Analysis: Settlements still all in Netanyahu's hands

Ya’alon, Danon may be in Defense Ministry, but keys to West Bank building still lie in Netanyahu’s hands.

Netanyahu visits newly-approved Rechilim settlement 370 (photo credit: Meir Berachia/Samaria Regional Council)
Netanyahu visits newly-approved Rechilim settlement 370
(photo credit: Meir Berachia/Samaria Regional Council)
The ancient Chinese proverb “Beware of what you wish for” might be well applied to the incoming Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and his deputy Danny Danon.
The appointment of these two men, who in the past have been shoe-leather politicians in Judea and Samaria, traveling to the hilltops and pledging their support, must be a welcome relief to right-wingers.
To Ya’alon and Danon, who spent Sunday smiling out of sheer happiness, it must have seemed like a dream come true.
Ya’alon opposed the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, has called Peace Now “a virus,” and spoke against demolitions of settler homes.
Danon made himself available to settlers on a 24-hour basis, showing up in the dark of night or at the crack of dawn to help them.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have given them the keys to the kingdom, meaning they now have wide-reaching powers when it comes to approving Jewish building in Judea and Samaria.
But it also heralds the end to four years of a good cop/bad cop routine between Netanyahu and outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
During Barak’s tenure, right-wingers, particularly in the Likud, painted him as the villain of every failed, frozen and demolished Jewish construction project in the West Bank.
The fact that Barak headed the Labor Party when he became defense minister made him the obvious and easy punching bag. His defection from Labor to the newly created Independence Party did not lessen his badguy image among settlers.
The 10-month moratorium on housing starts, the demolitions of outpost homes in Migron and Ulpana and the failed outpost legalization legislation as well as the lack of authorization for the recommendations of the Levy Report on the Legal Status of Building in Judea and Samaria, were all laid at his doorstep.
At every negative turn in the past four years, settlers and their supporters have called on Netanyahu to fire Barak.
Barring that, they asked the prime minister to strip Barak of the authority to make decisions with regard to Jewish housing in the West Bank.
Danon was among Barak’s most vocal critics in the previous government.
So expectations are high that with this new government the settlement enterprise is entering a bold new dawn.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip welcomed the appointment of the two men.
“The era of Ehud Barak is over,” Danon optimistically told The Jerusalem Post.
“When ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon is the defense minister, we will do our best to support and encourage pioneers in Judea and Samaria,” Danon said.
But oddly, Peace Now, which opposes Jewish construction over the pre-1967 lines, did not rush to criticize the appointments.
Its executive director, Yariv Oppenheimer, noted that in reality, Barak advanced planning for thousands of homes and approved hundreds of others in the past two years.
“In the end, Barak gave them [the settlers] everything they wanted,” Oppenheimer said. So it would be difficult, he said, for these two men to do more for the settlers than Barak did.
One need only look back at the past four years to understand that Ya’alon spoke strongly about Jewish rights in the West Bank, but at the end of the day, he supported most of Netanyahu’s policy decisions, including voting with the Likud and against the bill to legalize outposts.
Danon played the part of the rebel, but he was a rookie MK in the party, with little to lose when it came to political power and everything to gain from his party’s right-wing flank.
Now, like Ya’alon, he will have to move forward with more caution.
Nor are the two men the only players in the mix.
Housing decisions, particularly with respect to High Court of Justice petitions, often need legal support, so many policy issues will now have to come before Hatnua head Tzipi Livni, the new justice minister.
But even though she is likely to become the new demon, it will be hard for Ya’alon, Danon and Netanyahu to hide behind her in the same way as they did with Barak.
Those wanting to test the Likud’s resolve on the settlement issue need not look any further than the issue of the Amona outpost, which is danger of demolition this spring.
Should the High Court determine that it must come down, the government will tremble, but it is unlikely to fall.
It is as likely as the last one to oppose or support any West Bank settlement activity.
But this time around, all decisions will more clearly be understood to be reflective of Likud policy.
Ya’alon and Danon might be in the Defense Ministry, but the keys to West Bank building still lie in Netanyahu’s hands •