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News Analysis: Israeli government to be tested by proposed settlement eviction plan

By Adam Gonn (Xinhua)

08:14, June 05, 2012

JERUSALEM, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new unity government is facing the first major test of stability since its establishment one month ago over a proposed settlement eviction plan.

On Sunday, Netanyahu outlined a plan aimed at defusing the growing controversy within his cabinet over five apartment homes in Ulpana Hill, a disputed neighborhood adjacent to the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

According to the plan, the state would finance the physical uprooting and relocation of the neighborhood.

Netanyahu's proposal, still pending approval of the Attorney General, has been criticized by pro-settlement politicians even from the prime minister's own Likud party, warning that if the eviction goes ahead it could threaten the stability of the government.

"Politically, it's a hot potato and therefore it's an important test," Tamir Sheafer, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Xinhua Monday, adding that it would be the "first test of Netanyahu's ability to pass such a complicated decision within the coalition."

He noted that while Netanyahu could count on the support from Kadima party, whose chairman, Shaul Mofaz, agreed last month to join his government, it still remains a question whether Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his rightist Yisrael Beiteinu party would support such a move.

Sheafer argued that if Netanyahu was able to get the proposal approved by other coalition members he would then be in a strong position to deal with other outstanding issues, such as the alternative legislation to the Tal Law, which enables religious seminary students to defer mandatory military service, however, irritates people that do serve.

Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir of Tel Aviv University said that "Netanyahu has taken a bold decision" by signaling that he is going to stand by the ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice in 1979 that settlements built on state land or those deemed necessary from a military standpoint are legal under Israeli law.

He added that Netanyahu is against a proposed law put forward by parliament member Ya'acov Katz of the National Union party, and Zevulun Orlev of the Habayit Hayehudi party -- that would retroactively legalize unauthorized West Bank Jewish construction, such as the Ulpana homes.

"The Likud ministers have more or less come behind him and support him. This is a big test for him and if he will back down it will be very bad from his point of view," Ben Meir said.

"If Netanyahu maintains his position, opposes the law (proposed by Katz and Orlev) on Wednesday and has it defeated in the Knesset, it will be a major victory for him," he added.

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