As the coalition prepared for a contentious vote on legalizing West Bank outposts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) sparred Sunday over comments by the latter that could be interpreted as him calling residents of the Amona outpost a “virus.”
“I understand the pain of the families [in Amona], but [the High Court of Justice] gave them two years to clear out, and look what this virus has done to the State of Israel and how dangerous it is to democracy, because of this nonsense,” Herzog told Army Radio.
Herzog made the comments in response to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approving a bill to compensate the Palestinian owners of land on which outposts were built with the state’s approval, rather than evacuate the outposts’ residents.
The proposal is meant to save the Amona outpost slated for demolition on December 25.
The opposition leader said that if the bill should pass, it would be a “serious stain on Israel law books, because it authorizes theft and robbery.There is no precedent, nothing like it, in which the Israeli government authorized a law that allows taking land from private people.”
Netanyahu called on Herzog to apologize, saying he “can’t believe Herzog used the term ‘virus’ to describe settlers.”
“They are of our flesh, serve in the IDF, contribute to the state.
Buji, apologize immediately,” Netanyahu said, using Herzog’s nickname.
Later, in a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu pointed out that Herzog gave a speech to the Knesset on Sunday in which he attacked the right of incitement.
“That is exactly what you’re doing now, and I call on you to take these words back,” he said. Netanyahu also said he is aware of Amona residents’ distress and he is “acting in different ways” to help them.
Herzog responded to Netanyahu at a Zionist Union faction meeting, saying: “Bibi, it won’t work this time.
The outpost bill is the virus, a dangerous virus in the judiciary and Israeli democracy.
“Settlers are my brothers; they are my flesh and blood and I will take better care of them than you, who lies to them,” Herzog stated.
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev tweeted, in response to the comments, that Herzog is “an asset to the nationalist camp.”
“Buji fell again, and it was too far this time,” Yogev wrote.
Amona residents released a statement criticizing Herzog, saying that “after he accused half the citizens of the state for murdering [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin, and after he turned the elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, into an inciter who is responsible for murder, Herzog is continuing and chose to attack residents of Amona while they are fighting for their fate and their future.
“Amona residents are not a ‘virus’...
We are not bacteria. We are people, even if we belong to the nationalist camp. Buji’s recent campaign of divisiveness will not weaken us in our just struggle for our homes,” they added.
The United States harshly condemned the legislative attempt to authorize some 2,000 homes.
“We’re deeply concerned,” said Elizabeth Trudeau, the US State Department’s director for press operations.
The legislation, she said, “could pave the way for the legalization of dozens of illegal outposts deep in the West Bank.”
It “would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that is inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and breaks non-standing Israeli policy of not building on private Palestinian land,” Trudeau told reporters in Washington. “Our policy on settlements is clear, we believe they are corrosive to the cause of peace. This legislation would be a dramatic advancement of the settlement enterprise, which is already gravely endangering the prospects for a twostate solution.”
Meanwhile, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) announced that the outpost bill will go to a preliminary vote on Wednesday, as is the usual procedure. There will be regular coalition discipline, by which all coalition members must vote in favor of a bill approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
However, MK Bennie Begin (Likud) said he would vote against the coalition, because the bill allows “theft.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who pushed the bill in defiance of Netanyahu on Sunday, defended it in a briefing to the Foreign Press Association.
Bennett pointed out that “it’s been 50 years that we’re in Judea and Samaria.” Some half a million Israelis who live there serve in the army, pay taxes and live a normative existence, added. “The bill is to tell them you are no longer second-class citizens.”
Bennett said that he was very happy that Likud and Bayit Yehudi, with the exception of the prime minister and Minister-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, had combined efforts for this bill, “which applies only to towns set up by the Israel government and not to outposts.”
He also insisted that Amona is not an outpost.
“If 30 years ago, the government of Israel set up a town, it has to back its own people. Amona was built and supported by an Israel government,” he said.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the outpost bill is “not a real law,” will not prevent Amona’s evacuation and will be overturned by the courts.
“That’s what they want. They want it to be annulled, because then they can complain about the Supreme Court instead of doing their jobs,” he said.
“Their real work is to stand before the residents of Amona – something I’ve done, when I met with their representatives – and tell them the hard and painful truth,” he continued.
“No one likes it, but there is no choice [but to evacuate them]. And then go and find real solutions for them, in real time, so they don’t live in caravans for 11 years like the residents of Gush Katif [who were evacuated from Gaza].”
Similarly, Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli shared a “prediction.”
“Soon there will be increased incitement against Supreme Court justices.
The outpost bill that will go to a vote this week will not stop the High Court. The prime minister knows it, Bennett knows it. The attorney-general, whom Netanyahu appointed, told them so,” she said.
On Monday the Palestinians announced that in light of the legislation they were determined to bring the issue of settlements to the UN Security Council, according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Such legislation “is going to bring disasters to the region,” Abu Rudeineh said. He added that the Palestinians would turn to other international institutions as well, “to stop this Israeli escalation.”
Tovah Lazaroff and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.