Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday insisted that he would defend the Jewish settlement enterprise on the ancient Jewish lands of Judea and Samaria, but a day later he was expected to fire any cabinet ministers that backed a bill that would actually protect such communities.
Speaking to Likud activists at a party conference, Netanyahu was adamant that the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria "enjoy the support and appreciation of the Likud government."
The Likud conference was held just days before a party primary in which Netanyahu's leadership is being challenged by party activist Moshe Feiglin, who is gaining broad popularity among so-called "Jewish settlers" for his unwavering stand in defense of their right to settle Israel's biblical heartland.
Feiglin has repeatedly called Netanyahu out as a hypocrite, and will likely do so again ahead of the primary vote, noting that while Netanyahu publicly promised to protect the settlements, he was busy intimidating fellow Likud ministers to vote against a new law that would make it illegal to uproot most Jewish communities.
Authored by minister Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home Party), the "Outpost Law" would prevent the forced evacuation of any Jewish settlement that had been in existence for at least four years and was inhabited by at least 20 families. Those conditions would retroactively legalize a large number of "illegal outposts" - small Jewish communities, many of which were established with government backing, but which lacked official authorization by the Defense Ministry.
The bill also demands that any Palestinian claims to the lands on which such outposts are built must be backed up by actual evidence in order to receive a favorable ruling in Israeli courts. Israel's Supreme Court is in the habit of ruling in favor of Palestinian claimants based on little more than cursory evidence.
Netanyahu has staunchly opposed the bill, as it would put him in a sticky situation vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and likely open Israel up to a new wave of harsh international criticism. As such, it was widely rumored that Netanyahu had threated to fire from the cabinet any Likud minister who voted in favor of the bill in the Knesset plenum, where the bill was expected to be officially presented later this week.
Without the backing of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which Netanyahu has purposely kept away from the bill, it has a much reduced chance of passing in the Knesset.