Israel's Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit asked to delay the pending demolition of the illegal West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar for legal reasons, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Sunday evening.
He spoke after the security cabinet affirmed the delay in hopes of finding a compromise with its residents and avoiding a forced evacuation.
Liberman, who initially opposed the delay, voted for it at the cabinet meeting and spoke of his support for it at a Jerusalem event that evening.
What’s critical here, he said, is not the delay, but the fact that the cabinet made a policy decision that the village must come down.
“The moment the cabinet approves the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar, the process is irreversible,” Liberman said.
He explained that Mandelblit had told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it was legally important to make one more attempt to negotiate with the 180 residents of Khan al-Ahmar.
Netanyahu told the government that “Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated, with or without an agreement. It will not take weeks; it will be much shorter. We will make several vital preparatory moves in the international arena. We will give a last chance for evacuation by agreement – but in any case, Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated. I am not talking about a cosmetic evacuation but a real evacuation,” he said.
“Neither do I need fictitious ultimatums, because we are all united around one goal – to evacuate this illegal construction,” he said. “There is no argument about this. A ‘fake’ argument is being created. Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated and very soon.”
The two Bayit Yehudi security cabinet ministers, party head Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, objected to the delay. The majority of the cabinet approved it, however.
“In accordance with the recommendation of professional elements, the Security Cabinet has granted an extension of several weeks in order to exhaust the negotiations for evacuation by agreement,” the cabinet said in a statement it released after the heated meeting.
Bennett swore that he would ensure the demolition of the village.
“In a state which abides by the rule of law, the law is enforced even if there is opposition or threats from the international community. The Bayit Yehudi Party will make sure that it happens,” he said.
The possibility of a delay was first raised publicly on Saturday night, prior to the cabinet’s affirmation.
The High Court of Justice this summer ruled that there was no legal impediment to the move, but said that it preferred the evacuation to be done by agreement rather than force.
The international community
, particularly the European Union and its member states, have called on Israel not to evacuate the village, located outside Jerusalem and near Route 1, just below the Kfar Adumim settlement.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda warned Israel that the forced relocation of the village was a “war crime.”
“It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute,” she said.
The state had wanted to relocate Khan al-Ahmar to a new neighborhood in Abu Dis called Jahalin West, or to an area next to the Mitzpe Yeriho settlement. Khan al-Ahmar residents had rejected both options, because the first site is next to a garbage dump and the second is near a sewage treatment plant.
Khan al-Ahmar residents have fought to remain at their current location, but have repeatedly stated they would be willing to relocate to a nearby site half a kilometer away from their current location.
On Saturday night, residents celebrated upon hearing of Netanyahu’s decision, but on Sunday they were more cautious.
The village’s attorney, Tawfiq Jabareen, said he believes that the state is now willing to look at the compromise position he had put forward this summer, that included an already-prepared master plan to move the village away from the road.
He credited Netanyahu’s apparent change of heart with the ICC prosecutor’s declaration.
“It’s not easy to go against her declaration that it’s a war crime,” Jabareen said.
MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi) decried Netanyahu’s “unprecedented laxity,” and said that the delay should not last more than two weeks.
“International criticism is not a reason to give up on our sovereignty and our laws,” said Yogev, who chairs the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee sub-group on Judea and Samaria. He plans to discuss the matter in the group on November 1.
MK Bezalel Smotrich noted ironically, “Tell me again that we have a right-wing government.” He said he planned to hold a protest event, which he has dubbed a “tour” of Khan al-Ahmar at 5 p.m. on Monday, led by the right-wing NGO Regavim.
“I call on all coalition members to join us rather than vote in the Knesset,” Smotrich said.
“We will tour the place and together we will try to grow a spine.”
Regavim called the delay a “shameful capitulation.”
“For years, Prime Minister Netanyahu has implemented a policy of selective law enforcement against Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” the organization said.
“Tonight’s decision reeks of cowardice and makes a laughing stock of Israel’s sovereignty and commitment to law and order.”
“If the prime minister does not come to his senses quickly, the blame for this stinging defeat in the battle for Area C and the capitulation to the Palestinian Authority’s hostile takeover will be Netanyahu’s lasting legacy of shame. The prime minister cannot shift the blame in the direction of the Supreme Court; he has no one to blame but himself,” Regavim said.
Knesset members of the Joint List made a solidarity visit to Khan al-Ahmar on Sunday.
“My heart goes out to the village residents who have been anxious for months about their fate and the fate of their children,” said MK Neven Abu Rahmoun. “They have invested all their resources in a legal and public struggle for their right to live in dignity.
“We will continue to stand by the residents in their struggle, and will not remain silent in the face of the government’s efforts to expel natives from their homes in favor of settlements and the annexation of the territories,” Abu Rahmoun said.
The Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin belong to the Abu-Dahuk clan within the Jahalin tribe, which Israel forcibly evacuated to the West Bank in the early 1950s, back when it was under Jordanian rule. Liberman confirmed on Sunday that the clan had first started to pitch its tents at that site already in the 1970s.
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