

The news item about the future coalition stirred a furor in the Haredi community; Dery had to refute it. He told the Zaka conference that the only valid and relevant alliance is the one between the Haredim and Likud under Netanyahu. As for Dery and Lapid, they exchange words in the Knesset — always at Lapid’s initiative. Dery, a sociable fellow, doesn’t boycott Lapid in the flagrant way that Litzman does. He forgave Lapid for the fact that in the previous Knesset he never said “hello” because it didn’t mesh with his anti-Haredi agenda.

Two weeks after the investigation of Dery was reported in March, he was sitting in the Knesset with fellow Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen. Lapid came over and shook Dery’s hand. “I’ve made a bet, put money on you, and I hope I won’t lose,” he told Dery. Dery asked what the bet was. “That nothing will come of the new investigation,” Lapid said unctuously, after having stated in the previous election campaign that Dery, a convicted felon, should not return to politics. “I also hope you don’t lose,” Dery replied.

Arye Dery and Yair Lapid at the Knesset, May 14, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

When it was later reported that the case against Dery was likely to be dropped, Lapid text-messaged him: “I see I’m not going to lose my money.” Dery was relieved. Lapid’s bank account was saved.

Lapid is a stubborn, obsessive courter. He is pounding relentlessly on the fortified Haredi wall. He has nothing to lose, except some pride and integrity. The more he appears capable of amassing a large number of MKs, even at the price of discarding all his principles, the more the message will trickle down that he is a genuine candidate for prime minister.

I asked Dery what the future holds for him and Lapid. “I want it to be clear,” he asserted, “that after the next election, we will recommend Netanyahu to the president for prime minister. Even if Lapid has the most seats, we will go with Netanyahu. We have no other partner.”

I put it to Dery that when he and others attack Lapid, he gains support among the general public, which doesn’t like the Haredim. “I know,” he admitted, “but on the other hand, you see that Lapid is chasing after us nonstop. He understands that without us he doesn’t have a coalition. We are saying here in a clear voice: Lapid is out of the question as far as we are concerned. We wouldn’t say that about ‘Bougie’ Herzog [MK Isaac Herzog, leader of Zionist Union]. If you ask me what will happen if Lapid manages to cobble together 61 MKs even without us? I will tell you honestly: I don’t know. And if Litzman tells you he will be outside of that government in any event, he won’t be telling the truth.”

First lady

Here’s more proof of the political cooperation that has sprung up between Litzman and Bennett, as noted in recent columns. On Tuesday, the leader of the Gur, or Ger, Hasidic sect, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, married off one of his many grandsons. Many thousands attended the wedding, which was held in Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood.

Litzman, the rabbi’s representative in the Knesset, invited Justice Minister Shaked to the happy event. The Haredi community made a big deal of it. Shaked was told she was the first female minister in Israel’s history to get a double honor: Both to be invited to a wedding of the dynasty’s leader, and to stand in the “golden ring” — i.e., alongside female family members next to the wedding canopy.

I asked Shaked if she’d felt part of history in the making. “It shows how good the ties between us are, how strong the alliance is and how nonpartisan a minister Litzman is,” she said. Litzman might be pleased to learn that in order to attend the wedding, Shaked left a meeting with Supreme Court President Naor before it was finished.

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