PM Menachem Begin (left(), Benny Begin (right)
PM Menachem Begin (left(), Benny Begin (right)

Common sense will apparently prevail. The government has agreed to comply with Israel’s Supreme Court that some 200 men, women and children must be evacuated from forty homes built on private Arab land at the settlement of Amona in the West Bank. After an acrimonious tug of war, it has been touch and go, and it’s not over yet. The pro-Amona camp led by Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far Right Jewish Home party played to the settler gallery. He tried, by hook and by crook, to circumvent the Supreme Court by promoting a new law that would retroactively enable Israelis to build and remain on private Arab land. This was to include Amona. His idea was that this would legally allow the settlers to remain in Amona.

However, international law stipulates that it is illegal for an occupying power to confiscate private land for private purposes. In practice, successive Israeli governments have tried to comply with it by building settlements on public or absentee Palestinian real estate. But there have been mistakes. Bennett’s cockeyed idea was that if the government passed a new law making this legal, and including Amona retroactively, this would all be legally kosher.

But not surprisingly, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit categorically rejected it, saying he could not defend such a law to the Supreme Court. On the other hand, the settler camp jumped on Bennett’s legal hocus-pocus, as did members of Bibi’s own Likud party who were also eager to win popularity points in the Right wing camp. At first, Netanyahu tried to admonish his stalwart Likudniks even warning that he himself might be hauled before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. But to no avail – even Netanyahu had to jump on the bandwagon. The entire Right wing was merrily following the Pied Piper Naftali Bennett who insinuated that those blasted judges in the Supreme Court were nothing but a bunch of Leftie sympathizers anyway! One of Bennett’s more vocal Knesset Members Moti Yogev coined a new battle cry: ‘One day we should get on a D-9 bulldozer and demolish the Supreme Court!’ Although Left-wingers were flabbergasted by such unbridled rhetoric and indeed many Right-wingers also felt Yogev had gone too far, his tongue-in-cheek rant had others saying maybe there was something in it.

Like father like son…

It was actually Likud Knesset Member Benny Begin, son of the late, revered Menachem Begin, who blocked his own Right from perpetrating a disastrous step that would have landed Israel in hot water with the world community, the International Court, and last but least the US. Obama officials were sending dire warnings to Jerusalem to back off. Now the Begin family members are incorrigible democrats with a small ‘d’. In 1979, the Begin government first allowed settlers to move into the area of Elon Moreh, which had been legally confiscated by the IDF for security purposes. The Palestinian owners provided proof of ownership to Israel’s Supreme Court that ruled in their favor and ordered the settlers out. The Right wing was up in arms but Prime Minister Begin rose to the occasion with his now famous declaration:

       ‘There are judges in Jerusalem!’ (and they must and will be obeyed).

Benny Begin, a PhD in Geology, stood like a piece of granite and opposed his Likud Party’s support for the new law. Although Benny Begin also supports settlement on the West Bank, as did his father, he categorically rejects doing so illegally. In a democracy, new law cannot be introduced retroactively to manipulate a past situation. Begin’s vote against doing so actually pulled Bibi’s chestnuts out of the fire. Although Netanyahu grasped the folly of the settler amendment he voted for it in order to forestall a breakup of his coalition cabinet. The national interest could wait. Benny Begin has now been penalized by the Likud for voting against the party line and his political career is probably over. But he chose to do the right patriotic thing and will be remembered as such.

Benny Begin has now been penalized by the Likud for voting against the party line and his political career is probably over. But he chose to do the right patriotic thing and will be remembered as such.

However, the Bibi coalition has gone on to pass the first reading of the settler bill that does not include Amona. In other words, the new bill stipulates that Israelis on other settlements will not have to evacuate their homes if they were built erroneously on private Arab land. Again enacting such a law would put Israel on a collision course with The Hague. But it must still pass two more readings, and who can tell what will transpire before then.

In Hebrew, Israel’s Supreme Court is named ‘The High Court of Justice’, which indeed it is. It has an international reputation for judging on the merits of each and every case, be they Jew or Arab. This is something Bibi must take into account. That is to say if his Right wing coalition succeeds in passing the new settler bill, without Amona, it will also likely be challenged in the Supreme Court which would kill it as well. His Right wing supporters could again blame the Supreme Court, and again Bibi would be off the international hook.

And what of those highly dedicated Israeli families who have built homes, some with their own hands, and been living there, some for twenty years? They were promised time and gain by both Bibi and Bennett that they would not be chucked out. Now they apparently they will, although former governments encouraged them to move there.

Amona, disputed settlement in the West Bank
Amona, disputed settlement in the West Bank

Will they go peacefully? Although they promise ‘not to raise their hands against an Israeli policeman or soldier’, tempers will be running high. When Israeli Police and soldiers make their move to evacuate Amona, thousands of other settler supporters will flock to the sight in a show of passive resistance. They see it as a test case for other settlements where Jewish homes have been built illegally on some private Arab land. They will want to prove a point – that they will not tolerate more settlers being expelled elsewhere from their homes. So the situation could turn violent.

Will Amona settlers and supporters go quietly…

There was such a clash in 2006 over building violations at Amona. A number of IDF soldiers, some who also live in Judea & Samaria, have told the media they will disobey any orders to evacuate Amona. The situation is fraught with danger and it will take cool heads on all sides to prevent what could turn into a bloody melee that everyone says they want to prevent.

Back to Top