The government's fate, when it comes to the evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood, will not be determined by retroactive authorization, nor by the question of whether bypassing the court is the right thing to do. (The High Court of Justice ruled the neighborhood had been partially built on private Palestinian land and must be evacuated by the end of the month.) When it comes to bypassing the court, it appears that the decision has already been made, at least for now: The outpost arrangement bill, which would retroactively authorize the construction of the disputed homes while compensating land owners, will likely not be approved this week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invested all his resources into permanently sabotaging the bill, in spite of fellow Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon.
What will determine the character — and possibly even the survival — of the current government, with its coalition of 94 MKs, is not how the evacuation is approved, but the way in which it is executed.
For example, the evacuation of a similarly disputed house in Hebron in April proceeded smoothly and was forgotten the next day. Yet the evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona in 2006 was violent and ugly, and even now, more than six years later, its wounds have yet to heal. Nine single-storey buildings were evacuated in Amona. In Ulpana, five three-storey buildings comprising 30 apartments are slated for demolition. Unless everyone reaches an understanding and commits to a quiet evacuation within four weeks, the real political drama will begin.
After more than three years in power, the Ulpana affair has presented yet another challenge for Netanyahu's government: The vote on the outpost arrangement bill (scheduled for Wednesday) will be the first time such a controversial proposal will have been put up for a vote at the Knesset. The proposal threatens to rip apart the delicate relationship between Left and Right, between lovers of the court system and lovers of the land, within the coalition and even within the ruling Likud party itself.
Two months ago, the decision to evacuate the Hebron house was made in private solely by the prime minister and defense minister. The decision to impose a moratorium on settlement construction in 2009 was made solely by senior cabinet ministers. The decision to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit was made only by cabinet members — never was such a controversial decision made by the entire Knesset. Until now.
Coalition Chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), who has never voted with the losing side, is about to lose for the first time since taking office. At least he can take comfort in the knowledge that it wasn't the opposition that made him lose; it was the prime minister himself.
This is not the first time, even in this term, that more extreme right-wingers within the Likud have joined forces with settler leaders to oppose Netanyahu. But the conflict was never as intense or extensive as it is now. Netanyahu has scornfully rejected allegations that the broad coalition was pulling him leftward. He has also rejected speculation that the Likud might split, or that there is a political bombshell in the works. As far as he is concerned, the evacuation of Ulpana was a bad High Court decision, which stemmed from an even worse response issued to the court on behalf of the government (the state prosecution had vowed on behalf of the government to evacuate the neighborhood, prompting the court to insist that the government live up to its word). This rancid brew was placed at Netanyahu's doorstep. A political revolution will not come out of this — only a stomach ache.