It was amusing to read the legal explanations of the future that the settlers can expect now that as of next month, Israeli law will no longer apply to them. For just a split second, some dared to dream that the emerging reality would look as it should – equality before the law for settlers and Palestinians, no longer two separate justice systems, no longer apartheid, just a brutal occupation that violates international law.
The elation was uncalled for. Even under the existing law that allows the police to operate in the West Bank and arrest settlers who have assaulted Palestinian residents, in practice little is done. Settler attacks against Palestinians, land theft, the establishment of illegal outposts – none of these are subject to the law, because there is no one to enforce the law. Not a single settler will face trial now in a Palestinian court or be arrested by Palestinian police, either. Just as Israel knew how to twist its laws and regulations to adapt them to the benefit of the settlers, its legislators will now find creative ways to bypass this new legal obstacle.
Even more exciting were the cries of astonishment at the attack carried out by the “true right” against the “treacherous right,” and the shock of the center-left voting in favor of extending the emergency regulations. “Where is your conscience? Where are your principles?” they berated each other as if these sublime principles had been their guiding light for years, and all of a sudden had been swept away by divine forces. As if suddenly the terrible truth that had been hidden all along under the shadow of these principles was suddenly exposed. But nevertheless, something new has happened. This may be one of the only times that the settlers failed to pass a bill that was supposed to serve them – and not just any law, but a law that gave them the mendacious legal foundation for their lives in the Greater Land of Israel. This foundation was dubious, as it relied on emergency regulations – which are by their very nature supposed to be temporary. But through their automatic renewal, these regulations attained the status of a Basic Law and created the illusion that everything was being done legally.
This legalistic masquerade is now falling apart. It was already illegal according to international law, but now it turns out that the foundations on which the settlements were built are made of straw, and two votes are enough to make them collapse. The more important development is that the settlers now understand that they no longer have a solid right wing to defend their position. They owe this to Benjamin Netanyahu, who, with his own two hands, split up the right into two branches, each of which is incapable by itself of maintaining the settlers’ divine promise. Worse yet, it was the center-left that stood to their right.
The defeat of the law offered an interesting lesson to Arab lawmakers. It doesn’t matter whether you vote with the coalition or the opposition. On nationality-related issues, they can rely on “Bibi’s bloc” to do the work for them and shoot down legislation, so long as they continue to keep the government in power. This is the best government possible for the Arabs – a government that may be unable to pass social or economic laws, but also cannot test its capabilities to propose national or racist laws, as long as it faces a balance of threats from the opposition’s right-wing bloc, which that has decided to torpedo any legislation initiated by the coalition.
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One can imagine what would happen if Netanyahu stood not at the head of Likud but at the head of a true ideological right, one for which the status of the settlements and the settlers was important. In such a situation, the extension of the law would have passed with a large majority, and, what’s more, it would nullify the Arabs’ “emergency brakes” and perhaps even force them to resign from the coalition.
Now we see that leaving Netanyahu in the opposition and ensuring the survival of the government are not a matter of political interests, but an ideological necessity. This issue has to do with Israel remaining a country governed by law and to the definition of control of the West Bank as an occupation that is subject to international law, and to empowering the country’s Arab minority.