Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday managed to derail two bills, submitted by MKs Yaakov Katz (National Union) and Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home), that would have superseded the Supreme Court order to demolish five buildings constructed on privately owned Palestinian land in the Beit El settlement’s Ulpana neighborhood.
Early on Wednesday, preliminary voting was postponed for two weeks on the Orlev bill. Later, during a stormy Knesset session that saw MKs Michael Ben-Ari and Jamal Zahalka (Balad) evicted from the chamber, Katz reluctantly agreed to withdraw his bill too.
Explaining why the Katz bill would not gain coalition support, Minister Benny Begin (Likud) said respect for the Supreme Court ruling had to take precedence.
Katz accused Netanyahu, who was present, of betraying the settlement enterprise. The prime minister, he noted, had previously described the court order as “a decree that the public is incapable of abiding by.”
Katz asked Begin: “Where is your heart?”
Begin, speaking calmly, said: “Aside from the heart, sometimes you have to use common sense… The repercussions of this type of legislation on land ownership rights would be far-reaching.”
When Katz referred to the families from the Ulpana neighborhood, some of whom were seated in the Knesset visitors section, Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz) interjected and yelled repeatedly, “You deceived them!”
Katz also said that “Defense Minister Barak told me last week that they are looking for a solution that would keep (the families) on the land.”
Yoel Fatal, a resident of the neighborhood, said after the debate that “the prime minister sent dozens of messages and messengers over the past two weeks,” asking Katz to rescind the bill.
Netanyahu had earlier asked Orlev to hold back his bill for two weeks, during which he would seek to find an alternative means of handling the sensitive issue, Orlev said. If no such solution was found, Orlev added, Netanyahu promised him that ministers and all coalition members would be given freedom to vote on the legislation as they wished.
Orlev said he had been assured that no steps to demolish the homes would be taken in the intervening two weeks. The latest court ruling gave a July 1 deadline for the buildings to be demolished.
Netanyahu has indicated that he does not support legislation to bypass the Supreme Court order, but has been criticized by right-wing politicians, including from within his own Likud party, for not protecting the Ulpana neighborhood families. Both the Orlev and the Katz bills could also affect the fate of some 9,000 other West Bank settler homes of similar status to the Ulpana neighborhood.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday spoke out against the proposed legislation, and the precedent of “bypassing” a Supreme Court ruling. “It would harm the country, the government and the settlers,” he said, and serve as “an effective weapon in the hands of our enemies.”
Orlev argued that such a law was vital, however, and said he believed it would eventually pass. While Netanyahu says he wants to prevent the eviction of the 30 families in the five affected Ulpana buildings, said Orlev, that is what would happen if the law was not passed.
Peace Now released a statement condemning Orlev’s proposed legislation, saying it “degrades” the Knesset. The bill would turn democracy into a tool in the hands of the settlers, the statement read. “Netanyahu himself must vote against the law that allows for the theft of Palestinian land and cancels the court’s ruling.”