Israel’s ties with the US might be harmed by the advancement of plans for a new yeshiva and settlement on the Evyatar hilltop, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s office has hinted, saying that legal discussions were ongoing.
“The role of the foreign minister is to ensure that Israel’s foreign relations, political power and ties with the United States are not harmed,” his office said.
An internal Foreign Ministry document was blunter, warning that Israel’s ties with its allies and its standing in international forums may be harmed, according to a report by Army Radio.
“We don’t need the Foreign Ministry’s opinion to know what we have said repeatedly: the plan for Evyatar badly harms relations with our closest allies and Israel’s strategic interests,” said Transportation Minister and Labor Party head Merav Michaeli. “Promoting Evyatar is playing politics at the expense of national security and the future of our country. The Labor Party will continue to fight for Israel’s security interests.”
The Evyatar hilltop is located off Route 505, which links the Samaria region with the Jordan Valley, 26 kilometers over the pre-1967 lines.
The Biden administration, the US, the European Union and the Palestinian Authority have opposed any settlement activity. But at issue here in particular is Evyatar’s distance from the Green Line, which is precisely why it has wide support from the political Right.
“Evyatar’s outline is a unilateral move that harms Israel’s security, undermines the coalition’s stability, and undermines the chances of a future political agreement,” tweeted Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labor). “It will lead to a wave of opposition to Israel in the world, precisely at a time when we need international support in dealing with the Iranian threat. I can’t give it a hand.”
Both the Meretz and Labor parties – members of Bennett’s government – have warned that the authorization of Evyatar was contrary to the coalition agreement.
Meretz plans to oppose “any attempt to establish new settlements,” noting that its coalition agreement should prevent such a move. “This is an issue that is also at the basis of the agreement that led to the establishment of the government,” the party stated. “Promoting an isolated settlement in the heart of the West Bank, at a cost of millions of shekels, will harm the chances of achieving a political settlement and the security of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens. This is the last thing Israel needs.”
The uproar over Evyatar began after outgoing attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit failed to find any legal barrier to the authorization of a yeshiva and settlement at the site.
A Justice Ministry meeting was held where it was agreed that the issue could move forward for Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s approval, Army Radio reported.
Bennett, in the early days after his government’s formation, had reached an agreement with settlers that they would evacuate the illegal outpost in exchange for his promise to authorize a yeshiva and a settlement there.
At the time, it was presumed that an evacuation would be violent, create additional unrest in the West Bank, and possibly destabilize the newly created coalition.
Fifty families of settlers and right-wing activists had moved onto the hilltop in reaction to the terror attack that claimed the life of Yehuda Guetta at the nearby Tapuah junction in early May.
It was part of a campaign to build a settlement on that hilltop that began in honor of terror victim Evyatar Borovsky, who was killed at the same Tapuah junction in 2013.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan attacked Lapid as irresponsible, “cynical and pathetic,” and for harming Israeli ties with the Biden administration by dragging them into the affair.
“Zionism must not die out in 2022,” Dagan stated. “The Land of Israel will be built, and the Zionist people will defeat your cynicism.”
The issue of Evyatar has returned to the headlines just as Gantz is weighing a request by the family of terror victim Yehuda Dimentman to legalize the unauthorized yeshiva on the Homesh hilltop, which is also located in Samaria.