To an outsider gazing at the protest tents in the heart of Jerusalem’s government district, the right wing’s furor over Netanyahu’s handling of the outpost controversy may seem misplaced. But for the ideological right, Netanyahu has committed a sin against the settlement enterprise. Ironically, that sin will prove a boon to the settlement movement.
The High Court ordered the demolition of five houses in the Givat Ulpana outpost in Beit El. However, instead of simply carrying out the High Court’s ruling and razing Ulpana, Netanyahu brokered a deal. The five houses will be relocated, intact and at the state’s expense, to another location within Beit El. Bibi has promised to construct an additional 300 housing units in Beit El, and an additional 551 homes will be built throughout the West Bank. At the same time, 13 outposts will be retroactively legalized.
Meanwhile, the government will create a new committee on settlement construction, undermining the Defense Ministry’s authority to control construction in the territories. This is a decisive step toward “normalizing” Israeli settlements by transforming the West Bank from an area under military jurisdiction to part of Israel proper.
Nevertheless, the hard right has vociferously condemned Prime Minister Netanyahu, particularly over quashing the bill to override the High Court and retroactively legalize unauthorized outposts.
Indeed, for the “nationalist camp,” Netanyahu’s transgressions are ideological. By refusing to override the High Court’s orders to remove illegal outposts, he has strayed from the divinely ordained path. Bibi chose the integrity of judicial institutions and the rule of law over a misguided Messianic imperative to settle Jews on every last hilltop in the Land of Israel. He has acknowledged, at least in theory, a source of legitimate authority that is capable of denying individual Jews their supposedly inalienable right to claim any plot of land in Eretz Yisrael as their own.
This is Netanyahu’s unforgivable sin against the ideological right, no matter how many houses he promises to build in heart of the West Bank.
Let the wheeling and dealing begin
But sometime in the future, settlement-minded politicians with a modicum of political acumen might realize that a clash between the High Court, the “nationalist camp,” and a Likud prime minister can actually be quite constructive. Ideologically motivated settlers will quietly build a few houses on land owned by a Palestinian, and wait for the inevitable High Court petition from ideologically motivated leftists. The High Court will predictably uphold the property rights of the Palestinian owner, and order the evacuation of the houses.
Up go the protest tents in Jerusalem!
Demonstrators will block traffic, as activists lose a few pounds on hunger strikes and long marches to the capital. Ideologues will rant and rave from the Knesset rostrum, while vague threats of violence will be sporadically reported in the media. Finally, an MK from one of the far-right parties will introduce a bill to override the High Court. The prime minister will find himself caught between the “rock” of appeasing his hardline constituency and the “hard place” of overriding the High Court and turning Israel into a banana republic (with an impressive high-tech sector). Naturally, the PM will look for a way out this conundrum by striking a bargain with his ideologically inclined Ministers and MK’s.
Let the wheeling and dealing begin:
Vote against overriding the High Court, says the Likud PM, and we’ll build ten houses for every house that’s evacuated.
That’s not enough?
Well, it is an election year in The States, so that pesky Obama probably won’t make too much noise — probably a cookie-cutter statement by some State Department spokesman about road map obligations and other such nonsense.
How do 250 new houses near the evacuated outpost strike you?
You still want more?
Okay, I can give you 300 new houses near the outpost, and another 500 and change in other settlements.
That’s as far as I can go.
Wait, that’s still not enough?
Listen, there’s only so much I can do without those Kadima folks realizing they’ve become fig leaves for a right-wing government. How about this: Instead of voting against the bill, just don’t show up. I’ll even launch an unremitting PR campaign spinning the bill to override the High Court as detrimental to the settlement enterprise.
Okay, we’re agreed.
A few back-benchers will vote to override the High Court. (Between you and me, I probably couldn’t have stopped them anyway.) Meanwhile, some of you ideologically minded ministers will be conspicuously absent from the vote. I’ll speechify about strengthening the settlement enterprise, and one of you can announce the new construction.
Then, after a few months, or maybe a year, someone will file a High Court petition against another row of houses on a hill.