Vice PM: Strip Barak of authority over W. Bank settlements

Right-wing criticism of defense minister's handling of Hebron home, settlements in Judea, Samaria simmering as legal officials say disputed apartment complex must be evacuated by April 25.

Beit Hamachela Hebron home 370 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Beit Hamachela Hebron home 370
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The government should strip Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the authority to determine the fate of West Bank settlements, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon charged on Tuesday, after the IDF had ordered the evacuation of 15 families from an apartment complex they claim they legally purchased in Hebron.
Ya'alon recommended transferring the responsibility over settlements in Judea and Samaria, where over 300,000 Jews have settled according to the IDF, to other ministers.
The vice premier accused the defense minister of running an oppositional platform within the government regarding Jewish settlements.
"All he does is start fires instead of solving problems," said Ya'alon, whose comments reflected direct criticism from right-wing lawmakers of Barak over the issue.
Another Likud MK, Tzipi Hotovely, warned on Tuesday that Netanyahu must allow the families to remain or risk the collapse of the government.
From Jerusalem, MK Danny Danon (Likud) accused Barak of using the Hebron home to launch his reelection campaign.
Despite the vitriolic rhetoric emanating from the Right, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu insisted on Tuesday that he and Barak were "in coordination," but meetings between the two and other ministers ended without definitive decisions Tuesday night.
Legal officials said Wednesday morning that residents of the disputed Hebron home Beit Hamachpela must evacuate by April 25th, following the late-night meeting between Netanyhau, Barak and a small group of ministers. Still, 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.
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.
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