On Ulpana story, more questions than answers
When it comes to Wednesday’s drama surrounding the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El, there are more questions than answers:
In his opposition to the Outpost Arrangements Bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was against the retroactive legalization of the outpost because, amongst other reasons, it would hurt Israel’s image internationally as a law-abiding democratic state which has a strong, independent judiciary. So why then would the prime minister authorize 850 new homes in the settlements just hours after defeating the vote? Does this do anything for Israel’s image?
In a speech on Wednesday evening, Netanyahu said:
The State of Israel is a law-abiding democracy and as the Prime Minister of Israel I am committed to upholding the law and am I committed to uphold the settlement enterprise, and I tell you that there is no contradiction between the two.
Here the PM is being disingenuous: while abiding by Israeli law [not retroactively legalizing illegal outposts], by authorizing new settler homes as well as moving the existing Ulpana homes onto a military base in Beit El, his actions contradict international law – which holds that a nation holding land in belligerent occupation, as Israel holds the West Bank, cannot change the status of military-use land for civilian settlement purposes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office broadcast to all the media last night that the PM had sought, and received, the legal go-ahead from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for Netanyahu’s plan to move the five illegal outpost buildings from their current location on Ulpana Hill into the municipal boundaries of the Beit El settlement. This could well be true, however, Weinstein’s office did not issue a formal statement on the matter. How come?
And more to the point, Netanyahu’s plan to move and relocate the outpost homes into Beit El rests on the premise that
1. Ten new homes will be built for every home moved/ demolished
2. The new homes may be built on an abandoned army base in Beit El
3. Beit El would have to be expanded
Did Weinstein give his agreement to these conditions? As far as I know, Israel still holds the West Bank in belligerent occupation under international law [Netanyahu may see it differently in terms of the Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland, but this won't change the international laws of war], land use and rezoning of military-purpose land cannot be repurposed. It is highly unlikely then that Weinstein could have given his agreement to this. And again, no formal statement from his office has been issued. The Justice Ministry is referring people to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Also in his speech on Wednesday night, Netanyahu said,
“I have also decided to establish a ministerial committee on settlement to ensure that the Government’s policy of strengthening settlement is implemented.”
What does this mean? As Israeli law does not extend to the West Bank, the sovereign in the territory beyond the Green Line is the Minister of Defense – because, as I’ve stated above, Israel holds the territory in what is called ‘belligerent occupation.’ So what does Netanyahu’s ministerial committee on settlement hope to achieve? Can it take away powers from the Defense Minister as they relate to settlements? I’m not a legal expert, but I don’t see how it can, without further contravening international law. Perhaps Netanyahu wants to annex certain areas of the West Bank, and will use this committee to find a way to do that. Or perhaps the new committee is meant to take the edge off the settlers’ anger for now. And if he’s taking away the powers of the defense minister, do we know if Ehud Barak has agreed to this? Was he even consulted?
Vice Prime Minister and Likud heavyweight Moshe Ya’alon [who is definitely on the right-leaning side of the Likud] said on his Twitter feed that even if the Knesset had voted in favor of the Outpost Arrangements Bill, it would not have passed the High Court. So why was this not made clear at the beginning of the legal proceeding? Why create the expectation amongst the settlers and their supporters that the bill could pass, and thus save their homes from demolition?
These are weighty questions which relate to the burning issues which have faced this country since 1967: What are our borders? How do we see the land beyond the Green Line? Are we entitled to these lands by historical connection, and if we are, can we settle these lands? Can we do it legally? And what of the Palestinians? And the international community?
Looking at today’s news, Netanyahu may believe he has won a round against those wishing to bypass the Israeli High Court ruling against illegal outposts, but by promising to establish new homes in Beit El, possibly on a military base, and by establishing a committee to advance the settlement enterprise [and take the Defense Minister out of the equation], the Prime Minister may be steering straight into a tangle with international legal and diplomatic ramifications.