Monday, June 11, 2012

Beyond Ulpana: how the Nationalists Win

By Tuvia Brodie

On Wednesday, June 6, 2012, the Israel Knesset rejected a proposed  ‘Regulation Law’ that would have prevented a court-ordered destruction of five apartment buildings (housing thirty families) in the neighbourhood of Ulpana, in the town of Beit El, in Judea-Samaria.  These families will now be removed from their apartments (‘homes’). Despite suggestions to the contrary, the apartments will probably be destroyed. Before the vote, we were warned of disasters for the Nationalists if this bill failed. These disasters ranged from Netanyahu divorcing himself from the Nationalist camp to a ‘Judgment Day’ destruction of Likud to a Gush Katif-style ‘Disengagement Two’ expulsion of thousands of Jews from homes throughout Judea-Samaria. Any (or all) of these outcomes could still occur. But did this one vote create a Nationalist disaster? The answer to that question might depend upon the Nationalists themselves.
Look at the immediate fallout from the vote.  No mass expulsions have  occurred. The settlement enterprise has not been ruined.  More important, opportunities may have actually been created by that vote.
 Do a before-and-after comparison:
-Before the vote, one of the major obstacles to ‘settlement’ was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, currently Military Governor of Judea-Samaria. He has stubbornly refused to sign building permits for authorized construction. If Netanyahu said, ‘build’, Barak could—and did—unilaterally halt construction by refusing to issue permits.
-After the vote, the Prime Minister has decided to form a committee ‘to strengthen settlement’, a move that could limit the range of Barak’s discretion.
          Consequence of the vote: a potential plus for Judea-Samaria.
-Before the vote, authorization to build in Judea-Samaria was difficult to get.
-After the vote, the Prime Minister has promised 300 new homes for Beit El—to replace those that will be destroyed; and an additional 550+ for other areas in Judea-Samaria.
          Consequence of the vote: a potential plus for Judea-Samaria.
-Before the vote, the Prime Minister suggested often that he felt no attachment to Judea-Samaria.
-After the vote, the Prime Minister made three statements: Judea-Samaria is the land of our Patriarchs; our identity was formed there; and, he is committed to upholding the settlement enterprise.
          Consequence of the vote: a potential plus for Judea-Samaria.
None of this suggests a Nationalist victory.  Nothing here hints at a sea-change for Netanyahu. The Nationalist enterprise is still at risk. Nevertheless, the initial fallout of this vote did not provoke an evisceration of Nationalist goals, as some predicted. Judea-Samaria has not been closed.
The Nationalists control the next move. If they focus on having been humiliated, and set their course based upon that, they will lose. But if they  build on what Netanyahu has given them, they stand a  chance of creating positive results.
Nothing is guaranteed. But in the high-stakes game of modern Israel politics, going to battle with a negative mind-set is not smart, especially when your opponent is probably the smartest man in the room. In the political version of rock-scissors-paper, ‘smart’ beats ‘negative’ every time.
So what has Netanyahu given? He has suggested that, if building in Judea-Samaria ‘upholds the law’, there should be no demolitions. Do Nationalists understand what this means? They mock Netanyahu’s ‘law’, but they ignore reality. There is evidence to suggest that everyone connected with the building of the Ulpana homes—the government, the builder and the community-- had been stupidly careless about legalities. This is foolish because, if we know that Leftist NGOs are looking to cause trouble, why are we so negligent? Yes, this is Israel, where bureaucracy—and land-purchase issues--are a nightmare. But that begs the question: with Leftist NGOs looking for a fight, why give them the rope they need to hang us?  
The committee that the PM creates could establish protocols for tracking and expediting construction paperwork; it could mid-wife streamlining legal guidelines; and it could create procedures to handle issues raised by NGOs.
Effective procedures to address building in Judea-Samaria appear never to have been adequately implemented. While Leftist lawsuits damage the enterprise, the problem is not the Left. The problem is the government—and the Right (i.e., Nationalists).  Government bureaucracy for Judea-Samaria appears (at best) unsupervised and incompetent—and Jewish residents pay the price for that incompetence.  The Right, meanwhile, too often appears to ignore all legality. Both need to do better—and that committee could help, if Nationalists demand seats at the table.
Netanyahu could be lying.  He may not be committed to settlement. Nothing positive could happen. But right now, he has created an opportunity. In a country run by bureaucracy, committees are not innocuous. They are not dead-ends. They are often a seat of power.  If you are on that committee, you have power. But to get that power, you must be on the inside.
That’s the harsh truth: only insiders can win.  The Chareidi have understood this for a long time.  The nationalists have yet to learn this lesson.

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