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Bibi’s Uneasy Settlement Balancing Act

Supports court decision but pledges hundreds of new homes elsewhere

Marc Tracy
June 07, 2012
A protest earlier this week in Ulpana.(Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
A protest earlier this week in Ulpana.(Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Is this what the unity government was for? Little-noticed when Shaul Mofaz brought Kadima into the governing coalition—less noticed than the electoral strategy, the Iran dimension, and even perhaps the influence of wild card candidate Yair Lapid—is that about 24 hours before the shocking deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu had faced a rather hostile crowd at the Likud convention, which was flooded by settlers, who stood up for their champion, MK Danny Danon. “The festive event quickly turned into a sweaty performance of heckling, yelling and catcalls,” Haaretz’ Yossi Verter reported at the time.

It’s one month later, and Netanyahu opposed a right-wing bill to overturn the High Court decision concerning the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement. The court found that Ulpana was illegally built on privately owned land and ordered it dismantled, and Netanyahu not only agreed to abide by the court’s ruling, he even opposed the bill that would (with questionable legality) have overturned it. Duly, the law got crushed, 69-22. And, duly, settlers voiced their anger at the Likud and Israeli leader.

Netanyahu said he opposed the law because it “would erode the rule of law by defying Supreme Court rulings ordering the destruction of such outposts,” according to the Washington Post, “and he warned that its passage would be condemned internationally.”

But even with his fancy coalition, Bibi still had to pander. Referring to plans to build 300 new homes in Beit El to house the Ulpana residents, he argued, “Instead of hurting settlement, settlement has been strengthened.” He went further, chastising “those who think they use the legal system to harm the settlements, [who] are mistaken, since the opposite is actually taking place.” (Psst, Michael Sfard, I think he’s talking about you.)

As Amir Mizroch points out, Netanyahu has tangled himself in a web of contradictions and arguable violations in international law, and may learn the second half of the adage about what happens when you try to please everybody. And the real fun has just begun: after Migron and Ulpana, there are three more settlements built on private land and under orders to evacuate.

The people whom Netanyahu is trying to appease by demonizing the left aren’t going to be fooled, however. Eliminating settled land is eliminating settled land. The only thing that could possibly make up for it, to them, is more settlements: such as, say, the 550—in addition to the 300 in Beit El—that Netanyahu approved yesterday. The good news is that Bibi seems so cynical it’s almost plausible that he doesn’t actually back the settlement project. The bad news is even if that were true (and it’s not), it wouldn’t matter because of how cravenly beholden to his base he is.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.