The new Netanyahu: Not so beholden to Israeli settlers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, newly aligned with the more centrist Kadima party, moved today to knock down settler houses built on Palestinian property.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Israeli youths take part in a protest in Jerusalem calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve a bill in parliament, June 6. Netanyahu won a parliamentary battle on Wednesday against an attempt by far-right lawmakers to legalize all Israeli settler homes on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media at his Jerusalem office on June 6.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finalized a plan today to remove settler homes built on Palestinian property and quashed a move by hard-line allies in parliament to retroactively legalize the housing. The moves highlight the Israeli leader’s newfound political leverage after broadening his coalition last month.

The plan comes in response to a Supreme Court order to evacuate the property, located in the Beit El settlement near Ramallah, by the end of the month. Under the plan, Israel will lift five buildings off their foundation in the "Ulpana Hill" neighborhood of Beit El and move them to an army base nearby. Mr. Netanyahu will compensate settlers by approving some 50 new units for West Bank settlers.

Though evacuating the property isn’t expected to revive the moribund peace process, it does demonstrate that the inclusion of the more centrist Kadima party has liberated Netanyahu’s coalition from being almost exclusively dependent on the votes of the right wing.

"This is one of the reasons why he formed the coalition. This was the big issue that was looming over everyone’s head," says Herb Kenion, a political commentator for the Jerusalem Post. "He realized that [the evacuation of Ulpana Hill] was going to be a problem."

With multiple court cases alleging illegal building on Palestinian property, Netanyahu has been caught between legal pressure from the high court on one side and political pressure from settlers to resist. In August, Netanyahu faces a deadline on a court order to evacuate a settler outpost near Beit El with dozens of families.  

Settler advocates pushed a bill to sidestep the court rulings by transferring ownership on the land to Jewish residents and offering monetary compensation to the Palestinians. Worried that flouting the Supreme Court would undermine his administration at home and abroad, Netanyahu opposed the law and threatened to fire cabinet ministers and deputy ministers who did not fall into line. The bill was defeated by a vote of 69-22.

An Israeli official said that the process of removing the houses in Ulpana Hill would begin in the coming weeks. But in a sign of potential clashes to oppose the evacuation, frustrated settler supporters burned tires and blocked road traffic in Jerusalem today.

Many of them accused leading members of Netanyahu’s Likud party of betrayal. Indeed, many Likud members said they supported the law’s passage in the weeks leading up to the vote, but changed their position after Netanyahu’s threat.

Ben Dror Yemini, a political columnist for the Maariv daily newspaper, says that Netanyahu was concerned that passage of the law would undermine Israel’s standing abroad.

“It will look like an apartheid law which intends to confiscate Palestinian lands,” he says. The government is likely to face physical clashes with settler die-hards when it dismantles the homes, he adds. “It's not going to be easy, that’s for sure.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.