Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set himself up for a battle with right-wing
parties in his coalition and ministers in his own Likud party on Monday when he
announced his clear opposition to the outpost bills, which retroactively
legalize unauthorized West Bank Jewish construction.
“The bills could be
disqualified by the court and cause problems internationally, which would result
in the outpost being evacuated and damage to the entire settlement enterprise,”
Netanyahu told his faction during a closed-door meeting in the
MKs Ya’acov Katz (National Union) and Zevulun Orlev (Habayit
Hayehudi) plan to present the private member bills to the Knesset on Wednesday
for a preliminary reading. But the bills can only pass with ministerial
The legislation is seen as a last-ditch effort to save five
apartment buildings in the Ulpana outpost from demolition by July 1 as mandated
by the High Court of Justice.
Its passage could be determined by the
votes of Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas ministers, which will not be decided
until Netanyahu rules on whether coalition discipline will be enforced for
Unless ministers are free to vote their conscience, majority
support for the bill is unlikely. At best, it could attract the support of half
the Likud faction, Likud MKs who are not ministers, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu
MKs, two rebel Kadima MKs, one United Torah Judaism MK and the seven MKs of
Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, for a total of 40 MKs.
activists, politicians and settlers are engaged in a battle to sway Netanyahu to
either support the legislation or allow the ministers to vote their conscience.
Supporters of the bill have also lobbied ministers to risk their losing their
jobs – by breaking coalition discipline – and supporting the
Some 32 activists, including Katz, have embarked on a hunger
strike and set up a protest tent in Jerusalem near the Knesset, outside the High Court of
Netanyahu has always opposed such legislation and earlier this
week said he preferred to relocate the buildings, which are home to 30 families,
to an authorized tract of land in the Beit El settlement.
indicated that he might vote in favor of the bill if Attorney-General Yehuda
Weinstein found legal problems with the plan. By late Monday afternoon, however,
it appeared that Weinstein had approved the plan as well as other plans by
Netanyahu to build additional units in Beit El.
According to officials,
the only question Weinstein had yet to answer was the legal implications of the
Ulpana decision on other outposts and illegal homes in West Bank settlements.
Katz estimates that there are some 9,000 unauthorized settler
Weinstein’s spokesman said that in spite of unofficial reports,
the attorney-general has yet to issue a public statement on the
Netanyahu told his faction that Weinstein would defend his plan
“We are a government that abides by the rule of law and
strengthens settlement,” the prime minister said. “There is no contradiction
between the two. Even if the court’s decision is tough for some people, we must
Netanyahu, who met with residents of the outpost on Monday,
called them the “salt of the earth.” But he warned the outpost bill would harm
the settlers instead of helping them.
“We are bringing solutions that
strengthen settlement. The alternative of passing this legislation would harm
settlement,” he said.
Netanyahu said his solution is possible
“practically, economically and legally.”
“If someone thinks they will
harm settlements, I want them to know that the opposite will happen, one to 10,”
he added. “If you destroy 30 homes, we will build 300.”
minister received support for his stance from his Likud colleagues, Strategic
Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who
announced today they would oppose the bill.
But Knesset Speaker Reuven
Rivlin said he would back the bill, and Transportation Minister Israel Katz and
Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said they would return early from
abroad to vote in favor of it. Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister
Yuli Edelstein also plans to vote for the bill.
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely
asked Netanyahu to enable ministers to vote their conscience on the issue rather
than enforce coalition discipline.
“The law must be just, and an
injustice should not be fixed by another injustice,” Rivlin said.
Knesset speaker predicted a lively, intense debate over the legislation in the
plenum, adding that he and his deputies will adhere strictly to protocol and not
let emotions take over.
Likud MK Danny Danon called party activists to a
conference in the Knesset Monday afternoon, asking them to pressure ministers
and MKs to vote in favor of the outpost bill, and telling them they will pay a
political price if they do not.
“Call them and ask them: ‘Remember last
month, when you thought there would be a primary and you wanted my help?’” Danon
told Likud Central Committee members. “If you don’t vote for the bill, I will
not vote for you.”
Inside Netanyahu’s coalition, the leaders of Shas and
Yisrael Beytenu announced their support for the bill but would not reveal
whether they would be willing to have their ministers vote in favor and be fired
from the government over the issue. They expressed hope that an alternative
solution could still be found.
Kadima and Independence expressed strong
opposition to the bill.
“Beit El is a very important settlement of
thousands of people who were sent there by the government, and it will be part
of Israel forever alongside a contiguous Palestinian state,” Defense Minister
Ehud Barak said.
“The Ulpana problem must be solved wisely. Israel
does not live in empty space. Nothing will harm residents of Judea and Samaria
more than an attempt to legislate such retroactive bills that will lead us to a
blatant confrontation with the international community.”
Shaul Mofaz said he understood the pain of the settlers but emphasized that they
must adhere to the law. He added: “The bill would harm the Jews in Judea and
Samaria, who are overwhelmingly there legally.”
But Kadima MKs Otniel
Schneller and Yulia Shamolov Berkovich said they would vote in favor of the
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Yonah Bob contributed to this report.