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Not Just About Netanyahu: Judicial Overhaul Will Destroy Palestinian Rights

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, earlier this month.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, earlier this month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Leading the list of the most popular articles on Haaretz’s Hebrew website on Monday was one by Michael Hauser Tov titled “The four stages of the full plan to weaken the justice system” (the English version was titled “Already sparking outrage, the right’s plan to trample the judiciary is only in phase one”). This important scoop refutes Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the public knew in advance about the plan to destroy the legal system, the main pillar of Israeli democracy.

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The criminal defendant who is now the prime minister seeks to replace this pillar with a thin twig wrapped in explosives that are already being detonated by a gang of power-drunk thugs. Each of them, without even waiting his turn, has decided to take a swing at it.

No less interesting is the article that came in second on Haaretz in Hebrew’s most popular list that day. That was an article by Moshe Gilad suggesting 23 tourism spots to visit in 2023. Because what could be more natural in the face of this liquidation plan than to run away, anywhere at all, for as much time as possible, while it still is possible, before the other countries of the world decide to punish the government through its citizens?

It’s false to say that Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s “phased plan” will “only” undermine human rights, “only” strip the High Court of Justice of all its power and give the government a free hand to do as its voters please. That’s it, and all the rest is wonderful. But it’s no accident that Levin’s phased plan brings to mind another plan that bore a similar name – the PLO’s Phased Plan of 1974, which at the time was deemed a plan to destroy Israel in stages.

It, too, contained four basic elements – nonrecognition of UN Security Council Resolution 242, denying Israel’s right to exist, demanding that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants return to Israel, and establishing a Palestinian state in all the land that comprised Israel. With the necessary adjustments, these are the exact goals to which the benighted cooperative now running the country aspires – establishing a Jewish state in the entire Land of Israel, denying that a Palestinian state has a right to exist, “returning” Jews to the entire Land of Israel, and annulling the Oslo Accords, which included recognition of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The key to achieving these goals is shattering the paradigm created by then-Attorney General Meir Shamgar under which Israel, despite the fact that it doesn’t recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention’s applicability to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, will nevertheless obey its provisions de facto, at least with regard to the rights of the occupied population. He thereby also opened the door for Palestinians to petition the High Court.

But because this paradigm’s continued existence depends on the existence of an authoritative High Court that interferes with plans for Jewish expansion, the High Court has to go, or at least be turned into a dishrag.

The High Court, it must be said, almost never protected Palestinian rights. It didn’t prevent the establishment of settlements, nor did it thwart home demolitions, deportations and land theft. It served the occupation by giving it a high-class flak jacket that protected it from external legal criticism and pressure.

But those few cases where it did thwart government plans to violate limits the government itself had set were enough that now it must be eliminated. Without it, everything will be “legal.”

Who will prevent wildcat outposts on privately owned Palestinian land? Who will keep people convicted of terrorist activity from being stripped of their citizenship? To whom will administrative detainees turn, even if they know the High Court won’t really help them? Once it’s gone, the party can begin.

It’s just like the 1982 Big Pines plan, which was meant to create a new order in Lebanon and instead embroiled Israel in a war that lasted 18 years. Now, the Israeli version of this plan is seeking to create a new order here.

It’s not meant only to extricate the prime minister from his trial by changing the system of government. The real goal is much more far-reaching – redrawing Israel’s borders, “without the High Court and without B’Tselem,” as former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once said (arguing that Oslo Accords would enable the Palestinian Authority to fight terror without the constraints imposed by Israel’s court and its human rights organizations).

Granted, any Israeli government from now on that seeks to show up in its high-class flak jacket may be surprised to discover that the world treats it like an empty hanger. But who is the world, anyway?

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