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Netanyahu - Settler Showdown

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Faces Threat Of Settler Rebellion After Quashing Knesset Bill To Prevent Eviction Of Israeli Settlers From Five Beth El Buildings

New Coalition Partner Kadima: 'Doubtful That One Grain Of Earth Will Be Moved For New 851 Housing Units In Judea & Samaria'

Deteriorating Situations In Egypt & Syria Do Not Auger Well For 'Arab Spring'

Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 The recent inclusion of the Kadima party into the coalition has already paid dividends for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. With Kadima's support, the PM was able to sail through Right wing opposition, even from inside his Likud party, and comply with a Supreme Court ruling to evict Israeli residents from five buildings built on West Bank land that belonged to a Palestinian owner. Meanwhile just over the borders in Egypt and Syria, Analyst David Essing is of the view that the term 'Arab Spring' has obviously become a media oxymoron.

 Who's boss in Judea & Samaria!

Is Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the champion of West Bank settlement, headed for a a violent clash with Israeli settlers? The chances are that he is and what's at stake is 'who is the boss' in Judea & Samaria. The settlers are sounding their battle cry - they will violently oppose the eviction of thirty Israeli families, who live in the five disputed buildings adjacent to the Beth El settlement. They warn the eviction would 'set a dangerous precedent' for future evacuations on the West Bank. In 2005, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carried out a unilateral withdrawl of the Katief settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip - many young settlers demonstrated then to show what would be in store for any future Israeli government that tried to evacuate any part of Judea and Samaria. That time has come - it is here and now.

As usual, Israel's Supreme Court triggered the latest crisis. It ruled that the five buildings at Beth El had to be evacuated by the end of June because they had been built on private Arab land. Israeli governments have adopted a policy of building only on West Bank public lands or buying the land from its Palestinian owners. At the time they were erected, ten years, the land was deemed to be public land. But recently, a Palestinian claimed legal ownership and the Israeli Suprem Court ruled in his favor. The Palestinian owner has refused to sell. Prime Minister Netanyahu had considered passing an emergency bill that would alter the legality of the private ownership law, but Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein quashed this gambit by contending it would also be rejected by the Supreme Court. In addition to the internal problem, it would also deal a severe blow to Israel's standing on respecting international law.

So the Prime Minister found himself on the horns of a crucial dilemma: respect the law and alienate his settler supporters and his own settlement ideology or placate the far Right and defy Israel's Supreme Court that enjoys a sterling reputation in the international legal community. In the end, Netanyahu opted for the rule of law and the state's foreign relations and defied the settlers and the far Right, including several cabinet ministers in his own Likud party. Some of them threatened to defy the PM and vote for an urgent bill in the Knesset that would 'legalize' retroactively the private land problem. However when the PM threatened to fire any cabinet minister who did, they all chickened out. So Netanyahu won the day, proving he's the boss in the government. However the PM has tried to mollify the settlers and the Right by announcing the building of 851 new housing units at existing settlements, all of which are inside settlement blocs such as Maale Adumim and Emunim, which Defense Minister Ehud Barak said would remain inside Israeli territory in any future peace accord with the Palestinians.

Sop to supporters?...

Whether Netanyahu is throwing a sop to his supporters on the new housing units remains to be seen. Kadima Knesset Member Roni Bar-On believes he is. Bar-On, the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee said: 'Before one grain of earth is actually moved for those new housing units a lot of water will flow under the proverbial bridge. There are many more pressing issues on the government's agenda such as the new state budget, the Tal Law on Ultra-orthodox IDF service and the Palestinian peace talks. (Bar-On could have tagged on no less than the Iranian nuclear threat). As expected, the U.S. and several other countries have condemned Netanyahu's future building plans but this is deemed as less damaging than tampering retroactively with the law and permitting the Israeli residents to remain in the disputed buildings.

Sweeten the bitter pill...

Netanyahu's state-craft: When confronted with a pressing political dilemma, the PM often tries to sweeten the bitter pill but really can you blame him? For example, when he faced an angry Obama administration over settlement housing plans during the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Bidden, Netanyahu announced a ten month building suspension while placating the Right in Israel by vowing the building would be restarted after the ten months. Palestinian moderate, President Mahmoud Abbas steadfastly refused to exploit this opportunity by refusing to come to the negotiating table. In fact, the Netanyahu government has constructed far less than did the previous Olmert cabinet. In a similar vein, when faced with massive international pressure on the Palestinian state question, Netanyahu announced his acceptance of a two state solution but his critics contend, Netanyahu has not followed through. On the other hand, Abbas and his sidekick Dr. Saeb Erekat have vowed never to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, 'never in a thousand years!' In domestic politics, when hundreds of thousands of young Israelis demonstrated for social and economic change last summer, the PM set up the Trachtenberg Commission, but few of its recommendations have been implemented.

Dutch boy at the dyke...

In Netanyahu's defense, the Israeli PM faces a plethora of problems that few, if any, foreign leaders must cope with. The analogy of the Dutch boy with his finger in the leaking dyke is applicable. An Israeli PM not only has to ensure his own political survival which is no easy job in a coalition system, but also to safeguard Israel's margin of national survival which is far slimmer than perhaps any other country in the world. How many countries are being threatened with being wiped off the map by a fanatical Islamist theocracy that is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons? Then again Israelis are told by some pundits and peace-makers that they should take advantage of the new 'Arab Spring' that is sweeping the region. Indeed. Let's take two of Israel's neighbors and see how the 'Arab Spring' has blossomed there:

Egypt: The democratic election has brought the radical Moslem Brothers and Salafis to power in parliament and possibly the presidency. The Egyptian government, executive and legislature, may be controlled by extremist Moslems who oppose the peace treaty with Israel. According to an AP report which portrays the new 'democratic' style of life in the Egyptian capital, women can no longer walk safely at night nor in broad daylight:

'A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment, with attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo's Tahrir Square'.

Syrian President Bashar Assad

Add to this the recent murderous attacks by Moslems on Christian Copts and their churches. Then there's Syria where President Bashar Assad is conducting a genocidal war against his own people - this was another AP report from Beirut:

'UN observers could smell the stench of burned corpses and raw body parts seen around a Syrian farming hamlet that was the site of a massacre this week in which nearly 80 men, women and children were reported slain. The scene was evidence of a horrific crime a UN spokeswoman said'.

Jordan: The Arab Spring has so far skipped over the second Arab country that signed a peace treaty with Israel. But make no mistake, the upheaval in Syria could soon spread to the Hashemit Kingdom where the Palestinians now comprise a majority of the population. The possibility of a deterioration along that border has induced Netanyahu to plan a security fence along that frontier as well.

Iran: Seeing as how Iran is not an Arab country, it is not included in the 'Arab Spring'. However it is historically correct that the mass protests following the rigged election of 2009 preceeded the current 'Arab Spring'.

From an Israeli perspective what comes to mind about the 'Arab Spring' is this line from one of the songs of Leonard Cohen: 'I've seen the future, brother: It is murder'

David Essing

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