Policy, not politics

October 21, 2018 21:32
3 minute read.
Policy, not politics

An Israeli police officer detains an activist in the illegal Palestinian Bedouin herding village of Khan al-Ahmar that Israel plans to demolish, in the West Bank. Clashes broke out there Monday when security forces arrived to drain a pool on the edge of the village, that had formed from a water leak. (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)


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It’s become a recurring theme of the Netanyahu government: the prime minister makes a decision on a thorny issue that has been waiting for some decisive action, and then suddenly – often at the last minute – overturns it.

In April, with great flourish, Netanyahu announced a plan to give thousands of African migrants in Israel temporary status and, in coordination with the UN, resettle some 16,250 more of them in “developed” Western countries.

Within a day, he canceled the agreement, saying “occasionally a decision is reached that has to be reconsidered,” and vowing to “exhaust all of the options at our disposal for expelling the infiltrators.”

The Western Wall deadlock regarding an egalitarian prayer area has also seen pullback from a set government policy. A 2016 deal that the cabinet approved would have expanded the egalitarian area while the rest of the Kotel would remain under its existing Orthodox status quo.

Then in June 2017 the deal was suspended to avert a coalition crisis and assuage complaints from right-wing Orthodox members of Netanyahu’s government. The “Kotel deal” is still up in the air.

A number of other issues – ranging from bringing the remaining Falash Mura to Israel and the sputtering Red Sea-Dead Sea project, to playing both sides of supporting and ignoring the concept of a ‘two-state solution’ with the Palestinians – have all contributed to the feeling that, rather than trying to solve problems, Netanyahu is more interested in keeping his fragile coalition together to survive until he decides it’s time to dissolve it and call for new elections.

The latest seemingly about face emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office concerns the Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Amar, situated on the main thoroughfare between Ma’aleh Adumim and the Dead Sea.

This issue has been a cause célèbre among the international community, particularly the European Union and its member states, who have called on Israel not to evacuate the village of some 180 Jahalin Bedouin.

On Wednesday, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda warned Israel that the forced relocation of the village was “war crime.”

Last month, following efforts by the government to demolish the village and relocate its inhabitants being met by legal petitions, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that there was no legal barrier to the demolition of the village, but that it preferred to see a negotiated resolution.

Since then, it’s been a waiting game as to when the government was going to bring in the police and the bulldozers. On Saturday night, however, a late-night report – first in Haaretz and then dispersed everywhere – stated the Netanyahu had decided to shelve the demolition of Khan al-Amar indefinitely.

Granted, this time there was no official announcement or press conference like with the migrant issue. But by Sunday morning, the story was different once again.

Netanyahu assured his right-wing constituents that the delay in dealing with Khan al-Ahmar was temporary and that a timetable would be set by a Sunday cabinet meeting.

 “Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated; this is a court decision, this is our policy and it will also be implemented,” Netanyahu said.

It’s understandable that different factors and pressures are weighing heavily on Netanyahu, from wanting to be perceived as being as hardline as his coalition partners or fearing the condemnation Israel will receive worldwide, to perhaps even considerations or advice from the friendly Trump administration to maybe hold off on the controversial move.

Policy should be the foundation upon which a government is built, not swaying to political or international considerations. The High Court has already ruled and approved the evacuation. Netanyahu might have good reason for delaying it and trying once again to reach an agreement between the state and the hamlet’s residents.

 But like many other issues in this government, the uncertainty over Khan al-Amar’s fate is likely to continue. Israel is a sovereign state that needs to operate according to forward-looking policy based on the principles of what is legal, what is democratic and what is right for the state and its citizens. That, and not political whims, is how the future of Khan al-Ahmar – and other thorny issues – needs to be decided.

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