Three months after the controversial land appropriation bill was approved in its first legislation stage, the Knesset finalized the law and passed it in its 2nd and 3rd reading last night. While many right-wing politicians – led by Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett – opened champagne bottles celebrating their achievement, Netanyahu was high in the sky on his way back home from the UK and his first meeting with PM May. Netanyahu didn’t get a chance to celebrate his successful visit to London, but also didn’t take part in his coalition’s festivities. Some in the Knesset corridors speculated that his absence was not just a flight schedule coincidence.
Netanyahu never went on the record against the bill, but his discontent with it is one of the best-known secrets in the cabinet. For weeks he has been trying to stall this bill from advancing, by using various excuses to postpone legislative procedures. First, he argued using the “Obama card,” warning the bill would prompt a last-minute UN move, which it did. Then he used the Trump card, asking for time to consult with the new administration. Even this Sunday, Netanyahu tried to convince Bennett to wait until after his first White House meeting next week. But Bennett didn’t budge. “Our determination paid off”, he said last night after the vote. Netanyahu has not commented thus far.
The land appropriation bill has been circulated in various versions in recent years, but in the past, Netanyahu stood firm and halted its advancement. In 2012, for instance, he threatened to fire any Likud Minister who would support it. This time, the difference was Bennett. In the never-ending political tug of war between these two, Bennett scored a 1-0 result this time, pushing Netanyahu to go along with the bill despite the fact that he has heard numerous international warnings about it.
The bill is now likely to be disqualified by the Supreme Court, and Jewish Home MKs are already planning new legislation that will bypass the court’s verdict. But for Bennett and his comrades, the achievement is the pill for sweetening last week’s Amona evacuation. Today, the evacuated Amona residents went on a tour of the West Bank Binyamin area to find a site for their new settlement, which was promised to them by the Prime Minister as a compensation for their eviction. Netanyahu and Bennett both committed to start planning a new permanent settlement within two months. “We have had so many disappointments from the political leadership so far and many promises have been broken. Even though the regulation bill passed yesterday and we saved thousands of our brothers in the West Bank ensuring they will not be uprooted, it did not save Amona. We expect Netanyahu and Bennett to stand by their agreement and establish a new community by the end of March,” said the residents in a statement.
The new settlements policy, as well as Bennett’s push for sovereignty, is likely to be high on the agenda next week in the White House meeting, as well as Iran, Syria and other regional issues which Netanyahu is waiting to discuss with the President. Netanyahu told reporters yesterday that he also discussed these topics with May in their meeting, as well as May’s recent meet with the President last month in DC. Kafe Knesset asked the PM during the London briefing about his response to the White House omitting the Jewish reference from the International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, and Netanyahu tried to evade a clear answer, stating only that “the question will be raised during the visit, and I am sure it will receive a clear answer.”