Ministers from the Likud Party rebelled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday night by voting in favor of a bill which would normalize the status of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria whose status is problematic and potentially stave off the demolition of the town of Amona.
After a day of political drama, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation moved the bill forward to the Knesset, so it could be voted on in time to save the Amona outpost, which the High Court of Justice has ordered demolished by December 25.
The day began with Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett exchanging barbs at the weekly cabinet meeting, as the Bayit Yehudi Party head helped lead the charge to pass the bill immediately.
Netanyahu called Bayit Yehudi’s claim of urgency a “smoke screen.”
During the meeting, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said that Netanyahu is not opposed to the bill, and Netanyahu told her he doesn’t need her help defending herself from “spin” and “bloggers.”
“Excellent, so [Likud ministers] should vote for the bill,” Bennett responded.
Netanyahu called Bennett’s behavior “childish and irresponsible” and pleaded for him to “Give us a moment, while we’re trying to get a postponement from the court.”
Last week, Bennett said that Sunday was the deadline to bring the bill to the ministerial committee and still have time for it to pass four readings in the Knesset, beginning with a preliminary reading on Wednesday.
At the beginning of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu urged Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s chairwoman, to wait for the High Court of Justice to decide whether to approve a request, to which all coalition party leaders agreed, to postpone Amona’s demolition until July 25.
Later in the day, Shaked publicly announced that she had not been convinced by Netanyahu, by way of a tweet saying that the vote on the bill would still take place that evening.
Shortly after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting began, Netanyahu called a meeting of coalition party leaders, Shaked and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to discuss the bill.
Mandelblit told the ministers that he would not be able to defend the bill before the Supreme Court, because many of the homes it spoke of legalizing, including those at the Amona outpost, were built on private Arab property. Residents have estimated that there are over 2,000 such homes.
Although the bill offers to compensate the Arab landowners, Mandelblit said that this was still an “expropriation of private property” and contrary to Israeli and international law.
He warned that it couldsway the High Court not to grant the state’s request for a seven-month delay in the demolition of the 40 homes that make up the Amona outpost.
During the meeting, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused Bennett of endangering the Jewish communities enterprise.
Bennett responded that, in six months as defense minister, Liberman had done nothing to help Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria.
Bennett and Shaked then left the meeting in a huff, and Shaked held the vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
Seven ministers voted in favor of the bill, with no opposition: Regev, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis from the Likud, and Shaked and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel from Bayit Yehudi.
Shas, UTJ, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu ministers were absent.
The bill was proposed by Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich, as well as Likud MK Yoav Kisch.
Netanyahu has traditionally opposed such a sweeping legislative attempt and has preferred instead to find individual solutions for communities which the High Court has ordered evacuated.
Prior to the cabinet meeting, he said he believes that the legislation should be dealt with only after the court issues its ruling on the request to delay the Amona evacuation.
“I would like to emphasize that there is no one who is more concerned about settlement than us,” Netanyahu said.
Following the committee’s approval, Bennett said the State of Israel is beginning an historic process of legalizing Jewish communities, and that the Likud ministers behaved responsibly by voting in favor of the bill.
A senior Likud source said the party was always in favor of the bill, and ministers were given permission to support the legislation after assessing that it was unlikely the court would approve another postponement.