By Tamar Friedman*
(FPRI) — Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry gave an extensive speech about the U.S. decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council Resolution 2234 condemning settlements in the West Bank, sparking a number of strong reactions. One portion of the speech draws attention to what has long been a topic of discussion within Israel, prior to the U.N. Security Council resolution.
In his speech, Kerry said: “The Israeli Prime Minister publicly supports a two state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. The result is that policies of this government – which the Prime Minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ – are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.”
Over the past month, the Israeli media and public have been preoccupied with a dispute surrounding the Jewish outpost of Amona in the West Bank, which was built twenty years ago. Amona is an outpost of about 330 people that Israel’s Supreme Court ruled was built on private Palestinian land.
The Supreme Court has ruled the Amona outpost to be unconstitutional multiple times over the past several years but, each time, the government petitions for the evacuation and demolition of Amona to be delayed. This past December, the Supreme Court set a deadline of December 25,, 2016 for the complete evacuation of Amona.
In response, the Jewish Home party (Bayit Hayehudi), led by MK Naftali Bennett, pushed forward the “Regulation Bill” (“חוק ההסדרה” in Hebrew) – a bill that would currently and retroactively legalize Amona and dozens of other outposts in the West Bank.
Though seemingly opposed to defying the Israeli Supreme Court’s direct order to evacuate Amona, Netanyahu voted for the Regulation Bill in its preliminary reading after Bennett and other Jewish Home Members of Knesset, who attract many voters from the settlements, threatened to dissolve Netanyahu’s coalition.
To attempt to solve the dispute between Netanyahu and Bennett, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit stepped in and proposed a compromise deal to temporarily move the people of Amona to nearby plots of land while trying to figure out where to move them more permanently.
In the end, just a few days before the original deadline, Israel’s Supreme Court granted an extension of 45 days to evacuate Amona, bringing the new deadline to February 8, 2017.
The standoff exposes the power of the smaller right-wing parties, which make up Netanyahu’s narrow coalition, to push policies related to the settlements more to the right, even when in direct conflict with institutions that check the power of the Knesset – in this case, the Supreme Court.
The ramifications, though, extend far beyond Israel’s borders. One of the reasons Netanyahu expressed hesitation about the “Regulation Bill” was fear that the bill might lead to Israel being prosecuted in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Though it wasn’t through the ICC, the international community made a strong statement last week about Israel and the settlements in the West Bank with the passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution. The U.S. made an even bolder statement, by choosing not to veto such a resolution as it has done in the past, but rather to abstain.
While most headlines about the U.N. Security Council resolution have highlighted the pressure that the world, now including the U.S., is putting on Netanyahu to move in one direction on settlements in the West Bank, a few barely noticed lines in Kerry’s speech hint at a phenomenon that is also worth paying attention to: the way Netanyahu’s own coalition is pulling the Israeli prime minister in the complete opposite direction.
About the author:
* Tamar Friedman is an Associate Scholar in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East. Her research focuses on electoral politics in the Middle East. She is currently working as the Marketing Associate at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.
This article was published by FPRI.