Migron and What Comes Next

March 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Migron is the kind of place that should never be in the news. It is a relatively small outpost in the West Bank that was started, vacated, and started again, built on land privately owned by Palestinians, and will never in a million years be part of any land swaps that might take place should the Israelis and Palestinians work out a peace agreement. Last August, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered it to be evacuated and demolished by the end of this month, and there is no reason that anyone but the government and the residents of Migron should have thought about it ever again. Yet, Migron is now all over the news because the government negotiated a deal with Migron’s residents to allow them to stay for another three years and then amazingly asked the Supreme Court to ignore its own ruling and approve the new agreement.

This might seem at first glance like a strange strategic move, but it was actually a smart one on its face because the makeup of the Court has changed. The new president, Asher Grunis, is a conservative who was able to assume his new position last month despite being less than three years away from the mandatory retirement age of 70 after the Knesset passed a law clearing the way for him to be appointed. The reason this was done is because his predecessor, Dorit Beinisch, who was responsible for the Migron decision among others, was seen as extremely activist and the assumption was that having Grunis at the helm would make the Court more compliant with the government’s wishes. In the first real test of this theory, however, the government has been unpleasantly shocked, as Grunis was part of the three judge panel that unanimously ruled yesterday that the deal between the government and Migron’s residents does not supersede the Court’s order from last August, which means that Migron must be demolished by the end of the week August 1.

No matter what your political persuasion, it is tough to view this as anything but a victory for the rule of law and judicial independence. The Court’s order was clear, and the fact that the government and Migron’s residents petitioned the Court to approve their deal casts aside any doubts as to whether the government has the power to simply disregard the original decision. The question now is whether the Knesset will scramble to pass a bypass law that nullifies the Court’s decision through a legislative override. If this happens, it will be a truly disastrous move on a number of fronts. With all of the attention that has been focused - including by me – on the various anti-democratic legislation moving through the Knesset, passing a law to avoid enforcement of a Court decision that was itself an attempt to enforce a previous Court decision would add unnecessary fuel to the fire, and provide ammunition to people who erroneously declare Israel to no longer be a democracy. A legislative override will also further doom any last shred of prospect that remains for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, since if the government cannot bring itself to evacuate a place like Migron, it is exceedingly difficult to imagine ever uprooting any settlements as part of a negotiated deal for a Palestinian state. Bypassing the Court is also terrible timing given that Israel is about to face Goldstone Redux, since the new UN committee set up to investigate the settlements is without a doubt going to issue a damning report, and Israel is making the same ill-considered mistake it made last time by refusing to cooperate at all and cutting off all communication with UNHRC commissioner Navi Pillay. What is going to happen next is sadly predictable – Israel will not try to lobby the committee at all in the belief that doing so would grant the committee legitimacy, the committee will blast Israel in every possible way and the government’s strategy will be an utter failure when nobody ignores the report or accepts Israel’s argument that its lack of cooperation makes the report illegitimate, and Israel will then spend months, if not years, complaining that its side of the story was not represented and that it is being unfairly demonized by a one-sided version of the facts.

So for a variety of reasons, this is just not the time to create an even bigger mess by sending the message that Israeli Supreme Court decisions can be ignored whenever they put the government in an uncomfortable position or conflict with the politics of Likud’s coalition. Yet, I’ll bet almost anything that Migron is not evacuated and demolished by week’s end August 1, and that Likud’s younger rightwing vanguard does everything in its power to make sure that the Migron decision is consigned to nothingness. The Knesset’s current coalition politics will not allow anything less, and Israel will continue to fight a losing battle to convince the world that it is blameless for the situation with the Palestinians and that it will be able to withdraw from part of the West Bank whenever the Palestinian leadership is interested in returning to the negotiating table. Migron and all of the machinations surrounding its eventual fate is a crushingly sad symbol of the state of Israeli politics and the inertia of the peace process.

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