Late last week Jewish settlers erected five white huts on an empty rock mound in Samaria. In the media, this is referred to as an “illegal outpost” even though it is located in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.
This outpost was built in memory of the late celebrated Rabbi of the Jewish settler movement, Haim Druckmann, who passed away on December 25, 2022. Hence the name Or Haim, “Light of Life,” was given to the new settlement outpost.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had to decide what to do. Demolish and evacuate the outpost, or leave it standing and wait for his coalition to come to a consensus on the matter. In the end the outpost was evacuated faster than anyone thought, sparking mayhem among Netanyahu’s coalition partners.
Who is in charge?
Does authority over this matter belong to Minister of Defense Yoav Galant, or to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry responsible for coordinating government activities in the territories?
Or does Minister of Internal Security Itamar Ben-Gvir have the final say? Israel’s Border Police force that operates mainly in the so-called “occupied territories” has been decoupled from the Israel Police force according to the new coalition agreements and is under Ben-Gvir’s purview.
In principle, Israel’s defense minister is responsible for security, and therefore for evacuations. Galant is the only one who can use force in these cases. But looking at the agreements, any one of the three ministers can make a case for taking responsibility.
During those few hours before Shabbat, all three ministers contradicted each other. The Civil Administration, the governing body in the disputed areas of Judea and Samaria, is responsible for such evacuations, so perhaps it should have been Smotrich. But Ben-Gvir oversees the Border Police, which must actually carry out such evacuations. And Israel’s Defense Minister is the political commander over the IDF Central Command, and therefore determines what happens in Judea and Samaria. So orders regarding the outpost came from every direction.
In the early morning hours, Galant ordered the five huts on the stoney hill be evacuated. Then Ben-Gvir ordered his troops to stop the evacuation of the Jewish settlers. Smotrich claimed that same morning, “I ordered not to evacuate, but Galant ordered an evacuation anyway.” Galant made it clear to Smotrich, “Any action in the field must be done according to the law.”
For the first few hours, the Prime Minister’s Office remained silent. Only just before Shabbat did it issue a statement:
“The government supports the outposts only if they are legal and coordinated in advance with the prime minister and the security forces, which was not the case in this instance.”
This issue will be at the top of the agenda as Netanyahu’s Cabinet meets this week.
Confusion plays into the hands of Bibi’s opponents
Opponents of the government describe this as “a crazy and extreme government that will do more harm than good to Israel’s security. The right hand doesn’t know what the more extreme right hand is doing. Smotrich against Galant, Galant against Ben-Gvir, and Benjamin Netanyahu hesitates as usual. A clumsy bunch that will argue about anything.”
Not only that, but the right-wing nationalist government of Benjamin Netanyahu was reminded over the weekend how badly they had condemned the government of Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid in the media a year ago. At that time, the right-wing parties vowed that they would never vacate such outposts. Just before Shabbat, Netanyahu’s national-right settler coalition did the same as its predecessors and evacuated Jewish settlers.
Now Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners are spitting mad. Netanyahu is violating his agreements by allowing the evacuation of Jews from Judea and Samaria, they say. Wasn’t it Bezalel Smotrich who called Benjamin Netanyahu a liar of liars, son of liar, about a year ago? “Mr. Prime Minister, coalition agreements must be respected and that is 100 percent your responsibility,” emphasized religious Knesset member and settler Orit Struck. One of her party colleagues, Ben Har-Melech, was outraged that Arab workers were chosen for the evacuation: “They do this with great pleasure, destroying Jewish property while shouting with laughter and joy.”
Minister Smotrich: “Galant ordered the eviction in complete contradiction to the coalition agreements.”
Ben-Gvir stressed that while everything must be done legally, this principle must apply the same for Jews and Palestinians: “Everyone must respect the rule of law, and for this to happen, an equal and unified policy must be created.”
He went on to explain: “It is impossible for Palestinians to build throughout Judea and Samaria without any problems, and the Civil Administration does not enforce any law against Palestinians in Area C. Only when it comes to Jews does the Civil Administration carry out selective eviction when something is built illegally. However, not with the Palestinians. There, nothing is demolished.”
No matter how right-wing, national religious, and orthodox Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government may be, it all depends on Bibi and whether he decides to keep the coalition agreements or not. Let’s see what Israel’s new government learns from all this in order not to embarrass itself in front of its voters again.
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