Netanyahu’s Atonement

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points out the Jordan Valley, an area he has declared Israel will annex, as he gives a statement in Ramat Gan. September 10, 2019

Polls ahead of the next election predict an advantage of four-to-five Knesset seats for Kahol Lavan over Likud. These figures are most likely temporary. They reflect, however, many right-wing people’s disappointment with Benjamin Netanyahu. He led the way to the next election, the disappointed voters are convinced, to escape his legal predicament and not for the reasons he gave, such as using his continued term as premier to apply Israeli law and sovereignty in the Jordan Valley.

When his followers are forced to explain why he hasn’t done so until now, they reply that Barack Obama prevented it. And what about Donald Trump’s tenure? This president recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights, moved the United States embassy to Jerusalem and this week imposed sanctions on American universities that enable BDS activity – and got a cold shower from some of the Israeli media for it. Is Trump the one preventing Netanyahu from applying Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley?

Netanyahu has about three months to atone, even in small measure, for his sins toward the country of Israel. He has the power to prove with deeds, not empty declarations, that he is a prime minister of a rightist government. It may not prevent – and must not prevent – putting him on trial, but it could get him into history. Not as another leader placed in the dock but as one who generated, even if at the end of his term, changes with historic significance to the future of the land of Israel.

The first deed called for is a government decision to adopt the conclusions of the Edmond Levy committee, which found that Judea and Samaria aren’t “occupied territories” and that Israel, even under international law, has the right to rule it. Such a decision would pave the way to applying Israeli law and justice to the Jordan Valley, the Etzion Bloc, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel – and perhaps all of Area C, including the granting of Israeli citizenship to the Arab residents in this region.

The media of course will be against it. But then we could cite especially Haaretz, which in the past strongly rebutted claims that a caretaker government – or a minority government – doesn’t have the authority to make concessions over areas in the land of Israel. A caretaker government, the newspaper’s editorials asserted, has all the powers, including the political and strategic ones, that a government with a Knesset majority has.

If Netanyahu attempts even some of these moves, dozens of petitions will be submitted to the High Court of Justice. The attorney general – in the hope that this time he wouldn’t refuse to represent the government – will argue, like his predecessors, that Netanyahu’s acts are legal, since the rule of continuity applies to a caretaker government.

The High Court of Justice accepted at the time the attorney general’s argument that Ehud Barak had the power to make considerable concessions to the Palestinians, including the Holy Basin in Jerusalem. Even if it’s a caretaker government – even without a prime minister, as Barak, seeing his government crumbling, quit – Barak must not be denied the right to exploit such a far-reaching strategic window of opportunity. Another head of a caretaker government, Ehud Olmert, offered Assad the entire Golan Heights. Then too the High Court chose not to interfere, and there are other examples.

Following these precedents, it is to be hoped the High Court won’t intervene this time either, especially since politically and ideologically the acts are the opposite of his predecessor’s (“correct”) acts.

These historical steps could have another result, not at all negligible: Likud deserters, encouraged by the actions that would replace all the hollow, false statements, may return home and give the right-wing camp an election victory. It’s not beyond reach.