For all those who think Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations “without preconditions” is fair, who think Abbas is the intransigent one for insisting first on a settlement freeze and agreement to the ‘67 borders with land swaps, who think Bibi is sincere about being ready for the two-state solution, today’s news should have a clarifying effect.
Taking a page from Nixon (“If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal!”) Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman, a religious ultra-nationalist, to come up with a legal way for Israel to keep even the radical hilltop settlement outposts built on land that Israel itself recognizes as being owned by Palestinians.
Understand: This is an Israeli leader who wants the world to think he’s ready to make “painful concessions” and uproot established settlements, and now he’s saying that even these wildcat outposts built on known private Palestinian land -outposts that Israel has pledged to dismantle since 2003, outposts that the Supreme Court has ordered destroyed time and again – even these he wants to keep.
What prompted this move was last month’s demolition of a few outpost bungalows, leading the settlers and their allies in the Knesset and cabinet to fear that there might be more to come – that the government might actually, for the first time, make at least a start at keeping its word to the Americans, at obeying the Supreme Court and knocking down more than a token few outpost homes.
So 40 MKs and cabinet ministers sent a letter to Netanyahu telling him to find a way “to stop the destruction,” as Knesset majority leader Ze’ev Elkin put it. The cabinet minister from the national religious “Jewish Home” party threatened to resign. Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu’s aides say the prime minister is giving the right-wingers’ appeal “great attention.”
As Ha’aretz reports, the government already in February went back on previous Israeli commitments by deciding to let outposts built on “state land” remain where they are. The term “state land” is one of the great examples of occupation propaganda: It refers to any land in the West Bank (or, previously, Gaza) that Palestinian individuals could not prove belongs to them – prove, that is, to the satisfaction of Israeli legal authorities. Failing such proof, the land became “state land” – the State of Israel’s land. It sounds like “from time immemorial,” and makes the conquest of the West Bank (and, previously, Gaza) seem all legal and proper.
But now the Netanyahu government is going further – it wants to keep the outposts built on land that Israel can’t even get away with calling state land, on land where Palestinian proof of private ownership is so incontrovertible that Israeli authorities can’t credibly deny it. Such proof didn’t stop the settlers from building on this land with the state’s collusion, of course, but the escape hatch was that the matter was before the Supreme Court, that illegal construction would not be allowed to stand, that Israel, as our leaders love to say, is a nation of laws.
What does this government say now? “Israel’s policy regarding construction in Judea and Samaria has not changed,” the Prime Minister’s Office told Ha’aretz.
Netanyahu’s hand is “outstretched,” alright – not in peace, but for more Palestinian land. And Mahmoud Abbas is supposed to put his nation’s future on the line in negotiations – without preconditions, without commitments, without time limits – with such an Israeli leader and government?