Daily Israel Report

Netanyahu Asks Likud to Back Beit El Demolitions

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pleaded with Likud lawmakers to oppose the 'regulation law' saying it would harm Israel's settlements
By Gabe Kahn
First Publish: 6/4/2012, 5:10 PM

Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin Netanyahu
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pleaded with the Likud faction on Monday to oppose the regulation law – saying doing so would strengthen Israel's settlements.

This government "respects the rule of law and strengthens the settlements" he told his party during a closed-door faction meeting.

"There is no contradiction between two things," Netanyahu said. "Even if some people disagree with the Supreme Court decision, we should respect it."

Netanyahu said he met with two families from the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El saying they were "the salt of the earth,” adding anecdotally "They included a paratrooper, a retired Major, two teachers, and a little girl named Ahava."

"A regulation law [to legalize threatened Jewish communities] would achieve the opposite of what is intended - the evacuation of the neighborhood, and injury to the settlement enterprise as a whole," Netanyahu claimed without explanation.

"We must come up with solutions that will strengthen the settlements; the regulation law could cause damage, “Netanyahu said again, appealing to his party – which has traditionally backed Israel's settlement enterprise as a part of its vision of Greater Israel – for support.

"I reject pressure, but we should still do the right thing. I ask you to support the correct solution; it's not an easy solution. When you lead you cannot follow," he added.

Netanyahu's statements indicated he likely intends to renege on a promise made to MK Yaakov Katz that he would not oppose the regulation law when it was brought to a vote if Katz would hold off in submitting the bill for a fortnight.

The two week delay was intended to allow Netanyahu to find an administrative, rather than legislative, solution to the court order mandating the destruction of five multi-residence structures in Beit El.

Katz – during a stormy debate over the regulation law –  agreed to Netanyahu's terms, but the Prime Minister has now indicated he opposes the law and intends to enforce coalition and party discipline on Wednesday.

His pleas to the Likud faction come after two weeks of intense pressure – both from within and without the ruling party – to allow cabinet members and Likud lawmakers to vote their conscience.

Netanyahy late Saturday indicated he intended to destroy the threatened buildings in Beit El, but would build "10 new structures" for each one destroyed in compensation. The new structures would be built on state owned lands.

Critics have characterized Netanyahu's offer of tenfold tenders for demolitions in Beit El as a none-too-subtle bribe aimed at carrying out the demolitions and derailing the regulation law in one fell swoop.

Twenty of the 27 Likud lawmakers have openly opposed the destruction of Jewish communities and homes in Judea and Samaria that were built with government authorization and – in many cases – assistance.

In addition, with the exception of Ehud Barak (Independence) and Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), the faction leaders in the coalition have also pressured Netanyahu not to allow such destructions.

To that end, Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Monday informed Netanyahu that his faction had been directed to back the regulation law by Shas spiritual adviser and former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. As such, when the law is brought to a vote, they will absent themselves from the plenum despite Netanyahu's insistence on cabinet discipline.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his Yisrael Beytenu party would back the law when it comes to a vote irrespective of Netanyahu's wishes.

While Netanyahu has been inured from coalition collapse by the inclusion of the Kadima party in his government, the deep tensions in his own party – and the coalition – have given rise to rumors he may break away from the Likud in order to effect the demolitions.

Such a move would be reminiscent of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's departure from the Likud – which gave birth to the Kadima party – prior to the 2004 Gaza disengagement.

Sharon's departure was forced by former Likud MK Uzi Landau – now a member of the Israel Beytenu faction and Minister of Energy and Water – who headed twenty so-called "Likud rebels" against Sharon.

No independent verification of the rumors has presented itself to date.

However, political observers say Netanyahu’s recent inclusion of Kadima in a unity government – even as a vote to dissolve the Knesset was underway – has led to an erosion of trust in the Likud rank and file for Netanyahu’s motives.

Netanyahu’s close advisors had indicated he was behind dissolving the government – and had given his blessing for the dissolution vote – just hours before the unity government was formed.