Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday one could be loyal to the settlement enterprise and adhere to to the law - admitting he was abandoning Jewish neighborhoods slated for destruction under a controversial ruling by Israel's High Court.
"Last week," Netanyahu told Likud lawmakers at the weekly faction meeting on Wednesday, "I ordered construction be sped up in Jerusalem, Ma'aleh Adumim and other places in Judea and Samaria... approximately 2000 units."
However, Netanyahu made it clear he did not intend to extend those orders to settlements he is willing to cede to the Palestinian Authority in any future final status agreement, saying, "the best way to strengthen the settlement enterprise is to strengthen those settlements that must remain in our territory - in a sovereign Israel in any future agreement."
Netanyahu also sought to shore up his nationalist credentials during the faction meeting, while seeking to avoid a political crisis in his own ranks.
"This question is important for everyone, including me," Netanyahu emphasized, "but make no mistake: we will continue to work on this issue according to the law. Our main effort should be invested in strengthening communities – and not conflict with the law."
But it is not clear Netanyahu can muster his party's votes should the matter become contentious in the Knesset. Some 20 of the 27 Likud lawmakers have raised his government's silence on the destruction of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria as a 'political problem' that runs counter to the Likud's nationalist ideology – with MK Yariv Levin going so far as to say it could split the party.
"We must also avoid conflict with each other," Netanyahu said. "There are enough places to build up, and you can build there. There is no need to build a private area of this or that person," Netanyahu said.
Critics, however, say Netanyahu is more interested in avoiding a potentially costly confrontation with Israel's High Court - which caused outrage when it ruled all non-state land in Yesha was Arab land by default, with or without proof of ownership, and refused to view evidence in cases that would prove the contrary - than he is in standing on principle and guiding the ship of state.
"You can be loyal to Israel and settlements, and at the same time faithful to the law. I look forward to unite all of us around these principles. There is no contradiction between the two," Netanyahu said.
Observers say, however, that High Court ruling is broadly seen as having crossed the line from deciding points of law to deciding matters of national policy - and is therefore a definitive moment for Netanyahu not merely as a self-proclaimed nationalist politician, but as a statesman whose choices today will determine whether future governments will be able to set national policy unhindered.
Merely forming a committee to review land-status in cases the High Court has not yet ruled on – as attorney general Yehuda Weinstein insists the law requires – will not address the problem of an unelected court issuing ideological rulings under the color of law, observers say. Nor, they say, will it save the Likud from crisis should Netanyahu fail to stop demolitions that run counter to his party's electoral mandate.