Bennett on Amona Deal: Leadership Means Knowing When to Back Down

YERUSHALAYIM -
A view of the hilltop community of Amona. (Noam Moskowitz/FLASH90)
A view of the hilltop community of Amona. (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

Speaking Monday night, Jewish Home chairman slammed critics who said that he had “folded” on the Amona issue. “This was a difficult day for us,” Bennett said of the deal he had made with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on understandings that would allow for passage of a version of the Settlements Arrangement Bill, while agreeing to the demolition of homes in Amona and the relocation of residents. “Part of leadership is knowing how and when to compromise,” he said.  Bennett had previously said that he would take the fight for Amona all the way to new elections, if needed.

Bennett made the comments at a meeting of Jewish Home MKs Monday afternoon. Bennett also thanked Netanyahu for his “efforts in recent days to resolve the difficult issues facing us. We would not have been able to reach this stage without his help.”

MK Betzalel Smotrich, one of the sponsors of the bill, said earlier in an interview that the new law, which he was to be introduced for its first Knesset reading Monday, was a “true accomplishment.” Smotrich, who was an outspoken critic of any compromises that would force residents of Amona to leave their homes, said Monday that he had mixed feelings about how things played out. “The Settlements Arrangement Bill is an amazing accomplishment for the right,” Smotrich said. “We may not have achieved a 200 percent result, but we have achieved a 100 percent result.”

Homes in Amona are set to be demolished in three weeks, by order of the High Court, which has accepted claims by Arabs that they own the land on which the homes stand. Incited by left-wing Israeli groups, the Arabs have refused all offers of compensation in order to allow the residents to remain. In response, Jewish Home and Likud MKs have authored the Settlement Arrangements Law, which would replace the process where such claims are adjudicated by the High Court with a special arbitration process that would, among other things, advocate land swaps that would replace the land claimed by Palestinians with state land of an equal or greater value that is not in dispute. The law is designed to prevent the demolition of homes at outposts and settlements that were built in good faith, but later were discovered to be built on private land.

While that aspect of the law has wide support in the coalition, one section of it – the section that relates to Amona – is in dispute, with Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon and other Kulanu MKs opposing it. That section seeks to grandfather the law, effectively outmaneuvering the High Court’s order to demolish the homes in dispute at Amona – and Kachlon has said that he will not support a law that seeks to uproot a High Court decision. For that reason, the coalition had been set in a rare move to present two versions of the bill, one with the grandfather clause, and another without – thus ensuring passage of at least one version.

The vote on those bills has been postponed three times, as Netanyahu sought to avoid a showdown between Jewish Home, Kulanu and the High Court. After Sunday’s talks, sources close to Netanyahu said that the government would now support the “non-Amona” version of the law – which will institute the arbitration process in future claims by Arabs of land on which homes are built, but will not help Amona.

At a meeting of Likud MKs, Netanyahu expressed satisfaction at the arrangement. “We are working hard to find a solution to Amona itself. Everyone understands the difficulties faced by residents.” The current solution is not an ideal one, Netanyahu admitted, but the Settlements Arrangement Law will be a positive development for Jewish settlement in Yehudah and Shomron. “There are other Amonas out there that this law will save. The residents there will have to move a few meters, but they will be able to remain there if they want. This is an important development. We put a great deal of work into this.”