Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to diplomatic pressure and risked irking his coalition partners by asking the High Court of Justice for yet another delay in the state’s submission of plans for the razing of the illegal West Bank herding village of Khan al-Ahmar.
The state clarified to the court that the upper echelon remained “firm in its position that the rule of law requires the demolition orders be carried out in the Khan al-Ahmar hamlet,” but said it could not execute that position now.
Israel: Delay of razing due to government negotiations
In its two-page submission on Wednesday, it blamed the delay in part on the protracted two-month period it took to form the government and asked to submit an evacuation plan in four months, marking the ninth time it has sought to push the matter back.
The situation has great interest among “various parties in the international community” and has “implications for relations on the nation’s foreign affairs and security,” the government said.
It acknowledged the abnormality of its response but asked for permission to submit a response by June 1.
Blinken, US oppose demolition of illegal Palestinian structures
The government’s required submission to the court came after a visit to Israel this week by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who stated clearly his opposition to unilateral steps – including the demolition of Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank.
It created immediate anger among the members of Netanyahu’s Likud party and among his coalition members, who campaigned for the evacuation of the hamlet.
In an interview with Channel 12, MK Danny Danon (Likud) said the response set a “dangerous precedent and gives the Palestinian Authority free rein to construct additional illegal outposts.
“This government was elected to change the floundering policies of the previous government, rather than to continue with their oversights.” He added that the government had failed a significant test.
Yisrael Beytenu party head MK Avigdor Liberman said the delay should come as no surprise. Although he is in the opposition, he is a long-time supporter of the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar and tried to raze it when he was defense minister in 2018 but was stopped from doing so by Netanyahu.
“I have news for all my friends on the Right – even in four months Bibi will find an excuse and will not evacuate Khan al-Ahmar,” Liberman said.
He explained that in four months, once he has saved himself and Shas chairman Arye Deri from legal trouble, he will do everything he can to rid himself of his coalition partners – Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir from Otzma Yehudit.
The High Court ruled in 2018 that the small herding village of ramshackle huts that is home to some 300 members of the Abu Dahuk clan of the Jahalin tribe could be demolished, but did not mandate its destruction.During his last tenure, Netanyahu initially pledged to carry out the demolition but halted those plans after the International Criminal Court’s former chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned that it could constitute a war crime.
During his last tenure, Netanyahu initially pledged to carry out the demolition but halted those plans after the International Criminal Court’s former chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned that it could constitute a war crime.
The right-wing NGO Regavim petitioned the High Court to force the government to demolish the village, in what was its latest legal bid against the hamlet since 2009.
It has argued that the Palestinian Authority has pressured the Khan al-Ahmar residents to remain in the village as part of its drive to seize as much land as possible in Area C – in order to ensure that the territory becomes part of the final borders of a Palestinian state.
Regavim and the Israeli Right believe that Area C, now under IDF military and civilian control, should fall within Israel’s final borders.
Regavim Director-General Meir Deutsch said there was no justification for the court’s decision, stating “we were hoping for an appropriate response by a national right-wing government – as promised in the election campaign... we continue... to call upon our representatives in the government to act immediately to evacuate this illegal encampment as well as dozens of other Palestinian Authority outposts created in the same mold.”
“This case will prove whether the High Court applies the same standard of reasonableness to cases from both sides of the political divide, or whether the reasonableness standard is nothing more than a judicial fig leaf for a particular agenda.”
A resident of Khan al-Ahmar explained that they were originally from the Negev and were forcibly evacuated in 1951, with its spokesperson Abu Khamis dating their presence in that area to 1952. The first photographic evidence of the Abu Dahuk clan’s presence there dates to the 1970s.
On Tuesday Hagai El-Ad, executive director of left-wing group B’Tselem led some 19 diplomats, mostly from Europe, to visit the village. “Destroying Khan al-Ahmar is neither lawful nor moral, no matter how many times the High Court permits it. A war crime sanctioned by the court is still a war crime and is part of the Israeli apartheid regime’s policy,” he said.
Don Sexton, Ireland’s representative to the PA said during the trip that “the residents of Khan al-Ahmar are protected persons under international law. Demolishing this community contravenes international law and Israel has obligations as an occupying power. We support the two-state solution and destroying this community will undermine the chances of achieving that.”•