Tensions in the coalition boiled over on Wednesday after the evacuation of an olive grove near Shiloh, as Religious Zionist Party chairman and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit chairman and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu respect the coalition agreements and immediately hand over the various authorities in the West Bank they were promised.
Netanyahu reportedly summoned Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss the issue of transferring authority over civil matters in the West Bank to Smotrich. Gallant until now has refused to transfer powers that could have implications on security issues.
Smotrich tweeted earlier in the day, “The uprooting of the grove in the Shiloh Valley is an injustice that cries to the heavens and could and should have been prevented; a years-long injustice by the Civil Administration and the High Court of Justice. We demanded and received in the coalition agreements the responsibility over the Civil Administration and the civil life in Judea and Samaria precisely in order to end this discriminatory maltreatment of settlers.
"A years-long injustice by the Civil Administration and the High Court of Justice. We demanded and received in the coalition agreements the responsibility over the Civil Administration and the civil life in Judea and Samaria precisely in order to end this discriminatory maltreatment of settlers."Bezalel Smotrich
Smotrich attacks Gallant
“The defense minister’s denial of the unequivocal agreement and the prime minister’s dragging his feet are unacceptable, and we will not allow them to continue. This is a provision that was clear to everyone was central in our agreement, and the basis of the coalition’s existence is to respect the coalition agreements. I demand that the prime minister immediately hand over the authorities to me.”
Smotrich concluded, “If Gallant has a problem with that, he is welcome to quit. I am convinced that there are many in the Likud who would be happy to take his place in the Defense Ministry.”
The RZP held an “urgent” closed-door party meeting in the afternoon in response to the demolition of the West Bank olive grove, which the party believes was in violation of the coalition agreements between it and the Likud, Smotrich announced.
While it was not immediately clear if any decisions were made during the meeting, National Missions Minister and RZP member Orit Struck told Channel 7 after the meeting that from RZP’s perspective, “This violation of Minister Smotrich’s authority is over. It will not continue in this way.”
Asked whether RZP would stop voting with the coalition, Struck answered that while she would not say what methods they would use, the party “had its ways to manage this.”
The political crisis also involved Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit Party.
He said the incident was in violation of the coalition agreement between the Likud and his party as well, since the agreement stipulated that the Border Police Judea and Samaria Division, which carried out the evacuation, was supposed to be put under his jurisdiction.
The national security minister argued that the conduct of the Border Police, which included closely encircling Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech to restrict her movement despite her parliamentary immunity, showed precisely why he demanded the Judea and Samaria Division.
“This is not what we were praying for,” Ben-Gvir wrote on Twitter.
He later said in a joint video with Son Har-Melech, “We joined this government based on a promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it would be a fully right-wing government, and this policy cannot continue. A fully right-wing government cannot be one that is forceful only when it comes to Jews.”
Ben-Gvir later circulated the draft of a decision he said he would raise during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, which would move the Judea and Samaria Border Police at first from the IDF to the Israel Police, and later to the National Guard when it forms.
Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kroizer said on KAN Radio regarding the evacuation, “The moment we see that our influence is not being implemented in this government, we will consider our steps and whether to continue being a part of it.”
Kroizer’s comments echoed those of Ben-Gvir himself in recent weeks, after the government did not carry out what he argued was a harsh enough response to a number of terrorist attacks and rockets fired from Gaza.
The opposition earlier on Wednesday criticized the government’s handling of the incident.
“Have you noticed that there are two ministers in the Defense Ministry, one for and one against? This is not a government; it is a preschool without a preschool teacher,” opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted.
“The prime minister reached out to me and asked for my assistance. I told him, ‘Bibi, I would be happy to help you. But I don’t know whether to help your right hand or your left.’”Gideon Sa'ar
National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar tweeted a quote former prime minister Ariel Sharon said during one of Netanyahu’s previous tenures as prime minister: “The prime minister reached out to me and asked for my assistance. I told him, ‘Bibi, I would be happy to help you. But I don’t know whether to help your right hand or your left.’”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman wrote, “Just like in the evacuation of Gush Katif, Bibi expresses his opposition when it is no longer really relevant. [He is] uprooting trees and uprooting Jews, and only the Palestinians remain happy.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.