Will Liberman be a settlement builder or right-wing scapegoat?

Settlers have so much faith in Liberman and so hated Ya’alon, that they worked behind the scenes to unseat him and to replace him with the Yisrael Beytenu head.

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May 26, 2016 06:01
3 minute read.
THEN-FOREIGN MINISTER Avigdor Liberman visits Hebron in January 2013

THEN-FOREIGN MINISTER Avigdor Liberman visits Hebron in January 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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It is hard to argue against Avigdor Liberman as a champion of the settlement movement. He is someone who has put his money, so to speak, where his mouth is, and made his home in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

Even more significantly, Nokdim is located outside the route of the security barrier and is, therefore, considered to be an isolated settlement.

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Two days before the March 17 election in 2015, he visited Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

“The real right-wing, that is determined and knows what it wants and where it wants to go, can be found here,” Liberman said.

When he was in the opposition, he hammered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to build more in the settlements, including in areas of wide consensus, such as Ma’aleh Adumim.

On a post-election visit to that city, the third largest in Judea and Samaria, he stressed the fact that his support of the settlement movement was not simply an election ploy.

He emphasized that Netanyahu’s failure to authorize construction in the city was one of the reasons he had refused to join the coalition.

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Liberman added that if Netanyahu were to authorize only 1,000 housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim, he would enter the coalition.

When news broke that he would likely become defense minister, Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel wasted no time in publicly and privately reminding him of his promise.

Still, when the terms of the coalition agreement under which he joined the government were signed on Wednesday, there was no mention of construction in Ma’aleh Adumim or in fact anywhere at all in Judea and Samaria.

If Kashriel had a shekel for every politician who promised large-scale construction in his city, particularly in the hotly contentious area of E1, he could retire as a millionaire.

Almost every right-wing politician has used that empty hilltop as a platform to solicit votes. But Liberman’s pledge was unique in that it did not relate specifically to E1 and, as Kashriel pointed out, he was the only one who conditioned it on his entry into the government.

“There is a 1,000-unit plan on the defense minister’s desk that just needs a signature,” Kashriel told The Jerusalem Post. He noted that this plan did not involve E1, but rather involved scattered projects throughout the city.

He was hesitant to assume the worst on Wednesday.

“Not everything has to be in writing,” he said as he noted that Liberman is known as a blunt politician who keeps his word.

One source close to Liberman said that settlement building is not the only issue that they were unable to place in the coalition agreement, but it remains a priority for Liberman and he will continue to push for it, now that he is the defense minister.

Another source said that it didn’t need to be in the agreement, because as defense minister, Liberman is in charge of settlement construction.

Settlers have so much faith in Liberman and so hated Ya’alon, that they worked behind then scenes to unseat him and to replace him with the Yisrael Beytenu head.

Chief among his supporters is Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan.

But this is not the first time settlers have believed they had finally found a defense minister who would stand by them. They also had high hopes for Ya’alon, who before he took office was among those who had called to rebuild the northern Samaria settlement of Homesh, evacuated during the 2005 disengagement.

But then the Netanyahu government imposed a 10-month moratorium on settlement starts and evacuated both the Migron outpost and some 30 homes in the Ulpana outpost. Rather than lay the blame on Netanyahu, who ultimately sets construction policy, they preferred to scapegoat Ya’alon.

Liberman may himself be a settler, but he could quickly find himself in the same conundrum, particularly with the demolition of the Amona outpost set for the end of this year. His fall from their grace could be even faster and harsher, given that the expectations are so high. Israeli politicians love to tell people they live in a rough neighborhood, but Liberman’s is one of the roughest of them all.

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