Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition will face its first tests of the Knesset’s winter session next week when controversial bills seeking to cancel public broadcasting reforms and legalize unauthorized settlement outposts come to the fore.
Netanyahu will convene the heads of the five parties in his coalition on both issues ahead of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
The prime minister made clear to the party heads this week that he wants to push coalition chairman David Bitan’s plan to close down the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation that is set to replace the current Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett spoke out against Bitan’s bill Thursday, joining Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) in opposing the bill. United Torah Judaism head Ya’acov Litzman announced he would back the bill due to a clause in the coalition agreement requiring the parties to back moves by the communications minister, Netanyahu.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman is also expected to back the bill.
Former defense ministers Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon attacked the legislation on social media Thursday, with Barak accusing Netanyahu of “joining the darkest forces in Israeli society in an effort to prevent investigations of his personal expenses.”
Bennett warned that the bill would waste more than one billion shekels, but sources close to Netanyahu said the Bayit Yehudi head was merely using the Israel Broadcasting Corporation to get Netanyahu to take action on the disputed Amona outpost.
The state is set to ask the Supreme Court Sunday for more time to find a solution for the controversial outpost, two years after the Court gave the state two years to solve the problem on its own.
A Bayit Yehudi bill meant to legalize homes in Amona is on the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s agenda for Sunday, putting pressure on Netanyahu to allow the residents to remain in their homes.
Should the bill go to a vote, it could have a chance of passing in the committee, which could embarrass and put pressure on Netanyahu if he is not on board with it.
The bill, proposed by Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, would save Amona, which is slated to be demolished on December 25 following an order from the High Court of Justice, by finding a legal arrangement for homes built in the West Bank with government approval and later found to be on land owned by Palestinians.
Amona was first built in 1995, with NIS 2.16 million from the Construction and Housing Ministry.
The proposal would have the state pay “generous” compensation to the landowners in land and money, while legalizing the existing homes. The MK said the bill would be the equivalent of the state using eminent domain, which it has done in other circumstances.
Moalem-Refaeli wrote a letter to Netanyahu offering an alternative, by which she would pull the bill from Sunday’s agenda if the government declares the land on which Amona was built to be abandoned, bringing it under the state’s possession, and thus allowing the outpost to remain where it is without having to go through the legislative process and without necessarily providing any kind of compensation for the Palestinians who claim to own the land.
The government has, since the establishment of the state, only declared sovereignty over land that was abandoned, and not land in the West Bank. Bennett dared the Likud to support the bill and end foot-dragging on the issue.
“The hourglass for legalizing the settlement is running out and we are getting closer to the critical time for a solution that will leave Amona on the mountain,” Moalem-Refaeli wrote. “As we have seen in recent weeks, the work is moving slowly for some reason and is not moving toward a solution.”
The Bayit Yehudi MK said an instruction to declare the land abandoned would speed up the process of finding a solution, and the fact that the government has not done so makes it seem that the prime minister does not want to save the outpost from demolition.
“Mr. Prime Minister, it is in your hands to save Amona. If you decide to fight for it, as you fight on other matters on your agenda, children will not be thrown out of their homes in a few weeks,” Moalem-Refaeli wrote.
The Likud responded that Netanyahu is responsibly leading the effort to find a solution for Amona, together with the defense and justice ministers and attorney-general.
“It’s unfortunate that there are some who can’t stand up to pressure and, instead of joining the effort, choose baseless and irresponsible political accusations that only hurt the solution for Amona and settlements in general,” the party spokesman said.
“The prime minister will continue to keep his composure and behave responsibly to solve the problem of Amona, and those who are stressed should do the same.”
Earlier this month, the state asked the High Court of Justice to delay by six months the December 25 demolition of Amona so it can examine relocation options.
At present, the state has no feasible plan to provide alternative housing for the 40 families that live in modular homes on the hilltop just outside of the Ofra settlement in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
The Likud’s viewpoint on the Israel Broadcasting Corporation remains less united.
The approaching demise of the IBA was spearheaded by former communications minister Gilad Erdan with the enthusiastic support of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.
Even though the Knesset voted to go along with Erdan, considerable criticism was leveled at him for overriding or ignoring agreed-upon reforms for the IBA.
When Netanyahu took over as communications minister, he did not want to give the green light to a half- baked operation and said the IBC would not go on air until it was fully equipped to do so.
IBC announced this week that it would be ready to go to air on January 1, 2017, but, ready or not, it cannot become operational until a go-ahead is signed by both Netanyahu and Kahlon. If only one signs, the other continues to create a road block. Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu will not accept the January 1 request.
Meanwhile, it was announced on the IBA News, which broadcasts in English, that those broadcasts will cease at the end of December, causing a great deal of consternation among English speakers with a poor command of Hebrew.
The previous public broadcasting law provided for English-language broadcasts. The current one does not, absolving the IBC from any obligation to broadcast in English.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.