February 16, 2023
“The Struggle Never Ends!!”
Struggle? More accurately, struggles, in the plural. But they are of a piece, as we work to strengthen our Jewish state.
The matter of judicial reform has not moved any further towards resolution. The first reading in the plenum of the Override bill – which would amend Basic Law in order to allow the Knesset to veto Supreme Court rulings that overturn laws passed by the Knesset – was scheduled to take place yesterday, Wednesday. But it was pulled from the day’s agenda.
There are indications that Prime Minister Netanyahu pulled the legislation in deference to President Herzog, who is attempting to promote dialogue between the left and the right on this and related issues.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) and MK Simcha Rothman (RZ), Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee (on left below), however, put out a joint statement:
“The laws that were taken off today’s agenda are not related to the judicial reform plan which is being handled by the Constitution Committee. They were removed based on the decisions of the MKs who drafted them. (Note: there is some question about the legality of two bills, one private, one not, being submitted at the same time, with need for resolution of this issue causing the delay.)
“The passage of the judicial reform plan will continue without delay. The Constitution Committee will continue its deliberations as planned on Sunday. Next Monday, the bill approved by the committee will go up for its first vote [in the Knesset plenum], as planned.” (Emphasis added)
And so, we must continue to monitor this process. I hope that this first bill is brought before the plenum next week. The arrogance of Lapid’s statements renders almost nil any realistic expectation of genuine negotiations taking place.
Rothman had made a statement on Tuesday night: He is prepared to make substantial compromises on the planned judicial reforms. However, the stronger the support for reform on the part of the opposition, the more there can be compromise.
Put simply, if the opposition chooses simply to thwart reform, then the Committee will move ahead. If the opposition agrees in principle that reform is necessary, then it will be possible to sit down and discuss what that reform should look like.
Lapid might have said that the delay of some days in bringing the bill to the plenum was an indication of a desire for negotiation on the part of framers of the legislation: that a window had been opened and talks should begin immediately.
But that’s not how Lapid operates. He claimed that the delay represented a “partial victory”:
“Every person who left their home to demonstrate with a flag and a sign can tell themselves that we fought together, and we succeeded in delaying this bill which would crush democracy, which will not be brought for a vote today in the Knesset plenum.”
Now he has demanded that there can be no negotiations until all movement on the judicial reform is halted for 60 days.
Demonstration organizers have called for another go-round next Saturday night. In other words, nothing has changed. Perhaps large numbers of the demonstrators will begin to see the light and stay home, but I doubt it.
“Lapid proved today…that he is not interested in dialogue….
“The fight he is advancing is not for human rights but rather stems from frustration over the loss of government. I call on the responsible members of the opposition to show leadership and agree to the president’s call and begin dialogue even before the first reading and without preconditions.”
Elsewhere Rothman said:
“Lapid’s demand to stop the legislation is a political demand by the opposition for political gain. I will not give in to blackmailers…”
Wednesday night, ZOA held an excellent Zoom session on the issues with Simcha Rothman and Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, head of the International Law Department at the Kohelet Policy Forum. I will share the link to the full recording of this session when it goes up, but here will note very briefly a few of Kontorovich’s points:
 Members of the opposition supported some aspects of the current proposed legislation that they now oppose.
 The claim is being made that making changes in the way the Court operates will destroy democracy. But the reforms being proposed address changes that were made in the 90s, when Aharon Barak was president of the Supreme Court. Before Barak made those changes, no one charged that the Court undermined democracy.
 Those opposed to the reforms are trying to inflame the issues by charging they destroy democracy. The goal is to involve other nations in pressuring Israel.
While the Override bill was not brought to the plenum on Wednesday, other important bills were.
One was a bill to repeal the Disengagement Law in northern Samaria. It passed the first reading by 62-36. There will be two more readings, but it is likely that it will continue to pass.
The bill was introduced by MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud), in blue below, and Minister Orit Strock (RZ), far right, at the urging of Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, to Edelstein’s left. Individuals in the picture below were celebrating the vote.
The Disengagement law had required the razing of four Jewish communities in Samaria in 2005: Sa-Nur, Homesh, Ganim and Kadim. This bill would allow them to be rebuilt. Most notable here is how this will affect the yeshiva in Homesh.
Another bill of considerable import that passed its first reading by 94-10 will allow the Interior Minister to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who receive payments from the Palestinian Authority after committing a terrorist attack against Israeli citizens or security forces. The terrorist would be deported to Palestinian Authority administered areas in Judea Samaria or to the Gaza Strip. It is exceedingly likely that this will pass all three readings handily.
And then, we have a Blinken rerun: If there is one thing we can say about Secretary of State Antony Blinken, it is that he is consistent. Which is not to say that he is either fair or reasonable, of course.
On Sunday, the Security Cabinet unanimously decided that in response to the previous Friday’s terror attack nine illegal outposts in Judea & Samaria would be authorized: Avigayil, Bet Hogla, Givat Harel/Haroeh, Givat Arnon, Mitzpe Yehuda, Malachei Hashalom, Ashael, Sde Boaz and Shaharit.
