THE BLOG

Post election Israel - A New Middle East?

26/04/2013 12:59 BST | Updated 25/06/2013 10:12 BST

Israeli politics is at a historic turning point. Recent elections have brought about changes that breathe fresh, unmistakable mood of optimism into a tired and troubled coalition.

Just a few weeks on and voters' hope is shaping into concrete political action. The religious parties, who successfully set a hard line through successive governments, have lost their place in the governing coalition to a brave, blatantly transparent and secular Yair Lapid. With great conviction and 19 astounding mandates, the popular former broadcaster has formed a powerful alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu to become Israel's new finance minister.

In a swift and clear move, Lapid has just announced a 340 million shekels cut in the religious parties budget forcing yeshivas (study houses) to look elsewhere for future funding. The religious young are also expected to join all 18 year old Israelis and serve in the army, a duty they have so far been freed from on the grounds of their faith.

Most significant in my mind though is outspoken supporters of a peaceful solution with the palestinians entering the ruling coalition. There is genuine desire for negotiations to resume, amid tiredness of the settlements and the conflict they impose. Israelis are not doubting Jews' right to live in this beloved land but resent some settlers' overbearing tactics.

Peace Now has just announced a historic legal victory where the settlers who had illegally inhabited the Palestinian shops in Al-Hisba Market in Hebron (AKA the Ezra House case) are finally leaving the property.

(In 2001, during the second intifada, as part of a general military closure of Hebron, Palestinian shop keepers were not permitted to enter their shops and the settlers moved into them)

In January 2007, Peace Now filed a complaint to the police and Civil Administration and by June that year the settlers received eviction orders. The settlers appealed in the military court, the appeal was rejected but the authorities failed to enforce the orders and the settlers continued to live in the shops. In 2010 Peace Now returned to the Supreme Court demanding the implementation of the eviction order and in December 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the shops should be evicted by the 24th of April 2013 deadline.

It is important to point out that the shops were originally owned by the Jewish Ezra family before 1948. During Jordanian control, the government leased the space to Palestinian shopkeepers for their use under the status of protected tenants. In 1967 when Israeli control began in Hebron, the Israeli army continued the rent to the Palestinian shop keepers who are still considered protected tenants.

According to Peace Now '..the settlers requested the state cancel the protected status of the shop-keepers since they are "anyways" restricted from entering the property. This request however, presented a legal and political predicament for the state. If the state cancelled the protected status, it would insinuate that the military closure is not a temporary measure, but a permanent one.  In addition, had the State accepted the right of the Jewish owners to return to their property in Hebron, it would mean that the Israeli government de-facto accepts the right of return, and would make it very hard to explain why the right of Palestinian owners to their pre-1948 properties inside Israel should be denied..'  

Abd Al-Jawad Al-Awiwi, one of the shop-keepers has said he wants to return to his shop and does acknowledge the fact it was owned by Jews before 1948. 'If they have the right to their property' he adds, 'I should also be allowed to return to the 300 dunams owned by my family near Beit Guvrin inside Israel'.

The court left the decision about whether to stop the rent to Palestinians and allocate the shops to the settlers in the hands of the Israeli government.

This decision marks a victory in the struggle to prevent settlement expansion and sends a clear positive signal to the Palestinians. Here's to Peace Now fighting a calm and dignified battle, here's to a just Israeli legal system doing the right thing, here's to the Palestinian shopkeepers proudly resuming their trade.