The Ulpana saga

“If you grab too much,” says a Talmudic adage, “you risk losing it all.”

Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
As we approach June 5, the 45th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War, we are reminded that the legacy of our miraculous victory carries both blessings and challenges.
Yet again the stability of a government coalition is threatened by disputes over Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. In recent weeks, the High Court ruled that the “Ulpana outpost,” a neighborhood in Beit El, must be demolished by July 1. The property rights of a Palestinian man took precedence, the court said.
In response, lawmakers from Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, National Union and Habayit Hayehudi have drafted legislation that would bypass the High Court ruling and empower the state to expropriate the Palestinian man’s land, allowing the Ulpana outpost to remain in place. The Palestinian would receive monetary compensation.
Like the dozens of MKs who have come to their defense, we cannot help but feel sympathy for the Ulpana residents. It was during Ehud Barak’s stint as prime minister in 2000 that the government built the Ulpana outpost – complete with access roads and other infrastructure – using generous economic incentives to encourage citizens to move there.
Under different circumstances, a compromise could have been reached. The most equitable solution would have been to handsomely compensate the Palestinian landowner, providing him with an alternative plot of land on which he could actually build.
But agreeing to reach such a compromise would immediately label the Palestinian a traitor in the eyes of his fellow Palestinians. Instead, he must insist on taking possession of land so close to Beit El that he will be unable to use it.
And there are, according to MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union), about 9,000 Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria who are living in a similar situation and are, therefore, facing the prospect of being evacuated like the Ulpana residents.
But retroactively “koshering” outposts like the Ulpana neighborhood is not the answer. True, in principle the government has the right to expropriate land in the State of Israel. But it also has an obligation to protect individual property rights.
As Barak Medina, dean of the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University, pointed out, even inside the Green Line the state would have a hard time justifying to the Supreme Court its right to expropriate the property rights of one citizen for the benefit of another citizen.
When this expropriation is done in a discriminatory manner – against Palestinians who lack full rights under Israeli law for the benefit of Jews who enjoy these rights – it becomes even more indefensible.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that Israel has never annexed Judea and Samaria (even if it had this annexation would never be recognized internationally).
Therefore, even from the state’s perspective, the legal status of Judea and Samaria is “disputed” even if it is not considered “occupied.” That’s why consecutive governments have refrained from applying Israeli law there.
Forty-five years ago Israel not only survived certain annihilation but actually managed to win a miraculous victory. Judea and Samaria came under Israeli control.
The historic resonance and religious symbolism of places such as Shiloh, Hebron and Jericho sparked a Jewish reawakening.
Confronted by Arab nations’ refusal to reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence, peace through negotiation and territorial compromise was not an option. Under the circumstances, it was only natural that Jews would desire to return to the heart of the Jewish homeland.
Some of the most talented, best educated, most patriotic Israeli citizens established settlements in Judea and Samaria in the fast four-and-a-half decades.
And it is only natural that our lawmakers have a desire to protect the Jewish settlements. But passing the outpost law will only spark yet another conflict between the Supreme Court and the Knesset and pit liberal-minded Israelis against their more nationalist brethren.
Israel will be subjected to international condemnation and a renewed effort will be launched to delegitimize the entire settlement project.
“If you grab too much,” says a Talmudic adage, “you risk losing it all.”