As Knesset defeats bill to legalize outposts, PM promises to construct 851 new West Bank homes (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Barak Ravid, Jonathan Lis, Oz Rosenberg and Tomer Zarchin 06/07/12)
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Netanyahu lashes out at left-wing organizations that have petitioned
the High Court of Justice to get such outposts dismantled.
The Knesset decisively defeated a bill on Wednesday, aiming to
legalize certain settlement outposts built on privately owned
Palestinian land, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a
series of alternative moves aimed at strengthening West Bank
settlements, including the construction of 851 new homes there.
The bill was defeated in preliminary reading by a vote of 69 to 22.
Speaking at a press conference after the vote, Netanyahu lashed out
at left-wing organizations that have petitioned the High Court of
Justice to get such outposts dismantled. "Those who think they are
using the legal system to weaken the settlements are mistaken, since
the opposite is actually taking place," he said.
Specifically, he promised, the Beit El settlement will be expanded by
300 new homes. That pledge is meant to compensate for the planned
demolition of Beit El´s Ulpana neighborhood, which was the immediate
impetus for the bill´s submission. The bill´s defeat paves the way
for the outpost to be demolished by July 1, in line with the High
Moreover, Ulpana itself will not actually be demolished: Instead, the
five apartment buildings in question, which are home to 30 families,
will be moved, intact, to a nearby tract of land confiscated by the
army in the 1970s.
Third, Netanyahu and Housing Minister Ariel Atias announced that they
will immediately issue a tender for the sale of land to build an
additional 551 housing units in other West Bank settlements. About 60
percent of these will be in the settlement blocs that Israel wants to
keep under any future deal with the Palestinians, including 117 in
Ariel, 92 in Ma´aleh Adumim and 114 in Efrat. But the remaining 40
percent will be built outside the blocs, including 84 in Kiryat Arba,
near Hebron, and 144 in Adam.
Fourth, Netanyahu acceded to a long-standing settler demand by
promising to divest Defense Minister Ehud Barak of sole authority to
approve or veto new construction in the settlements and transfer this
authority to a ministerial committee. The theory behind this demand,
which several Likud ministers had also pushed, is that Barak is one
of the ministers least friendly to the settlements, so diluting his
influence would improve the chances of getting new construction
However, the new committee will be chaired by Netanyahu - who in the
past has coordinated his positions closely with Barak, and will
presumably continue to do so. Indeed, Barak´s staff offered no
criticism whatsoever of this decision, and Defense Ministry officials
said that in practice, it will change little, since several other
ministers have in any case been involved in decisions on settlements
in recent months.
Finally, according to officials in the Prime Minister´s Bureau,
Netanyahu extracted a legal opinion from Attorney General Yehuda
Weinstein outlining a mechanism to provide settlers with protection
against future suits by Palestinians who own land on which
settlements or outposts were built. "Weinstein´s opinion met the
prime minister´s demands," said one, though he declined to elaborate
on how this mechanism would work.
Netanyahu and Weinstein, along with other senior members of the state
prosecution, held a lengthy meeting on this issue Tuesday night. At
that meeting, which ended up running into the wee hours of Wednesday
morning, Netanyahu also sought Weinstein´s approval for the
relocation of Ulpana and the planned new construction in Beit El,
which will also be on land originally seized by the army. In a brief
statement issued after it ended, the prime minister said, "The
solution we found will both bolster settlement and uphold the rule of
Weinstein, however, refused to offer any elaboration of his own
position, despite repeated requests by journalists. Instead, the
Justice Ministry issued a brief statement saying merely that he held
extensive deliberations on various proposals for solving the problem.
It then reiterated three statements he has made several times
previously: that he opposed the bill defeated Wednesday; that he
doesn´t think the High Court´s ruling on Ulpana sets a precedent for
other, similar cases; and that the state should work harder to
prevent building on private Palestinian land before it happens.
But the issue of building civilian housing on land seized for
military purposes is problematic from a legal perspective, and
several of the academic experts on international law whom Weinstein
consulted this week said they believe it would violate international
law and create serious international complications for Israel.
The U.S. State Department responded to the announcement of the new
construction by saying it believes settlement construction undermines
efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
At his press conference Wednesday, Netanyahu said, "Relocating homes
isn´t a step the government is happy to take. But the court decided
as it did, and we respect the court´s decisions."
"Israel is a democratic country, and obedience to the law is an
important element of our ability to live in freedom," he added. "As
prime minister, I´m committed to upholding the law, and I´m also
committed to upholding settlements. There´s no contradiction between
The Knesset vote was held a day after Netanyahu announced that the
government opposed the bill, and that any minister or deputy minister
who supported it would be fired. Several ministers and deputy
ministers had initially considered voting for the bill anyway, and
some openly pledged to do so. But in the end, all of them either
voted against or skipped the vote, saying that the new moves
announced by Netanyahu were sufficient to justify the bill´s defeat.
Nevertheless, settlement activists vowed at their own press
conference Wednesday to continue the battle to keep Ulpana from being
demolished, both by submitting additional legislation and by protest
activities. As if to prove their seriousness, a truckload of tires
was delivered to Ulpana later Wednesday to be used as barricades.
"The Netanyahu government has been revealed Thursday in all its shame
and poverty," said one activist, Ulpana resident Yehuda Yifrach. "It
should have provided a real solution."
During the Knesset debate, hundreds of supporters of the bill
demonstrated nearby, blocking off roads in the area. Clashes broke
out between the police and the protesters, and at least four of them
Dozens of activists then proceeded to block roads at the entrance to
Jerusalem, and the city´s light rail service was temporarily
disrupted. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 06/07/12)
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