Israeli Jewish settlement bill defeated after Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to sack ministers who vote for it


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The Independent Online

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today used a threat to sack rebel ministers to prevent parliament bypassing the country' s Supreme Court and legalising Jewish settlement on privately owned Palestinian land.

Knesset members defeated by 69 to 22 votes a bill promoted by the far right, which would have—among other things—retrospectively legalised five settler apartment buildings, in the Ulpana neighbourhood of the  West Bank settlement Beit El, that the Court has ordered the state to evacuate by 1 July.

Late last night Mr Netanyahu had secured approval from the Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for his plan to remove the buildings, on privately owned Palestinian land, to a nearby military zone. While Israel does not accept the wide international consensus that all West Bank settlements contravene international law, settlements and outposts built on such land are illegal even under Israeli law.

The Prime Minister was faced with a threatened  revolt led by a range of ministers in his coalition - one made all the more potent because of the increasing influence exercised by the extreme right and hard-line settlers on the central committee of his ruling Likud Party. The central committee decides the order of Likud parliamentarians on the ballot paper in general elections.

Mr Netanyahu responded by warning he would sack any minister who voted for the bill. But he also bought his victory with generous concessions to the settlers, including a pledge to build up to ten settler homes for every one evacuated in Beit El. He also diluted the power of the Defence Minister Ehud Barak to decide where settlements could be expanded by forming a new committee to take the decisions under his own chairmanship.  

Announcing this yesterday Mr Netanyahu declared: "The solution we found strengthens settlements and preserves the rule of law.” .Indeed a key government argument against the bill was that its passage would endanger the West Bank settlement enterprise rather than strengthen it, not least because of the likely  international reaction to such legislation. 

While eight Likud MPs still  voted for the bill, coalition ministers who favoured it, including the Likud information minister Yuli Edelstein, stayed  away from the Knesset session rather than vote at all. The outcome of the debate was clinched by the decision of Avigdor Lieberman, foreign minister and leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to oppose the bill.    

Mr Lieberman said:  “Anyone with common sense would vote in favor of building new [Jewish]  houses in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]  and establishing a committee on settlements in accordance with the attorney general's decision that does not set a precedent for additional, future evacuations"

Residents of Ulpana  and teenagers joined forces in a Jerusalem demonstration in support of the bill. Some youths chanted:  "A Jew does not expel a Jew" and "Mohammed is dead"