If there was a handbook of how to win an election, then top of the list for any right-wing candidate, particularly the prime minister, would most definitely be – don’t evacuate an outpost in the opening days of the campaign.
Yet early Thursday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did just that. In a pre-dawn raid, security forces moved against two modular caravans on the site of the former Amona outpost that filled with right-wing activists, mostly teens. Security forces forcibly removed them, then placed the two caravans on flatbed trucks and drove them away.
It is akin to Netanyahu financing, writing, designing and published a campaign ad on behalf of any of his Right opponents.
All the Bayit Yehudi party or the new Hayamin Hehadash (the New Right) parties need to do is run footage from Amona with the slogan saying, “Vote for us, we don’t uproot Jews.”
It’s a situation made even worse by the Netanyahu-led Likud party’s own history. It remains as the only party to have actually evacuated settlements and territory: the Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005. There is also the division of Hebron in 1997, yes, also under Netanyahu and the Likud.
The number one rule for any prime ministerial candidate – from any party – would be: don’t admit that you lack complete knowledge and control of what is happening with the country’s security services.
Yet, in the aftermath of the evacuation, Netanyahu blamed his military adviser Brig.-Gen. Avi Blot for the removal of the two mobile homes. Blot apparently failed to inform him in time to stop the evacuation, which was carried out against Netanyahu’s wishes.
This would mean that the IDF and Border Police carried out a sensitive security operation that could have impact on West Bank stability without the knowledge of the prime minister, who heavily controls events in Judea and Samaria. It’s a step made worse by the fact Netanyahu also holds the post of defense minister.
But Netanyahu’s need for the right-wing voter in this election is so great that he felt it was better not to be accountable than to let it be known that he doesn’t have full knowledge of what the military was doing.
The premier would have done better to insist that he was carrying out the rule of law, given that the evacuation occurred under a court order.
That’s particularly true, given that all they removed were two old mobile homes.
But Amona, which survived the demolition of nine permanent homes in 2006, and which was completely demolished in 2017, has a particularly emotional resonance among the Right.
When Amona fell in 2017, Netanyahu rode the wave of anger by authorizing a completely new settlement, the first in more than 20 years.
The stage is set for Netanyahu to recoup the electoral loses from Amona by approving a project on the right-wing wish list, which would strengthen Israel’s hold on Judea and Samaria.
But in the immediate aftermath of the evacuation, the loudest demand was for the demolition of the illegal West Bank herding village of Khan al-Ahmar.
Earlier in the week, Public Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan had insisted that Netanyahu must authorize the South Hebron hills outpost of Asa’el and transform it into a new settlement already this Sunday.
It is a move, which aside from its location, would be very easy to do. It is on state land and there are advance plans for its development.
The only barrier could be the wrath of the US. But one can almost imagine the conversation between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump. The besieged Israeli leader would explain that he needed to do this to help assure his re-election.
But in the aftermath of Amona, Erdan did not repeat his call for the community’s authorization.
The only person who showed up at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem was Eran Dgani from Kfar Eldad, who represents the forum of 70 fledgling communities, otherwise known as outposts.
Forget about one outpost. Dgani told Netanyahu in his letter that now was the time to seize the moment and authorize all the outposts as new settlements or neighborhoods of existing ones.
“In the face of the terrible destruction this morning, you must authorize our communities and restore the right of the thousands of citizens who live there,” Dgani wrote.
He also brought a pen with him, just in case the premier lacked one.
“We understand that in your office there are pens that are used for demolition only, and as a result, apparently you have not signed the authorization so far. Therefore, we are honored to give you a new pen – the pen of authorization,” he said.
It’s unlikely that Netanyahu plans to use that pen for all 70, but to hold on to pro-settler voters, he will now need to make a grand gesture to appease the Right. This could very well include the approval of a new settlement or a significant project to shore up credentials as a right-wing leader.
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