Khan al-Ahmar spokesman Eid Abu Khamis Jahalin found himself the strange survivor of a battle of wills on Thursday with outgoing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The Bedouin leader spoke with reporters as he sat behind a folding table, decorated with Palestinian flags, which had been set up on a sandy hillside inside the herding village located just off of Route 1 in the West Bank below the Kfar Adumim settlement.
Upon taking up his post at the end of May 2016, Liberman had vowed to tackle illegal Bedouin and Palestinian construction, specifically in two places: Khan al-Ahmar outside of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian village of Sussiya in the South Hebron Hills.
Prior to his appointment as defense minister, right-wing politicians, settlers and the NGO Regavim had pushed for over seven years for the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and its elementary school, which included petitions to the High Court of Justice.
But it was Liberman who fast-tracked the issue, handed out demolition orders against the village’s tents and shacks, agreed to its forced demolition and secured a green light from the High Court.
Under his direction, the Civil Administration even constructed tents and a temporary school at an alternative site for Khan al-Ahmar.
Then, at the last moment, when it appeared that a pitched battle was about to break out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reigned him in, insisting that one more round of negotiations must take placed between the Abu Dahouk clan and the Civil Administration before any action could be taken.
But now, with Liberman leaving the government and elections on the horizon, it is likely that such talks will be delayed. Abu Khamis told reporters that he still does not sleep easy at night, but is glad that at least Liberman is gone.
“No one in the territories loved him; many of the Israelis didn’t like him either,” Abu Khamis said. “He is not honest, and he doesn’t listen. He makes decisions as if he is a king and that is it.”
While it is true that as defense minister, Liberman had autocratic authority over Area C of the West Bank, that power was hampered and eclipsed by Netanyahu, who at the end of the day is the ultimate decision maker over policy governing that area.
Past defense ministers have often suffered the brunt of settler anger over the decisions of either the prime minister or the High Court.
When former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon left his post in 2016, one could almost hear the symbolic champagne corks popping. Liberman, who liked to talk often about his strong record in Judea and Samaria, was never the target of such animosity.
But in the less than 48 hours after his resignation, only Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan publicly stated that he regretted his departure.
SETTLER LEADERS had high hopes for Liberman, who lives in the Gush Etzion bloc’s Nokdim settlement and is therefore viewed as one of their own, particularly in the area of security.
But Liberman’s vows that he would complete the security barrier came to naught. He drafted a NIS 3 billion security plan for Area C that was never implemented. Settler sources said that in this area, where he had the most authority, he could have done more to make their lives safer.
Seventeen people have been killed in the West Bank in terror attacks under his watch. In spite of strong settler demands that the IDF raze illegal Palestinian and Bedouin construction, the number of such demolitions decreased.
The IDF, in response to court orders, demolished the illegally built Amona outpost, nine illegal homes in the Ofra settlement and 15 unauthorized homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost. Palestinian Sussiya never came down at all.
Liberman’s strongest record was in the area of construction, where he was seen as a helpful influence in the advancement of plans and building.
His ministry built the first totally new settlement in over two decades: Amihai, in the Shiloh area. He approved more housing tenders – over 6,200 – than at any time in the last 15 years. The Civil Administration advanced plans for over 10,500 homes, but those numbers were lower than what was advanced in 2012 and 2013.
Liberman also took the issue of Hebron
very seriously. He approved the first new apartment building in 16 years and laid the groundwork for another building project. The Jewish community also secured from him permission to move into a building it had purchased, known as Beit Rachel and Leah. He also gave the Hebron Jewish community an independent municipal symbol.
But in all cases, he was executing Netanyahu’s pro-settlement policies. Liberman said he quit because he was not empowered to enact his own policy. That is true in the West Bank as well – where, like his predecessors before him, he executed Netanyahu’s policies without making a mark of his own.
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