Ministers from the Likud Party rebelled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday night by voting in favor of a bill to authorize illegal homes in West Bank settlements and outposts.
After a day of political drama, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation moved the bill forward to the Knesset, so it could be voted on in time to save the Amona outpost, which the High Court of Justice has ordered demolished by December 25.
The day began with Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett exchanging barbs at the weekly cabinet meeting, as the Bayit Yehudi Party head helped lead the charge to pass the bill immediately.
MK Hotovely on legality of settlement resolution and regarding Amona
Netanyahu called Bayit Yehudi’s claim of urgency a “smoke screen.”
During the meeting, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said that Netanyahu is not opposed to the bill, and Netanyahu told her he doesn’t need her help defending herself from “spin” and “bloggers.”
“Excellent, so [Likud ministers] should vote for the bill,” Bennett responded.
Netanyahu called Bennett’s behavior “childish and irresponsible” and pleaded for him to “Give us a moment, while we’re trying to get a postponement from the court.”
Last week, Bennett said that Sunday was the deadline to bring the bill to the ministerial committee and still have time for it to pass four readings in the Knesset, beginning with a preliminary reading on Wednesday.
At the beginning of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu urged Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s chairwoman, to wait for the High Court of Justice to decide whether to approve a request, to which all coalition party leaders agreed, to postpone Amona’s demolition until July 25.
Later in the day, Shaked publicly announced that she had not been convinced by Netanyahu, by way of a tweet saying that the vote on the bill would still take place that evening.
Shortly after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting began, Netanyahu called a meeting of coalition party leaders, Shaked and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to discuss the bill.
Mandelblit told the ministers that he would not be able to defend the bill before the Supreme Court, because many of the homes it spoke of legalizing, including those at the Amona outpost, were built on private Palestinian property. Settlers have estimated that there are over 2,000 such homes.
Although the bill offers to compensate the Palestinian landowners, Mandelblit said that this was still an “expropriation of private property” and contrary to Israeli and international law.
He warned that it couldsway the High Court not to grant the state’s request for a seven-month delay in the demolition of the 40 homes that make up the Amona outpost.
During the meeting, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused Bennett of endangering the settlement enterprise.
Bennett responded that, in six months as defense minister, Liberman had done nothing to help settlements.
Bennett and Shaked then left the meeting in a huff, and Shaked held the vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
Seven ministers voted in favor of the bill, with no opposition: Regev, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis from the Likud, and Shaked and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel from Bayit Yehudi.
Shas, UTJ, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu ministers were absent.
The bill was proposed by Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich, as well as Likud MK Yoav Kisch.
Netanyahu has traditionally opposed such a sweeping legislative attempt and has preferred instead to find individual solutions for communities which the High Court has ordered evacuated.
Prior to the cabinet meeting, he said he believes that the legislation should be dealt with only after the court issues its ruling on the request to delay the Amona evacuation.
“I would like to emphasize that there is no one who is more concerned about settlement than us,” Netanyahu said.
Following the committee’s approval, Bennett said the State of Israel is beginning an historic process of legalizing settlements, and that the Likud ministers behaved responsibly by voting in favor of the bill.
A senior Likud source said the party was always in favor of the bill, and ministers were given permission to support the legislation after assessing that it was unlikely the court would approve another postponement.
Former justice minister MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said Netanyahu should appeal the vote, and if he does not, he is fully responsible for the bill’s approval.
“The outpost bill weakens the rule of law, the State of Israel’s foreign relations and sends a message that violence works on a weak prime minister,” Livni stated.
MKs Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union) and Michal Rozin (Meretz) both said that the bill allows “theft” of land.
“Today, the Israeli government gave settlers the mandate to be above the law,” Rozin stated. “The outpost- laundering bill is a disgrace to a government in a country with the rule of law. Land theft is a crime...
The entire public will suffer from this law passing.”
Amona was built with in 1995 on the outskirts of the Ofra outpost, with NIS 2.1 million from the Construction Ministry, but without any permits or approvals.
The nongovernmental group Yesh Din had petitioned the High Court to demolish the outpost on behalf of the Palestinian owners of the land on which it was constructed.
But the Amona families have argued that the ministry grant constitutes an initial governmental approval that must be respected. They have rejected relocation attempts and insisted that the issue of unauthorized settler homes must be legislated.
On Sunday they and their supporters held a small demonstration near the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Separately, the nine families in the Ofra settlements whose unauthorized homes are also under a demolish notice in February, set up a protest tent in the same area.
The campaign to save Amona said it knows there is still “a long road ahead” and asked the coalition to push the legislation through as quickly as possible.Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.