Politics: Political preparations for ‘Chrismukkamona’

Thanks to politics, the evacuation of Amona will go ahead with the blessing of right wing parties.

December 9, 2016 12:16
Netanyahu Bennett

Netanyahu and Bennett. (photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

It is very rare that Hanukka starts on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The first light of the holiday has been lit on Christmas Day only five times in the past century: In 1918, 1921, 1959, 2005 and 2011.

This year will be the first time since 1978 that Jews will light as Christians are celebrating Christmas Eve. Before that it happened in 1940 and before that in 1902. It is not due to happen again until 2027, and then in 2073.

Both holidays are known for spreading light, unity and joy. Interfaith families will have it especially good this year, because they can celebrate both holidays together in what has become known as Chrismukka.

It is even rarer that Hanukka and Christmas happen on the same day as a violent evacuation of 40 families from an outpost in the West Bank. But barring unforeseen circumstances, that is the most likely scenario in two weeks, when Amona is set to be evacuated by December 25.

This year, there will not just be Chrismukka. There will be Chrismukkamona.

There will be joy in Jewish and Christian homes throughout the world. But there will be sadness in Amona, where 40 homes are set to be destroyed.

What will make that fateful day even worse for the residents of Amona is knowing that the evacuation will be happening with the reluctant blessing of the heads of the three right-wing political parties: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu.

How did this happen? How has the Right sanctioned the evacuation of an outpost whose residents had no idea was built on privately owned Palestinian land when they moved there? The answer, as usual, is politics.

Sources close to Netanyahu said he already feared his government was in danger due to the prospects of a violent evacuation from Amona last May when he negotiated the expansion of his government.

Netanyahu tried to make a deal with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, knowing that even if Herzog’s party joined his government without Bayit Yehudi leaving the coalition, the right-wing faction would exit when Amona was evacuated. He would have still had a government but he would be under constant pressure from the Right.

That is one of the reasons Netanyahu jumped and wrapped up a deal in a matter of hours when Liberman agreed to join the coalition.

When Netanyahu gave Liberman the Defense portfolio, he received an unwritten agreement that when it comes to settlements, the two party leaders would be on the same page.

That has not always been true with Netanyahu and Bennett, who are constantly watching their backs as they try to reach out to the same constituency on the Right.

Over the last several months, both Netanyahu and Bennett have switched sides on how to handle Amona and the controversial “settlement regulation bill” that would retroactively legalize close to 4,000 homes in Judea and Samaria.

Both Netanyahu and Bennett were concerned that an especially violent evacuation with Jew fighting Jew and children crying could bring down the government. With such scenes, Bennett would have been pressured to leave, which he does not want to do.

To prevent that from happening, Netanyahu and Bennett met together many times in an effort to find a solution for Amona.

Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit were part of the effort.

Initially, when a campaign on the Right got all but four Likud MKs to endorse the settlement bill, Bennett was opposed. He admitted that there was no chance such legislation would make it by the High Court of Justice and sought other solutions.

But when the campaign that fiercely attacked Bennett got to him, he not only endorsed the bill but led efforts to pass it.

Netanyahu wavered between warning that it could get him put on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, to strategically enabling it to advance through the meaningless initial stages in the legislative process.

Netanyahu acquiesced to Bennett’s request to advance the legislation, while constantly looking for better solutions that could pass legal hurdles that neither the settlement bill nor Amona could. Netanyahu and Bennett resumed working together.

On Monday, instead of a meeting of heads of parties in his coalition, Netanyahu held one-on-one meetings with the heads of the parties in the coalition in an effort to reach an agreement.

When Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of Kulanu, continued to put his foot down against a clause in the settlement bill that could have saved Amona, Bennett gave in, knowing that the prospects of getting 4,000 homes legalized justified losing 40 in the eyes of his constituency.

That led to the process of starting over legislating the bill without the controversial clause. It was approved in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation that night, and passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday night by 58 to 51 vote.

Netanyahu boasted that there would be many Amonas saved thanks to sacrificing one. Bennett compared the vote to a political revolution.

But both Netanyahu and Bennett know that the bill is still not the solution, because the High Court will disqualify it. They are continuing to work with Mandelblit and Shaked to find a solution that would really work.

Currently, the bill is set to be advanced in committee next Monday and ready for its final readings in the Knesset two days later.

But the vote is unlikely to happen that day.

The delay might be advertised as designed to wait out for the Trump administration to take over from outgoing President Barack Obama. Liberman called for waiting with the bill on Sunday at the Saban Forum in Washington.

But the real reason is they want to continue to find a better legal solution. It would also be better politically for all three parties if the Amona evacuation happens while the settlement bill is still hanging in the air.

The violence of the settlers would be seen as selfish, potentially harming a long-term solution for 100 times as many homes.

But try telling that to the people of Amona.

When Chrismukkamona comes, they will be doing anything but celebrating.

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