Israel Pulse

Is Netanyahu counting on Israel's High Court to save him?

Article Summary
Turkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, continuing to avoid his and his party's responsibility for the Regularization law, is hoping the High Court will strike it down.

One has to go back in time a bit to understand the force of the slap in the face that Israel delivered to the international community in general and to Britain in particular on Feb. 6.

Six weeks before the ruling coalition orchestrated Knesset approval of the so-called Regularization law, which essentially allows the state to expropriate private Palestinian land and hand it over to Jews, the UN Security Council had condemned Israel for expropriating land on the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, in violation of international humanitarian law. Resolution 2334, adopted unanimously on Dec. 23 by 14 Security Council members, with the United States abstaining, demanded that Israel respect the road map that the Middle East Quartet adopted in 2003 in Security Council Resolution 1515, including a total freeze of settlement activity.

A diplomatic source who requested anonymity told Al-Monitor that not only did Britain vote for Resolution 2334, but the top echelons in London also implored one of their Commonwealth partners, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, to join the sponsors of the proposed resolution condemning Israeli settlements. It is not known whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of his Feb. 6 visit to 10 Downing Street to protest Prime Minister Theresa May’s contribution to Resolution 2334. With the “theft law,” to quote Likud Knesset member Benny Begin, about to be voted on in Jerusalem, Netanyahu did not dare divulge the contents of his talk with May about the UN resolution condemning the occupation in general and the land-grabbing settlement enterprise in particular.

Last November, a month prior to the dramatic Security Council vote, Netanyahu had warned members of his Cabinet that the proposed law could result in criminal probes against senior Israeli government figures by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had already informed him that he would not be able to defend the law against the petitions likely to be filed with the High Court. So what does a prime minister who calls himself a “strong leader” do? He finds a way to be absent for the vote, thus avoiding responsibility for the nearly unanimous vote by his party members — Begin excepted — in favor of the law. Netanyahu claims to have been held up in London because his meeting with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ran late.

Now Netanyahu is hiding behind the apron of the High Court. A day after the Knesset vote, the Foreign Ministry, which Netanyahu heads, sent Israeli embassies a list of talking points on how the bill will now be scrutinized by the nation’s top justices, who will probably strike it down. Netanyahu appears to have forgotten to send a copy to Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who has taken credit for the legislation. Levin announced that he expects the High Court justices not to intervene in a law legislated by the Knesset. He argued that such interference by the court would constitute a “tough blow to democracy.” Interestingly, President Donald Trump, not known for his support of judicial meddling in administration policies, is the only world leader who took up the shield of let's wait until the “relevant court ruling.”

Will Netanyahu take to task his close political associate Levin, who represents him on the Ministerial Legislation Committee? How will the prime minister overcome his attorney general’s refusal to represent the state before the High Court? Will he go along with appointing external legal counsel, such as controversial attorney Yoram Sheftel, to defend the land theft bill? What will Netanyahu do if the Palestinian landowners victimized by the bill refuse to cooperate with him and decide to forgo the services of Israel’s High Court in favor of The Hague? Some Israeli human rights organizations also called this week to let the ICC deal with the issue of a law imposed by a state on land over which it has no sovereignty.

When all else fails, Netanyahu reverts to his classic victimization ploy. He took the opportunity of his UK visit to incite against human rights organizations battling the Israeli occupation and exposing the injustices of the settlements. As soon as he came out of his meeting with May, he publicly rebuked her, posting to his Facebook page, “I asked the British prime minister today how they would have felt if I were using Israeli government money to fund organizations that seek to denounce British troops as ‘war criminals’? Or that call for independence for Wales or Scotland, using Israeli government money?” 

How much demagogy can one cram into a single sentence? Does the British government send its troops to defend the theft of lands owned by Scottish citizens? Has it been holding Wales under military occupation for 50 years?

The following day, Netanyahu used the occasion of a visit by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel to his office in Jerusalem to announce that he had also asked him to ensure that his government stop funding organizations like Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and Adalah. He ranted, “I think it’s high time! And I will continue to fight the lies and to do everything to protect our soldiers!” Netanyahu’s rebuke did not spare Israel a British government announcement condemning passage of the Regularization law. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, considered Israel’s staunchest supporter in Europe, did not remain indifferent either.

Even taking the Iranian threat to destroy Israel out of mothballs failed to distract attention from the occupation. Netanyahu had tried this maneuver on May in London. In a few days, he will test it on the new American president in Washington. When Netanyahu waged a fight in favor of a controversial framework for Israeli natural gas resource development, he boasted, “When I want something, I get it.” As far as the settlements and the theft of private land goes, Trump may not want the same outcome as Netanyahu. In a competition between them, the winner is clear.

Found in: israeli occupation, donald trump, israeli settlements, resolution 2334, icc, theresa may, regularization law

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.


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