Back in January, the Likud Central Committee approved a platform resolution compelling the movement to push Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. It could have ended there, as many platform items do, as a good idea to be entertained at a later, more opportune time that never comes. Except that one Likud MK, chairman of the Knesset lobby for Eretz-Israel Yoav Kisch, grabbed that football and started running it to the goal line with a bill that calls for “the law, jurisdiction, administration and sovereignty of the State of Israel will apply to all areas of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria.”
The bill, which was pushed along by the rightwing Zionist coalition parties, gained speed and reached its final version in record time—mostly because it has been forged over years and all its backers had long ago reached an agreement on it. And so, this Sunday, it will be brought to a vote in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, with the likely support of most Likud MKs, all of Habayit Hayehudi and most of Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu.
Except for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants this football stopped before it reaches the end zone.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the PM’s office has reportedly been applying severe pressure on Kisch to take his bill off the committee’s agenda for Sunday. Their argument in favor of halting the bill makes some sense: the Trump administration views Israel as the responsible adult in the conflict, while the Palestinian Authority has been behaving like children, pushing unilateral decisions all over the place and gaining nothing. The last thing Netanyahu wants is to come across in Washington’s eyes as pushing his own unilateral agenda.
And so the war is on, and will likely continue over the weekend, into Sunday’s committee meeting. The committee is chaired by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), a dedicated supporter of the sovereignty bill.
Habayit Hayehudi has already issued a statement saying, “The ministers of Habayit Hayehudi will support the sovereignty law that will be brought on Sunday to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. We salute the Likud Central Committee on the approval of the sovereignty plan a few weeks ago, and look forward to Sunday to translate it into action by voting for the bills initiated by MK Kisch (Likud) and Smotritz (Habayit Hayehudi).”
The press release then cleverly added: “Like the [Menachem] Begin government that applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981, the current government is also required to carry out the proper Zionist action.”
The Begin mention is smart for three reasons: first, because before Begin his leftwing predecessors in government only dared to annex eastern Jerusalem; second, because while eastern Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip did not belong to anyone, having been occupied by Jordan and Egypt after the end of the British mandate – the Golan Heights were taken in war from its original sovereign, Syria, and Begin saw fit to ignore this crucial point of International Law; and third, only shortly before the Syrian civil war erupted and changed the face of the Middle East, Israeli politicians on both sides of the aisle contemplated handing the Golan back to President al-Assad in return for a peace agreement – an act which, in light of the past seven years, would have been detrimental to the Jewish State.
Needless to say, Netanyahu is also under heavy pressure from one of his most crucial constituencies, the settlers, who in 2015 helped him take 30 Knesset seats, at least four of which were at the expense of Habayit Hayehudi. Heads of local councils from Judea and Samaria have been bombarding the PM with demands to let the bill reach a committee vote – all of them with an implied “or else.”
The Women in Green, who have been carrying to sovereignty torch for years, wrote Netanyahu that he must take advantage of the fact that the current US administration is so pro-Israel and make the move now, when the American right would support it.
Netanyahu has a third option: rather than stopping or supporting the vote, he can take himself out of the debate and then be able to either reap the benefits should the move succeed, or make bank on its failure.
It’s good to be the king.