Religious Zionist Party ministers plan to boycott Sunday’s government meeting to protest Friday’s evacuation of a newly erected illegal West Bank outpost, which it claims was done in violation of coalition agreements.
“We don’t intend to continue as normal and we’re weighing additional steps,” said the spokesman for Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who heads the RZP party.
The swift evacuation Friday of the Or Haim outpost in Samaria, which had been put up overnight and which included five modular structures for five families, sent a strong message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners that he would oppose any new illegal settler building, despite the overwhelmingly right-wing nature of his government.
It also clarified that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was in charge of enforcement against illegal building in Area C of the West Bank.
The issue of oversight with respect to settler and Palestinian construction in Area C had been under the purview of the defense minister.
Authority was supposed to be transferred to Smotrich
Under the new government’s coalition agreements, that authority was supposed to be transferred to Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry with oversight of the army’s civil administration, which is a division of the IDF’s Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
But actions around the evacuation of the outpost indicated that this was incorrect.
Smotrich instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories not to allow an evacuation until he could discuss the matter with him at the start of the week.
Gallant ignored the directive. He ordered the evacuation to be carried out without consulting Smotrich and “in complete contradiction to the coalition agreements which form the basis for the government’s existence,” Smotrich’s spokesman said.
National Missions Minister Orit Struck (RZP) said the move violated the coalition agreements, which “have to be respected,” noting that doing so was “one hundred percent” Netanyahu’s responsibility.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads the Otzma Yehudit Party, attempted to intervene and spoke to Gallant in hopes of dissuading him from moving against the outpost. Gallant, who maintains control of the security forces in the West Bank, used both the Civil Administration and the Border Police to carry out the evacuation with the IDF securing the perimeter.
Security forces under Gallant’s control also worked on Saturday night to prevent right-wing activists from returning to the site.
The Prime Minister’s Office put out an announcement stating that Netanyahu’s government supports West Bank settlements.
It clarified, however, that settlement activity must be done legally and with full coordination with both the Prime Minister’s Office and the security establishment, something, it added, “that did not happen here.”
Gallant spoke with newly installed IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and reaffirmed his full support for the army and security forces.
“Every action on the ground must be conducted in accordance with the law. It must also be fully coordinated and must be taken in accordance with the relevant security situation assessment,” the Defense Ministry stated.
Smotrich’s spokesman said that as a result of the outpost evacuation “RZP ministers will be absent from [Sunday’s] government meeting to protest the violation of the coalition agreement” that occurred on Friday.
Ben-Gvir said that if the government was so determined to uphold the law when it came to illegal Jewish construction, it should also move against unauthorized Palestinian building such as the modular herding Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which is located just below the Kfar Adumim settlement.
He said he planned to go to the government meeting to demand the immediate demolition of Khan al-Ahmar.
“A law is a law and the law should be enforced towards all populations,” he said.
“On Friday, with the demolition of the ‘Or Haim’ outpost... the government presented a sharp and clear position of enforcement against illegal construction.
“For that reason we must immediately apply the law also to the Khan Al-Ahmar outpost and to illegal [Palestinian] construction as a whole,” Ben-Gvir said.
Former IDF chiefs of staff, MK Benny Gantz who heads the opposition National Unity party and MK Gadi Eizenkot, both spoke out in defense of Gallant.
Former prime minister Yair Lapid, who chairs the Yesh Atid party and heads the opposition, said that the evacuation proved how dysfunctional the structure of the current government is in which power is shared among ministers with no clear understanding of who is in charge.
“The government has only been in existence for three weeks and already Defense Minister B and Defense Minister C are giving contradictory orders to the army,” Lapid said.
The evacuation comes just one day after US National Security Council Advisor Jake Sullivan visited Jerusalem and Ramallah. He met both with Netanyahu and Gallant. The Biden administration has been clear in its opposition to settlement building.
On Thursday night, KAN News reported that the government had been scheduled to debate a plan to split the Kochav Ya’acov settlement into two, thereby retroactively creating a new settlement. It explained that the plan was removed from the government agenda under pressure from the US.
The outpost was dedicated to the memory of the late rabbi and religious Zionist spiritual leader Rabbi Haim Druckman and was established by his grandson Neveh Schindler.
Prior to the evacuation, he explained that the land on which the outpost was located “is of first-class strategic importance and maintains Jewish control of the road through Samaria. Evacuation and destruction of the hill will be a complete surrender to the Palestinian Authority, which is working to take control of the territory in the area.”
After the evacuation, MK Limor Son Har-Melech of Otzma Yehudit Party tweeted that she had gone to the fledgling community in the morning but had failed to prevent its destruction because Gallant chose to ignore the coalition agreement.
In one video taken from the site, she can be seen cursing the Civil Administration workers, who she identified as Arab, alleging that they appeared to relish the demolition work. She cursed them that their names “should be erased” and that “God should take them.”