Makor Rishon reported Tuesday morning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not see a way to prevent the court-ordered demolition of the Ulpana Hill neighborhood of Beit El in the Benjamin region of Judea and Samaria.
Responding to a question from senior Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development and the development of the Negev and the Galilie Silvan Shalom, and other MKs, in a meeting of the Likud faction in the Knesset, Netanyahu said that “the jurists can’t find a solution” and that “the problem is that the land owner doesn’t want to sell.”
The Prime Minister referred to a dispute regarding the legality of the sale of the land on which Ulpana Hill was built nearly two decades ago, a dispute which Israel’s Supreme Court, based on the findings submitted by Deputy Attorney General Mike Blass, is seeking to remedy through the demolition of the densely populated apartment buildings and returning the land to an Arab who claims he is its rightful owner.
Jewish Home faction’s MK Zevulun Orlev and National Union faction Chairman Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) have both submitted “regulation legislation” which, in general terms, seeks to remedy the same dispute by awarding the claimant the value of his land or comparable land of equal value, should he be able to substantiate his claim in district court (where, perhaps paradoxically, the rules of evidence are stricter than in the Supreme Court).
But Likud Faction Chairman Zeev Elkin, according to the report in Makor Rishon, said that in his estimate neither of the proposed bills would pass in the House. This despite the fact that a clear majority of the Likud faction, and, supposedly, Netanyahu himself, don’t wish to see the demolition of the neighborhood.
Spokesman for the Ulpana Hill Neighborhood and assistant to MK Katz Harel Cohen told the Jewish Press the Makor Rishon headline did not responsibly represent the actual content of the piece.
The real story is that the AG staff are telling Netanyahu that there is no solution other than demolishing the neighborhood, says Cohen. “But in the story [faction chairman Ze’ev] Elkin is saying that if Netanyahu won’t release the ministers to vote as they see fit there won’t be a majority” for the new regulation bills.
“In other words,” Cohen emphasized, “There is a majority support for the bills, all it takes is for Bibi to release the ministers.”
Coalition government ministers, as well as MKs whose factions are part of the coalition government, are called on occasion to vote a strict party line as indicated by the Prime Minister, rather than based on their own choices. Failure to obey a directive on a key vote may lead to the expulsion of a faction from the government.
When asked by the Jewish Press why the Ulpana Hill have been hesitating to speak critically of Netanyahu, Cohen answered, “We don’t criticize the good efforts which are being made. Netanyahu is seeking a solution – that’s a fact. There are various suggestions out there – that’s a fact. He wants to resolve this in a positive way – that’s a fact. He said [the demolition order] is a decree the public cannot sustain, meaning he would lose the public if it does happen – that’s a fact.”
Cohen said he is strongly critical of Netanyahu, “who has an almost innate talent of getting himself stuck further and further in needless problems. Like a child who gets entangled in his mother’s yarn and instead of cutting loose just keeps on turning and getting roped in more yarn.”
Cohen says Netanyahu’s biggest mistake is to continue to rely on those same jurists who have misled him in the first place, and even misrepresented his own government policy before the Supreme Court. “What is he expecting, that the same people who stuck him in it would find a solution for the mess?”
According to Cohen, the solutions exist, and they will be employed eventually. He just wishes that the solutions are taken up sooner rather than later, to prevent even more anxiety and fear among the residents of the threatened neighborhood.
Makor Rishon also reported on a heated confrontation several weeks ago, between Deputy Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon and Deputy GA Blass, who was responsible for the report to the High Court on the legality of the Ulpana purchase.
In a discussion team assembled by Netanyahu to discuss Ulpana’s future, Yaalon attacked Blass, telling Blass he had misled him, Yaalon, when he announced the intent to demolish the neighborhood.
“You are conducting a contrarian policy, and we need to replace you,” Yaalon charged. “You have a vested interest in helping the Arabs and destroying Jewish interests. Every solution you’re being offered to help Jews is no good.”
Blass responded with his own outburst, saying, “There’s a limit to how much I can absorb.” Blass also argued that Yaalon himself had “signed off on the orders to demolish the neighborhood, and even added his comments on them, you have no basis to come complaining now.”