Settlement buildings bulldozed in Israel, but Netanyuhu calls for more construction

Settlers scuffled with police Wednesday in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, where bulldozers tore down two contested buildings shortly after a final Supreme Court ruling marked the end of a years-long legal saga.

Wednesday’s court decision forced the government to comply with previous rulings that determined the project, known as the Dreinhoff houses, was built without proper permits and on privately owned Palestinian lands, in contravention of Israeli law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed the demolition and the government had tried to find legal solutions for Dreinhoff and other contested sites in West Bank settlements. But compliance with the court ruling was swift.

Also swift was Netanyahu’s response. Within minutes of the demolition, his office announced the immediate construction of the 300 housing units in Beit El that his previous government had promised to make up for the eviction of another disputed project in the same settlement.

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In addition, the government decided to advance the marketing and planning of about 500 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods over the so-called Green Line in Jerusalem, built on lands that were annexed after the 1967 war and that the Palestinians claim for their future capital.

Wednesday’s court ruling draw fierce criticism from right-wing lawmakers, who have long alleged that Israel’s Supreme Court uses its power to force a liberal agenda on Israel’s conservative governments.

Motti Yogev, a legislator from the hawkish Jewish Home party, said the ruling was an act of “charlatanism and injustice.”

“The shovel of a D9 tractor should be taken to the Supreme Court itself,” he said, adding that parliament should restrain the judiciary -- which he called “the tail wagging the dog” -- and cautioned that it should “know its place.”

Yogev’s comments sparked outrage throughout the legal and political system, prompting Netanyahu to issue a statement rejecting this and other attacks on the court.

“Israel was and remains a law-abiding democracy, which honors the court decisions,” he said.

In a Facebook post, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that disagreeing with Supreme Court rulings was fine but that the “unbridled attacks” against it were a threat to Israeli democracy and could “lead us into the abyss.”

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Opposition lawmakers rapped Netanyahu for attempts to approve the Beit El project before Wednesday’s final ruling, despite repeated court decisions that ruled it illegal and ordered the state to remove it. Tzipi Livni accused the prime minister of “bending the law and the planning system” to benefit the project’s contractor financially and Netanyahu politically.

The Beit El drama came as emotions were high among settlers marking 10 years since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.


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