'Gov't will continue to strengthen settlements, democracy'

PM says the government is acting responsibly in decision to evacuate West Bank Ulpana outpost; bill to legalize outpost fails in Knesset by a vote of 69 to 22; no ministers vote against.

By MELANIE LIDMAN, JPOST.COM STAFF,
June 6, 2012 17:29
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370. (photo credit: GPO / Amos Ben-Gershom)

In a televised statement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the government is in the midst of a very complex environment, and is upholding democracy and strengthening the overall settlement enterprise in its decision over the Ulpana outpost.

A bill to legalize the West Bank outpost was defeated by a vote of 69-22 earlier Wednesday.

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Netanyahu said that the government had acted with responsibility and discretion, and thanked his coalitions partners.

He expressed sympathy for the pain of the families living in the Ulpana outpost who are due to be evacuated. However, he said, "you have to understand, we are working in a very complex environment, internally, internationally and in terms of the law."

He emphasized that his government would continue to strengthen the settlements, at the same time as strengthening democracy in Israel.   

Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev, who sponsored the outpost bill, said he had asked his party to leave the coalition after the bill's defeat.

Speaking at a press conference at a pro-Ulpana protest tent outside the Knesset, Orlev said that if ministers - threatened with removal from the cabinet if they supported the bill - had voted like the remainder of the Knesset, the bill would have passed. Orlev added that he resubmitted his bill to the Knesset.

Speaking earlier, activist and hunger striker Yehudah Yifrach declared an end to the hunger strike, taken up by pro-Ulpana activists ahead of the vote, in favor of struggling in the field.

Calling the cause "just, moral and logical," Rabbi Yair Frank promised to bring the outpost bill back to the Knesset, and maintain a protest presence in the rose garden by the Knesset.

Notable in the vote was the absence of Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz and Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein.

Both ministers had previously publicly declared that they would vote for the bill even though they would be fired from their cabinet positions.

Shas leaders absented themselves from the vote, as predicted by many commentators.

Earlier Wednesday, speaking ahead of a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Liberman said that his Yisrael Beytenu faction accepted the prime minister's outline for the plan and that the party's ministers will vote against two outpost bills that would undermine it.

"The decisions taken satisfy the spectrum [of opinions] and all those trying to develop the settlement in Judea and Samaria, and it is my intention to vote with the government against the Hasdara law [outpost bills] and in support of society as it is developing today," Liberman said.

He spoke after Netanyahu received support from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein for his plan to relocate five apartment buildings from the Ulpana outpost to an authorized tract of land in the Beit El settlements. Weinstein also approved the legality of a plan to further develop the Beit El settlement, by possibly constructing as many as 300 new units, according to officials.

The High Court of Justice has ordered the five Ulpana buildings removed by July 1 because they were built on private Palestinian property without the proper permits. Homes on three other outposts — Migron, Amona, Mitzpe Assaf — are slated for removal this year, as a result of petitions by Peace Now and Yesh Din to the High Court of Justice.

MKs Ya’acov Katz and MK Zevulun Orlev plan to propose outpost bills for a preliminary reading Wednesday which they hope would avert such a decree and would retroactively legalize unauthorized West Bank Jewish homes, including those in Ulpana.

According to the prime minister’s office, Weinstein also assured Netanyahu that his office had a legal argument, which could prevent the success of further petitions. Katz estimated that there are some 9,000 unauthorized West Bank Jewish homes.

Weinstein’s plan, however, leave’s intact an essential principle of Netanyahu’s policy with regard to the settlements, that unauthorized homes on private Palestinian property, such as Ulpana, must be removed.

Netanyahu also agreed to create a ministerial settlement committee, which has the authority to authorize West Bank construction.

“The solution we found strengthens the settlements and upholds the rule of law,” Netanyahu said.

The Attorney-General’s office has yet to confirm any details of Weinstein’s opinions on the matter.

According to Liberman, “the whole package,” including building new homes in Judea and Samaria, forming a ministerial committee on settlements and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s promise that the Ulpana outpost will not be a precedent leading to future demolitions, brought him to his decision.

The foreign minister said that his party looked for a solution to the problem, not a reason for a crisis, and Netanyahu’s plan is “respectable and acceptable.”

Kadima chair Shaul Mofaz told Israel Radio that every Kadima voter present in the vote will oppose the outpost bill.

"There is no room here for personal opinion," Mofaz stated. "Law is law, and there is one law for everyone."

"This is a battle over the rule of law in Israel and for respect of the Supreme Court," Mofaz said.

The two "hasdara" bills in question are set to be voted on in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Opposition Leader Shelly Yechimovich said Netanyahu is correct in enforcing coalition discipline, but added that it was it is unfortunate that he only put down his foot following extreme acts within the coalition.

Steps must be taken to ensure that further actions undermining the rule of law will not be taken, which would reduce Israel's standing in the international community, said Yechimovich.


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