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Yet the prime minister seems to have recognized Israel’s legal jeopardy. With a history of antagonizing the United States and the European Union, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority, and human rights organizations both Israeli and international, when it came to issues of international law, even this government could not proceed against its own high court decision with so much impunity.
Of course, the decision came with caveats.
The refusal to pass this law doesn’t mean that there should not still be an international outcry against the measures the prime minister had to put in place to appease the law’s opponents. These included the authorization of 851 additional units in Beit El. Even though one decision is law and the other is policy, both constitute a blatant violation of international law, since the settlements in their entirety continue to operate in contravention of acceptable norms.
This is, therefore, but a small victory. But as supporters of human rights who are walking into a gale-force wind in today’s Israel, we appreciate these victories. The activists of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Adalah, Peace Now and a dozen other organizations are in some sense the front-line fighters for Israeli democracy, struggling for an Israel whose own democratic institutions will hold it accountable and whose own moral sense will determine its future.
By constantly reminding our government of its obligations according to international law, and of the human, legal and moral cost of 45 years of occupation, human rights activists are guarding the last barrier against Israel’s complete global marginalization. And by working to preserve compliance with the decisions of Israel’s democratic institutions, human rights groups are actually guarding the rule of law and the country’s sovereignty against those who want to seek justice elsewhere. Israel already faces international obloquy; it cannot run the risk of what should be the most threatening prospect for Jews: exile from the ranks of thriving democracies, resulting in relegation to the status of international pariah.
The five buildings in Ulpana that were not legally legitimized are a blip on the settlement landscape. But the government’s yielding to the potential authority of international law, in a country that prides itself on going it alone, is still significant. With the support of lovers of Israel worldwide, those who understand that there are human rights above and beyond the tyranny of any elected majority can eventually triumph.
Naomi Chazan is a former deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, dean of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo and outgoing president of the New Israel Fund.