The bill to legalize the illegal outposts in the territories, which was unanimously endorsed Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, is stillborn. No law or “regularization” will come out of it. It will not be the salvation for the settlers in Amona, Ofra and thousands of other homes illicitly built on private Palestinian land as successive Israeli governments turned a blind eye. It is fated to be rejected, to be overturned by the High Court of Justice and to be buried in one form or another.
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But until it is dead and buried, it will further the State of Israel’s reputation as an occupying, brutal and controlling entity, whose government is prepared to try to legislate blatantly illegal laws, as Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit put it, in an effort to please a handful of settlers and their representatives.
The committee’s vote was preceded by a series of confrontations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was acting on Sunday like the responsible adult (it happens sometimes), and Habayit Hayehudi ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. At another meeting Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also took Netanyahu’s side. But the bottom line was resounding: The bill, promoted by Bennett and Shaked, was unanimously approved, with the Likud ministers supporting it despite the explicit instructions of the prime minister, their party’s leader (which had changed by evening, when Netanyahu realized that he couldn’t suppress the rebellion among his ministers).
Netanyahu was driving back home on Sunday night with a title that some in the Prime Minister's Residence would have difficulty to stomach: The head of the Bennett government. Not more than one or two months ago, Netanyahu and Bennett were both against the regularization bill. Bennett is a practical person, neither a messianist, nor a hilltop youth. He understands that the damage this bill could do to what we euphemistically refer to as the “settlement enterprise” would far exceed any benefit, which would be nil. He tried to advance other solutions, but his “street,” which is radical and belligerent, saw his pragmatic approach as weak, defeatist, lazy and even leftist. They attacked him with the likes of a D-9 bulldozer.
While the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi and Justice Minister Shaked are trying to explain to the settlers why the bill in its current form is not acceptable or feasible, nearly all the Likud ministers rushed to sign a petition in support of the legislation. They thus left Bennett alone outside in the cold, with his pants down, to face his furious voters. He collapsed under the pressure. He had no choice but to do a complete about-face and take the helm of the regularizers.
Netanyahu saw Bennett breaking rightward, and overnight he, too, became a supporter of the bill. Each is warily eyeing the other in a thousand-year war, one that will never end, over their joint electorate. When the government decided to ask the High Court to delay the Amona demolition order – since two years was not enough time for the government to take down a few dozen structures from the top of a hill – the two began brawling over who should take the credit for initiating that legal move. Even before the request was printed out, let alone ruled on, they were already fighting.
Amona and Obama
Netanyahu and Bennett are like a rabbi and student who have gradually become twins. Neither can see past the next edition of the nightly news. Both are focused on immediate political gain. In this round, Netanyahu is right – why rush to pass legislation when a request for a delay has been submitted to the court? What’s the logic? Everyone knows that Netanyahu wants to put off the distress of Amona until after January 20, when Donald Trump takes office as U.S. president. As far as the Israeli prime minister and his government are concerned, that’s the right thing to do – not to give outgoing President Barack Obama any excuse to hit Israel in the UN Security Council (as if he’s lacking any now).
None of this interests Bennett. He’s just a senior minister, a party chairman, a member of the security cabinet. He’s not the prime minister. He’s familiar with Netanyahu’s culture of spin and tricks that bring you a great headline on the evening news and the hell with everything else. Now, when Netanyahu is more obligated to the bigger picture, Bennett is writing him off. As far as Bennett is concerned it’s a win-win situation – if Netanyahu gives in and promotes the bill, he will collect all the credit from his voters for pushing the prime minister to legislate. And if Netanyahu torpedoes the bill, Bennett can portray him as an enemy of the settlement movement.
It’s not that Netanyahu has suddenly turned into Benny Begin, who called the bill the “robbery law.” Begin is a settlement man through and through, but he understands how this law could fatally boomerang against the settlements built on state land, which have the protection of the Israeli courts. Netanyahu’s reasons for opposing the bill are not moral or ethical. They are merely utilitarian. The timing isn’t right, you know, Obama and all that.
During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu contemptuously referred to Bennett as a “blogger.” A little humility wouldn’t hurt the man who doesn’t stop tweeting and writing Facebook posts, press releases and whatnot. A little modesty wouldn’t hurt the man who only two days ago posted on his official Facebook page that his wife, Sara, had spoken on the phone with the incoming first lady, Melania Trump, and that the two had “among other things,” spoken about “the great challenge of raising children in the spotlight.”
The post was accompanied by two pictures: One of Mrs. Trump from a particularly unflattering angle, with half her face strangely covered in shadow – definitely one of her worst photos – beside a glowing and glamorous Sara Netanyahu in a model’s pose, hand on her hip, smiling at the camera, almost as a challenge.