Residents of the disputed Hebron home Beit Hamachpela must evacuate by April 25th, legal officials said Wednesday morning following a late-night meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and a small group of ministers. Netanyahu and Barak were set to continue discussing the issue on Wednesday.
The IDF told the residents on Monday that they must leave by 3 p.m. Tuesday, or face a forced removal, because they lacked the necessary permits.
Late Tuesday night, 15 Hebron Jewish families held a small housewarming party in their newly purchased building, as the ministers met in Jerusalem to decide their fate.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar told Israel Radio Wednesday morning that as far as he understood the situation, the discussion over the home was not over, nor had decisions been made. Sa'ar said that if it is found that the home was purchased legally, the government should let the residents stay in the apartments since the government's position is that Jews should live in Hebron.
Right-wing politicians said Tuesday they expected Netanyahu to authorize the Jewish presence in the structure, which is located in a Palestinian neighborhood in Hebron in an area of the city under Israeli military control. But the politicians have argued that it is the government, not the IDF, which must decide the fate of the three-story apartment building in the West Bank city.
“Only the government can decide this and so it will be,” Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud) told reporters after visiting the Hebron families. “There is no need to evacuate this building.”
Earlier in the day, MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) told reporters in Hebron that Netanyahu had to allow the families to stay or risk the collapse of the government.
“It is clear to the prime minister that if his seat and his ideological path is dear to him, he will leave these people in their home,” Hotovely said.
Behind her, as she spoke, one of the 20 party activists who accompanied her held up a blue Likud flag.
Hotovely was one of a number of politicians who blamed Defense Minister Ehud Barak for the threatened eviction.
From Jerusalem, MK Danny Danon (Likud) accused Barak of using the Hebron home to launch his reelection campaign.
Sources close to Netanyahu said that they did not expect a battle between Barak and Likud ministers to lead to a coalition crisis because both sides understood why it was important for him to take the middle ground.
Netanyahu referred to the Hebron building during a press conference he called on Tuesday to mark the third-year anniversary of the establishment of his government, and said that he and Barak were “in coordination.”
Netanyahu said he had asked for a delay in the evacuation order so that the facts of the case could be clarified, saying that this was a single, specific instance rather than an case of the government trying to expand the Jewish settlement of Hebron.
Regarding his government’s overall settlement policy, Netanyahu said that “we have not brought about its strangulation, as some elements suggested we did, but we also did not act irresponsibly. We have acted in a measured and responsible manner.”
Netanyahu also related to the controversial Ulpana outpost on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement, which the state promised to evacuate by the end of this month.
Residents of the outpost on Tuesday said they received a surprise visit from top military officers, which they assumed was advance preparation for the evacuation.
Netanyahu said that Ulpana is “not a simple problem.” Temporary mobile homes are not the issue, but rather “real homes” in the heart of a neighborhood, he said.
Ulpana is composed of eight stone apartment buildings. Each structure houses six families. Five of the buildings are under threat of eviction.
“We are discussing this, and I hope we can find a solution for this as well,” Netanyahu said.
But on Tuesday, politicians and the media were focused on the Hebron structure, which can be forcibly evacuated at any moment.
Security sources said that in spite of Netanyahu’s request, the eviction order stands.
As the 3 p.m. deadline approached, Shlomo Levinger, a spokesman for the 15 Hebron families, came outside to speak with the media.
“We are not getting ready to leave,” he said. “We are busy getting ready for Passover.”
Dani Dayan – who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip – joined Levinger briefly.
“Why should there be an evacuation?” he said.
Levinger told the media, including The Jerusalem Post
, that Jews from Hebron purchased the structure from its Palestinian owner.
Security sources said that the sale is legitimate but they are checking to determine if the Palestinian who sold it to the settlers had the authority to do so.
They added that this could take weeks, if not months.
Still, Kahlon, along with other Likud ministers Yuli Edelstein and Yisrael Katz, said they examined the documents and that the sale was genuine.
In its evacuation order issued Monday, the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria said they were evicting the settlers because they had not sought the necessary permits to authenticate the sale and to reside in the structure.
Levinger said that the last documents needed to request such permits were turned in today.
Security sources said that this process is also lengthy. The question is whether the residents will be able to remain in the home while the matter is being solved.
But in its evacuation order, the civil administration said permits were not the only issues.
The settlers’ presence in the apartment building could upset the fragile status quo in the city between Israelis and Palestinians, and could create friction between the two groups, the administration said.
The building is located in a Palestinian neighborhood in a section of Hebron under Israeli military control. It is situated across a small park from the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Border Police have cordoned off the building. Only members of the 15 Jewish families and politicians have been allowed to go in and out. Even reporters have been kept at bay.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report