Gov’t committed to saving illegal West Bank neighborhood

Just weeks after the Supreme Court ruling against any further delay in evacuating the outpost settlement of Migron, the government is now working industriously to legalize or otherwise legitimize the status of Givat Ha’ulpana, a neighborhood of the West Bank settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah.

In 2008, human rights organization Yesh Din petitioned to have the neighborhood dismantled on behalf of its Palestinian owners; in September 2011, the Court found that Givat Ha’ulpana was indeed built on privately-owned Palestinian lands – in simple terms, this is property theft. The state agreed to demolish the neighborhood (Hebrew) then, and the Court ruling set a deadline of April 2012 – or up to the first of May.

Now eight ministers are seeking any possible means to reverse that ruling: they have asked the State Prosecutor’s office to find a way to delay the evacuation, and the delay will be used to explore all possible means of ensuring that the neighborhood remain in place. Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon posted his party’s explicit support for the settlement on his Facebook page, writing that “the evacuation of Ulpana crosses the line for Likud.”  The government thus hopes to openly circumvent the original Supreme Court ruling and actually wants no less than to force the legal system to become the body that justifies and regularizes settlement expansion.

The government now seems passionate and creative in its commitment to saving the 30 families of the five-building neighborhood in Beit El: Defense Minister Barak has proposed that they be moved – to other buildings inside Beit El, and only if his preferred option of legalizing it fails completely. Today, Maariv reports (Hebrew) that the government is considering two further options: To ask retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levi to lead a committee that will provide a legal arrangement for the illegal settlements (there are others awaiting permanent government approval) or else to establish a new committee to re-consider how this specific neighborhood can be legalized.

With the original ruling against Givat Ha’ulpana one year ago, the Prime Minister agreed that the neighborhood must indeed go. His current position is that “the public cannot tolerate” the evacuation of the settlers, a total reversal – apparently in light of impending danger that the policy might actually be implemented.

Each development highlights the bizarre and dangerous operating rules of this government.

Netanyahu’s statement about the public is insulting, but typical: the vast majority have never heard of Givat Ha’ulpana and has no clue where it is. The statement is quite obviously intended to make the public think that this is what it thinks. Maybe that way, herds of citizens will dutifully think of those 30 families instead of their own, forget about gasoline prices, rising electricity and water bills, low salaries, high rents, consumer abuse. Netanyahu’s statement also seems calculated to convince the world that the Israeli public is consumed with these five buildings and may dissolve into a civil war if they are moved.

Barak’s position is indefensible for someone who still maintains a lame show of support for a two-state solution. Moving the families back to “Beit El proper” is a compromise? Beit El lies north of Ramallah, well beyond the separation wall, which is fast losing relevance as a de facto border. No one even seems to remember the former-former de facto border of the Green Line.

The developments surrounding Givat Ha’ulpana showcase of the government’s prized policy: expand settlements at all costs, in all regions, in all ways; circumvent the Supreme Court; overturn the leadership’s own policies at will; push the bar of settlement acceptability in public discourse as far beyond the separation wall as possible, by making claims so wild that retreating to completely illegitimate starting points is seen as moderation and restraint. And finally, the real goal: strengthen the existing reality of one sovereign ruler over the territory from the Jordan to the sea.