Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to quell all rebellion threats from Bayit Yehudi politicians who pledged to vote against the coalition on Monday to protest the forced eviction of Jewish families Friday from two homes in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich said he would continue to boycott Knesset votes, which could prevent the government from passing key legislation.
The first test could be a bill that would put restrictions on non-profit organizations that receive most of their funding from foreign governments – ironically legislation that was sponsored by Smotrich himself.
Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that the Hebron Jewish families would be allowed back into the two buildings, once the purchases are confirmed.
“The government supports settlements at all times, especially during these days when they are under terrorist attack and are standing steadfast and with courage against the terrorism,” he said.
Smotrich said, “I welcome Netanyahu’s decision to enable the residents of the home to return, but I won’t vote with coalition until they are back in the home that they legally purchased.”
Coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said Smotrich’s threats would not lead to changing the agenda of the Knesset at all on Monday.
“Such threats to the coalition are unacceptable, especially in a narrow government,” Hanegbi said. “Threatening to topple the coalition cannot be accepted within the rules of the game. MKs who harm the coalition will be punished, as happened in the past, but I don’t want to act like I run a kindergarten.”
Itzik Ashkenazi, political adviser to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, tweeted that Netanyahu should replace Bayit Yehudi in the coalition with Labor. But Labor head Isaac Herzog said that was not a possibility.
At the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu promised to update ministers on the progress toward authorization of the two Hebron homes.
He also held a meeting of the coalition heads to calm down the voices within his own party and those of the Bayit Yehudi that had threatened to withhold necessary votes on legislative matters until such authorizations were issued.
It was agreed that better lines of communication on land issues in Judea and Samaria would be opened between Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and two members of the Bayit Yehudi party, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
A spokesman for Ariel said he believed that what happened in that meeting was an agreement to finally advance a settlement committee to deal with land issues, such as had been agreed upon in the coalition agreement between Bayit Yehudi and the Likud last spring.
The committee was supposed to examine ways to reform land authorizations in Judea and Samaria on the basis of the Levy report, which had examined legal options for doing so, including the creation of a civilian land court.
Aids to Ya’alon and sources close to Netanyahu said no promises had been made with regard to any committee.
Right-wing politicians had threatened to rebel against their own coalition after Ya’alon on Friday forcibly evicted some 20 Jewish families and dozens of activists from the two adjacent structures located near the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The Hebron families said they had purchased the property from its Palestinian landowners and had the paperwork to prove it, but Ya’alon’s said they lacked authorization from the diplomatic and security echelons. In addition, Ya’alon need to authenticate the sale, a move that could happen only after the document were examined.
Shlomo Levinger said that Ya’alon had the power to sign now and then examine the document. But aides to Ya’alon dismissed that claim and said the legal approval could only follow an investigation.
Netanyahu told the cabinet, “We are a nation of laws and must respect the law.”
Netanyahu said that the moment the purchases are confirmed, the families will be allowed back into the homes, “as we have done in similar cases in the past.”
The process of checking the legality of the purchases has begun, he said, “and we will do it as quickly as possible. If it is not completed in a week, I will make sure that a short interim report will be presented to the cabinet.”
Ya’alon faced criticism in a Likud ministerial meeting Sunday from Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who said he was being tougher on Jewish settlers than Arab building code violators, and from Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who recalled that Ya’alon protested similar polices when they were carried out by then-defense minister Ehud Barak.
“I have no common language with MKs who say to violate the law,” Ya’alon said. “We cannot have anarchy.”
Ariel responded that he can have common language with everyone and that the coalition deal requires the formation of a ministerial committee on settlements so decisions will not be made by just one minister.
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