Netanyahu, now is the best time to act

Israel should implement policy change in a concentrated fashion and plow through the chorus of international criticism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Haim Zach/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Haim Zach/GPO.
David M. Weinberg (Twitter)
David M. Weinberg
David M. Weinberg is senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security & Zionist Strategy, in Jerusalem. His personal website is davidmweinberg.com.

The unjustified wild reaction to Minster of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir’s important 13-minute ascent to the Temple Mount this week tells us one thing: The world holds Israel and especially Israel’s new government in complete contempt. It thinks it can dictate to Israel how it should administer the holiest place (to Jews) in the world, how it should define who is a Jew, where Israelis should and should not live or “settle,” when the Israeli police and army can open fire against terrorists and more. The world is going to object to almost every policy for which the new Israeli government was elected.

My conclusion: Strike while the iron is hot. The new government should move swiftly to make its most important changes while it is still relatively united, and the world is still reeling. A chorus of international condemnations will follow in any case, and Israel might as well plow through this onslaught in a concentrated fashion.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has set out on this exact path by introducing a cluster of legal reforms that in one fell swoop will properly realign the balance of power between the judiciary, legislature and government. Not everything he is pushing is perfectly wise nor will it pass Knesset exactly as tabled. (For example, a 61-vote Supreme Court override is an overreach; 70+ votes would be wiser.) But changing the way justices are selected and canceling the ability of the Supreme Court to super-subjectively and on a whim strike down Knesset legislation as “unreasonable” or “unbalanced” is long overdue. No other country in the world has a Supreme Court so imperious. Israel should implement its legal reforms as it sees fit.

Additionally, change in the way the Temple Mount is administered is long overdue. The so-called “status quo,” which was put in place after the Six-Day War when Jews and Christians almost always had access to the holy Mount without restrictions on days and hours just like Muslims, is long dead, killed by Palestinian and Islamic violence, seditious sermonizing and infuriating denialism, outrageous archaeological crimes, Waqf administrative aggression and pugnacious Jordanian mission creep.

On the immediate agenda is a proposal to expand access for Jews to the Temple Mount. Currently, Jews are allowed to visit only Sunday through Thursday for a few hours each morning under tight and often-abusive Waqf supervision and to enter via only one of the nine gates leading into the Mount. (That is the Moghrabi Gate, whose decrepit and rickety access bridge needs to be completely rebuilt, despite Jordanian objections.) Israel should roll back these restrictions and revert to the “status quo.”

And while on the subject, I’ll add that I strongly oppose any thought of interfering with Muslim worship at the mosque on the Temple Mount. But that does not mean that Jewish rights at the site should be delegitimized, denigrated and dismissed, or that the Waqf can wreak its apocalyptic war against Israel without restraint.

I also oppose all extremists, but Ben-Gvir did not violate any status quo by visiting the Temple Mount. Previous Israeli ministers of public security visited the Temple Mount too. And if the Jordanian and British crown princes and the Turkish foreign minister can visit the Temple Mount without interference, so should any Israeli official, rabbi or officer be able to do so.

Any Western spokesman who repeats the modern-day blood libel about Israelis “violating” a Muslim holy site or “storming the Noble Sanctuary” is bating and justifying Palestinian violence.

Next on the agenda is the dismantling of Khan al-Ahmar, the purposefully provocative and illegal Bedouin settlement on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, which has been funded and defended by brazen foreign interlopers—European governments. The settlement is meant to block Israeli development of the all-important E-1 quadrant connecting Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim (and from there to the strategic Jordan Valley), and therefore it must be moved. The squatters have had more than 10 years of recourse to Israeli courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, and even that liberal top court has cleared the way for determined Israeli action. But with European Union encouragement and under Palestinian Authority pressure, the squatters have rejected every generous Israeli resettlement proposal. Israel should take down Khan al-Ahmar and the IDF should also act against eight dozen other illegal Palestinian settlements in Area C.

Furthermore, the responsibilities of the Defense Ministry’s recalcitrant and ineffective Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria should be transferred to other Israeli ministries. This is necessary to halt illegal Palestinian activities (from belligerent settlement to pollution, water theft and destruction of archaeological treasures); to provide Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria with much better services; and to rapidly advance infrastructure projects (like roads, sewage treatment facilities and industrial zones) for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians.

In a completely different direction, reform of the Israeli educational system is urgent. This begins with rolling back the illogical cuts in mandatory high school studies of the humanities and Jewish history that were announced by the terrible previous Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton. It continues with a restructuring of the funding system so that school principals have more latitude in hiring and firing teachers and in choosing extracurricular activities.

In the economic sphere, resolute action is necessary to end the outrageous tax burden on small and mid-sized Israeli businesses, which pay 23% in tax, while high-tech firms get a gazillion tax breaks leading to an effective tax rate of only 13%. Small companies and big high-tech firms should both be paying taxes of about 17-20%, no more and no less.

The Israeli left-wing and ultra-liberals abroad already are screaming that the legal reforms to balance power “will bring about the end of democracy,” that the lifting of the Temple Mount restrictions “will bring about regional war,” that the resettlement of Khan al-Ahmar “will cause another intifada,” that the Defense Ministry’s disinvestment of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria “will constitute a war crime of permanent occupation,” that education reforms will “corrupt” the school system and “impose” Judaism on the public, that tax reform will “enfeeble” Israel’s high-tech sector and “mortgage” Israel’s future—but all this is simply not true.

Israel’s best course of action would be to plow through the overwrought criticism and implement policy change with dispatch. What doesn’t get done in the next 6-12 months will get bogged down in internecine squabbling or be impeded by accumulated foreign pressure.

David M. Weinberg is a senior fellow at Misgav: The Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security and Habithonistim: Israel’s Defense and Security Forum. The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world columns over the past 26 years are archived at: www.davidmweinberg.com.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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