Katz pulls outpost bill at last possible minute

National Union MK says his rabbi, under pressure from Likud, told him to pull bill meant to legalize unauthorized outposts.

Apartments in Ulpana oupost in danger of being evacuated  (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Apartments in Ulpana oupost in danger of being evacuated
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) pulled his bill meant to legalize unauthorized Jewish West Bank homes on Wednesday after already presenting it to the plenum, citing a request from his rabbi, who had been pressured by the Likud – seconds before the vote was meant to take place.
Everyone from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Katz’s closest aides were baffled by the move, unaware of what the National Union leader was planning.
Katz announced in the plenum that he would postpone the vote for two weeks after already presenting the bill, hearing Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin’s response and delivering a rebuttal.
The two-week postponement makes the legislation less likely to pass all of the readings and committees necessary to become law before July 1, when the High Court of Justice has ordered the state to demolish five apartment buildings in the Ulpana outpost on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement.
The state has also promised the court it will take down the Mitzpe Assaf outpost, home to 25 families by that same date.
The Migron outpost, which is home to 50 families, is under a High Court order to be evacuated by August 1.
All three outposts were built without the proper permits on land classified by the state as private Palestinian property.
Katz hopes his bill would save these outposts. It would also authorize Jewish West Bank homes in outposts and settlements built with initial nods of approval from governmental bodies, either through documentation or funding. In cases where the land is owned by Palestinians, the legislation calls for the government to compensate those owners.
Meanwhile, with the vote delayed, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) committed to freezing all preparations to raze the Ulpana outpost, and said the government would try to find a non-legislative solution. If those efforts are not successful over the next two weeks, coalition members will be given the freedom to vote according to conscience.
In fact, Elkin wrote in a letter to Beit El Local Council chairman Moshe Rosenbaum Wednesday afternoon, if the government does not find a solution within in two weeks, Netanyahu has not ruled out legislation.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu met separately with Katz and MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), who submitted a similar proposal, to convince them to shelve the bills, and Orlev acquiesced.
However, as Wednesday’s plenum meeting began, both bills were on the agenda, and rumors flew in the hallways of the Knesset about the coalition discipline being canceled.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke out against the legislation, saying the solution is to follow the High Court’s orders while strengthening Beit El, “a big and important town that will remain a part of Israel in any future agreement.”
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said he would vote in favor of the bill, and called for Netanyahu to allow all ministers to vote in the plenum according to their conscience.
“Destroying homes in the Ulpana neighborhood will lead to the demolition of thousands of additional homes in Judea and Samaria, a decree that the public cannot withstand,” he said.
Yet, as the day wore on, it became apparent that no ministers would vote in favor of the bill, because that would require them to quit their office and leave the government.
Orlev delayed his bill for two weeks, and Elkin asserted coalition discipline, adding that he is sure a solution will be found in time and no ministers or deputy ministers will be fired.
National Union’s Katz, however, insisted he would bring his legislation to a vote, leading many to ask why he would do so when it had no chance of getting a majority.
One Likud MK said angrily that the National Union was trying to prove they are the only party loyal to the State of Israel.
Dozens of Ulpana outpost residents flocked to the Knesset, calling for action and saying Netanyahu’s promises are not enough.
They sat in the plenum’s mezzanine, cautiously hopeful about the bill’s chances.
“If Katz says [the bill] should go all the way, then it’s time,” Ulpana resident Yoel Fattal said. “There is a limit to how long it can be delayed. We are here, on the front lines, saying [the demolition] cannot happen.”
As Katz began presenting his bill, the Likud benches were empty, as were Yisrael Beytenu’s, though party chairman Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has spoken out repeatedly in favor of legislation to legalize outposts.
“Netanyahu asked me to wait two weeks so the problem can be solved,” Katz explained. “But he did not promise that in two weeks the bill will pass.”
The National Union leader appealed to Likud MKs and ministers who spoke in favor of legalizing outposts, saying that “if you kick a Jew out of his home, your heart is made out of stone.”
“I don’t care if you vote down the bill, but the people of Israel will see, like [Likud ideological forbearer Ze’ev] Jabotinsky said to the Jews in Warsaw: ‘If God forbid there is destruction, know that there was one Jew who shouted ‘enough!’’” Katz said, his voice trembling with emotion.
Begin responded that the government is working on an appropriate solution within the framework of the High Court’s ruling.
“I do not think heart is unimportant, but sometimes, in addition to our hearts, ministers must use their brains and be levelheaded with a broader and deeper understanding of the repercussions,” he explained. “This law will do more harm than good.”
Begin also pointed out that over 350,000 Jews live legally in Judea and Samaria, saying that he and all those who are like-minded want “an increase of Jews in the land of Israel, but we want their roots to be planted on strong foundations.”
Katz took the stage again, saying that people close to the prime minister called his rabbi, Eliezer Melamed of Beit El, telling him to pull the bill.
“I didn’t tell you what to do,” Netanyahu interrupted.
“My rabbi said in tears that although there is a great value to voting on the bill, so this can be seen and heard, I must remove the legislation,” Katz continued.
That marked the end of the outpost bill for the next two weeks.
Sources close to the negotiations say that Netanyahu has not promised anything to Orlev and Katz other than to try to find a solution, but the government may consider building a number of new homes in Beit El in exchange for razing the Ulpana outpost.
Meanwhile, National Union is planning protests over the next two weeks, in hopes of convincing the government to support outpost legalization.