Saturday, January 28, 2012

Settlement Bill Fractures Israel's Right

Internal tensions have developed on Israel's political right as a result of a Knesset bill that would make it harder for Israel to evacuate settlements, including illegal ones such as Migron.  The bill has once again brought the contentious settlement issue into the fray, and put the Prime Minister at odds with his far-right Yisrael Beiteinu coalition partners who support the bill.

PM Netanyahu likely is against the bill because of the international condemnation it would draw, and the harm it would do to Israeli government control and sovereignty.  True to form, the Prime Minister has played a balancing game, asking residents of Migron to accept a deal in which the state would build them new homes on nearby state-owned land.  This compromise has been spurned by the settlers.  In addition, the Prime Minister's far-right coalition partners see the bill largely as a test of how "committed" Netanyahu is to basic principles of the rightist platform.  He must be careful to keep them satisfied while simultaneously opposing the bill.  

This balancing game is not new.  PM Netanyahu also played in on the loyalty oath bill, when he supported introducing the bill for debate to please his base but then pushed for significant changes on it to please the international community.  What makes this bill different from the loyalty oath is that its target population are Jewish conservative Israelis, not liberal Arabs.  This means that the political importance of the bill is much higher to PM Netanyahu this time around.  If the bill does not pass, he will take a significant amount of political heat from settlers, not to mention his coalition partners.  At the same time, supporting the bill would weaken the rule of law and Israel's control over its territories.  If any group of settlers can establish an illegal settlement whenever they please, it undermines the Israeli government's sovereignty and credibility.

This blog predicted last year that settlements would be the core issue on which the current ruling coalition in Israel would collapse.  The current fracturing among Israel's right-wing politicians suggests this prediction is at least plausible.

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