The development marks a yet another challenge for the new right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
By Erin Viner
Israeli security forces on Friday evacuated Jewish activists from a makeshift camp they had erected in the West Bank only hours only earlier.
The small group had built several temporary structures on a rocky field near a larger Jewish community, as seen in photographs published by local media.
Similar attempts to construct illegal “settlements” in the West Bank districts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley have been forcibly dismantled many times over the years.
There were minor clashes with rock throwing at the site between the Jewish settlers and Palestinians from a nearby village, according to Palestinian sources. Ahead of the demolition, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned the outpost as “a flagrant challenge to international and US requests that Israel’s unilateral and illegal measures must end.”
While there were no reports of violence or injuries between the activists and security officers, pro-settlement members of Israel’s most right-wing government in history were angered by the action. The incident also reveals friction among the coalition itself.
Israel’s 37th government, which took office about a month ago, is an alliance between the Premier’s Likud party with several smaller religious and hard-right nationalist factions.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, ordered the outpost to be razed as it had no building permit – over the objections of the Religious Zionism party (RZP), which had sought to delay the decision. The Defense Ministry, which operates the Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), has handed some settlement policymaking to current Finance Minister and RZP Chairman Bezalel Smotrich.
According to a statement from his office, Smotrich had instructed COGAT last Friday not to interfere with the outpost until the matter could be discussed this week. Defense Minister Galant nevertheless ordered the evictions “completely contradicting the coalition agreements that form the basis for the government’s existence,” claimed Smotrich.
Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a brief statement afterward, saying that “the government supports settlement but only when it is done legally and is coordinated in advance with the Prime Minister and security officials, which was not done in this case.”
“This (settlement expansion) is a capstone issue for our participation in the government,” RZP National Missions Minister Orit Strock said during an interview with Israel’s Kan radio.
Today Minister Smotrich issued a scathing statement, vowing that his party will end IDF control over civilian issues relating to settler construction and other matters. “The time has come for the residents of Judea and Samaria to stop being second-class citizens living under a military regime and to receive high-quality civil services like all citizens of Israel,” he said. While insisting on attaining authority over COGAT and the Civil Administration, he went on to express his intention to carry out a “revolution” in dismantling illegal Palestinian construction in the West Bank.
Attempts by a group of settlers to rebuild the outpost yesterday were blocked by Israeli security forces. Seven people were arrested, said a spokesperson for the Border Police.
Israel’s far-right coalition party Otzma Yehudit declared it will now push for Israel to implement a long-delayed evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin-Palestinian encampment in a key West Bank area east of Jerusalem. World powers have urged Israel not to demolish the raze the illegal buildings over potential backlash that would damage efforts to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israel cites biblical, historical and political links to Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, as well as critical security interests.
Nevertheless, most international countries view the building of Jewish communities on land captured in the 1967 Six Day War as “illegal settlements,” and an impediment to resolving conflict with Palestinians, who demand the territory for a future state.
Israel’s 1967 military victory reunited a then-divided Jerusalem after conquering the eastern portion of the city and parts of the West Bank from Jordan, as well as the Golan Heights from Syria and Gaza from Egypt.