Hebron and Its Politics
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The eviction of the small group of settlers from the building they had occupied for two weeks in Hebron fortunately was accomplished without fanfare and demonstrations. Despite the threats that had been made and Government requests that the Defense Minister and the IDF wait for further legal action, the High Court’s order was implemented by order of Defense Minister Barak, with the apparent acquiescence of the Prime Minister, and with only selective and minimal apparent push-back from the Cabinet. While Bibi had apparently requested a postponement he appears to have understood he could not legally stand in the way. Only Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was unwilling to accept the decision, even calling for all authority regarding settlement policy henceforth to be removed from Barak’s portfolio.
While Netanyahu may not have wanted to evacuate the building in Hebron or to dismantle any of the illegal settlements on the West Bank, he understands that for Israel to remain a democracy the rule of law must reign. This includes the power of a judiciary with which he has repeatedly clashed. At the end of the day despite his own politics, Bibi remains a democrat. On the other hand, it continues to be Lieberman who persists in his unwillingness to protest the rule of law within Israel.
The concern which should be raised is the extent to which Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu Party—largely supported by Russian immigrants–is the truly rising political power in Israel. If that is so than he, together with the equally right-wing and less than democratic leaning Shas Party, present a threat to not only Netanyahu’s re-election but to the very existence and fabric of Israeli democracy.
The Lieberman outburst over the Hebron eviction is only the latest anti-democratic action which he has taken or spoken throughout his parliamentary career. The fundamental disrespect that he has shown for the rule of law and the legitimacy of the democratic system may eventually be the force which could push Netanyahu to adopt more centrist positions, at least with respect to settlements. To do so, however, he would need political support from groups outside his current governing coalition whom, to date, he has totally alienated.
All of this makes the recent speculation in Israel that Bibi may move ahead with early elections more compelling. The issue of the removal of the illegal settlements, on whose removal the Government has stalled to date, became more critical last week when the High Court decided that it would not accept any more postponements and that the Migron outpost must be removed by August 1. If Lieberman were to balk on a decision to follow the Court decision on Migron—a large enterprise and not merely a few pre-fabs–he could bring down Netanyahu, who it is assumed will be forced to enforce the court’s decision.
Calling early elections permits Bibi to control the timing and avoid having his Government broken up by anti-democratic forces on his right. While this might be risky politics for Bibi, who tries to avoid taking chances, it may be the best way to emerge with a more reasonable coalition as he faces down the prospects of action on Iran.