Under pressure from right, Netanyahu to make history in Hebron today

  Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and former defense minister Shimon Peres on the stairwell leading into Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1976. (photo credit: YAAKOV SAAR/GPO)
Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and former defense minister Shimon Peres on the stairwell leading into Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1976.
(photo credit: YAAKOV SAAR/GPO)
Expectations are high for a dramatic announcement on Wednesday, when Benjamin Netanyahu will make Israeli history by becoming the first prime minister to deliver a public address in Hebron. The event is a state ceremony at the Tomb of the Patriarchs marking 90 years since Arab rioters killed 67 Jews in the biblical city, thereby decimating the ancient Jewish community.
No Israeli prime minister has ever attended or spoken at such a ceremony in Hebron, and few have ever visited the city.
Former Likud prime minister Menachem Begin did not attend a 1979 ceremony held in Hebron’s Jewish cemetery to mark the 50th anniversary of the massacre while he was serving as prime minister.
The last prime minister to visit the city was Ariel Sharon, in the aftermath of the 2002 terror attack in which 12 soldiers were killed on Worshipers Way, the road that links Hebron with the neighboring community of Kiryat Arba.
But Sharon never got out of the car.
Netanyahu was the last prime minister to literally set foot in Hebron – in 1998 during his first term – when together with former president Ezer Weizman, the two paid a condolence call to the family of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan after he was killed in his Hebron home by a terrorist.
Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin drove through the city in 1995, also without getting out of the car, but he did visit the city during his first term in 1976 together with Shimon Peres, then the defense minister. The two had come to view the excavation work at the Avraham Aveinu synagogue, prior to the restoration of a Jewish community in the city in 1979.
None of those prime ministerial appearances has the same stature as the visit scheduled for Wednesday, which is part of a full day of events that also includes a speech by President Reuven Rivlin, and a ceremony in Hebron’s cemetery where many of the massacre victims from that fateful August 24 day are buried.
Among the dignitaries who are attending will be Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who plans to put up a mezuzah onto the doorpost of a building across the parking lot from the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known as Beit Hamachpela.
Families moved into the building last month, after Netanyahu allowed half of the building to be registered in the name of company that purchased it on behalf of the city’s Jewish community.
Netanyahu has a checkered history with regard to Hebron. During his first term in the late 1990s, he was responsible for the 1997 agreement that divided the city, leaving only 20% under the control of the IDF. The rest of the city is under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. The small Jewish community of some 1,000 people is allowed to access only 3% of the city, and live in less than a dozen apartment complexes close to the area of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
In advance of the visit, the Jewish community and right-wing politicians have called on Netanyahu to make a dramatic gesture while in Hebron and announce two programs.
The first is that he would authorize Jewish construction on property, where six abandoned market stalls now sit in the Avraham Aveinu complex. The stalls are on property owned by the pre-1929 Jewish community. Jews have been forbidden to access it, because the Israeli courts have protected the rights of the Palestinian tenants who rented the stalls until the IDF shut down their stores over two decades ago.
There are reports that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has written a legal opinion stating that Jews can access the property.
“Now is the time for immediate historical justice to be done” by authorizing Jewish building on the site of the stalls, the Jewish community said on Tuesday.
Hebron’s Jewish community also wants Netanyahu to make the Tomb of the Patriarchs disabled-accessible.
The Likud campaign did not confirm or deny a report on Channel 12 that Netanyahu has given up on convincing Ben-Gvir to quit and is trying to find a hassidic sect to support Otzma in order to push the party over the electoral threshold. 
In the past, Otzma has received support from the messianic group within the Chabad Lubavitch movement in Israel, but last week, its leadership released a letter calling on people to only vote for parties that are certain to pass the threshold. 
The Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson historically opposed the movement's rabbis expressing political opinions, though he opposed concessions of parts of the Land of Israel.
“We are certain Netanyahu will deliver a fine address,” said former MK Orit Struck, who lives in Hebron and who is running again for the Knesset on the Yamina Party list. “What is important is not what he says, but what he does.”