Nahum Barnea: Under Obama, deceit on settlement expansion is no longer viable
Op-ed, Nahum Barnea, Yediot, May 10-10 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]
Last Wednesday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) notified me that Netanyahu was going to make a dramatic decision on the matter of the settlement outposts. I thrive on dramas. I called the defense minister’s media adviser, Barak Seri, and asked whether a dramatic decision on this issue, which is under the responsibility of the defense minister, was in the offing. Seri checked and reassured me: The defense minister is safely ensconced at home, there is no discussion, no meeting, no change, nothing to report.
I was reassured. On Friday afternoon, the defense minister notified the High Court of Justice that the state was considering legalizing the construction in the settlement outposts Hayovel and Haresha, subject to a land survey that would determine whether the land belonged to Arabs or was state owned. The Prime Minister’s Bureau took the trouble to inform the media that the statement had been given. “Congratulations,” said Danon, a member of the right wing opposition in the Likud. Congratulations were also voiced by Shlomit Peretz, a resident of Givat Hayovel, the widow of Maj. Eliraz Peretz who fell in Gaza, and by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat.
As for the defense minister, he issued a series of announcements intended to clarify that this was groundless. “There has been no change since the defense minister’s statement to the High Court of Justice this past January,” he determines in his announcements. “The reports that the settlement outposts Hayovel and Haresha would be legalized are not true… this is misleading.”
What is the truth? There are countries in which such a gap between the prime minister’s version and the defense minister’s version would dismantle the government. But Israel is not like all other countries. Not only is there no dispute between Netanyahu and Barak in this case, it would appear that there is full coordination between them.
This is a game, a great Israeli bluff. When the High Court of Justice called upon Barak, after endless delays, to announce when he would evacuate the settlement outposts that are illegal according to his own lists, he searched for a good excuse for another postponement. The excuse that he found was that a survey should be conducted. The survey would determine which houses in the settlement outposts were located on state land, and which houses were located on private Palestinian land.
There is no survey, but there is a lie. The Civil Administration knows full well what belongs to whom in the outposts. Regarding Givat Hayovel, for example, they know that most of the houses were built on state lands, and some of them, including Peretz’s house and the house of Roi Klein, who fell in Lebanon, were built on private Palestinian land.
The settlers of the Givat Hayovel settlement outpost, like the settlers of other outposts, invaded lands that did not belong to them. The question of whether the lands presently belong to the state or to private owners is secondary. Either way, they are squatters whom the state has promised, both to the High Court of Justice and to the Americans, to remove.
The trouble is that Netanyahu and Barak are caught up in contradicting commitments: Netanyahu committed himself to the right wing section of his party that it would be all right, in the end everything would be legalized, and Barak made a commitment both to the High Court and to the Obama administration that it would be all right, everything would be removed. They decided to send another false letter to the High Court of Justice. Netanyahu explained what he explained to Benny Begin, and Barak explained what he explained to George Mitchell. They have a division of labor.
The Israeli settlements in the territories have been managed by this method for the past 43 years. Netanyahu and Barak are no different from [Yigal] Alon, Peres or Sharon. The problem is that the situation has changed. The crisis of confidence between Netanyahu and the Obama administration has greatly reduced the government’s room for action. Netanyahu promised transparency: He would tell the Americans the whole truth. Barak was sent to Washington to persuade the Americans that the age of deception had ended. The proof is that when a freeze is declared, the freeze is real, down to the last lot in Ariel.
The transparency stopped when it came to the settlement outposts. They could not evacuate them as they had promised, and could not honestly tell the Americans that they were unable to do so. Instead, they winked to everyone, including the High Court of Justice, whose champion Barak purports to be.
Winks have their price. Mitchell can smile to the cameras in the prime minister’s office or the defense minister’s office, he also knows how to wink when necessary, but his administration exacts the price in other places. The administration is steadily distancing itself from any step that could block Iran’s nuclear armament. At the same time, the administration is making it possible, out of malice or weakness, to place Israel’s nuclear ambiguity on the international agenda.
Netanyahu has recently been promoting Bible studies, which is a laudable action. Perhaps he should return to Genesis chapter 25. It tells how Esau, Jacob’s weak-willed brother, sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. The Biblical author states his opinion in one brief sentence: “And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.”