Last Friday the state requested that the High Court of Justice put off by 90
days the demolition of five houses in the Ulpana outpost in Beit El that were
built on private Palestinian land.
Just over a year ago the court ruled
that the houses should be demolished by May 1, 2012.
which did not deny that the houses had been built on private Palestinian land,
accepted the court’s ruling. However, in the past year it did nothing to
implement it. As has happened many times in the past, the government acted in
accordance with the famous Jewish story about the Polish nobleman and the horse,
in which inaction was justified with the expectation that before long “either
the nobleman or the horse will die.”
But both the nobleman and the horse
are still around and kicking. Now, it is said, the government is not really
seeking a delay, but rather more time to come up with “a creative solution” that
will prevent the demolition of the houses. Why? Because Netanyahu does not want
to anger his fellow Likudniks in what will certainly be an election year. At
what price? The rule of law. In other words, the rule of law is being
subordinated to politics in the most cynical manner.
The Ulpana affair is
in fact a symptom of a much broader and fundamental issue – Jewish settlement in
Judea and Samaria since the Six Day War. Systematic Jewish settlement activities
in the West Bank were slow to get under way. Though some settlement activity
occurred under Labor Alignment governments, the Gush Emunim settlement movement
was established only in 1974, and settlement in the territories turned into a
central policy goal only after the Likud took power in 1977.
international community has consistently argued that the West Bank is occupied
territory to which the Fourth Geneva Convention applies, the legal status of
Judea and Samaria is complex, and there has been no final legal ruling on the
Until 1948 the West Bank was part of the British Mandate for
Palestine. According to the 1947 UN partition plan, it was to have formed part
of the Arab state that was to have been established in Palestine side by side
with the Jewish state. The Palestinian Arab state was never established, and
with Israeli acquiescence the West Bank was occupied and later annexed by King
Abdullah to the Kingdom of Jordan.
Only four states recognized this
After Israel occupied (or liberated) the West Bank in 1967,
it took no measures to annex it (short of east Jerusalem) to Israel, and
Israel’s official position was that it was waiting for the Arabs to come and
negotiate a permanent settlement.
The Arab response was the Khartoum Arab
Summit Conference of August 1967 that declared the three nays: no peace with
Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel. This Arab
policy persisted for a decade, and in the meantime facts started to be created
by Israel on the ground, despite a growing ideological rift on the issue among
the Israeli public.
Despite the Oslo Accords of September 1993, and
Netanyahu’s acceptance of the two-state principle in June 2009, new settlement
activities – both official and unofficial, legal and illegal – accelerated,
paying no heed to the fact that Israel had accepted the principle that
eventually a viable Palestinian state would have to be delineated.
question of what is legal and what is illegal when it comes to Jewish settlement
in Judea and Samaria there is no agreement in Israel, and the spectrum of
opinions stretches from viewing all Jewish settlement in the occupied
territories as illegal to considering all Jewish settlement in the liberated
territories as ordained by God. The majority appears to believe in the Jewish
right to settle in the whole of Eretz Yisrael, but to accept the limitations
imposed by realpolitik and recognition of basic Palestinian rights, including
that of land ownership.
Where the State of Israel has erred over the
years has been in turning a blind eye to the construction of Jewish settlements
on private Palestinian land, which was simply confiscated, robbed or “purchased”
from individuals who did not own it.
Those who trusted that the
government knew what it was doing when it allowed their homes to be constructed
on private Palestinian land are no less to blame, though it is they who are now
being asked to pay the price.
The government’s decision to continue to
avoid confronting this problem head on, and its current attempt to overturn the
rule of law for the sake of immediate political interests, is not only
infuriating, but cause for real concern in a situation where many members of the
coalition are in any case contemptuous of the democratic principles on which the
Israeli legal system is based.
The writer teaches at the Max Stern
Jezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.