This was not an announcement of intent to build these communities – they have already been in existence for many years, some for decades. It was their status that was to be altered – regulated – making them legal and making it possible for them to have full services.
Additionally, it was announced that the Civil Administration Higher Planning Committee, which is responsible for authorizing new construction in Judea and Samaria, would be convened shortly to approve plans for some 10,000 new residential units (i.e., apartments) in other existing communities.
First Blinken declared the American administration “deeply troubled” by this decision, and then proceeded to explain that it was troublesome because it undermines the possibility of that “two-state-solution,” etc. To me it feels as if someone in his office winds him up and the same formula emerges, verbatim, regarding the “vision of equal measures of security, freedom, prosperity, and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
I’ve previously dealt with the nonsense of this formula; at this point I and many others are terribly tired of hearing it.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, very soon after Blinken made his statement, a joint statement with almost the same wording followed from Italy, France, Germany and the UK: “We strongly oppose these unilateral steps that will only serve to exacerbate tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians and undermine efforts to negotiate a two-state solution.”
Bezalel Smotrich, Chair of the Religious Zionist Party, then held a meeting in Givat Harel, one of the outposts to be legalized. From there he observed that:
“The real answer to terror is to continue to build, to continue to set roots in the Land of Israel. That is what we as a government, as a state, as a nation, must do. The settlement enterprise thrives thanks to the pioneers who have sustained it for many years, with great love and determination.
“The American response is entirely understandable, [but] the [Biden] administration knows that this government is committed to the settlements…They understand, and that’s the way things will continue.”
I share here two pieces of information related to this issue:
First, news broke about a request that Smotrich made to Yesha leaders regarding holding off on doing new building. This was interpreted in some quarters as meaning that Smotrich was acceding to Blinken’s concerns. But that is not the case. What he was saying was that he wants to pursue legal building only in Judea & Samaria; illegal efforts at this point can undermine that effort, as the point he is seeking to reinforce is that there is one law to be applied to all.
And then, I encountered a claim – one I hadn’t seen for a while – by Palestinian Arabs that they must build illegally in Area C because it is so difficult to get permits to build from the Civil Administration. But the Palestinian Authority has full civil control over Areas A and B, where there is more than ample space for Arabs to build. The move to build in Area C has nothing to do with needing space for homes. It is purely political.
I close then, with a news item — enormously distressing on several counts — that broke yesterday (Wednesday) morning:
A Jewish-owned orchard, with fruit trees, olive trees and vineyards to the west of Shilo in the Binyamin region was taken down by Border Police and the Civil Administration. It was not a new venture; it had been tended for 20 years by Hen Ben-Eliyahu and his family.
The Civil Administration has charged the family with illegally claiming farmland in the Shilo Valley, but according to MK Tzvi Sukkot (RZ), “the orchard should not have been removed as the Civil Administration’s appeals committee said it shouldn’t be demolished.”
From World Israel News there was this explanation:
“According to a Channel 12 report, the family had won their land ownership case in the Civil Administration itself in 2014, but a year later, the Administration’s head cancelled the judges’ ruling by saying their appeal was flawed. When the Ben Eliyahus took the case to the High Court, the justices decided against the family.”
Whether the orchard should have been taken down or not eventually, the timing is more than a bit disturbing. Process was not seen through – there was a rush on this. It was precipitous.
What seems clear is that Netanyahu was eager to show Blinken and company how “on-board” we are with assuaging his concerns.
And even this is not the end of the story. According to the Coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionists, Bezalel Smotrich is supposed to have a ministry inside the Defense Department that gives him authority over the Civil Administration – a move that Defense Minister Gallant opposed.
In the early weeks of the new government, it was clear that Smotrich did not have the authority he had been promised. After he confronted Netanyahu on the matter, it made news that the prime minister had sided with Smotrich over Gallant’s protests, and that seemed a happy turn of events.
But it was a mirage. Smotrich had ordered that the orchard was not to be destroyed and Gallant again overruled him and the destruction went on. Smotrich contacted Netanyahu who halted the destruction when it was already too late.
A thousand trees were destroyed and this is a sin. Especially as we are speaking of fruit trees.
Said attorney Nati Rom, “The Arabs have built thousands and thousands of illegal homes on government land not far from here, and nobody came to demolish them. Yet now they’re coming here to destroy these beautiful plantations into which Jewish pioneers invested decades of labor, right in the heart of Israel in Judea and Samaria.” (Emphasis added)
Some criticizing this action pointed to the shameful fact that the Netanyahu government still hasn’t taken down the illegal Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, having appealed recently for a delay for the ninth time.
While the Ben Eliyahu family charged: what’s most painful is that our Arab enemies see this and are greatly encouraged to continue their terrorism against Jews.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the inveterate game-player, had better shape up quickly with regard to his behavior. Bezalel Smotrich is not going sit still for this very long.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.