With his mind clearly on the dangers of a violent confrontation with settlers over the looming evacuation of the Ulpana outpost, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at the annual Altalena memorial on Sunday about two principles enshrined by Menachem Begin: The supremacy of the rule of law and no civil war under any circumstances.
“At the height of the [Altalena] tragedy, Begin established a simple and clear principle – there will not be a civil war,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony held in Tel Aviv’s Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery.
“He knew that a civil war was the end of the Jewish state.”
Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed when David Ben-Gurion gave the order to fire on the Altalena arms ship 64 years ago, in what has since widely been viewed as a watershed moment in placing all the country’s weaponry under one authority. In order to prevent civil war, Begin – then commander of the Irgun – ordered his men not to retaliate.
Begin would have had grounds to act differently, Netanyahu said, recalling the deaths of the Irgun fighters and the loss of precious arms needed desperately for the country’s defense.
“But Begin did not think twice, did not hesitate for a second,” the prime minister declared.
“He established a simple principle: There will not be a civil war.”
That rule established at the dawn of the country’s independence in June 1948 is as applicable today, and forever, as it was then, Netanyahu said.
“We have one state, one government, one law,” Netanyahu said, tying the Altalena incident into the debate over the five buildings at the Ulpana outpost in Beit El that the Supreme Court has ordered removed.
“In Israel the government – and only the government – determines policy,” he said, “and in Israel the law obligates everyone, including the government, including the prime minister.”
Netanyahu said his government’s policy toward the settlements was clear.
“We are strengthening the settlement enterprise through respecting the law,” he said. “We are strengthening the settlement enterprise against a torrent of pressure from inside and outside the country. We are strengthening the settlement enterprise and are doing it by respecting the law, and there is no contradiction between the two.”
On the contrary, he said, questioning the rule of law will harm settlement, while respecting it will strengthen it.
“That is something Menachem Begin understood during the time of the Altalena, and that is something we understand well today.”
Hours before the ceremony, Netanyahu – apparently concerned that the court’s order to the government to evacuate the outpost will turn violent – told a meeting of Likud ministers to act in ways that promote calm.
Netanyahu thanked the ministers for voting against legislation in the Knesset last week that would have retroactively authorized settlement outposts, and called on them to do the same later this week when a similar bill is expected to be brought before the government.