Politicians’ statements on social media last week, concerning the evacuation of Ulpana hill from Israeli settlers, indicate the political debate is continuing to move towards the right. Hopes that Kadima’s entry into the coalition would slow down the trend haven’t materialised.
The Ulpana crisis dominated Israeli politics in the past week, as the hardliners of the centre-right wing coalition battled to pass a law that would retroactively legalise illegal settlements build on Palestinian private land. The Outpost bill was finally rejected on Wednesday, after Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu put his foot down and threatened to fire government members who would vote in support of the bill.
This was one of the first major political battles to have landed in the lap of the government after Kadima, former biggest opposition party, have joined its ranks. Shaul Mofaz, the centrist party’s new leader, who had ousted Tzipi Livni in the March primaries, pledged his new position as deputy prime minister would allow him to play a greater role in returning Israel to the peace-negotiating table.
Looking at this pledge through the Ulpana prism, it seems that Mofaz’ move hardly made a dent in the radicalisation of Israel’s political right. Actually, it appears that the whole Israeli political class is shifting in that direction.
The announcements made by Israel’s political class on social media are quite revealing in that sense.
Netanyahu’s stance, as it appeared on Facebook, was very coherent with his general political line.
The prime minister expressed his attachment to the colonising movement and explained his refusal to support the law stemmed from his fear that such a controversial law would make Israel’s stance impossible to defend on the international front and actually damage Jewish settlement.
Equally consistent was the stance of Danny Danon, MK for the Likud, who is one of the party’s more hawkish members. A frequent collaborator with the coalition’s more conservative forces, his tweet reflects his position as a supporter of the Outpost bill: “The Likud was chosen to build in the West Bank, not to destroy! I call for all the ministers to vote according to the values of the true Likud”.
More interesting is the position expressed by coalition members of the centre and opposition hopefuls, a majority of them basically aligning themselves ideologically with Netanyahu. Mofaz did, in fact, attack the bill in harsh terms, qualifying it an attempt to undermine the rule of law. He also pledged, in the same post, his commitment to the colonisation movement: “I understand the pain of the settlers, but the law is the law. We must act to reinforce the settlements within the settlement blocks. Laws that bypass Supreme Court decisions weaken the settlement enterprise, instead of reinforcing it”.
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Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, also went along these lines, claiming “the bill would harm Israel”. In his party’s meeting from the 4thof June, two days before the bill was put to the vote, Barak also maintained it would harm the settlement enterprise.
On the day of the vote, as the political and media sphere in Israel were full to the brim with combative statements from right, left and centre, one post appeared on Barak’s Facebook page, praising the head of Israel’s military intelligence department. No mention was made concerning the political storm raging in the Knesset that day.
Yair Lapid, former media star and political hopeful for the new centre party “Yesh Atid” , walked in tow: “The evacuation of the Ulpana hill is tragedy in which good Israelis, who are also good Zionists, are expelled from their homes, but this is not a debate between left and right but about the rule of law ”.
Opposition and Labor party Leader, Shelly Yachimovich, lauded the prime minister for opposing “the dangerous bill”. She did express regret this was done only after the coalition “left the stage for weeks, by extremist elements”.
Zehava Galon of left-wing Meretz separated herself from the consensual debate surrounding the rule of law, empathy towards the settlers, and the need to find a compromise that will protect colonial interests in the West Bank, by attacking the settlement enterprise itself: “This is how the settlers extort the state: first they refuse to leave Ulpana according to Supreme Court decision, and then they threaten to pass the crazy bill, which states that in the occupied territories, Jews have the right to steal any land they like ”.
All in all, the exchange of posts on Twitter and Facebook remained conservative and largely obeyed the political division of the Israeli class, but also reflected a pull towards the right. A relatively marginal group at the very right of the political sphere, representing a small segment of Israeli society, managed to set the tone of the discussion for the country as a whole. Mofaz and Barak may be members of the government, but they are also said to stand up for the political centre. And yet, as their posts point out, not only had they failed to pull the government towards them and away from the hardliners, they are the ones who get dragged. The same is true for Lapid, who positions himself as a candidate of the consensus, and yet portrays the rebuked settlers as victims of raison d’état.
The development of this affair reflects the political struggles at the heart of the mega-coalition, which holds in its fold eight parties, ranging from the centre to the extreme-right, and accounting for 94 Knesset members (MK), who make up nearly 80% of all elected representatives in the Israeli parliament. Initially, for many, including The New York Times, it signalled that this political constellation would make it easier for Netanyahu to talk peace. But the very nature of the political debate, as well as the political manoeuvring that surrounded the Outpost bill, namely the authorisation given to the construction of 851 new housing units in the West Bank, put these assumptions under a lot of strain.